Generation Next, Part 2: How To Generate A Religion

Mark Johnson is the developer of Ultima Ratio Regum [official site], an ANSI 4X roguelike in which the use of procedural generation extends beyond the creation of landscapes and dungeons to also dynamically create cultures, practices, social norms, rituals, beliefs, concepts, and myths. This is the second in a four part series examining what generating this kind of social detail can bring to games.

As I enter the city centre, I find myself confronted by the massive edifice of the Cathedral of Urrothek, the Bleak Mouth of the Desert. Its architecture is reminiscent of the religion’s chapels I have seen throughout the land, but on a far grander scale. A detailed garden of plants and stones is laid out in a geometric pattern beyond the many double-doors leading inside, through which pilgrims continually pass. Traversing these doors myself, I see reflecting pools glittering, incense holders etched with unique designs, a number of twisted and unsettling altars dedicated to Urrothek, priests in Urrothek’s religious garments walking about the building, tables and desks with scribes hard at study, and an iron gate, set back into a wall behind the altars, leading to the crypt below in which the most faithful of Urrothek’s holy knights rest.

And all of this, of course, was procedurally generated.

In this second part of my four-part series exploring the potential that procedurally-generated in-game societies, cultures, religions and lore have for the future of game worlds, I’m going to look at the generation of religious beliefs and practices, social beliefs and practices (and what I see as the important differences there), and political ideologies. I’ll be focusing upon my own work in this area as well as touching upon a few other games that pursue similar things. In the process I’ll be talking through my own design thought process and asking: why do this, what elements of the social world are included and what elements are inevitably elided, and how do these sorts of worlds play?

In order to explore these questions, for the last five years I’ve been working on a roguelike game called Ultima Ratio Regum. It has been inspired far more by the literary works of people like Umberto Eco, Jorge Borges and Wu Ming than by any game (though there is a little bit of Dwarf Fortress, a dash of Europa Universalis, and helpings of various classic adventure games in there). I’ve been working on the latest version, replete with millions of procedurally generated NPCs, clothing styles, and dialects and speech patterns, for fifteen months (and had rather been hoping to have it released before writing this series, but that hasn’t quite worked out).

Succinctly, the player is tasked with uncovering an intellectual conspiracy that stretches across the generated world, and the clues to this conspiracy are hidden within the societies, cultures and religions of the world – a clue might be within the holy text of one religion, or in the practices of a yearly festival in one culture, or a novel describing an ancient war fought between two societies. Understanding the world’s generated cultures and belief systems is therefore not just useful for winning the game – in a very real way that process is the game, and the attendant need to make this discovery procedure always interesting and unique encouraged me towards generating these social and religious elements.

So, what components do we need in order to generate a society? Well, we need some people, and we need them to interact. Firstly, the people themselves: let’s generate their skin tone, their eye colour, their facial structures (to the greatest extent possible with ASCII/ANSI graphics), their hair colour, and whether there are any particular cultural practices – scarification, turbans, tattoos, particular kind of jewellery, etc – that would alter how they look. Let’s also create a procedural procedural name generator generator, so that the game procedurally generates name archetypes, and then makes a name within that archetype for each NPC. All of these are intended as clues towards the player identifying the cultural background of an individual, their geographic origin, make some estimates or predictions about their society, and – obviously – ensure that the generated world has as many peoples as the real world.

As a result, people vary across the globe and don’t all look the same; they make sense for their context, in physical terms (darker skin nearer equator, geographic groupings of eye and hair colour, etc); and they give hints towards showing the player the world without explicitly telling them. This element also comes with a rather nice additional political statement – the de-linking and subverting of what we think of in the real world as being “primitive” or “modern”. Sometimes the world’s most dominant nations will have facial tattoos or practice facial scarification, for instance, and in many cases it will not be nations that seem “European” that dominate the globe; equally, within some nations different sexes or races are dominant, or they have particularly strong feelings about others. This dimension does wonders for making players abandon previous assumptions and really try to understand the particular world they are faced with, recognizable and yet potentially so wildly different.

