Long Live Random!
Later this fall, a host of games will come out, boasting huge budgets, cinematic cut-scenes, and “gripping” singleplayer plots that will attempt to ape the best Hollywood has to offer. Black Ops 2, Halo 4 — the list of sequels could continue. Some of these games will be good; some might even be great. But all of them will have one problem: they won’t be random enough.
If the history of game development has proved anything, it’s that games can do a huge number of different things. What it’s also proved, and what not enough people pay attention to, is that games are best when they embrace the things that games do best: Interactivity. Immersion. Randomness. Ever since the release of the space-faring title Elite in 1984, which generated whole worlds procedurally using the power of contemporary 8-bit computers, games have been able to offer experiences that change every time a new playthrough is started, changing enemies, place names, items, and characters. Out of all the different forms of entertainment media, only video games are capable of doing this.
This week, two titles were released that understand the power of Random. Borderlands 2, with it’s “bazillions” of procedurally generated guns, ensures that no two players will ever fire exactly the same weapons. Torchlight II, with its randomly generated levels, guarantees a theoretically unlimited amount of replay value — players will never have to slog through the same dungeons, or kill the same familiar array of enemies.
These games might not boast the detailed stories or set-piece epicness of other titles, but they don’t have to — they’re designed by people who make games that play to the inherent strengths of the medium. Games will never be movies, and frankly, some of them should stop trying. Instead, they should keep finding ways to exploit and expand the unique qualities of the world’s newest and most exciting form of fun.