ProcJam Kick-Off Talks 2016

The ProcJam is a relaxed, procedural generation jam that has the aim of making procedural generation more accessible to everyone. This jam is not just a game jam – you can basically make anything for it! There is no theme, no real rules, and it is quite laid back as far as jams go. This year is the third year that the ProcJam is running. Last year tons of twitter bots, graphic patterns, games, fonts, and tools were all made. Like last year, this year there were Kick-Off talks, as well as some new things. The jam is in association with the Games as Arts/Arts as Games festival and this year the community submitted articles to a zine that I had the honor of designing! I was able to attend the Games as Arts Festival as well as the ProcJam talks. I am going to be talking about all of the different aspects of this awesome jam, but mainly focus on the talks.

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The Games as Arts/Arts as Games festival started with a grand opening of a gallery of artistic games, game artwork, digital animations, original sketches and even some models from ‘Lumino City’! This art was displayed at the Poly in Falmouth. Included in this exhibit, there were original sketches from Amanita Design on their games; Botanicula, Samorost 3, & Machinarium. These rough sketches showed off the beauty of this game in a pure form. The different structures and concepts that eventually became the complete game are stunning, just as the game is in its finished form. Another beautiful exhibit was Lumino City – a point and click adventure game that had a full architectural landscape made for the game. This landscape was made out of motors, cardboard, and various bits to create a stunning and very unique backdrop to their game. Sections of this city were on display – showing a closer look at what made this game. There were also several other unique and amazing pieces, including interactive exhibits, video exhibits, and other artwork.

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At this opening, there was a talk from Hartmut Koenitz as well as an open discussion from the artists that made it to the event. The artists that did not make it provided a video of themselves talking about their art and answering some questions. This talk gave quite the insight as to who these artists where and how they view their art. This was the first year this exhibition took place – I personally very much enjoyed this new look at games as more of an artistic, interactive form.

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I also was able to attend the ProcJam Kick-off talks, lead by Mike Cook, in Falmouth University. These talks included 7 speakers looking to talk about different aspects of procedural generation. Each of these talks were fairly unique and demonstrated many different uses for procedural generation. All of these talks can also be found online here.

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Firstly, there was Gabrella Barros who spoke about using open data to generate games. She has created games using open source data from websites such as Wikipedia. This interested me because it has a sort of random factor that cannot be made by humans. Using this data, you are going to get some absurdities – some odd results that are not quite correct. These absurdities are not something you would get in a game normally, like in one of the games when you go to a house to speak to Lord Voldemort, he turns out to be a bus with a picture of Lord Voldemort on it. These sort of funky, whacky oddities add a lot to games – they make them fun and unique. Using open data in games adds a lot of absurdities that developers could potentially use to twist their game in strange and unique ways!

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Emily Short was next, talking about a fiction book she generated called Annals of the Parrigues! This well written book talks about fictional towns in detail, allowing the reader to learn about each town, its rivals, animals, buildings, the general feel of the town. Her engine that helped create these eloquent worlds did an amazing job at keeping the sentences well structured and authentic in appearance, such that it appears as though written by an author.. She has even generated footnotes for this book – giving you more pieces of detail in the book. In my experience of procedurally generated worlds, I have always felt like it was not man made – that something just seemed off about it. In reading bits of the pages of her book, I found that everything made sense. Not only are these towns interesting, but the fact that they were made by a procedurally generated engine and yet still made perfect sense is quite an achievement.

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Jamie Woodcock spoke about how people make tools for PCG and how they shape those creators. He spoke about procedural generation as a tool to shape our thinking. He said that we needed to move away from the idea that PCG was magic – something that people cannot understand. Procedural generation needs to be more understood and open to everyone. If we think of these tools as tools and not born of magic, it becomes easier to understand what they are doing and how they are affecting me. Recently, there has been a huge explosion on procedural generation – showing how attractive having infinite content is, but that is not the only way to use procedural generation and people need to understand more of the labor in that process to understand how it affects the game. I found the talk about the process to be quite interesting as someone who has never used procedural generation in anything I have made.

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Adam Summerville gave an interesting talk on pointers of how to start implementing procedural generation. He goes into the different types of procedural generation – some looking man made and others looking more machine made. He talked about three different ways to use procedural generation and what types of procedural generation work well for making different things. His talk was a taste of what procedural generation can be and used a lot of terminology relating to the space of procedural generation. If you are looking for a base ground to start procedural generation at, this might be where to start!

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Joris Dormans spoke about generating dungeons in the game Unexplored that he is creating! This is a classic roguelike game that uses cyclic dungeon generation to create the maps you can explore. Instead of making dungeons linear, he feels that players enjoy cycles in dungeons instead. Cycles allows you to explore the space in a more interesting way, instead of it being straightforward. If you add secret doors or short cuts into your game, it makes it more interesting. He talks about the grammar that is needed to implement this and how to start using cycle generation in games. As a gamer, this made a lot of sense to me. I love exploring different areas – even areas that are dead ends but provide an item or key – it makes the game more fun than simply walking forward to the end. The way Joris explains how he does this is also very straightforward and easy to understand.

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Becky Lavender gave a talk about her final project of her university course. She applied procedural generation to an existing game. She created a Zelda-inspired game using procedural generation to create the dungeon levels. She went into detail explaining how she generated the missions in the game and the map to create the level. The missions were created in layout graph software and then she took that graph and put it into a map – placing the different markers in a grid. From there, she was able to create the physical dungeon map that the player could then explore. During this process, Becky found that generating the maps sometimes caused problems; sometimes bombs would appear after a wall that required a bomb, so she had to figure out a way to then fix that by having two secret rooms and a system of checks to make sure the wrong one wasn’t placed. Her Zelda game in the end looked pretty good – quite like the normal Zelda game.

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Tanya Short remoted in via ‘Skype’ to give a talk on procedurally generating personalities for NPCs in games. Not a lot of people generate people or personalities, but instead generate graphics or landscapes. She reasons that people are a more interesting way to use procedural generation – creating personalities and cultures. She spoke about using the character’s actions to display what the character is like – how they deal with events or how they are dressed. Her talk set people up with the mindset of how to procedurally generate personalities for characters in a game, as well as how the player will go about thinking and defining that character. Generating personalities is not something I have ever thought of doing – but it would add way more depth to characters that you meet in the game. This can be implemented in a simple way – just having their virtues and vices procedurally generated or going all in and having all of their personality and behaviors generated. This is something I would be interested in seeing put into more games!

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The last talk of the evening was by Mark Nelson. He spoke briefly about the game he has been working on called ‘No Second Chance’. All of the levels and games were procedurally generated – each one with slightly different gameplay objectives that you must figure out before completing. The player is able to generate more games by setting parameters, then the autoplayer plays them and picks ones that are not too hard or too easy for the player to try. Mark then remarked about generating music. He explained the different ways to change and generate audio to make different types of timbres and sounds. There are different ways to talk about generating music – by using a map to easily display it visually, or by using functions or equations. Listening to the examples of generated music, each example could be used in a game sense.

Each of these talks spoke about procedural generation in a different way and all of them were very informative! They were livestreamed and now up on YouTube here

The ProcJam starts November 5th, but you can start creating and making your game now! I am very excited to see all of the things that are made, games and otherwise.

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