Project Frontier: Ridiculously Awesome

Shamus Young is probably one of my favorite bloggers out there. If you don’t recognize the name, he is the guy responsible for the DM of the Rings, Spoiler Warning and many other awesome things. In addition to being a video game geek and RPG enthusiast, Shamus is also a pretty damn good programmer, specializing in 3D graphics and procedural content generation. I think I might have mentioned his previous coding project somewhere on this blog, though I don’t think I dedicated an entire post to it. It was actually a quite awesome, procedurally generate nighttime city sky-scape:

Best part is that he blogged the entire project discussing his design choices, challenges and gotchas. If you are interested in reading about it, the first post is here and the final product can be downloaded as a Windows screensaver here.. Personally I found that project endlessly fascinating, and I was overjoyed to see that Shamus recently embarked on an entirely new, and much more ambitious coding challenge.

Having already built a procedurally generated city, he decided to do the next logical thing and generate a procedurally generated world. He is not using any game engine, or published assets – he is building everything from scratch. He is only 4 weeks into the project, and the results are already quite impressive. His procedurally generated world is actually bigger than all the combined land masses in World of Warcraft (over 1000 square kilometers) and supports things like a day and night cycle, climate zones, flowing rivers, forests and etc. All generated in real time in mere seconds.

Last week he posted this video to give us a little demonstration of how moving in this world would look and feel:

Pretty impressive as it is, but since then he made quite a few improvements:

The graphics actually remind me quite a bit of Morrowind era games, which is actually not a bad thing considering my undying love for that game. To me it looks great – simple, but nice enough to be immersive. It may not be impressive compared to some of the modern FPS games of today, but you have to remember that this was done by a single guy, in his free time, over the course of four weeks. Also it is very much a work in progress, and not the final product.

I am absolutely fascinated by this project, and I really love how it is shaping up. It really makes me want to buckle up, and learn some basic 3D programming so I could try to make something at least a fraction that awesome on my own. Yeah, graphics, 3D design and modeling are things I know very little about because I have never really needed them. In the meantime I live vicariously though Shamus and this project. Can’t wait to be able to play with it.

One of the reasons why I think this project is notable and worth watching is because it relies on procedural content generation. It is not a new technology. In fact procedural game world generation date all the way back to Nethack and it’s predecessors. Procedural content has been the bread and butter of the Demo Scene for many decades now. There is a lot of people with extensive experience, and a lot of accumulated knowledge about it out there. But strangely, almost no one in the industry is doing right now. There are virtually no triple A blockbuster titles out there using this sort of world generation concepts. The only people who actually mess around with procedural content are indie developers (like Notch of Minecraft fame) and smallish independent companies (like Asobo which created Fuel).

I want you to look at Project Frontier and think about the potential it could have. Personally I find it incredibly awesome piece of work, and hopefully Shamus will eventually be able to bootstrap some game play into it, so we can all enjoy it. Hell, I hope this will be the next Minecraft. In fact if I was Shamus I would totally jump on the Minecraft/Zomboid bandwagon and start selling the pre-alpha releases with a promise of a full game at the end of the road.

Now imagine what could be accomplished if instead of one guy working on the weekends you would give a similar project to a team of professional game developers. Imagine a free roaming sandbox RPG with procedurally generated terrain, random dungeons and side quests. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a Oblivion style game that is different every time you start a new character? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a shooter with almost endless replayability?

I guess it’s something to ponder.

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6 Responses to Project Frontier: Ridiculously Awesome

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I think the problem is that you can’t play test generated content. For shooters, can you imagine if Half Life 2′s world was procedurally generated? It wouldn’t be as rich, you could get stuck, it wouldn’t be as intuitive, and you’d have pacing problems. You’d have problems even with a more open-ended shooter, like Far Cry. I think RPGs are a more realistic application.

    Terrific demos though. Also, didn’t Spore use procedurally generated planets? I never played, but I thought that was part of the hype – sim city type terrain generation for a world. I also think I’ve read that L4D2 procedurally generates enemies, and I know Just Cause 2 & Elder Scrolls 2 generated their worlds.

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  2. Jakob DENMARK Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Fuel is an example that Shamus has mentioned of the procedually generated worlds. Spore also, apperently, relies on procedual tech to be able to handle all the player generated content. Spore also had some people from the demoscence on board if I remember.

    jambarama wrote:

    I think the problem is that you can’t play test generated content.

    Diablo 2′s levels where randomly generated, yet the game is beloved. Also look at Minecraft. So, I would imagine that is possible to playtest it, by generating n worlds and see if they hold up for playing. Of course, this doesn’t lend itself well to highly structured stories like Half Life, but if you want to make exploration based games, it would be wonderful.

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  3. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Actually, previous Bethesda games were having procedurally generated terrains. The problem to have an RPG game in this kind of terrain is that all the quests need fixed points to be activated. Having fixed quests in randomly generated terrains and city would be a nightmare to produce.

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  4. Mr.Pete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I think if you need some kind of fixed installation (say: a tower for the evil mage) you could set a location for it into the terrain and on that location build the tower either as a whole or from building blocks.
    Should work well enough – you have the travel to the tower through generated terrain that’ll be different every time you start the quest and then the pre-fab-tower to do the actual quest. That might become boring if every char encounters exactly the same tower (layout-wise) in a vastly different environment so the building-block-solution might be better.
    And for the quest layout: why not use a block-system for quests? Go to [x], find and defeat [y], come back with [z]…

    OK, since I’m pretty sure that’ll result in a programming monster better get some friends, designate one the GM and play some P&P!
    But the idea still is nice :)

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  5. Phil UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Glad to see you are as excited about Shamus’ project as I am! I think I stumbled upon your blog when I was reading the comments in one of his posts.

    My fascination with procedural content goes back to Fall of 2009, when I tried to make a procedural universe in XNA. It quickly fell apart, but I had a blast doing it.

    Right now I’m teaching myself OpenGL in C++ to better my skill with that language and to REALLY learn the fundamentals of graphics programming.

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  6. Adrian BELGIUM Opera Windows says:

    I’d love for something like this to be used for games. But only as a start.

    How could you create a rich atmosphere drenched in lore, history and tales when every time you start over, the mountains/cities/lakes/rivers/.. are all different?

    Procedural content is great in that it’s quick and massive in scope, but it lacks immensely in character. It doesn’t really matter much whether you go south, north, east or west, as, yet again, it’s some random land.

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