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  • Procedural Quest Generation: An Industry Outlook

    [07.09.20]
    - Goran de Ruiter

  • Procedural Quests: Expert Interview Findings

    As part of a study conducted for Breda University of Applied Sciences, a group of experienced developers were questioned about their opinions on procedural quest design in the industry, tools used currently and in the past, and developments that might be wanted in the near future. The participants had current and past experience at more than 35 game companies, with backgrounds in various design principles (level, quest, system, narrative) and programming. Company backgrounds included some prominent developers of (action-) RPGs, including but not limited to Ubisoft, Guerrilla Games, Bioware, ZeniMax, Rockstar Games, and Jagex.

    The study found a large divergence in positivity when questioning developers on industry stances on automated quest generation. Although there was a consensus that many indie developers would likely be open to the idea, people were not in full agreement when the same question was posed for AAA companies, shown by answers ranging into the extremes on both ends.

    Digging deeper, a range of concerns were found, which largely explains this variety in answers. The following problems likely need to be solved or at least kept in mind in order to get large companies interested in the concept of procedural quest generation for their games:

    1. Discrepancies using procedural next to hand-crafted content: if a game isn't built from the ground up with proceduralism in mind, this might lead to some unnatural feeling moments

    2. Negative player perception when system-generated quests or patterns are recognized; this can break immersion or cause backlash

    3. Overall low quality of procedural quests, caused by lack of interesting narrative and language, faults and patterns in the generation process, or a lack of meaningful impact on a game world and its characters

    4. Investment not always being seen as worth it. It could take months or even years to create a flexible and usable in-house tool. Most studios would rather hire a team of designers to do the work manually instead 

    5. Company ideology: some companies take pride in designing and creating their quest content by hand

    6. Genericness: it can prove challenging to make a tool that is usable for multiple types of projects or different studios, as quest mechanics can be very specific to the game being made

    7. Testing and Quality Assurance: Some procedural approaches don't allow enough control over the design process or outcome, making it harder to assure that quests are tested and meet the proper standards 

    Despite these concerns, a notable finding in the research was that procedurally generated quests were stated to be especially interesting for long standing franchises, where a multitude of games share many of their quest or mission structures and mechanics in common. Ubisoft games were stated to be a good example of this by multiple of the participants. In these kinds of instances, overcoming the many hurdles might be worth the time, as resources put into development of the tools could be easily returned over the significantly long period of time that the franchise might last. 

    The study found that no generic tools or methods are currently being used in quest creation processes, aside from perhaps Google Docs and similar documentation tools. Some companies were stated to be experimenting with in-house tools at their own pace, but it is still uncertain how quickly that research will be done, or how fast we will see that technology implemented in the actual upcoming game titles.

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