Procedurally generated worlds/zones are not a selling point

Is it just me, or are devs’ excited claims to have solved the problems of, y’know, making zones and planets by using procedural generation so much more of a turn-off than a selling point?

I see what you did there, devs. You figured out a way to not only cut corners, but to rack up staggeringly huge numbers (10,000 zones! Five billion star systems! Infinite diversity in infinite combinations!) just to sound good for marketing.

At least for me, I do not find any aspect of procedural generation exciting or engaging. If it’s a bunch of cobbled together randomness, then why do I want to explore it? None of it is connected to a special narrative, so it exists without purpose, without meaning.

I would, ten times out of ten, prefer a single smaller hand-crafted area that is filled with narrative, developer ingenuity, personal touches, and “life” than a 100 expansive zones that are vomited from an RNG.

19 thoughts on “Procedurally generated worlds/zones are not a selling point

  1. Isey March 4, 2015 / 3:37 pm

    I disagree with you IF the procedurally generated zones have some sort of sensible algorithm. I like how nature creates a forest, for example. If a person created the forest it would be less organic. Hence, if they can procedurally generate a forest world that is built on similarities how it would happen in the “real world” then I am all for it. Hand crafted land mass tends to mean way less land mass, and less discovery.

    Odd that procedurally isn’t a word on spell check! (sidebar)

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus March 4, 2015 / 3:42 pm

    But they do occasionally generate some of the best comically bad layouts!

    Done with a decent engine that has been given a lot of quality resources and some solid coding to drive the layouts, I am fine with it. I never once felt bad about the procedurally generated dungeons in the Diablo series. But Blizz also made sure that even the random generated levels had a special feel to them.

    Even with that though, I would be hard pressed to call it a selling point that would sway my buying decision favorably.

  3. bhagpuss March 4, 2015 / 4:10 pm

    I completely concur. Until they can also come up with a procedural lore and story generator and a procedural convincing cultural milieu generator and a procedural “hey I was thinking on the drive in wouldn’t it be cool if we…” generator then I’d rather they just hired some artists and writers and did it the old-fashioned way.

  4. Tyler F.M. Edwards March 4, 2015 / 4:22 pm

    It can be interesting under certain circumstances, but as a rule, I do think it’s rather overrated. The main bonus of procedural generation is that it increases replayability, but that’s only worthwhile if it doesn’t overly harm the core experience, which is rare.

  5. C. T. Murphy March 4, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    Sure, but the real selling point for Procedural Generation at this point is how it works in conjunction with some assistance. You let an engine handle the background environment and then have a team shape it with buildings/lore/setpieces.

    That said, Procedural Generation has only improved and I think it has made exploring in games infinitely better.

  6. Warsyde March 4, 2015 / 6:00 pm

    Although I mostly agree with your conclusion, I do have to point out the following:

    The universe: a bunch of cobbled together randomness.

    Why would we explore that, right?

  7. Belghast March 4, 2015 / 6:17 pm

    I actually am a huge fan of procedural generation, because it makes me want to explore it and see what I can find. The problem with fixed assets is that there is zero surprise factor when everything is always going to be in the place you expect it. Part of why Minecraft was so damned addictive to me is that I could just start digging and never quite know what combination of stuff I might find. In part I think this works for me because I am making my own narrative as I go, and in truth rarely rely too heavily on any game I am playing to provide one for me. Sure there are games I play for the story, but most of the time I play games to make my own story. This is why I prefer Fallout to Mass Effect for an example… because Fallout lets me tell my story easier.

    What i would love to see more of is a mix of procedural and fixed assets. I think something that is under utilized especially is procedural generation in dungeon content. All of this said I am absolutely looking forward to games like No Mans Sky… just so I can fly around and see what all I can actually find. It absolutely tweaks my explorer side, finding things that no one may have ever seen.

  8. Jeromai March 4, 2015 / 7:04 pm

    Minecraft, Don’t Starve, A Tale in the Desert, and even the base universe that Eve Online is set in, is all procedurally generated.

    Only Minecraft has unlimited borders. The rest have a finite space that can be reset if needed (Don’t Starve on demand, ATITD each Telling, and Eve not yet.) They all use it to populate a space with resources that are set in semi-unpredictable places (but still obeying the rules and parameters of their generation.)

    One can still place handcrafted set pieces within a procedurally generated world to make things more interesting. Minecraft and Don’t Starve do that, the other two apparently make use of GM/designers manually modifying some things before the game begins.

    The desire to explore a procedurally generated space is less that of seeing what stories or set pieces someone has created for you, but that of mapping and noting down where useful resources are for yourself (or your guild/friends). The stories are only there in what you tell yourself, what you create from seeing in your surroundings, and in the interaction with other players, good or bad.

  9. Ravanel Griffon March 4, 2015 / 8:32 pm

    Procedurally generated worlds… what is that even? From what you tell everything screams “skirmish in the open world” to me, so no thanks. If you just get more and more of randomness, it soon loses its meaning.

  10. SynCaine March 4, 2015 / 8:59 pm

    Best MMO world ever was UO.

    Procedurally generated.

    Post invalid.

  11. Dahakha March 5, 2015 / 3:37 am

    Procedural generation of the world is just the first layer. Cultures, species, dangers and attractions, treasures, stories…they are all separate layers that can be added independently of the procedural generation, as Jeromai pointed out.

    Procedural generation does NOT equal randomness. It is managed, curated, limited, shaped randomness. There are so many points on the sliding scale between total randomness and total manual design. It’s unfair to dismiss the whole system because you don’t like one end of the spectrum.

    The value of procedural generation in virtual worlds, to me, is the resistance it has to spoilers, whether from dataminers or test servers or just internal leaks. You can reveal what was, but that won’t spoil the live version since it’ll be different.

  12. Armagon March 5, 2015 / 12:53 pm

    Of course you can’t answer that with a clear yay or nay for procedurally generated content.
    Apart from the fact that even if the maps are semi-random (I think?) in Marvel Heroes it’s not a good point for replayability (3 runs per character, times N for prestige) – it’s just random enough to be annoying, but not really worth complaining. Diablo’s level were also fine. Varied enough.

    From a programming point of view, dungeon generation in roguelikes has sparked a lot of interesting posts, and a lot more time is usually spent to set certain rules on the randomness that there’s no inferior outcome. http://journal.stuffwithstuff.com/2014/12/21/rooms-and-mazes/ and http://stevelosh.com/blog/2012/07/caves-of-clojure-03-1/ are nice.

  13. Ettesiun March 5, 2015 / 12:55 pm

    I loved to explore MineCraft randomly generated worlds.

    For me there is two conditions for the Randomly Generated terrain to work :
    – interaction with the terrain should be part of the gameplay AND the game will profit for having huge explorable world
    – it shall be well designed to proposed a big number of different terrain AND provide unexpected zone.

    I do not like Diablo terrain, because it makes the game blend and unoriginal : I am never surprised by their world. And as their game is not using the world at all (nearly no interaction except defining path) the diversity of the layout has no use.

    On the opposite, the first time I saw this lake surrounded by cliff in MineCraft, I instantly wanted to create a small village suspended on those cliff. And I chose my main house situation because it was near a lava pound on the surface.

  14. Vagrant Zero March 7, 2015 / 3:26 am

    I despise procedural generation. I basically won’t play a game that heavily features it.

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