City Life: An Unfulfilled Setting

City Life: An Unfulfilled Setting

Few games confine their setting to a single metropolis, and those that do often come up short.

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Every time I think about cities in video games I think of this

EDIT: And this

I do think that procedural content will have some place in the future but if it isnt much worked upon things will always look the same. There really needs to be a huge variety of assets and ways of controlling those assets. A poor house cant have a flatscreen in the kids bedroom for example.

Another way is having an editor like in The Sims, then give it to the fans to create the buildings with the assets that the dev made. People like building shit, thats the best part of The Sims so they wouldnt really need to work on a way of procedurally assemble a believable house.

The procedural part would be to create the structure of the city and to find premade buildings that would fit in that structure. The category and value of the building would be taken into account based on what assets were used.

procedural generation has serious potential but its very easy to fall into things having that same looking feel about it. now if you started mixing something like that generation but with very detailed radiant AI even more than you see for skyrim, etc then you might be onto a more living world. to me yeah you have a dual problem of the building and infrastructure and AI of the individuals

good point about the sims as well. another is something like minecraft. people build unbelievable stuff in that

josemlopes:
Every time I think about cities in video games I think of this

EDIT: And this

I do think that procedural content will have some place in the future but if it isnt much worked upon things will always look the same. There really needs to be a huge variety of assets and ways of controlling those assets. A poor house cant have a flatscreen in the kids bedroom for example.

Another way is having an editor like in The Sims, then give it to the fans to create the buildings with the assets that the dev made. People like building shit, thats the best part of The Sims so they wouldnt really need to work on a way of procedurally assemble a believable house.

The procedural part would be to create the structure of the city and to find premade buildings that would fit in that structure. The category and value of the building would be taken into account based on what assets were used.

Wow I wonder if they could do an MMO where the players actually built a single giant city world.

The LACK of town/city size really took me out of skyrim. Sure you can talk to everyone, but the "Troubled Jarl of Winterhold" is ruling over 4 buildings and the guards were patroling one city block! The "Small town" of Rorickstead is 3 buildings.

A really good in-game city has a life of its own; it doesn't need the main plot of the game to provide entertainment and display a character. It's a fairly difficult thing to achieve, but the GTA and Baldur's Gate series have definitely nailed it.

The problem with city design in videogames, which the author comments upon, is that the more graphically realistic a city becomes the more difficult it becomes to maintain this sense of a living environment. You need better AI scripts to simulate random citizens, or more scripted events to make them seem totally random, you need to let the player into more buildings, and so on. GTA San Andreas had just about the right balance, particularly in cities like Los Santos where random pedestrians would engage each other in randomised (and often unwittingly hilarious) conversations and you could get into a number of houses either by buying or burgling them. GTA IV by contrast had a beautifully rendered environment, but the pedestrians were nowhere near as entertaining and there were far fewer places you could access outside of missions, so for me it felt a bit lifeless.

The more detailed it gets, the more you notice the cracks. You can see this at work in the more recent Elder Scrolls games, where the NPCs are so intricately modeled that they eat, sleep, go to work, go to the pub etc - but as a consequence there are so few of them that the places the game is trying to convince you are a 'city' only have about 40 people living in them.

This is sort of tangential, but one of the things that really got to me about Saints Row the Third is that it took away a lot of the interiors from the previous game. Now, SR2 didn't have a hugenumber of explorable buildings, but it had a fair share. It also had the Ultor mall, which included stuff you could only get in those shops. It being underground in a largely outdoor environment made it special in itself.

There were several buildings in SR2 with absolutely NO story significance or bonuses. In SRTT, they stripped out the indoor locales to pretty much what you HAD to use in cutscenes and missions.

A lot of this is said to do with the visuals, something I'm sure happened with games like Skyrim, too.

