Trading in traditional gameplay for more randomized in-game experiences increases replay value.
In the ending of last year's remarkable Bioshock Infinite, supporting character Elizabeth tells protagonist Booker Dewitt that there is "always a man, always a lighthouse, always a city." From this particularly baffling twist, we come to discover that there are an unlimited amount of alternate universes, each with a different story, leading to an unfathomable number of outcomes. Though the game was fantastic, wouldn't it have been better if we could openly explore the other universes to experience their different environments, organisms and narratives? It may be years before any studio will be able to manage something so complex, but a handful of developers have taken steps in this direction by experimenting with procedural generation.
The prospect of playing through a game multiple times and never finishing with the same experiences is enough to build hype around any title. Even more impressive is the ability to explore an infinite amount of planets, each one completely different than any before it. Procedural generation in video games refers to the creation of content algorithmically as the game runs, creating a randomized experience that typically coincides with authored content. Like any developmental innovation, it has a large potential to be revolutionary, but it more than likely can leave everybody with the same disappointed feeling they had after playing Fable for the first time.
Of course, this isn't something that is new to the video game industry. Procedural generation has been experimented with in games as far back as the early 1980s, and was even used in contemporary, popular titles like Left 4 Dead. However, it has recently started gaining momentum due to the insane popularity of Minecraft. Thanks to that blocky, sandbox phenomenon, we've seen more intriguing titles that offer compelling gameplay with boundless replay value (Spelunky, FTL and Daylight to name a few). There are many more of these to come, surrounded by a whirlwind of hype. Below are a few procedurally generated games that will hopefully deliver on their promises, and not end up as another example of misleading marketing.