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No replacing the human touch

23 January 2020 — No Time To Play

It's Thursday, and you know what they say about Thursdays.

Coming up as a surprise from one of my favorite blogs about the history of tech is The Automated Dungeon Master: from Tolkien, through D&D, then gamebooks and finally CRPGs, concluding with AI Dungeon 2; a mind-blowing overview, long-form and peppered with thoughtful insights. I'm going to quote just one paragraph from the latter part:

All of this delight, unfortunately, cost the creators of these games a great deal of time and money. In a D&D campaign, all of the richness of the world and its denizens is conjured up gratis in the minds of the players by the spoken words of the DM. In Baldur’s Gate, however, every choice, every possibility offered to the player in the name of openness had to be put there by someone. The game is, in effect, a very elaborate, lovingly illustrated and sound-tracked, flowchart. Every temple, every dungeon, every line of dialogue, every character animation, every side quest, came from the toil of artists, writers, and programmers.

Yup! And while some text adventures famously tried to fix that by treating the world like a simulation, where stuff can happen through the emergent behaviors of various elements, that too has proven faulty. Ultimately, bringing an imaginary world to life remains a titanic effort, and there's no way around it. Not even AI.

And no, procedural generation as featured in roguelikes can't create new content, but only remix what the developers have added in. Procedurally generated worlds can be later enriched by the players, as EVE Online amply demonstrated; but it's not a feasible approach in single-player games like The Elder Scrolls series, leading to what the article highlights as a problem.

Because ultimately worlds are made of people, and you can never replace people.

Learn to love.

Tags: rpg, worldbuilding, philosophy

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