That’s all a good start, but what do these people do? Next up, therefore, we’ll think about their interactions. We want to generate people who behave differently, in a spatial sense, between cultures: maybe people from some cultures walk around in groups, some walk around on their own, some cultures spend lots of time or little times with their friends, and so forth. Over a large enough scale, across generated nations, these create very different “textures” of character movement in cities, towns, and the like. Let’s also of course vary the density of the population: by just tweaking that one variable we’ll get dense metropolises and sparse frontier towns. This will then also affect gameplay by making some nations easier to navigate and find people in, some nations harder, and making some nations produce a greater or lesser volume of noteworthy individuals.

I’m also in the process of extending this interaction variation into speech. All cultures (currently) speak English, but they all speak different dialects of English. Some will speak at length, others briefly; they use different synonyms to describe almost everything; they use references drawn from their beliefs and backgrounds, as well as from their nation’s histories. If you ask a character their opinion about artwork, their answer will depend heavily on the artistic background of their nation, and whether they themselves have any artistic inclinations. With these references and naming conventions, the same concern comes into play – of giving observant players hints and clues without ever telling the player “Character X is from Nation Y and worships God Z”. As above, this element also becomes a strategic choice: do I visit the nation of loquacious speakers to gain lots of information (but perhaps their items are all so pricy), or do I visit the very taciturn nation who will give me little to work with (but their items are so cheap)? This ceases to be just background detail but, in a game fundamentally about information – and this could apply to any game where information is crucial, not just my own – this kind of detail can be crucial and encourage the player towards some interesting decisions outside of “formal” game mechanics of numbers, stats, items, and so forth.

What about religions? For religions to matter to play, they need a lot of physical representations for the player to encounter, whilst also ensuring thematic similarity between these – which is to say, a robe and an altar from the same religion should look like they come from the same religion. Thus, to do this, URR currently generates a set of background religious elements – creation myths, eschatology, god(s), ethics, magic, perception of the world, and so forth – and then builds everything off that. The game manipulates a large set of templates and colour schemes to make an appropriate religious altar for the religion, and a matching set of robes, perhaps a prayer mat, or an incense holder or reliquary, as well as (in the near future) the covers of holy books and the like.

The other game that really pushes the procedural generation of religious beliefs is Dwarf Fortress, though it uses a very different model that produces very different outcomes. Deities in DF are assigned “spheres” of influence – birth, darkness, fertility, nightmares, etc – that determine worship. In turn, these deities create angels whose appearance and items are determined by those spheres. The world is also replete with various demons which can wind up being worshipped by simple townspeople. In all of these cases such beliefs and practices lead to literatures and great stories of the past, and mythopoetic tales of the great deeds of angels, demons, and those who were brave enough to challenge them. DF is a world of magic and fantasy, which URR is not, but there’s still that same relationship between single and often quite simple points of procedural generation – spheres or beliefs – and the creation of the rest of the world, and the stories it can tell, from that point.

Equally, I wanted to make sure beliefs are fluid things that have changed over time. What world would be complete without a healthy set of sects, heretical notions, and even syncretic religions? I made sure to introduce a system that tracks the major tenets of each religion and allows them to be subverted (to form a sect, which the mainstream religion might or might not deem heretical) and also to merge together into syncretic religions, combining the beliefs of two into a new (rare) whole. We readily see this reflected in the real world, where the number of religions seems to grow by the year, and people don’t even agree on the line between a religion and a sect. Consider how, during the rise of Islam, many Christian scholars believed it was merely a heretical sect of Christianity, rather than its own distinct religion. To avoid the trap of didactic worldbuilding, it was crucial to show these beliefs as things that are changeable in flux, rather than religions which have always existed in that world and always will.

