What Is Procedural Generation in Games?
Procedural generation is used for a variety of reasons in games. Some of these include increasing replay value, data compression and scalability.
It was first used in the 1980 rogue-like game Beneath Apple Manor and later popularized by Rogue which started a craze of procedurally generated games. More recently, open world games like Minecraft and No Man’s Sky use this technique.
Games that rely on procedural generation can provide a unique experience every time a player plays. This variety helps to prevent staleness by keeping the game fresh and interesting, even for players who have already explored a large portion of the world.
Procedural generation can also create a sense of discovery by making it difficult to predict what will happen. This can be accomplished by using a seed value that feeds into the algorithm, which will produce different results each time.
Procedural generation can also be used to spawn objects in the world, such as enemies, trees, loot and particle systems. This allows for a combination of artistic control and procedural variety that cannot be achieved with hand-crafted assets alone.
Many games use procedural generation to increase replayability by ensuring that the game is fresh each time you play it. For example, in roguelikes like Spelunky, each new level is a new challenge and the game world changes each time.
Procedural algorithms can be used to instantly spawn enemies, animals, trees, flora, particle systems, loot, and more. This is known as ‘instantiating’ and is one of the most common uses of procedural generation in games.
Some developers also use procedural generation for scalability and data compression. For example, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky procedurally generated 18 quintillion planets using a combination of several different algorithms. This allowed them to pack the game with more content in a smaller download size.
While the term procedural generation is often associated with generating 2D or 3D landscapes, it can be used for any type of game content. This includes characters, loot, equipment, quests, and more. It’s also frequently used in games with permanent death as a gameplay mechanic to create unique playthroughs for each player.
This is one of the main reasons that procedural generation has become popular in the indie gaming community, allowing single developers or small teams to create large worlds that would otherwise be impossible on their own. However, this flexibility can be abused if the algorithms are not carefully designed.
For example, games using procedural generation to generate dungeons often use noise functions that produce random-seeming values, despite being designed with certain goals in mind. This makes the resulting levels seem uninspired and stale.
Using procedural generation in games can help developers create vast worlds in limited resources. This is one of the main reasons it’s become popular among indie games – it allows small teams to maximize game content within a smaller budget and timeframe.
For example, a game could generate the broad strokes of the terrain with a simple algorithm while relying on traditional modeling to create unique, handcrafted assets for trees and other finer details. This can allow for a seamless combination of artistic control and procedural variety.
Many open world games use procedural generation to ensure each playthrough is different. This helps keep the experience fresh and keeps players engaged. It’s also a common feature in games with permadeath mechanics, which require players to start over from the beginning every time they die.
Using procedural generation allows developers to create games that would be impossible to design otherwise. This is especially important for games with large worlds and many assets that need to be created.
Games with permadeath or similar mechanics that force players to start over from the beginning often use procedural generation. This allows them to provide a unique experience each time they play the game.
In addition, using procedural generation can reduce development costs by allowing developers to skip the step of manually designing each element of a level or world. This can help small indie studios and solo developers create high-quality games within a shorter time frame or budget. This allows them to compete with the massive AAA titles that often have tens of millions of dollars to spend on lavishly detailed worlds.