Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Procedural Generation

One of the things I love about the online show Extra Credits is the ways in which it tries to show that the systems in gaming are applicable other places in life.  Episodes like Gamifying Education and the Political Incentive series illustrate how, on a fundamental level, Games are just systems with rules, similar to our system of laws and of government.  I love this because it shows me that my intimate knowledge of gaming systems has application in a practical way.  It's nice to know I've been absorbing useful information by osmosis while also being entertained all these years.

I was thinking about this while working in the garden.  Next to riding my bike, and playing sweet puzzle games, gardening is a place where my mind really wanders.  I was thinking again about gardening and gaming.  I realized that one potentially fatal flaw to this is that game systems are not like life systems.  They are human-designed systems, more akin to our system of laws than to biological systems.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think it's important to remember that the complexity of life is infinite or very nearly so, which is radically different from computer systems.  Or is it? (sorry I couldn't resist a little cliffhanger statement)
having issues with blogger video posting at the moment, so click on the image to go to the youtube video

If you take a moment to view the above video, you will be treated to a nice series of 3-d images.  These images include great lighting and water effects, and a cool looking city, and they do get a little boring after a while.  But what is really important here is the size of the file used to generate these images:  64 kilobytes.

64k is nothing in todays world of computers.  It is the equivilant of a fingernail clipping.  The notion that those beautiful images could have come from 64k worth of code blows my mind.  In fact, when trying to write about it, I wrote four paragraphs of verbal diarrhea.  However, it does occur to me that there is precedent for something so big in such a small package:  seeds.

A giant oak tree can come from a single, little acorn.  Soak that in for a minute.  I think it's important to remember some of these amazing things of the natural world.  I'm not about to claim that there is now a computing equivalent of a biological system.  But I do think there is now a more accurate picture, which is very exciting!  It really makes me wonder how much wasted time and processing space has been spent on inferior methods.  Are our current methods more like trying to build a tree out of popsicle sticks? (not that that wouldn't be totally sweet).

Finally, I'd like to mention that one of the reasons I've been thinking about botany and biological systems is that I got a job at a local garden nursery!  I'm very happy to be working again, it keeps me busy and makes me happy - and tires me out.  I'm easily the least knowledgeable person on the staff when it comes to plants, so I've got a lot of work to do to increase my competence.  Perhaps there is a clue in procedural generation somewhere.  I can grow my knowledge like sweet fractal fern.  Or something :)  

Very happy to chat at you all,  have a great day,


P.S.  Other games I know of using procedural generation:  Rogue and Rogue-Likes, Proteus.  

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