In trying to decide how to balance these within the game world, I was reminded of that age-old bit of procedural generation wisdom – that rather than having, for example, eight options with a chance of 1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1 to appear, it is far more interesting to have eight options with chances 1/1/1/10/10/10/10/10, or something of that sort. When the player encounters the common variations, it feels no different to the 1/1/1/etc model of equally-likely possibilities, but when one of the special ones comes up, it has far more meaning than any of the common ones. With enough selection procedures of this sort in one game, you’ll always encounter some rare variations in a single playthrough, and these then become the important pivot points – super-rare items discovered, unusually hard bosses overcome – through which a player understands their playthrough – a game like The Binding of Isaac, for example, is particularly good at this.

When it then came to the balance between social and religious elements, I decided that the wisest plan was to treat social life like the “tens”, and the religious elements as the “ones”. The social elements are designed to suffuse every part of the world but on only a low level that will fade into the background of players’ experiences, but nevertheless remain present, clear, and providing variety across the game’s world. The religious elements, by contrast, are limited to particular parts of the world and particular individuals, always giving them that feeling of uncovering something rare and distinctive. There are probably something like a hundred billion possible religions, and even as the designer, I still enjoy seeing the religious beliefs the game produces, and they continue to be distinctive and unusual.

Lastly, we come to ideologies, and how they influence the physical world. Many games have some kind of system of ideologies, policies, or civics – perhaps the most well-known are series like Civilization and Europa Universalis, or one-off games like Alpha Centauri and Stellaris. In all of these generally quite complex games, deep and intricate social dynamics are reduced to single metrics, generally of the “+X to Y” variety. “Mercantilism” means more gold in towns; “Serfdom” means more productive workers (a weird historical claim); “Xenophobe” means reduced relations with other cultures; and so forth. This is not intended as a criticism, as full modelling of these processes would require a resolution and granularity inappropriate to grand strategy games, but such reductions give little meaning to the name of the policy itself: there is no true embodiment of mercantilism there, of course, as it is just a label for a purely numerical alteration.

By contrast, in a world with a higher granularity – i.e. one in which you can actually walk around the cities and their buildings – I think we can do so much more with these kinds of “policies”. A nation that believes strongly in the rule of law will be replete with courts through-out its lands, into which the player can walk and see trials being conducted and talk to judges about ongoing cases; an imperialist and expansionist nation will be replete with barracks, soldiers, training grounds, weapon stores; and so forth. In such a model we obviously don’t even come close to approximating the true complexity of any real social or political ideology, but we certainly come far closer than the abstracted versions. These are not just words and numbers, but beliefs we see reflected in architectures, structures, cities, behaviours, people, and practices.

Almost all the above points are implemented in the upcoming version of URR at time of writing, with just one or two in-progress. Many games have of course explored similar ideas, either in a more abstracted manner or in many ways a similar manner, but hopefully I’ve outlined here the kinds of social and religious worldbuilding now possible with procedural generation, and, crucially, how they can affect play as well as worldbuilding (though the latter is also very important). Games improved by this kind of worldbuilding-play integration do not only have to be mine, of course, nor even roguelikes or games with particular interests in information and discovery as core mechanics; all game worlds can become more believable, and deeper and more complex, and more interesting to explore and act within if we can push towards richer depictions of our in-game societies. Procedural generation, in turn, keeps things fresh and ensures that there will always be new detail to discover and that the process of uncovering it is never old…

…although this final point leads us onto the third part in this series. How, exactly, do we prevent too many similarities? One dungeon level looks like another after a while; can we stop this happening for societies and religions? In the next part I’ll be looking at this very question and taking a (reverse-engineered) examination of other methods to see how we can keep these kinds of procedural generation fresh for as long as possible, and prevent players coming to understand the meta-rules that govern their playable worlds and the societies and religions they move within.


