Procedural Generation is quickly gaining popularity in the video gaming world. From Elite back in 1984, which featured 8 galaxies with 256 solar systems to explore all procedurally generated, to the soon to be released game developed by tiny developer Hello Games, No Man’s Sky “which will, its creators Hello Games say, be infinitely large, with every giant rock and ball of gas able to be explored.” (Richard Moss, Gizmag.com)
But is Procedural Generation really the future of video gaming? Before today and currently, big video game developers, for example Ubisoft, have many people working on one game. About 80 of those people are working exclusively on art. They work on the textures and patterns for doors, environments, outfits and much more. But what if all you had to do was make a couple of algorithms and input the same artwork and have the computer procedurally generate the environment for you? This way, developers could use less time, manpower, and focus on making a game look pretty and redirect that focus on the story and character development. Right now there are very few developers using procedural generation, some use it for small things like minor environments and such but very few developers use it at all. Procedural generation could be the answer to making amazing games and putting them out for the public more quickly.
First off, according to Wikipedia, “In computer graphics, procedural generation is generating content algorithmically rather than manually. In video games this means graphic content for a game can be created by the host computer, instead of pre-rendered artwork being included with the game package.” In simpler words, it is the process of creating content using nothing but codes.
Procedural generation was first brought about because the earliest computer games were very restricted in terms of memory and were unable to hold a lot of pre-rendered levels and graphics. This pretty much forced developers to have the game algorithmically generate maps and such on the fly. Since then, many games have used procedural generation in a number of different ways such as Elite which generated its own star systems, Diablo back in 1996, which sported random dungeon layouts along with random item generation. One of the most popular games to blast procedural generation wide open was Minecraft in 2009 which whenever you start a new world, be it creative or story modes, generates a random world and randomly placed creatures, mobs (monsters), NPCs (non-playable characters), caves, dungeons, etc. This game was so popular, especially among younger kids because of its simplicity. It was vastly popular among my generation because it sported a “block” style graphics much like an 8-bit Mario game which brought us back to our first times playing platformers and the like. Besides the simplicity, creative aspect, and the feeling of nostalgia, Minecraft was very popular because of its extremely large maps. Minecraft later launched its multiplayer feature which allowed players to “log” into a world created by someone through a server and play in their world. The host or moderator of the world, when creating it, is able to set the map so it generates extreme bioms like large swamp area, huge mountains, vast flat plains, etc. It allowed them to “play” with the algorithms without actually altering the math itself. When you go back to your own world or a server world, it generates the same way because the algorithm is set that way. There is a different input for every new map you create all based off of the same one just randomly generated differently each time. In Minecraft, the developer “Notch” made it so you could alter how many frames per second could load as you walked around the map. This helped greatly for players who did not have a very strong computer and those whose RAM was not high enough to run the game at full speed. There are many other games that use procedural generation, even slightly. Left 4 Dead used it to make the game play of their very popular zombie apocalypse game different and fun depending on your skill level. The AI, which they called the Director, “analyzed player statistics and game states on the fly to provide dynamic experiences on each and every playthrough.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedural_generation)
In terms of what is driving this technology of being able to generate maps and things on the fly, there are a lot of factors. One major factor is the gamers. Myself, as a gamer, can say for certain that large games are fun. One of the biggest selling points for The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim was its vast map. Everyone loves a big map to explore. The Batman: Arkham series, Assassins Creed, and many other RPG games sport a very large map for the player to, well, play around in. With procedural generation, it is possible to generate a large world or even parts of worlds quickly and efficiently. Not only do players love big worlds but a game is no good without an engaging story. running around a big map isn’t any fun without something else to do. Being able to have very few people working on the artwork of the environments and such allows more people to put their focus on the story, character development, dialogue, and much more.
Another factor the promotes the use of procedural generation is that it greatly helps smaller “indie” developers who do not have the funding or resources that bigger “name” developers do. “While big developers can afford to build specialised level design tools, this often isn’t feasible for indies, so procedural generation can be an interesting option as an alternative to time-consuming manually crafted levels,” quoted from Serious Brew developer Maarten Brouwer, an expert in procedural generation following his work on Cargo Commander in an article by Craig Chapple for Develop-online.net. A perfect example of this is the ever growing popular, yet to be released title and my selling point, No Man’s Sky. The developers of No Man’s Sky, Hello Games, is made up of just four people. They were able, regardless of lack of funding or extremely small size of staff, to create a game with an infinite procedural universe. They have mentioned multiple times during various interviews they they don’t even know what is out in their universe. The first trailer for No Man’s Sky was revealed to the world at VGX which is a video game conference, back in 2013. The trailer showed gameplay captured in real-time and said that everything was procedural. "Every atom, leaf, tree, bird, fish, rock, ocean, cloud, ruin, star, sun, galaxy, planet. Every planet unique, every planet unexplored." All was claimed in the very first trailer ever released for No Man’s Sky.
