Procedural generation is a world-building technology that hasn't really caught on with game makers but Shamus Young is doing some pretty incredible things with it.
As the man behind Experienced Points, Stolen Pixels and Shamus Plays, Shamus Young should be familiar to most readers of The Escapist. But in his spare time, when he's not talking about games or playing games, he's making games - specifically, something called Project Frontier.
Procedural generation, roughly put, is the act of creating content with algorithms rather than by hand; you give the computer a set of instructions, then stand back and let it work. It's used primarily to generate background content in large, open-world games - think the great forests of Oblivion - but Young sees much greater potential in the technology.
"Basically the large-scale building of the world is a solved problem," he said in a new interview with Edge. "There are small details left over - bushes here, or maybe I could have more water effects - but basically everything is solved in terms of what I set out to do."
Significantly, Young's world-building is not as hardware-intensive as it sounds. "I have a mid-to-low range PC - about two and half years old, I think," he continued. "If I lift the cap on my frame limit I can run the world at 350 FPS, so the processing power is there and then some. [Project Frontier] has similar specs to Minecraft. Actually it might run a little better on old machines, since it's not as CPU hungry. There's a lot of stuff that hasn't been explored still on the hardware that's a couple of years old."
Part of the reason for that, he explained, is that while the final result looks good, the simulation driving it all is "very simplistic." That's fine for videogame purposes, he added, because the goal is not to make a realistic world, but one that is believable and interesting. "I could flip a button and generate something the size of North America, but it would be completely boring," he said. "The player shouldn't travel for more than a couple of minutes without seeing something new."
To find out more about the technology and capabilities of Project Frontier, check out Shamus Young's blog at shamusyoung.com.