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Indie Game Developers Enlist Algorithms to Do the World-Building for Them

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Old 07-23-2008
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Indie Game Developers Enlist Algorithms to Do the World-Building for Them
What's the difference between an indie game and a blockbuster? About 5 million man-hours. Producing a big-budget title like Grand Theft Auto 4 requires armies of people to spend years painstakingly sculpting every individual object in the game world. Indie games, which are designed by small teams of geeks, can't possibly match that. But an increasing number of garage coders are building elaborate 3-D environments by outsourcing the design work — not to Bangalore, but to algorithms.
Take the upcoming online game Love (shown here), due out later this year. Around 100 players will be able to explore the virtual world together, establish towns, and fight monsters. And its impressionistic watercolor environment was created by an army of one, Swedish coder Eskil S****berg.
Love's world starts as a generic landscape divided into almost 100,000 blocks. "The game's engine uses an algorithm to turn the blocks into hills, valleys, and oceans," S****berg says — a method called procedural generation. It then examines the terrain and adds bridges, tunnels, and buildings to ensure that each area is interesting and accessible. Once the world is created, it can still be modified. "It's like a Lego kit that both the players and the game itself can use," he says. Players can rearrange trees and boulders, reconfigure buildings, or hollow out new caves in hillsides. The gorgeous vistas are also subject to natural phenomena like erosion, thanks to S****berg's tectonics system.
Love's vast, morphing creation demonstrates how one man can become like a god — he sets the world in motion and lets simple rules, random numbers, and inhabitants do the rest.


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