Mass Effect Andromeda: Curated Story Content vs. Procedural Generation
Procedural generation isn’t bad in and of itself.
Mass Effect Andromeda is supposed to be, as we have discussed previously, a return to the style of game that the original Mass Effect was, over the relatively more linear and funneled storytelling that its sequels offered. We’ve discussed previously why this is ultimately a good direction for the series to take.
But at that time, we did not address the elephant in the room that remains ever more pertinent in the wake of No Man’s Sky‘s release (and the subsequent uproar it generated, owing to the final product not being what was promised): how in the world would the game offer a galaxy worth of exploration, without resorting to the kind of unsatisfying tricks that No Man’s Sky used?
Specifically, how do Bioware plan on offering that many planets to explore to the player without resorting to procedural generation? In fact, not just the planets- it is not unreasonable to suppose that the quests on them (and there would have to be quests and objectives on them, otherwise they’d just be empty and pointless filler) would also have to be procedurally generated (a bit like the Radiant quests that Bethesda have included in some of their games?)?
The question then is, in the wake of No Man’s Sky‘s failure to resonate with the market, is this something that Bioware should even be going for? The short answer to this is: yes. There is nothing wrong with procedural generation in and of itself. Some very acclaimed games, such as From’s Bloodborne or Atlus’ Persona 4, have featured procedural generation. Procedural generation is a useful technique- but it needs to be balanced with actual, hand crafted content, or its problems become amplified. In the case of Bloodborne and Persona, the procedural dungeons were balanced by some exquisite, well designed content- which was not the case for No Man’s Sky, where everything was procedurally generated.
What does this mean for Andromeda, then? Simply put, it means that if Bioware can have compelling story content in the game in comparable amounts to previous games in the series, with accompanying locations that are, at least, not procedurally generated, then having side and bonus content (which is ultimately what most of the explorable planets in Andromeda, and the quests on them, would be) be procedurally generated is not an issue- all Bioware need to do is ensure that they’ve got some actual good, well designed content that the procedurally generated stuff supplements.