Nurb:
The LACK of town/city size really took me out of skyrim. Sure you can talk to everyone, but the "Troubled Jarl of Winterhold" is ruling over 4 buildings and the guards were patroling one city block! The "Small town" of Rorickstead is 3 buildings.

Yeah, this always bothered me. Throw in a dragon attack and you'll have a Jarl ruling over a metropolis of like three people.

The problem is this ideal situation is highly unrealistic given current technology and development cycles.

You've pointed out the main dilemma: how to build a lively city without sacrificing performance?

The designers should try to use better the current technology, as longs it fits the gameplay. For instance, it doesn't really matter that GTA cities have hundreds of unaccessible buildings, since the action takes place often on the streets anyway.

When it comes to making the most of a geographically small area, you can do better than a city. Metal Gear Solid takes place in a single storage facility, and not even a particularly big one, but it manages to make an entire game, and have much more going for it than many game cities. Certainly more to it than even the biggest cities in Pokémon.

Then again, its design does bring up its fair share of questions. Are the genome soldiers commuting to work, or are there on-site dorms that we never see? If it's a commute, where do they park their cars? I don't see so much as a single bus stop or parking lot, just a truck that moves between areas (and must have been helicoptered in, as the helipad area doesn't actually connect to anything else in any truck-accessible way). How come all the offices are in such odd locations? Shouldn't there be a front office of some sort? As a storage facility, there needs to be office space by the loading bay, for proper cataloguing. Is that big space between the first two buildings there for the sole purpose of putting a tank? And that's just off the top of my head.

But I'm not bringing it up because I think it makes sense. I'm bringing it up because in spite of being quite small, it felt pretty big, because Konami made good use of the space they had. Plenty of backtracking, puzzles, distance-blocking bossfights, and general sneaking make it quite the ordeal to actually reach the other end of the facility from when you actually start the game. It feels big and sprawling in spite of not being so much, which is pretty much the entire goal of a video game city. It's not until redoing Shadow Moses in Metal Gear Solid 4 that it's really apparent just how small the place is; it's actually one of the shorter acts in MGS4. The fact that it can so effectively mask its small size is the reason I choose to rate MGS a solid City out of 10.

P.S. Thanks

Jeremy Signor:
City Life: An Unfulfilled Setting

Few games confine their setting to a single metropolis, and those that do often come up short.

Read Full Article

Cities, etc., are to settings what buffets are to restaurants: They can be an excellent way to give customers a lot of choice in what they eat. They can sample a little of everything, or fill their plate with one particular thing. Your restaurant won't be the "best" at anything, odds are, but it'll have enough variety to justify return trips.

But, of course, the success of a buffet depends on having a wide variety of distinct flavors present, not simply in the number of individual dishes offered. If I have fifteen "different" kinds of fried chicken on my buffet, I'm still just offering fried chicken.

Zachary Amaranth:

Nurb:
The LACK of town/city size really took me out of skyrim. Sure you can talk to everyone, but the "Troubled Jarl of Winterhold" is ruling over 4 buildings and the guards were patroling one city block! The "Small town" of Rorickstead is 3 buildings.

Yeah, this always bothered me. Throw in a dragon attack and you'll have a Jarl ruling over a metropolis of like three people.

Oblivion was pretty bad at it too. The most hilarious part is when you have to petition other rulers to send aid to Bruma, and you head back to find about two extra guards camping in the street.

I'd love to play an RPG where you're new to a city. You have to pay your bills, keep your mental health in check and all the other necessities of life. To manage your new life, you can basically do anything and this changes what kind of game you play. Join a gang and work your way up, join the police-force and become a detective, become a masked vigilante. Or alternatively become a businessman and have the video-game version of American Psycho. Perhaps instead of laughing with the world you choose to weep and then it becomes a whole new game. I envision this not as a 3D game with the latest graphics but rather a 2D game with a retro-feel.

'Mindless pedestrians will walk along the sidewalks...'
That's pretty damn close to real life right there.

