There has been a lot of talk about procedural missions lately. Most recently, Skyrim has been touting its Radiant Quest system. The Radiant Quest system is a system to offer players unlimited quests. Of course any game that relies solely on procedural missions would be quite boring. Skyrim did it right. They used their radiant quest system to compliment scripted quests and provide pointless side quests to help increase the realism and depth of the world. I believe this is a great idea and I have been thinking of ways I could incorporate a similar system into Eterium.
Creating procedural missions is much more difficult than randomly placing nav points and enemy ships. There are many questions that must be answered. What type of mission is it? Where should the ships be placed? Is the mission too hard? Too easy? Will it be fun? Where should asteroid fields be placed? Should placement be mission-based or star system-based? I have been working lately to answer these questions and I have started coding a rudimentary procedural mission generator. The most important of all the questions, is how do procedural missions fit into the game and advance the story? I intend to mix procedural missions among scripted missions. Scripted mission will actually be completely built and designed by a designer and include a much higher level of interactivity. For example, in a scripted mission, it would not be uncommon for the mission to unfold quite differently than the briefing indicated. Maybe, while flying a patrol, a wing will receive a distress signal from a nearby transport; the mission computer will be updated and the wing will fly to the rescue. Scripted missions are also more likely to contain in-flight cutscenes.
To mix scripted missions and procedural missions, I intend to introduce a point system. Each chapter requires a certain number of points to advance to the next. Completing a mission successfully awards a point, while failing to achieve a missions objective will deduct half a point. At certain predetermined levels of points a scripted mission is used. The procedural missions will also be used to advance the plot through shipboard conversations. Some before-mission conversations will be random banter, while some will actually progress the plot. The plot progression will be based not only on scripted missions, but also on the number of points the player has earned. For example, a procedural mission three points into a chapter could contain dialog that advances the plot.
On a technical level, the missions themselves would consist of patrol, strike, escort and defend missions. All missions will draw from a series of pre-placed nav points in each star system. Patrol missions will draw from several predefined patterns. This will ensure that flight hazards such as asteroid fields, mine fields and nebulae are used to their full potential. Patrol missions are neutral and usually occur at the beginning of a chapter, where strike missions occur more often when the player is winning, and escort and defend missions are on the losing path. After losing a pre-determined number of missions, the player falls back to a random “losing” system where they play only procedural missions. If they player wins the losing system they are returned to the chapter where they left off in the story. If the player loses the losing scenario then the game is over.
There is much more work and design that needs to go into this idea before I can decide whether or not it is viable for Eterium. Using procedural missions should help to provide more content and reduce the work load on our small team. Most of the missions from the original Wing Commander could have easily been procedurally generated without sacrificing any of the entertainment value. Combining scripted missions and procedural missions should balance out to make Eterium a
dynamic and entertaining experience.