  1. Someoldguy says:

    I think somone of your calibre is badly needed over at Runescape HQ. They recently released an update centred on the exploration of new islands – up to 60 billion possible configurations, they boasted. It took the playerbase a couple of days to realise that in essence once you’d seen half a dozen or so there was nothing new to find. It all boiled down to a small number of rare resource spawns per island with a random size, shape, some low tier stuff that reset daily and lots of trees. All “explorable” in 30 seconds. Once you’d seen a few, you’d nothing interesting left to find, just the option to reroll until you had the 3 rare resources you particularly wanted on your personal island. Such a disappointment. I’m praying No Mans Sky does it so much better.

    • Llewyn says:

      I think someone of Mark’s calibre is needed in most studios where worldbuilding is relevant to the game.

      It’s a common criticism of procgen development in RPS comment threads that the output is inevitably of the type you describe; generally a degree of additional complexity is expected, but it’s commonly assumed that the possibilities are limited to throwing half a dozen variables into a random number generator.

      Not only is this patently untrue, but it ignores that much hand-crafted content in games could be generated in basically the same way. For example, the complexity Mark describes above of a nation’s social outlook being reflected in its official structures is often overlooked, with RPGs being full of nations or regions containing essentially the same towns with different architecture.

      A ridiculous amount of effort goes into producing most games, and accusations thrown at developers of laziness are always insulting and ignorant, but it might be fair to accuse many of a laziness of thought. Sometimes so much more could be achieved with the same level of effort and technical ability, just by thinking about the desired outcomes in a different way.

      • LexW1 says:

        “Sometimes so much more could be achieved with the same level of effort and technical ability, just by thinking about the desired outcomes in a different way.”

        Very well-said. It feels like the root of a lot of what seems like laziness in world design in games is simply down to the designers not questioning their own assumptions about how things should work, or what they’re actually aiming for. Fallout 4 seems like an example. I doubt anyone involved was stupid or incompetent, but it feels like a huge amount of “Well that’s how it’s done…” was involved in it’s design, rather than questions being asked about why it was done that way, or whether it should be.

      • Baines says:

        “Laziness of thought” may be a pretty good description of why so many procedural generation implementations are ultimately so underwhelming.

        I see two big faults that games repeatedly fall victim to.

        First, you have the cases where “procedural generation” is primarily being used as a bullet point. When a publisher hypes “Six bazillion variations,” that is a warning sign that they’ve just strung about five or six random numbers together. It is easy to get amazing numbers just by combining a few combinations. You could claim that a random FPS has six bazillion match types if you multiple all the different possible time limits by all the score limits by all the other set-up options.

        Second, you have the cases where someone in charge decides that they don’t want to allow much actual variation in their random variation. For the sake of game balance, or just limited thought, the processes and results become so limited and restricted that it becomes impossible to see much meaningful variation. (Borderlands being a prime example. There are a lot of random numbers and effects on loot, but the numbers and effects are all very tightly controlled.)

        • Mark Johnson says:

          I think both those faults are well-identified and very on the ball. For 1), I actually try to be very careful when I say things like “X million variations” – it’s useful to position the kind of variation one’s going for, but the larger that number gets, the less likely it is that the variations will be meaningfully distinctive. For 2), you’re very right; lots of games that we might call non-PCG games with PCG elements are quite constrained in the kinds of variation they allow; it’s often a tacked-on additional rather than a core part of the design, or just a way to vary loot drops and the like.

      • P.Funk says:

        “with RPGs being full of nations or regions containing essentially the same towns with different architecture.”

        Which would be maddening to anyone who’d taken even a first year intro course on the Greek city states, you know those essential precursors to modern reasoning and thought and who in their failure to create a unified Greek culture demonstrated an incredibly variety of structures of governance and social norms.

        In general it seems you desperately need far more history and lit buffs involved in game development. Umberto Eco indeed.

        • Mark Johnson says:

          Heh, I quite agree (but then, I would) – I really think there’s a tremendous amount that games can learn for literature. The obvious is in narrative terms, of course, but I think worldbuilding from literature is the real gem!

      • Danley says:

        While lazy may be not appropriate for insinuating that certain developers don’t work hard, I think it’s okay to use the term when referring to the corner cutting that will always be done in almost any business. It just happens to be egregious in games because we don’t need to do it like this and I think we’re already reaching a breaking point.

