Over the summer i have been experimenting with the design of different world structures for an interactive game based on generative/emergent systems. I’ve basically implemented three different spacial formats, exploring different aspects of scale/dimension and extendability. Unfortunately, at present none of the systems seems to fulfil the requirements I have for a base structural format. Below is a brief description and analysis of the three versions. The basic procedural generation functions that produce the individual land forms are generally shared from one version to the next, with only slight alterations to account for the specific spatial format. (Click the images for larger versions.)
FORMAT 1: heightmap islands
As seen in the previous post, I have implemented a more or less traditional island terrain system based on heightmap generation and brute force grid rendering.
Pros: The procedural routines for generating landscape types are really nice and im also happy with the painterly rendering technique. The format provides an easy underlying structure for the distribution of growth substrates (water, heat etc). The environment is familiar and acessible. 2D processing structure accounts for greated complexity in the actual mechanics due to the simpler processing.
Cons: The essentially 2d format (only terrain surface) is limiting. The basis of an island terrain might be too traditional and unremarkable. The choice of environment already implies or even dictates specific evolutionary style and structures (flora fauna etc).
FORMAT 2: floating structures
Essentially this is an extension of the island generation mechanic but into a 3d dimensional space. Similar procedural construction routines are used, but the resulting objects are free floating ‘island-like’ forms. The structure can account for less rocky like objects (in fact i included a library of parametric surfaces).
Pros: More interesting space in terms of extra dimensions, visually more unusual. Interesting to navigate.
Cons: Harder to process (more calculations), harder to navigate. Designed more around display of structural forms than mechanics of further generative processing. Echoes of a psychedelic aesthetic.
FORMAT 3: 2d spinworld
This format is basically a 2d side-on platformer style world that is wrapped around a circle to form a seamless radial space. The world is generated using more variations of procedural texture functions and a smart edge finding routine.
Pros: Easy to navigate, acessible to wide range of users, generally easier to process (2d grid), nice sense of a coherant closed system.
Cons: The choice of environment already implies or even dictates specific evolutionary style and structures (flora fauna etc). The 2d aspect is limiting, gravity and verticality imposes quite a strict formula on behaviour already. Potentially looks too ‘game-like’
None of these 3 structural approahces quite fits with the intentions of the project. So what exactly are the criteria for asessment? Its hard to define exactly what the format needs to provide for, but the following list is a basic outline of what needs to be supported.
Requirements & Considerations:
Wide range of variation in terms of possible structural energence
Not too literal in representation as to bind emergence to specific formats
Visually representative of complexity and potentiality
Realtime dynamism and interaction within this context
One issue is that for most people to engage with any simulated space, it needs to be wrapped in a fiction of some sort. The more familiar the fiction is, the easier it is to accept. Conversely the more familiar the fiction is, the more dictatorial it becomes about controlling the outcome of the experience and the format of emergence.
Another issue is one of scale. The range of possibilities must be wide enough to transmit the notion of multiplicity but not so great as to paralyse the experience. A real life example would be when I was explaining beach pebbles to my son. He couldn’t really understand the timescale of rock formation into erosion into pebble smoothing over millions of years. However a smoothed fragment of glass on the same beach was much easier to relate to as he could understand the timescale of its development and the original material was something he had experienced in other forms.
Perhaps the main issue in the formats listed above is their adherence to pre-existing natural environments. It may be worthwhile attempting to generate another style of structural format that is inherently more minimal/abstract and therefore expandable to a wider expressive range.