I’ve been playing a lot of procedurally generated games lately. I get it. For indie titles, procedurally generated gameworlds are an efficient way to create a lot of content. I’m not claiming that generating an entire gameworld each time the player starts the game is easy, but it is more efficient than designing an entire world to last the whole length of the game. Instead, invest that time into building an engine to create the gameworld randomly, and you have the options for infinite playthroughs. Isn’t that wonderful?
Where I find things get interesting, though, is actually when indie titles take on the idea of procedurally generating their stories in addition to, or sometimes instead of, their gameworlds. Noir Syndrome and Monster Loves You! are two games that handle procedurally-generated stories in different fashions. Noir Syndrome is a game about a murder mystery. It involves a rotating cast of interchangeable characters and clues, located in different locales around an unnamed city. At the beginning of the game, one of the characters is killed and the clues are scattered about. As the detective, you make a series of moves to investigate locations that are indicated in-game as “suspicious.” At each location, you pick up clues to the identify the killer, as well build up a list of suspects. When you collect enough clues, you go to arrest the killer. Where the game gets interesting is that after a certain number of moves, the killer kills again. Your goal is to identify the murderer and arrest him before he kills too many. It’d actually make a pretty dang good board game, kind of a Clue-style game in which Mrs. Scarlet never stops killing. Your only hope is to solve the mystery while there’s still someone to save.
It’s a neat little game that will keep you busy for a couple of hours as you try to kind of tear down the most efficient way to play through it. Once you figure that out, though, there’s not much left to see. There is an additional mode in the game called Party Mode, which I found to be much more fun because there is an element of twitch-style gaming. In this mode, all of the suspects and clues are in the same house, and you do the same thing you do in the full mode, but in a much smaller venue. Your goal is to move through the house as quickly as possible to solve the murder. The thing is, the people in this house are drunk and scared, and periodically one of them will just freak out and try to attack you. This is where the twitch-style gaming comes into play. You have to dodge the freaked out people, while trying to collect clues and solve the mystery. It actually feels very similar to old arcade games, like Elevator Action, and I had a pretty good time playing it.
Monster Loves You! handles things differently. It’s still a procedurally-generated story, but it’s procedurally generated based on decisions you make as you play it. You start out as a slime with the dream of becoming a full-fledged monster elder. You’re presented with a moral conundrum, and you choose how to respond. There are no right or wrong answers, and each answer gives you bonuses to five stats: honesty, kindness, ferocity, bravery and cleverness. How you build your character up determines where the story goes. As you age and evolve, the world gets bigger (as it tends to do), and the problems you’re presented with become more and more complex. Eventually, you even choose how to proceed with increasing tensions between human and monster populations, and whether or not that works out is ultimately dependent on how you’ve built up your character.
Point is, like Noir Syndrome, you can play this game multiple times and get a different story each time. And that’s kind of cool.
But, I’m not sure this type of game is for me. One of the things I really like about this project of mine is the opportunity to try types of games I’ve never thought about trying. Sometimes, that works out, and the game style is one I turn out to really enjoy. Other times, not so much. I think procedurally generated games like this, and GoNNER, and Ape Out are teaching me that I don’t really like games that I can’t really practice. I’m not very good at video games, really. I am really good at practicing games until I appear good at them. But, practice is the key. Practice is why I can sit and beat most of the A, B, and C sides of Celeste without really trying. It’s why I can pop into Zelda II and beat most of the game without thinking about it. I’ve played these hard games so often, and so consistently, that I just know how to make it do what I want it to do.
That’s the power of practice.
And that’s why I think procedurally-generated games just aren’t for me.