        Game engines need to be standardized so that they’re compatible with previous versions. In other words, we need to stop going back to square one every time a new game comes out. Minecraft and Skyrim should be recognized and catered for the platforms they are, especially considering the resemblance of the modding community from the Third-Party software community in Windows/OSX (and now iOS/Android). Steam shouldn’t have backed down on a mod store when people shit their pants because it’s the inevitable next step for an industry that is clearly looking to mods to supplement their development schedules, and I’d actually prefer it. Minecraft should monetize modding, The Elder Scrolls should monetize modding, and let the community resolve the ethics of it. As it is, modders have no precedent to monetize themselves, even when they’ve effectively turned games that are no longer supported into platforms still worth buying. Then work to making those platforms compatible with other titles from the same studio (then eventually with other titles in the same genre).

        In this case, how could the successes of one procedurally generated dataset benefit other games using similar techniques? Why try to finetune the same algorithm only to get accused of laziness when it doesn’t turn out as well as Proteus or Dwarf Fortress, rather than there being standard procedural modules that are constantly developed or perfected?

        Obviously this would take some foresight, and a good deal of collaboration in the market, but it’s happened throughout the tech industry once we’ve realized how much there is to do and how little time we have to do it. But the first time someone implements a square for you to draw, upload and sell your own Pokemon/etc. that shit is going to be bananas.

        • Danley says:

          And if anyone wants to accuse me of a whiny pipedream that’s a lot harder to implement than it is to imagine, I would love to proceed with brainstorming and proposing such a framework.

      • Mark Johnson says:

        Much obliged! I do agree that some critique of PCG games tends to be a tad unduly harsh, especially with regards to the kind of work involved; we definitely have this notion that PCG is basically just to make things easier, which ignores all the complexity and effort that goes into making a good PCG system. As you say, it’s more about the *direction* of effort, than the volume of effort per se.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Well thanks! It is tough to make large volumes of variations meaningfully different (something I’l talk about next time) – there’s a bunch of techniques to really help it, but they tend not to be totally obvious, and they often need more work than a lot of people are necessarily willing to put in.

  2. caff says:

    Absolutely fascinating article. I tried Ultima Ratio Regen on the back of your last article and something very promising that I’ll keep a close eye on.

  3. LexW1 says:

    Absolutely fascinating stuff, and I’m really looking forward to URR, to see how it all works out in practice.

    There seems something fundamentally wrong that work of this sort of, well, importance, at least to what I believe is the long-term future of game design, is being done by one person “teams” (I mean, arguably Toady has his brother but he’s more of muse than someone who works on the game as I understand it), whilst the latest dodgy AAA game has several hundred people working on it. I’m not saying there’s a solution or that games like this are commercially viable. It just seems like one of those frustrating situations society throws up.

    • rochrist says:

      That’s because, done properly, these sorts of things are closer to research projects than they are investments in money making.

      • Llewyn says:

        Indeed. The likes of Toady and Johnson are pioneers, blazing a trail that may lead nowhere. Any getting rich will be done by those who follow once the trail starts to become a road.

        At one time this research would have been done under the auspices of companies like Xerox and AT&T, but the modern world’s a very different place for them too.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Thank you very much – I’m very pleased you’re interested in the project! You’ve raised a really interesting question. I think a full answer would need a lot of thinking and study about how creative economies work, but very succinctly, I think there’s probably a top-down and a bottom-up element to it. The top-down: it’s hard for massive companies to make big gambles and try crazy things (as we all know). The bottom-up: it’s easier for a single person with a vision to pursue that vision than to get lots of people on-board and keep them on-board for the months/years it takes. It’s a really interesting question though. I’ll have to think more about it!

  4. Zankman says:

    Lovely read, looking forward to the game’s completion.

    Slightly off-topic, but, I have to ask: Can the player “live” within your game world?

