Procedural generation, or procgen, is a slightly fancy way of saying “a computer made this.” While a more accurate name might be Procedural Content Generation, it is, regardless of the title, a field of artificial intelligence used for creating anything from music, to artwork, to video game content. Unfortunately, this is not a blog about artificial intelligence, nor is this post about explaining the ins-and-outs of procedural generation. If you would like more information I would suggest heading over to BrainyBeard where there are constantly new articles on all things game AI related (after you finish reading this of course).
Procgen (I am hence forth too lazy to write out the full title) has a long history in video games for creating various game content dynamically and with varying levels of success. Minecraft is a successful example of land procgen as is Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (despite getting a bit repetitive after a while). Without procgen neither of these games (nor a whole plethora of other games) would be what they are.
The level of success (or failure) in a game boils down to one thing: intent. That is to say, the reason it is included as part of the game. In the case of Minecraft nearly the entire game was built around the land creation procgen, and hence the game has been massively successful. The procgen does not distract from the game, instead it is a core element and allows you, the player, to restart the game and have a whole new land to explore every time. Daggerfall was a little less successful in its integration of procgen in that the intent seemed to be creating a near endless world, which after a while became not only repetitive but also cumbersome. There is a reason the Elder Scrolls series went back to static lands.
Despite the removal of procgen lands, Elder Scrolls continued to make use of procgen in a different way by incorporating a mini-quest generation system. Instead of having countless miles of land to explore, you get countless sub quests to complete. In this instance, the intent was to give the players an expansion on the game play beyond the primary story line. Given the number of people still playing Skyrim more than five years after the initial launch, I would call their intent a successful match up with procgen.
These are just a few examples where the intent (and implementation) of procgen in a game was a good thing. There are many bad examples of procgen in games out there, but I prefer to focus on the positive here. The positives of procgen for a player are increased play time and a more dynamic game experience.
Computer created content provides a player with “more bang for your buck.” More lands, more items, more enemies, more quests, more, more, more. That is generally a good thing. When done right, that is a great thing. A single video game can become that Game Master you loved. The one who spent every waking hour, two weeks straight, creating content for your Friday through Sunday gaming marathon. Only in the case of the computer, it can be virtually limitless game play time created in mere seconds. Best of all, you don’t have to share the Doritos with the computer.
That is why you should care about procgen.