We wrap up the Penny Arcade Expo East with more talk about procedural generation and the future of visual novels.
Procedural generation really struck a chord with us at this year's show, and in some ways we turned our head on it. Procedural generation is simply the process by which a computer remixes premade design elements or assets within a game. That could be a level, where the rooms in the level are shifted around between rounds, or through something as nebulous as animation, leaving you with wildly gesticulating. In our last Bit of Play, we took a much more negative opinion on the roguelike fad, a genre of game primarily known for its procedurally generated levels. While neither of us think that procedural generation can be a catch all solution to money problems, replayability or all that surprising play, it does have its uses. And just as we found games that seem to be abusing that concept, we also found ones that have put it to good effect.
Perhaps the direct opposite of procedural generation was the handcrafted narrative of the visual novel, a genre that hasn't changed much since its inception. The visual novel is quite literally a reading experience where you make choices between yes or no/left or right/sexy times or no sexy times. With mechanics so simple it's rare that you come across any that deviate from the traditional, and yet we found two on the floor that take the genre in new directions. Our first, VA-11 HALL-A gave you the role of bartender, and replaced decision making with cocktail creation. The drinks change the options from here or there to Martini, Daiquiri, or poorly made versions of both. We also saw Christine Love's new game, Ladykiller in a Bind, which makes conversations more active by allowing you to interject with choices throughout dialogue, or ignore them completely. Both games showed ways to make the visual novel a more active experience, and gave you some agency that visual novels often lack.