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Generating Game Content

Monday, March 21, 2005

At the moment, I'm putting a lot of time in creating levels for Trichromix. There is some additional content in Trichromix that must be developed as well and that also takes time. Trichromix is a relatively small game and doesn't have that much content, but I'm just one man and my time is limited. Since I have no ambitions of growing into a large development studio, the amount of content I can put into a game will always be limited.

Gamasutra has a report on Will Wright's GDC lecture entitled 'The Future Of Content'. In this lecture Will Wright introduces the notion of creating content through, what he calls, procedural methods. In essence, this means that you write computer algorithms to generate the content for you instead of creating it yourself manually.

Will Wright takes this idea from the demo scene. A demo is basically a computer animation where most, if not all, of the visuals and music are computer generated on-the-fly. For historic reasons, a lot of demos have a size limit of just 64KB. That's the entire size of the demo, including both code and data. You'll be amazed at what some of these demo programmers can do within such a small file size.

If you have ever stored a photograph on your computer and looked at the file size, you'll know that 64KB can't hold much visual data. Even with good compression and mediocre quality, a typical music file will take up about 500KB a minute and most demos run for a good couple of minutes. So, pre-developed content is pretty much out for a 64 KB demo. Instead, you'll need to write some computer code that can generate stunning visuals and beautiful music for you. Code takes up far less space than data and is more reusable. All hail the algorithm!

For indie game developers, this is a very interesting notion. As I said before, creating lots and lots of content isn't within our reach. If we embrace procedural methods instead and are willing to learn how to unlock the awesome powers of the algorithm, we will find a way to not only add more content to our games, but also differentiate ourselves from the mainstream gaming market.

I'm not saying that we should all throw out our copies of Milkshape and Paint Shop Pro immediately and create games with content that's generated exclusively. Instead, I propose that we experiment with writing algorithms that generate game content in order to add another valuable tool to our tool box. Trichromix doesn't need generated content, so there is no use in me using procedural methods for that game. But other games can benefit from procedural methods. I also believe that, as a bonus, this is a tool that will allow us to think about games and game design in entirely different ways.

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Dustin Sacks says:

I've had good success with getting users to generate content. Granted you need to have some users before this can work, but once they get started it's surprising what can come about. I'm also a one-man shop, so it's been a godsend for me. Here's a page displaying all the maps that users have created for Lux:

Monday, March 21, 2005 9:09 PM

GBGames says:

This entry is also related to the game tools entry you made earlier. Yes, you can create tools for yourself to make it easier, but you should also make tools for your customers. How easy is it to create new characters and objects in The Sims? Users were able to create as easily as play. Similarly with Spores. People get attached to what they create. No one wants to lose the D&D or MMO character that they've invested a lot of time in. Lux probably does as well in terms of loyalty because people like the idea that they've created something. Total Annihilation allowed you to create custom units. There is still a thriving community of TA players who develop new content.

Monday, March 21, 2005 10:10 PM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

I agree. Allowing players to create their own content doesn't just result in more content, it also results in more player involvement. This makes it a great marketing tool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 1:21 PM

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