Kevin Meredith, of Interactive Data Visualization, when interviewed for an article on develop-online.com by Craig Chapple, said “This lets artists spend more time on other parts of the game, as well as get the game done more quickly and at higher quality.“So not only are there time and money savings in procedural development but also the increased revenue that results from a better game launched sooner.” So the third factor would obviously be money, as it is with mostly everything in todays society. By being able to have more people spending less time on one restricted aspect of a game. They could accomplish their primary objective much faster and move on to something else. This ultimately speeds up the process of game development and leads to better games being produced faster and being launched sooner which, as Meredith said, leads to increased revenue.
In terms of the STEEP model, the use of procedural generation really only applies to the social, technological, and somewhat the economical aspects of the model. The social uses are quite obvious as this technology is being used mostly for video games at the moment and it will provide a greater consumer satisfaction by creating great games, much faster.
Procedural generation would greatly impact the the technological world because of all of the different uses for this technology. It can be used to generate animation for film, which was the biggest selling point for the Unreal Engine 4. This engine was used to create a full mini-movie using “real-time” cinematics. “You can download the engine and use it for everything from game development, education, architecture, and visualization to VR, film and animation.” (https://www.unrealengine.com/) Right now, the Unreal Engine is used by many Indie developers because of its simplicity and how much it is capable of.
This technology, which was mentioned before, can also be economical by limiting the number of people needed to put out a great game, hence reducing the money that goes into the development, and the tools required to create said game. Though think about this. If four people (developers at Hello Games) were able to make an entire procedurally generated “infinite” universe, think about how much could be done with a full team like those found at Ubisoft? If every person there works one part of an algorithm and then meet up and put it all together, it may be less time consuming than one person working on an entire algorithm. So, the economical part might not take full effect, but maybe after this technology advances more and we have more advanced AI making the games for us, the economical aspect will become much more prevalent.
ANGELINA, created by Mark Cook of Imperial College is already capable of making small 2-D and 3-D games on its own using algorithms. It is even capable of creating games using a single theme word or phrase. (Moss, Gizmag.com) This could possibly take the place of big developers.
Procedural generation has been around since the 1980s, but it hasn’t been used to the extent it is now. This technology is only going to grow larger as time passes. ANGELINA, will probably be able to create full length games with a compelling story and enhanced gameplay before too long. This gradual change will most likely bring about a new age for game development. When referring to the growth and trend curve methods of forecasting, procedural generation is only growing in both advancement and popularity. Since the 1980s, procedural generation has grown from just being able to generate star systems like in Elite and being able to generate stronger opponents relating to skill level like in Diablo, to creating whole new “random” worlds like in Minecraft and ultimately creating a whole universe in No Man’s Sky. A forecast could be made that within the next five years, there probably will not be a big change in this technology or its application. The only change that may occur is that more developers will start to use procedural generation as a way to take care of some of the less pressing issues when developing a game like making the environment or the wildlife. Bigger developing firms will probably have either the same amount of people working on one part of the game as they do now, or they will downsize it but only by a little because those people will be able to complete their tasks much faster and will be able to move on to other tasks. They will not have to create every single leaf or tree, rather, they will create one tree or leaf and add it to that particular algorithm which will render each tree and leaf to look differently when need be.
In 10 years, however, the applications for this technology could advance much further. Right now, the newly upgraded Unreal Engine 4 was able to create a mini-movie faster than an entire team at Pixar. The Unreal Engine, used real-time cinematics at 30 frames per second with 100 square miles in landscape to create this “movie”. So in 10 years, maybe even sooner, this may become the new way of creating animation.
In an interview between Game Informer and Sean Murray, developer at Hello Games, he was asked if he thinks if procedural generation is taking over a majority of gaming. Murray says that we (the gamers as well as developers) will always want real artistic input, that will always be important. Rather he says that if you go into a big studio like Ubisoft, a lot of people are going to be working on art. But those studios are usually made up of about 800 people, maybe a little less. But Murray says that if you need 800 people to make a game you will be really constrained because they need to make the new Assassin’s Creed like the last one but set in a different time period. Murray says that instead of procedural generation completely taking over, it could be used to solve some of those problems just so the team is a little less constrained to making just one thing at a time. Procedural generation will allow them to multitask. In the years to come, procedural generation might very well become a very important part in the creation of game developing. Although, I think that some of the bigger names in gaming will take a bit to get into the trend of procedural generation just because they have been traditionally making games for years. Traditionally as in creating it themselves and not relying on math to make the game. Although, once they do jump on this bandwagon, could see very beautiful, very intense and well designed games releasing by names like Bethesda and Ubisoft in the not so far future.
Procedural generation is a fast growing technology that has the potential to be very beneficial to the video game industry. While it may not completely take over as the sole source for game development, it does have a very bright future in the making on games. Procedural generation can help cut costs in the long run by helping developers complete tasks much faster leading to less time consumption and more revenues on a great game launched earlier. It can and has proven to very much help smaller, indie developers like Hello Games make larger, more immersive games that mostly was only possible to larger name developers like Ubisoft or Bethesda. By working hand in hand with creative AIs such as ANGELINA, creators can make incredible games and advance the future of gaming as we know it. It seems, right now, that No Man’s Sky is going to be the flagship for procedural generation and developer Sean Murray the evangelist in the video game world (Game Informer interview with Sean Murray). Procedural generation has many applications which it can be used for and hopefully will be used for in the near future.
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