Andreas Zecher, together with Mattias Ljungström and Marek Plichta, is co-founder of Berlin/Stockholm based indie developer Spaces of Play. The studio is currently working on Future Unfolding, an exploration game that combines procedural generation with manual level design.
Andreas Zecher recently shared some of his thoughts on the title’s development process with Nordic Game.
“Traditionally, games (using procedural content) are generated from rules defined by the game designer to fit the game design,” says Andreas Zecher. “The rules are then implemented in code and used to procedurally create playable levels from scratch. This approach allows games like No Man’s Sky to create a vast galaxy where ‘every atom is procedural’. One that would be impossible to create by hand.”
Procedural content is by no means new to game design. Using procedural generation to dynamically create level geometry, creatures or missions goes back more than 35 years. However, there are still new ways of approaching this technology, explains Andreas Zecher.
“In Future Unfolding, nothing is explained explicitly. Players have to find subtle hints in the world to solve puzzles that open up new areas. It’s a (concept) somewhat comparable to The Witness. However, The Witness is set on a (literally) static island, where every tree was placed manually and with intent by the (game’s) creators. With Future Unfolding, we’re combining both procedural generation and manual level design. We want every player to experience a different world, but we also want control over the puzzles players need to solve to progress,” says Andreas Zecher.
Have a look at Future Unfolding (alpha version):
To combine procedural generation with manual level design, Spaces of Play developed a custom level editor that can define the areas a player visits, paths from A to B, groups of animals, or an artefact that acts as part of a puzzle.
“For each scene, we can specify many different parameters: The orientation of the scene, the density of how the trees are placed, the color scheme of the vegetation, which animals you can encounter in a certain area, what type of artefact to use for a puzzle, the width of a slope, etc. These parameters are all defined in ranges or in possibility clusters,” says Andreas Zecher.
To visualise how this might turn out in the game, Andreas Zecher refers to three Future Unfolding screenshots (below) that illustrate different possible variations of a specific location in the game.
Andreas Zecher points out that this (procedurally generated) variation provides a unique experience for every player, as every (game) world is different. However, Spaces of Play always keeps the same basic structure for each level, to ensure that puzzles are always solvable.
“We take this even further by designing puzzle scenes with multiple solutions, depending on what objects are randomly chosen for the players. Imagine a hard-to-reach location with a portal that the player wants to get to. We can allow the game to either place deer close by, which can be tamed and then used to jump up and over cliffs. Or we can place a secret entrance at the base of the mountain with an exit at the top. In one instance, the player explores the game mechanics and in the other, the world,” says Andreas Zecher.
Andreas Zecher also notes that the layout of the world (how each level is connected with each other) is procedural as well. Each play session has a different starting location, with unique flow and pacing. Each player will encounter animals and puzzles in different order, and so experience a personal, non-linear and emergent story.
Spaces of Play plans to release Future Unfolding in early 2017. Meanwhile, learn more about the game at futureunfolding.com.
About Spaces of Play
Spaces of Play is an independent game studio based in Berlin and Stockholm. Co-founders Mattias Ljungström, Marek Plichta and Andreas Zecher initially met at university, before parting ways for a few years. In 2010, they reunited to create the highly regarded puzzle game Spirits.
Learn more about the studio at spacesofplay.com.