Procedural Content – An Invisible Service

A friend of mine recently found Jukedeck – a service that will randomly generate music for you.  Depending on your membership you get to download randomly made music and have assorted rights to it.

It’s fairly obvious from my work at Seventh Sanctum that I love randomized stuff.  Also as I’m a big proponent of Roguelike games and procedural content in things like Borderlands, I’m really biased.

But looking at Jukedeck I began thinking that they (and me to an extent) have explored procedural content as a service.  I mean yes assorted generator-makers like myself have done that before.  But I don’t think people have thought about it as deeply as could be.

Procedural generation, at its best, involves researching data, parameters, and patterns.  It involves finding ways to make them into code that delivers something recognizable.  It is work, it is art, and it is critical to certain artistic forms.

(Hell, it’s pretty much core to No Man’s Sky).

However, procedural generation rarely gets appreciated.  We’re used to it, having seen it make dungeons and weapons in our games from decades, or simply create stuff for pen and paper RPGs with dice rolls.  We take it for granted because it doesn’t stand out, it’s integrated into some media – or we are used to seeing it treated in a funny way, from randomizing errors to brain-shaking numbers of game possibilities being touted.

Jukedeck, by making procedural content a service, made me “see” procedural generation a bit clearer.  It is a service in some cases (I know, I provide it).  It is core to some media.  We’re just so used to it we don’t see it – or see what goes into it.

Step back for a bit and ask just what role it’s played in your life . . .

  • Steven Savage

Go Farther: Procedural Media

(Last week I suggested spontaneity and surprise were elements that people making media could use to add value and increase interest.  I wanted to explore that more.)

As I've suggested before, spontaneity and unpredictability is an element of a media product (a story, a game, etc.) that can get, maintain, and expand people's interest in the product.  Spontaneity, combined with relatively fast access to the spontaneous content, is a unique way to add value to a media product as its un duplicateable and plays on our love of the unknown and novel.  Getting that spontaneity is thus important – but varies from media to media.

Every kind of media has its different advantages and disadvantages in adding spontaneity to it.  Changing technology has also altered how this can be done, and changing expectations have altered what people expect.  I'm going to take a look at the different kinds of media and how spontaneity can be added to them.

Read more

The Competitive Edge of Surprise

I'm a fan of Reno 911!, a show about a lovable but flawed group of misfit policepersons in Reno, Nevada.  A parody of shows like "Cops", what makes it intriguing is a lot of it is improvised.  Though there's many running jokes, this level of spontaneity adds a charm to the series, and makes it more human.

There are other forms of media "spontaneity."  The Random House/Stardoll deal that allows for people to vote on the outcome of a story for instance.  There is the unpredictability of reality shows – much as I'm not a fan of most of them – that appeals to people.  I've been addicted to both Borderlands and Dragon Quest IX – games with randomly generated content to keep the games fresh.

Such things got me thinking about spontaneity and unpredictability.  These are things you can't really fake in media – and these are traits people like in their media, be it books, or shows, and so forth.  We love having an unknown to explore, something that doesn't fit our expectations (yet does).  In short, in an age where there's so much competition for attention, can the media we produce be more competitive if it adds spontaneity and unpredictability?

I think so.

Read more