I have to agree that GTA games hit the winning formula. A perfect balance between necessity and esthetics to create an enjoyably life-like city environment, without too much immersion breaking. I felt like IV did take a few steps back though, so I'm hoping they really hit that nail on the head again with V

Shamanic Rhythm:

Zachary Amaranth:

Nurb:
The LACK of town/city size really took me out of skyrim. Sure you can talk to everyone, but the "Troubled Jarl of Winterhold" is ruling over 4 buildings and the guards were patroling one city block! The "Small town" of Rorickstead is 3 buildings.

Yeah, this always bothered me. Throw in a dragon attack and you'll have a Jarl ruling over a metropolis of like three people.

Oblivion was pretty bad at it too. The most hilarious part is when you have to petition other rulers to send aid to Bruma, and you head back to find about two extra guards camping in the street.

In Skyrim's defense, there wasn't a such thing as "metropolis'" in medieval times. A massive, region-defining city might have around 8,000 people and cover an area the size of a small college campus. I'm guessing that number would be way smaller in a Scandinavian culture that's not as clustered into cities. Whiterun has 69 residents with names, from a quick search. Obviously that's way less than it should be, but it's closer than a lot of games. I know "three people" was intended to be exaggeration, but if you compare it to other games, around 70 people is doing pretty good, considering that doesn't include nameless characters and NPCs--every one of those has a personal schedule and dialogue options.

wombat_of_war:
procedural generation has serious potential but its very easy to fall into things having that same looking feel about it. now if you started mixing something like that generation but with very detailed radiant AI even more than you see for skyrim, etc then you might be onto a more living world. to me yeah you have a dual problem of the building and infrastructure and AI of the individuals

good point about the sims as well. another is something like minecraft. people build unbelievable stuff in that

That isn't all that hard to do. The thing that most procedurally-generated games miss is art assets. In the real world, you've got a lot of sofas to choose from. Most game devs think that ones type of sofa will be enough. It isn't.

I think that a combination between procedural generation and nonprocedural content might be good:
1) Make a lot of assets to be used by the generator you wrote for exactly this purpose (can be sold as middleware later, just so you know devs)
2) Put all that into your generator and let it work for a few hours on a server farm generating a city with all AI behaviour and with appropriate numbers of cars, planes, ...
3) Put your story into that city.
4) Give the player a character creation system and at least two voice actors (one male, one female)
5) Give the player C4 and a RPG-7
6) You're done, you've got a sandbox game that is guranteed to sell

The generator will need a lot of different criteria to work off of, so that no completely weird stuff (like a loft in the middle of a slum) happens. If you do it right, you'll have a shitload of enterable apartments with people in them that go about their daily lives. If you can get a load of gameplay programmers, you can even get a system working where the player's actions can alter the city in different ways. And if you can get even more programmers, you can do a system that lets the player destroy those buildings brick by brick... actually, you wouldn't need that many, given that you can just specifiy to the random generator to build the buildings for you (it'll take a while to iron the bugs out, but it'll be worth it).

That answers the "big city" part too. You CAN make a big city that feels alive, and that can even be done by just throwing more people at the project.

Did the author never play Sleeping Dogs? Yes parts of the city were inaccessible but for the most part Sleeping Dogs was a thriving Metropolis complete with people that shopped, got in your way and generally acted like "people". GTA, Saints row and the like never came anywhere near that level of intricacy.

RatherDashing89:

Shamanic Rhythm:

Zachary Amaranth:

Yeah, this always bothered me. Throw in a dragon attack and you'll have a Jarl ruling over a metropolis of like three people.

Oblivion was pretty bad at it too. The most hilarious part is when you have to petition other rulers to send aid to Bruma, and you head back to find about two extra guards camping in the street.

