Probably one of the biggest drawbacks to using procedurally-generated worlds in games is the lack of objective-based gameplay. It’s difficult to script in events which motivate the player to pursue an objective. Small objectives like getting the next set of tools are easy enough to foster by placing world objects which the player cannot yet destroy or benefit from. But generally once the player learns the path to accomplishing this objective, the path will be the same for every replay.
This is probably the reason I take months-long breaks between worlds in Minecraft. I love the game, but I’ve basically mastered the simple art of tool progression. So, I took a break until they added the Nether, but once I reached the Nether there were no more objectives. Every once in a while I’d log in and build something interesting, but that didn’t hold my attention for long. When the End update came, it was fun again, but only until I reached the end of the game. Now I know how to reach diamond, mine obsidian, go to the Nether and find a fortress, make a couple eyes and triangulate another fortress, mine straight down and complete a portal, then defeat a dragon. Don’t get me wrong, this arc is very much improved from the original (i.e.: the first step in that list and you’re done), but for such an open-ended world it feels pretty linear, and thus too familiar if I wanted to play again (I don’t even watch movies twice; I’m all about novelty).
Maybe I’m too critical! I probably am. It’s not like I don’t enjoy Minecraft immensely. But I’m really excited about some of the goals which we are going to add in our game, and I hope we can take an open route which is fitting for a procedurally-generated world.
Here’s an example: let’s say you’re flying about in your favorite galaxy, establishing mining colonies on asteroids and linking them with your planet supply chains in order to produce the next set of thrusters and cannons (the ubiquitous, underlying technology objective arc is still very important to gameplay). All of a sudden you see some movement on your screen. You fly closer and see that it’s a fairly small scouting ship. It doesn’t make any gesture to contact you and doesn’t respond to your friendly signals. You decide to follow it for a bit, but when you do, it gets nervous and jumps into hyperspace. Quickly you look at the direction of its jump and make a guess about which star it was headed toward (yes, the star field in Gravitas will be built to represent neighboring systems, and you will use it to make hyperspace jumps).
What next? Let’s say you don’t have hyperspace drive tech yet. Maybe you change your game plan out of curiosity and decide to spend your few remaining points on building out your tech grid toward hyperdrives. You set up new mines for the required resources, populate them, and use wormholes to scour neighboring galaxies for other necessary components. Finally, you warp to that system.
If you’re lucky, you find a burgeoning empire of neutral aliens! Since they’re neutral, they probably just let you peruse around and maybe are willing to create trade routes or share technology. Also, since they’re neutral, they probably never would have reached out and contacted you– it was your good fortune to spot their scout ship in your system.
If you’re not as lucky, you might find a hostile empire, or just another galaxy (either you guessed the wrong star, or the scout ship only used this galaxy as a waypoint to jump to another). Maybe you set up camp and keep an eye out for any other scouts.
There are a lot of other possibilities in this scenario, but I think that’s enough of a taste of where I want to go with the gameplay progression. Creating completely optional objectives which the player may not even see will help flesh out the game and make each universe dynamic and new. Of course, we won’t see much of this for a while (we are focusing on that ubiquitous tech progression right now), but I hope when we do we will see it in abundance. We want to make sure the player feels challenged by even seemingly inane events around him, and we want to surprise him with the amazing things he can do in our universes!