    The possibilities of the game world thanks to your generation tools sound so fascinating, so, I just want to know – can I go around your world, find one town and just settle and live there?

    Does the game support such things?

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Thanks very much! Nope, that isn’t planned – there’s a directed mystery the player is pursuing, and I’m not really after that kind of simulationist element. I think that’s more a DF thing!

  5. batraz says:

    Very interesting read, except for the clumsy anthropological lesson ; if only people could cease trying to “subvert” something we don’t fully understand to begin with. I mean, man, scarifications are a primitive behaviour, relativism can’t help it. Moreover, it seems that proc gen implies a structural conception of religions and cultures as some kind of mechanics, but cultures are bodies, not mechanics. In the end, I fear it will be a bit like the Sims : some funny mechanical imitation of life, showing a lot of intelligence from the makers, but heartless and somewhat preposterous. In other words I don’t think the Odissey can be procgened, but I’d love to be proved wrong..

    • P.Funk says:

      Maybe not, but maybe you can procgen a culture that is as obsessed with the figure of an Achilles as much as the Greeks were.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      “scarifications are a primitive behaviour, relativism can’t help it”

      That’s a pretty blinkered view, first thing that sprang to my mind was the Prussian fad for dueling scars not to mention the current popularity of piercings and tattooing.

      • Mark Johnson says:

        Yes! There’s a lot of cool academic work out there about patterns of behaviour in multiple different contexts, and this kind of thing viewed broadly – as basically physical changes/alterations being indicative of rites of passage, social capital, etc – is a really fascinating one across so many cultures in different ways.

  6. Geebs says:

    I’m still not entirely convinced that procedural generation really works for text-based stuff, to be honest.

    1) in order to provide stuff which the reader will accept as believable, you have to limit the outputs in such a way that a lot of preconceived cultural baggage gets sown into the system from the offset. Nothing truly surprising seems to come out.

    2) it seems to take much longer (this, Dwarf Frotress) than it would to just hire a writer to make a single, satisfying plot and all of the dialogue.

    3) trying to discern meaning by combing through a bunch of text which nearly, but not quite, manages to look like something a real person would say seems uncannily close to the experience of searching for that one email that accidentally ended up in my junk folder.

    • P.Funk says:

      I think on point 3 the plausibility of this is helped by how narrowly memetic more ancient cultures are in history where information and stories are fewer and the influence of a few ideas are so much greater.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      1) I don’t necessarily agree – I think we can definitely get to point where surprising stuff can emerge, although it’s certainly early days. Believability is complex and challenging, regardless. 2) Heh, maybe for a SINGLE plot, definitely, but not for replayability and unexpectedness and the like. 3) Ha!

  7. משוגע־סאָפֿע says:

    Mr JOHNSON, etc etc
    & one of the hosts of the

  8. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I continue to be impressed by what I see of Mark and URR. I can see the Eco influence – he’s one of my favorite writers too – in the over-arching plot; “an intellectual conspiracy that stretches across the generated world, and the clues to this conspiracy are hidden within the societies, cultures and religions of the world” sounds like a synopsis of The Name of the Rose (although in URR the conspiracy actually exists, so I suppose there’s an important thematic difference).

    One thing that I find myself wondering about after reading this article is how cultures and societies blend and interact with each other in the long-term. A lot has been said about the civilizations as discrete units, and all the wonderful differences between those units, but in the real world, cultures are no more static than their demographics. How will culture clashes play out when territory changes hands? I think of Quebec, where I grew up, and the allegations of Anglicization and assimilation that continue to rile people up.

    And what about migration? One glance at a newspaper from the past year will illustrate its impact on cultural perception and practices. It also tends to come in localized waves from various regions, and those waves will, in the absence of government policies to the contrary, tend to settle in the same area of the host country. This can significantly alter both the local and state character, given time.

    TL;DR: How are cultures impacted and influenced by interactions with their neighbours?

