A Blurb About Randomness in Video Games

by Joe Santulli

I was playing Mountain Madness: Super Pro Skiing on the Intellivision the other day, and had almost forgotten that this game includes a course generator. They call it a helicopter drop, and the courses can be really tricky because the computer only cares that there is a small path on some horizontal axis for the player to pass through. This is a terrific feature, something I just can’t understand the lack thereof in today’s gaming. It’s something called “random”. “Random” is incorporated into most games, but not in the way most gamers would like it to be. Sure, random encounters happen in RPG’s, enemies randomly fire at you in shooters, computer controlled fighters randomly select a move to pull... but it just isn’t enough. Here’s what I consider using the “random” feature effectively:

1) Racing games, like Super Pro Skiing, should have random course generators. One of the greatest criticisms of these games is the lack of tracks. Well, you only really NEED one track. Then you NEED to have new ones created on the fly. If all of the objects on the course are 3D rendered and pre-defined, then why can’t they appear in random locations?

2) RPG’s need more random quests. I remember a game called Adventure Construction Kit by Electronic Arts for the C-64, which allowed you to take all of the elements in an adventure, and scramble them so their appearance is totally randomized. Then it generated dungeons and set you off on your way. Even Atari’s primitive Adventure for the VCS had this feature, in the spectacular variation #3. The A.I. in both of these games sucked big-time, because you could either find that super-weapon right at your feet in the beginning of a game or trapped behind a wall and impossible to reach in another. A.I. techniques have improved over the years (I hope), so this shouldn’t be a problem.

3) You might think fighting games are immune to this criticism, but they’re not. Far too many fighters end up being predictable, with expected results, glitches, and patterns that a good player can pick up. I want the element that I’m playing against a human when I’m simulating fighting a human. None of this aggressive press, press, press stuff that the computer is always doing. I want to be “surprised” by a computer’s tactics. I know what a programmer would say here: “If I throw in some surprising tactics, you’ll eventually learn the surprising tactics and those won’t seem surprising anymore”. Lazy f#%!ing programmer. What you do is throw them in and then randomize them. The computer should back off every once in awhile, jump for no apparent reason, throw punches at thin air, and any combination therein. But the computer should also “appear” to be backing off, then come in all aggressive-like. I guess what I’m saying is that if there are enough random experiences you shouldn’t be able to pick out the pattern, and I know that can be done.

I hope to see more of this in the future, because I’m pretty damn sick and tired of all the patterns necessary to beat video games. I want a challenge, not a memory exercise. I got enough of that in history class back in school.


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