What’s out there? No one knows.
Almost all of us have experienced that moment in a video game where we wondered ‘what goes on beyond those invisible walls’ and then dreamed about a boundless open world that never ends, traveling from country to country, planet to planet, and even between dimensions and timelines—all at the convenience of being behind a digital screen.
This gullible childhood dream is seemingly coming to life, with procedural-generation technology being used in video games to create worlds that never end and continue to generate wherever your playable character travels. But is the technology all that it was hyped up to be?
1. No Man’s Sky
Taking procedural generation to new ‘heights’ back in 2016 was ironically a space game made by indie developers Hello Games that promised a game with a never-ending world with countless plants to explore and with the allure of having the slimmest of chances to run into your friend online.
In reality, when the game had launched, critics had a field day with No Man’s Sky with its many bugs, stale gameplay, lack of co-op, and lackluster planets to explore that all felt alike with little-to-no detail.
No Man’s Sky’s initial failed attempt at procedural generation opened up the gaming world to the drawbacks of procedural generation with new solutions needed to perfect the technology.
Fortunately, Hello Games returned to the drawing board to correct its mistakes by fixing bugs, adding extra content, and providing players with a much-needed co-op mode where you’re ‘not’ lightyears away from your good friends Bob and Timmy.
With its attempt to pump further life into its procedurally generated world, No Mans’s Sky has released ‘The Next Chapter of The Game’, The Singularity Update.
The update aims to be fully finalized within 2023. It injects a storyline with narrative-driven exploration gameplay where elements of environmental storytelling will take place—bringing highly-requested handcrafted elements to the procedurally-generated open world.
The triple-A gaming company, Bethesda, wanted to take their own crack at a space exploration game with their upcoming IP, Starfield, adding their degree of game development expertise and distinctive RPG charm to the genre.
As previewed at the Starfield Direct 2023 event this June 2023, Starfield will include procedural generation but capped to the limit of 100-star systems and 1,000 planets to explore—which is still a lot.
While this had Bethesda fans worried because procedural generation would likely remove the environmental storytelling Bethesda is known for, the fans were reassured that handcrafted elements will be featured throughout the procedurally generated world to break up monotony while keeping the allure you’re in a vast desolate space.
While procedural generation can be considered a match made in heaven for space exploration gameplay, indie developers Inflexion Game had a different idea. With roots in creating Drago Age and Baldur’s Gate, Inflexion Game wants to reinvent procedural generation by including it in their upcoming fantasy survival game that takes place in the Victor Era with a gaslight fantasy story and card game mechanics.
The premise of Nightingale’s procedural generation is to allow players to enter portals into realms with unique biomes, stories, characters, and more. Realms are procedurally generated, so each time you enter a realm, it could be a gamble with what adversity and adventure await you.
While the mystery of portal exploration is alluring, players want handcrafted realms designed with the utmost attention to detail. Inflexion Games have confirmed handcrafted elements will be combined into many of the realms you come across where you can set up bases and establish permanent settlements.
However, some realms exist temporarily to collect resources, valuables, and items and increase skill levels through battles.
Procedurally-generated open world games are just getting started.
While No Man’s Sky has had years to perfect its procedural generation, new games such as Starfield and Nightingale have been built from the ground up with improved procedural generation tied with captivating lore, storytelling, and gameplay.
Nightingale is the only upcoming survival game in the list to experiment with procedural generation in a unique format that brings a new degree of mystery to procedural generation gaming, where a robust inventory collection and skill level matter in Nightingale when entering portals into unknown realms.