    • Llewyn says:

      The overarching plot is perhaps even more reminiscent of Foucault’s Pendulum, if we want to draw parallels. And of course there the conspiracy really exists as well, eventually.

      Wu Ming is another interesting literary influence. I enjoyed Q hugely, perhaps even as much as any of Eco’s novels. 54 was excellent too.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        Right, sorry, that’s the one I was thinking of. Name of the Rose has a weird library, Foucault’s Pendulum has conspiracy theories.

        • Llewyn says:

          To be fair, conspiracy theories are a bit of a recurring theme (did you read Prague Cemetary?) and it’s been a long, long time since I read Name of the Rose so I assumed you were right about that one too!

      • Mark Johnson says:

        Q might be my favourite novel; it’s such a spectacular depiction of a world where what we would call “academic” theological questions truly and deeply MATTER, and it shows how these sorts of beliefs and practices can mobilize people, soldiers, trade, merchants, and everything else in society; it’s that kind of society I really want to capture.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Thanks a lot! I’m so glad you like it; yeah, Eco is such a big part of this vision. I am actually debating making it ambiguous whether the conspiracy truly exists or not, but I haven’t decided yet! Long-term: in URR, anyway, they aren’t going to shift too much during gameplay, for a whole bunch of design, coding, and gameplay reasons, but that’s a simulationist element I’m not really pushing for too hard. Migration: some cultures are very hegemonic and isolationist, others imperialist, others internationalist, and so forth; those elements (and decisions on race/sex/nation/etc) are big parts of the game world. Like I say, these elements are unlikely to change much during gameplay, but I’m trying to ensure as much initial variation as possible – and the full game will probably be only a few in-game years in length, so it shouldn’t be too jarring. I do want a few changes, though, like wars, plagues, and the like, but not gigantic societal changes.

  9. mercyRPG says:

    This game also procedurally generates players who purchase the game with procedurally generated money so I don’t even have to pay attention, which would be procedurally generated anyway..

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    garfieldsam says:

    This series is already pretty incredible. Keep up the good work mate!

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    alison says:

    Thanks for working on this column, it is a really interesting read.

    There is something very appealing about playing with procedural generation as a programmer – you’re trying to get the computer to somehow be more creative (faster) than you could be yourself. My first attempt was a BASIC program back in the early 90s that was a “random” name generator, and most recently at work I had a bit of fun procedurally generating a color palette for a data visualization instead of just using a stock palette. But as a gamer – or at least, the type of gamer I am – I am still not really sold on the results. I already live in the most complex procedurally generated world there is, and it’s called real life – when I play a game I want to get away from that.

    I guess my feeling is that most stories of real life are boring. Everyone, everywhere is pretty much exactly the same. You grind for 80 years and may only get a handful of truly interesting stories out of that. I consume media like TV or games precisely because they are curated – an artist has deliberately selected a sequence of compelling events for me to experience. Those hours I get taken on a journey that in my real life would take much more commitment or would perhaps even be physically impossible. But investing the time to explore a procedurally generated world where you need to hunt around for a story sounds a bit too much like real life to be a diversion for me. I get procedural generation for stuff like Proteus where literally the whole point of the game is to wander about looking at pretty stuff for an hour or two, but it feels odd to structure a story game around it.

  12. robvitaro says:

    … I was reminded of that age-old bit of procedural generation wisdom – that rather than having, for example, eight options with a chance of 1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1 to appear, it is far more interesting to have eight options with chances 1/1/1/10/10/10/10/10…

    Help me out here Mark… I have no idea what this means! Can you elaborate here, or point me to the source of the age-old wisdom?

    Love this series, looking forward to parts 3 and 4, AND to URR .8!

    • naam says:

      I think what he means to say here is that it’s usually more interesting to mix up the occurence of certain parts of the mix more prominently than other parts. So that some occurences (let’s say: a religion worshipping a demon god) are less likely than others (let’s say: a monotheistic vs a polytheistic religion).

      Keeping the special flavours special, so to say, was my reading.