In Skyrim's defense, there wasn't a such thing as "metropolis'" in medieval times. A massive, region-defining city might have around 8,000 people and cover an area the size of a small college campus. I'm guessing that number would be way smaller in a Scandinavian culture that's not as clustered into cities. Whiterun has 69 residents with names, from a quick search. Obviously that's way less than it should be, but it's closer than a lot of games. I know "three people" was intended to be exaggeration, but if you compare it to other games, around 70 people is doing pretty good, considering that doesn't include nameless characters and NPCs--every one of those has a personal schedule and dialogue options.

You're dead right about historical scaling.

However, the opposite side of the coin is that a couple of random mines will have more bandits than there are people in Whiterun. That does tend to detract from the authenticity a teeny bit.

Wow I wonder if they could do an MMO where the players actually built a single giant city world.[/quote]
They did. It is called sim city. it has failed miserably.

Nouw:
I'd love to play an RPG where you're new to a city. You have to pay your bills, keep your mental health in check and all the other necessities of life. To manage your new life, you can basically do anything and this changes what kind of game you play. Join a gang and work your way up, join the police-force and become a detective, become a masked vigilante. Or alternatively become a businessman and have the video-game version of American Psycho. Perhaps instead of laughing with the world you choose to weep and then it becomes a whole new game. I envision this not as a 3D game with the latest graphics but rather a 2D game with a retro-feel.

So basically you want a real life simulator game. Glad im not the only one with such wishes, there is still hope they make such a game after all. though technologically not possible yet for two reasons: performance and choice. first is pretty simply, our PCs arent powerful enough to run such simulations yet. Chosing is a bit harder to solve. I want to be able to choose what to do. but that leaves the question, did they though of it? if, say, i want to spit on someone, someone ahs to program it beforehand. so we are dependant on things the gamemakers thought of only, and that is extremely limited amount of things. The only "real" solution i can think of is virtual reality for choices and either extremely complex or self-learning AI for NPCs. neither of which is really affordable by current developement.

Matthi205:
If you can get a load of gameplay programmers, you can even get a system working where the player's actions can alter the city in different ways. And if you can get even more programmers, you can do a system that lets the player destroy those buildings brick by brick... actually, you wouldn't need that many, given that you can just specifiy to the random generator to build the buildings for you (it'll take a while to iron the bugs out, but it'll be worth it).

Oh shut up and take my money, this is my dream-game.

Dastardly:

Cities, etc., are to settings what buffets are to restaurants: They can be an excellent way to give customers a lot of choice in what they eat. They can sample a little of everything, or fill their plate with one particular thing. Your restaurant won't be the "best" at anything, odds are, but it'll have enough variety to justify return trips.

But, of course, the success of a buffet depends on having a wide variety of distinct flavors present, not simply in the number of individual dishes offered. If I have fifteen "different" kinds of fried chicken on my buffet, I'm still just offering fried chicken.

That's a pretty good analogy that also applies to re-playability.

I like it!

Strazdas:

Nouw:
I'd love to play an RPG where you're new to a city. You have to pay your bills, keep your mental health in check and all the other necessities of life. To manage your new life, you can basically do anything and this changes what kind of game you play. Join a gang and work your way up, join the police-force and become a detective, become a masked vigilante. Or alternatively become a businessman and have the video-game version of American Psycho. Perhaps instead of laughing with the world you choose to weep and then it becomes a whole new game. I envision this not as a 3D game with the latest graphics but rather a 2D game with a retro-feel.

So basically you want a real life simulator game. Glad im not the only one with such wishes, there is still hope they make such a game after all. though technologically not possible yet for two reasons: performance and choice. first is pretty simply, our PCs arent powerful enough to run such simulations yet. Chosing is a bit harder to solve. I want to be able to choose what to do. but that leaves the question, did they though of it? if, say, i want to spit on someone, someone ahs to program it beforehand. so we are dependant on things the gamemakers thought of only, and that is extremely limited amount of things. The only "real" solution i can think of is virtual reality for choices and either extremely complex or self-learning AI for NPCs. neither of which is really affordable by current developement.

