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  • Knowing The Difference Between Time And Progression

    [08.21.18]
    - Gregory Pellechi

  • Time and Procedural Generation

    Procedurally generated games don't work both directions in time like that when it comes to the narrative. Instead, what you can get is a game like Unexplored, which seeds information relevant to a plot throughout the levels to give the game world the feeling of cohesiveness and forethought.

    What you often get with procedural games is little to no connection between elements narratively. Games like Rimworld, try to change that, but as mentioned on previous episodes, by generating a context after the fact. It's a means of storytelling that is never going to allow a game to jump around in timeline of the narrative though. The difficulty in playing the time of the narrative in games comes in providing the player with a sense of progression. If it's about telling a satisfying story, as it can be in tabletop role-playing games, then it's easier to jump around in time. Progression in this case is not tied to abilities, loot or other quantitative means.

    Qualitative methods of progression are hard, in part because most players don't know what they want. Especially when it comes to stories. The fact is we read the same things again and again, in part because its comforting, but also because we want to experience the same feeling we had the first time we read something. So we're looking for surprises. Our lifelong exposure to stories has given us as an audience a nose for what makes a good story, even if we can't put that into words. It's why stories generated by computers can feel so flat and piecemeal, or simply inconsequential.

    Consequences are ultimately the point

    It's why we want to see characters grow, experience progression, or gain new abilities. We want our time in a game or story to be of value. But it's also why it's hard to create a compelling story of a character's fall.

    In the case of Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story we're presented with a character who is good. In Star Wars: A New Hope he's at best dubious but redeems himself. To get to the dubious stage isn't necessarily a quick progression. He needs to be beaten down by the system around him, to lose his trust in others. And we get a little of that in Solo, but by and large Han is quite upbeat and positive about the future. He has't become the dubious, jaded scoundrel we know from the original trilogy. Darth Vader has the same issue. His fall during the prequel trilogy doesn't feel earned because the consequences feel so out of sorts with the events of each movie. Anakin Skywalker betraying the Jedi Order doesn't feel realistic because we haven't been shown his disillusionment with them and their betrayal of him.

    Our ability to tell stories and project both cause and effect may be the reason that any medium is going to struggle to tell a procedurally generated story, especially if its not designed from with the cause in mind from the beginning. And video games in particular are big on cause and effect, though current procedural generation focuses on effect. It's also going to be why we struggle to tell fulfilling prequel stories because of the time needed to progress sufficiently to justify any change. But more on that and other stuff related to procedural generation in a future episode.

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