Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Why Randomly Generated Content Sucks

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 5 Jun 2012 16:00
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The problem with randomly-generated content, or a game that professes to be different with each playthrough depending on your choices, is that you still have to make all of those individual bits of content to be tied together. But that task is at its least daunting when we talk about a text-only story where you don't have to voice act all the alternate lines or animate all the alternate scenes. How I picture this working is that you start with a nice general situation, let's say a ship wrecked on an island. Then you randomly generate four survivors. The random name library spits out the names Karen, Jim, Elizabeth and Rajeev. All four are given random stats in various traits - physical strength, charisma, curiosity, self-esteem, decisiveness - as well as "respect" and "fondness" stats for each of their three companions.

Throughout the story would come various conjunction points in which we calculate what each character is going to do next based on their personalities and what events have already happened. Rajeev has high decisiveness so he rescued Jim from the shipwreck, but Jim has high self-esteem so ended up resenting Rajeev for it. Elizabeth's high curiosity enables her to explore the island and stumble upon some coconuts, which she shares with Karen because Karen is the prettiest and Elizabeth is extremely shallow. But if Jim doesn't get nourishment, his desperation climbs higher and he becomes more likely to attempt to kill Rajeev for food. The story goes on until everyone dies or rescue arrives after a pre-determined period of time.

Also, if any characters are calculated to have enough personality traits that connect well together then some moments would be set aside for romantic scenes. Two characters successfully fucking during the course of a story would result in perhaps a little achievement box coming up, and your E-reader of choice would start emitting a siren to signal to everyone around you that you're suddenly reading porn.

It still wouldn't be as stimulating reading as something that was actually directed appropriately by a writer, but there'd be a nice water cooler quality where you could compare what stories you've been getting to those of your fellow readers. Perhaps you could share particularly good stories online. Ooh ooh ooh! And there'd also be an optional "Custom Mode" where instead of randomly generating characters you can enter the names of yourself and your friends and whatever stats you want. Imagine the fun when you get to the office the next day and get to tell Greg that the party ended up eating him. On toast. It'd be like The Sims but without the awkward conversations that arise when your avatar impregnates your best friend's wife.

It just occurred to me that in George Orwell's 1984 reference is made to "novel-writing machines", and in that context they were used to illustrate how emotionally bankrupt society had become. But you know, speaking as a novelist (whose next book comes out this October, WOO!) I don't see any problem with getting to take more days off.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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