The 2015 Procedural Generation Jam is done, and the results are wild

News
November 25, 2015 by Riley Macleod

A game jam focused on generating worlds

The Procedural Generation Jam, or ProcJam, bills itself as an event to “make something that makes something.” By its own account, the jam seeks to make procedural generation accessible, help people share tools and ideas, and to foster new and interesting games. 2015’s jam took place across the world from November 6th to the 15th, netting over 100 unique and varied entries, with new games, art pieces, and experiments coming in every day.

Procedural generation is becoming an increasingly popular way to make games. Most games’ levels, NPCs, or dialogue are created by hand, but procedural generation utilizes algorithms to do this instead. Unlike random generation, procedurally generated content behaves in a logical way based on a seed, allowing a certain predictability while still providing events that emerge and change. Given this feeling of randomness, procedurally generated games have high replayability and can provide for unique player experiences and opportunities for players to create their own narrative. These qualities have made procedural generation a popular tool for indie developers: Spelunky, FTL, and Minecraft are all procedurally generated, as are the upcoming Heat Signature and No Man’s Sky.

Unlike other jams that set participants lose with a theme, ProcJam straddles the line between event, resource repository, and creative marathon. Similar to 2014’s jam, the 2015 jam opened with a day of livestreamed and recorded talks held at Imperial College in London. Speakers included Tom Betts, lead programmer of Sir You Are Being Hunted, talking about what people are doing with procedural generation outside of games; Kate Compton from UC Santa Cruz, who discussed practical tools and skills; and Dan Stubbs, who talked about how his game The Hit uses procedural generation to create narrative. By starting the jam with these talks, ProcJam served to educate and prepare participants while providing broader insights into what procedural generation is and can do.

The jam’s webpage also features a wealth of information about procedural generation, including art packs, resources, and links to tutorials. Additionally, many of the creations in the jam were tools for other developers. BasmanovDaniil created primitives and extensions for Unity developers; Gamepopper presented a script to procedurally generate gemstones; and Loren Schmidt made a web-based tool for creating procedurally generated dungeons. Besides being interesting experiments in their own right, these creations provide a jumping-off point for both new and experienced developers to build on and utilize.

Games similarly ran the gamut, drawing on different genres, themes, and mechanics. Gabrielle Barboteau’s Weird Date features repeating awkward date questions with a variety of potential suitors. Wandering Road’s Chateauxauetahc generates strange new mansions at the press of a button, in some ways similar to Katie Rose’s Viridi-like landscape generator Mirror Lake. Sam Atkins’ B!lliards creates randomly generated pool games, while Nonadecimal’s Souls & Accounting: Employee Files creates monster employees as a proof of concept for a future project. Given the jam’s nature, many games are buggy and unfinished, but each showcases a different way that procedural generation can be used to author unique and surprising experiences.

In her talk, Kate Compton praised procedurally generated content for “mak[ing] people happy… [There’s] surprise and wonder when you click a button and something magical happens.” Each of the diverse games, tools, art pieces, and experiments made for ProcJam certainly embody this ethos, fostering a sense of player creativity and experimentation in their presentation and interactions. Given their specific constraints and time-sensitive nature, game jams encourage developers to produce experimental and ambitious work. ProcJam tills this generative soil to make creation at once the focus, the topic, and the task. By supporting new developers with resources while drawing on the expertise of old hands, ProcJam 2015 encouraged exciting new developments in procedurally generated games.

Screenshot from Squidly Games' 'Happy Little Tree'

Riley MacLeod spends a lot of time thinking about stealth games and the serial comma. You can follow him on Twitter at @rcmacleod.