Programmatically generated gameplay is something that’s always been super cool and interesting to me.
Procedural world and story generation in game development is certainly not a new topic. It’s been around even in the 70’s as a concept discussed by James Meehan Jr his program TALE-SPIN. It uses English that he wrote and can generate a story by creating a problem and then solving it. Definitely read his paper it’s very interesting. A more recent implementation of a system like this is Bethesda’s Radiant AI system, used to randomly generate infinite quests in their RPGs. Unfortunately, this isn’t really a feature that’s super well received in Bethesda games like Skyrim and Fallout 4. In fact, they’ve been frequently the source of these games’ harshest criticisms. I myself am not the biggest fan of the Radiant quest system, but I do believe that the underlying concept is something that could have a lot of ground in the future of game development. The idea of a game that’s different every time is something that really appeals to me.
In the upcoming game No Man’s Sky, we see a massive world that kind of follows this principle. All of the English in No Man’s Sky and everything we see was modeled or creating by someone to some degree, but it was all programmatically pieced together to create an entire galaxy that can be explored by the player. Everything from NPC dialogue to all of the landscapes through the solar system are all procedurally put together to create a world that’s consistently different. I think that concepts like this can be applied to all sorts of things, not just massive scale role playing games. A short game with simple gameplay can still potentially become exciting when its different every single time you play it. Looking at games that I want to buy and play, one of the biggest things that I think about is replayability. A game that you can finish in a few hours becomes much more appealing if you have a reason to want to play it again.
However, when it comes to this kind of gameplay, there is definitely something lost when every play through is different. When you finish a game like Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door you finish a story. It’s no lesser of a story than one you would find in a book or a film. So if you played Thousand Year Door again and it was completely different, you would probably be a little disappointed that it’s not the same game. So clearly this format is unfit for story based adventures such as this.
Procedural generation is still super cool. What if a puzzle game like The Witness randomly generated its line puzzles for every play through, making the use of a walkthrough impossible? It would definitely add a unique element to the game, but it also might have made it terrible. Who knows?