I think to accomplish something of this calibre the dev would have to start small and eventually keep building on. I can imagine them having different stories that branch off based on your decision at first, hardly random and rather linear but it's still something. Incorporate a way of doing random shit like say spitting on someone and keep adding stuff to it and incorporate some kind of system, reputation?, to handle it as a game mechanic.

Nouw:
I think to accomplish something of this calibre the dev would have to start small and eventually keep building on. I can imagine them having different stories that branch off based on your decision at first, hardly random and rather linear but it's still something. Incorporate a way of doing random shit like say spitting on someone and keep adding stuff to it and incorporate some kind of system, reputation?, to handle it as a game mechanic.

Not good enough though. Its still linear and programmer depending. The things i would like to do in such a game (not that i would in real life) are something very likely no programmer woudl think of putting into it, and i wont be naming them because if i can get a ban for calling somone a troll on these forums i sure as hell will for that.

Strazdas:

Nouw:
I think to accomplish something of this calibre the dev would have to start small and eventually keep building on. I can imagine them having different stories that branch off based on your decision at first, hardly random and rather linear but it's still something. Incorporate a way of doing random shit like say spitting on someone and keep adding stuff to it and incorporate some kind of system, reputation?, to handle it as a game mechanic.

Not good enough though. Its still linear and programmer depending. The things i would like to do in such a game (not that i would in real life) are something very likely no programmer woudl think of putting into it, and i wont be naming them because if i can get a ban for calling somone a troll on these forums i sure as hell will for that.

Unless it actually breaks any of the rules, it should be fine. You're not planning on creating a fictional serial killer persona are you :P?

Nouw:

Strazdas:

Nouw:
I think to accomplish something of this calibre the dev would have to start small and eventually keep building on. I can imagine them having different stories that branch off based on your decision at first, hardly random and rather linear but it's still something. Incorporate a way of doing random shit like say spitting on someone and keep adding stuff to it and incorporate some kind of system, reputation?, to handle it as a game mechanic.

Not good enough though. Its still linear and programmer depending. The things i would like to do in such a game (not that i would in real life) are something very likely no programmer woudl think of putting into it, and i wont be naming them because if i can get a ban for calling somone a troll on these forums i sure as hell will for that.

Unless it actually breaks any of the rules, it should be fine. You're not planning on creating a fictional serial killer persona are you :P?

Telling on these forums that i woudl create a serial killer in-game wotn get me a ban (at least i dont think so). What i would actually do would. I think you get the picture.

This is what has always bugged me about urban video games-- the standards they're held to. Every time someone does an urban game-- and I mean EVERY time, it always gets one of two criticisms: Either the graphics are sub-par, or the cities "don't feel busy enough," or both.

It's gotten to the point where the developers will deliberately over-populate a small section of town in an otherwise excellent game like Borderlands 2 by making hundreds of extra NPCs that serve no purpose, block your path, and shout unimportant snippets of dialogue while a named NPC is explaining a quest. Cram as many NPCs in as the engine will allow, even if they actively detract from gameplay.

And STILL it seems like the only ones that become successful are the cartoony-looking ones. God help you if you're making a "realistic" game and you use a city environment as anything more than a linear corridor with a ridiculously elaborate skybox.

To me, the only trade-off is a much more fundamental one: graphics VS gameplay. That is, you can either have gameplay that lets you run all over the city and do whatever you want, whenever you want, or else you can have a city that looks and feels acceptably detailed for the current generation of hardware. Those are your two options.

And 9 times out of 10, reviewers and consumers will bomb your game if the graphics aren't up to snuff. Sure, they'll CLAIM that gameplay is the most important thing, but then they'll turn around and vote with their wallets for graphics. The only way out is to adopt a cartoony aesthetic, then you get a free pass on detail.

Everything I just said assumes zero pressure from publishers or development cycles. It gets much worse in the real world.

 

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