Opinion: procedurally generated garbage and the death of good stories

Opinion: procedurally generated garbage and the death of good stories
Bathed in sweat, I wake up from a nightmare: every time I walked into my apartment, all the furniture was somewhere else in the room. Looking for the toilet, I stumbled over the stove and found the television, which of course wasn't in front of the sofa, but under the shower. Something like it happens to me in every game that its levels are procedurally generated and thus rob me of every point of orientation in the game.

Procedurally generated game worlds only emerge when the player "loads" into them. Objects, buildings and entire landscapes change their locations or are sometimes not even there. Such a level design is practically indispensable in roguelikes, in which you usually start from the beginning more often and a fixed landscape design would only ensure a yawning boredom. Procedurally generated elements in games that focus on gameplay and challenge are also useful. XCOM2, for example, does not have a fixed level design so that hardcore gamers don't get embarrassed to know the cards by heart in the umpteenth run and are thus deprived of any challenge.

Developer Firaxis built round for XCOM: Enemy Unknown 80 maps by hand, which was not enough for many hardcore fans. For XCOM 2 it was therefore decided to use procedurally generated maps. Source: Games Aktuell The death of a good story

In fact, procedurally generated content makes some games possible in the first place. Tetris wouldn't work if the same blocks kept falling from the sky in the same order. The principle of chance and the challenge of reacting quickly give the classic great success today. Tetris completely dispenses with a story, but this would only damage the simple gameplay.

On the other hand, a successful plot requires a game idea that goes beyond chance. A good story lives from its staging, which requires careful planning and implementation, instead of a computer program that throws up the essential content in a random generator. Yes, huge worlds and an almost inexhaustible number of missions can only be created through procedural structures. Unfortunately, the computer-generated elements almost always lack creative ideas. Uninspired quests that invite you to collect and kill faceless NPCs are in the truest sense of the word preprogrammed. Cyberpunk 2077 is already being celebrated for its atmosphere and story. Incidentally, the game completely dispenses with procedurally generated content, every little thing has been created and placed by hand. Source: PC Games Hardware No game that pulled me under its spell with its fantastic story and whose atmosphere took my breath away, had large, procedurally generated parts. And when No Man's Sky attracted public attention with its innovative concept, it was just that for me: The experimental attempt to develop a video game only with procedurally generated elements. The now polished gameplay may be worth a trip into infinity, but the game didn't deserve an award for the best script.

Always the same story

The new Watch Dogs: Legions strikes with its core element in the same notch and uses "procedurally generated" as an advertising message. With over nine million different playable NPCs, the title should be a unique experience and offer an insanely lively game world. Each character is created by the game the moment I invite you to a district. Ethnicity, appearance, clothing and occupation are generated as the most obvious characteristics of a person. If I scan this, the game also determines an approximate salary and the resulting affordable place of residence of the passerby. If I want to recruit him now, I have to do a mission for him. These are of course also generated procedurally and adapted to the situation of my candidate. The supposedly personal strokes of fate of the NPCs promise countless individual quests - after all, the game varies many small features. In the playful experience, however, it often doesn't matter whether I break into this or that building and in the end I always deal with the same scenarios.

The skills and personalities of the London population are made up of a large pool. You only recognize repetitive elements after playing for some time, but then you can't look away from them. Source: PC Games In the end, the concept of Watch Dogs only works in the first few hours of the game, when all the skills and archetypes that make up the population of in-game London are still new and unknown. So I initially perceive the world as diverse and immersive before the repetitive patterns catch my eye at some point. Later in the game, I lose both interest and motivation to deal with the population. I never scan NPCs to find out a potentially interesting background story, but only to fill up my ranks of recruits.

Roguelikes like Hades thrive on the fact that you as a player keep dying and reloading into the game world. If the levels weren't generated procedurally, the repetitive game design would quickly become very boring. Source: PC Games Enjoy with caution

In most games, procedurally generated content is integrated purely to save time, because everything that the game creates itself does not have to be designed by developers. Lovingly designed levels, Easter eggs and plot twists cannot arise in such processes or are very error-prone. For example, in Watch Dogs, a gamer stumbled upon a pediatrician who recently broke up with one of her patients - bizarre and inappropriate.

Acclaimed titles from developers Bethesda, Rockstar, and CD Project Red are great because they got me into draw their spell and tell stories in which everything is right. And if everything has to be right, it cannot be procedurally generated.

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