Random quest for a random guy, with a side of random rewards

A case could be made about procedural generation in games. Most titles today use it, to a more or less successful degree. When it works, you have what is probably the ultimate selling point: no playthrough is like the previous one! This should, in theory, offer you unlimited replayability.

Maybe we live in a world of illiteracy. Or maybe it's a glitch in the Matrix.
Maybe we live in a world of illiteracy. Or maybe it’s a glitch in the Matrix.

At times, however, it doesn’t work. And if there’s still some rough patches today, imagine back in 1996, when very few developers actually did it. Already in 1994, The Elder Scrolls: Arena (one of my favorite games despite everything) decided to jump over the familiar concept of pre-made maps in favor of completely randomized dungeons and cities. Only the main story dungeons were baked in advance: everything else was made on the fly.

Very convenient. I wonder why it is that every mission in this game must have a time limit (most of which is spent travelling to the location).
Very convenient. I wonder why it is that every mission in this game must have a time limit (most of which is spent travelling to the location).

It worked somehow: while I have already mentioned the repetition in dungeon floor layouts, overall the game masked its randomization well enough. You could start walking from one city to another and never get anywhere because the game would simply generate more terrain. And then you’d probably hit a memory overflow somewhere and the game world would glitch out. Well, everyone just used fast travel for this reason. And who can forget entering a city and finding it full of monsters, then leaving the city, then returning and opening the same house again, only to find a different interior. It was glorious. An everchanging world.

Rats or bats. Again, very convenient. In cse you are not invested in the TES lore, this is pretty much the basic starting quest for the Fighters Guild in just about every game in the series.
Rats or bats. Again, very convenient. In case you are not invested in the TES lore, this is pretty much the basic starting quest for the Fighters Guild in just about every game in the series.

Daggerfall does away with that. The world was generated at random during development, then printed onto the disc itself as it had been generated. Meaning that the world as the player sees it, is not actually random. You can enter a dungeon the first time, then leave it and return days later for a different mission. The layout will be the same (but curiously, your automap will have been erased). Missions themselves, however, are randomized. And sometimes you will be sent to the same dungeon two times in a row, looking for a different objective (or why not, even the same one as before). And then you’ll have to explore the whole dungeon again, because quest locations are a handful.

Imagine wading through endless corridors that all look the same. Now imagine doing it all over again because the game doesn't save the automap between quests.
Imagine wading through endless corridors that all look the same. Now imagine doing it all over again because the game doesn’t save the automap between quests.

This is made even worse by another issue – all of the quest dungeons are incredibly confusing. Aside from being utterly huge, so much that you just get bored of going around after a while, they also have ridiculous features such as bricked walls that transport you to an entirely different room, or switches that activate something on the other end of the dungeon with no indication as to what exactly they just did. Actually, I’m not sure if any of these things are bugs, rather than intentional. Either way, it gets boring fast.

Good thing nobody cares about the bloodthirsty grizzly bear right next to them in the attic. Of note: nobody ever explains why there is a grizzly bear in their attic.
Good thing nobody cares about the bloodthirsty grizzly bear right next to them in the attic. Of note: nobody ever explains why there is a grizzly bear in their attic.

And get bored you will, because almost every quest I’ve been given, involved going to a dungeon like those. You’ll also learn that effectively all the locations in the map are made up of two words choosen from a pool, such as “The Tower of Ashhart”, “The Ruins of Ashtower”, “The Tower of Hardhart”, and so on. Way to break the immersion. And it’s not just the location, everyone seems to have the same name. Woodsley must be the most common surname in Tamriel. You will see more heretics with green-dressed lovers than you’d wish. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the lover will be dressed in blue. Now that is shaking things up.

This is like System Shock all over again, but you can't pick up those heads. Too bad. Throwing heads around was a great time waster. I like to think even SHODAN was appalled.
This is like System Shock all over again, but you can’t pick up those heads. Too bad. Throwing heads around was a great time waster. I like to think even SHODAN was appalled.

In short, you can see why Morrowind did things the way it did. A curated world just allows for more possibilities, but especially, it avoids stuff like this. And honestly, even the only advantage of this approach – the huge world – doesn’t seem that much of an advantage if you always have to fast travel. In fact, the continuous repetiton makes the world of Daggerfall seem ridiculously small after a while. And that, my friends, is the biggest failure of all.

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