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Content Selection vs. Content Generation

Lately, some of us in the lab have been having a discussion on the difference between content selection and content generation. Where does one end and the other begin? At some level, procedural content generation uses content selection. So what’s the difference?

The Diablo franchise is well-known for their randomly created levels. But is it content generation or content selection?

We have debated a number of theories, starting with the granularity of the content being selected. A level generator that selects small bits of artwork and pieces it together would be referred to as a generator. Similarly, if a level generator took large chunks of pre-authored levels, this would instead be content selection. However, what the Diablo franchise uses seems more like generation, and not content selection, so we felt this was not the right direction.

Since that theory didn’t feel right, so we began discussing the player’s involvement in the process. Generating entire levels or story before the player was able to interact with them would be generation. Placing bits of level or story in reaction to the player’s action would instead be content selection. But what about entire levels that are generated based on the player’s previous actions? Why is that generation and not content selection?

We refined our theory to include the perspective of the player. If the player was present during the time of the content selection, the entire process is content selection. However, if the player experiences the world after the selection is done, then this is generation. This takes care of the case where entire levels are created in response to the player’s actions.

Still not satisfied, we finally came up with our current working theory which takes all of these into account; yet is simpler at heart.  Content generation is what you refer to when discussing the final product, content selection is a process used for generation. A level generator which chooses chunks of levels based on critics and heuristics is really no different than a level generator that chooses the next chunk of the level real time based on the player’s actions. In content selection, it is just that the player is fulfilling the part of the critic and heuristic, as opposed to experiencing the finished product.

While the player is playing in a content selection based system, they are part of the creation process.  At the end of the player’s experience, they have in fact, generated a level or story; the player is merely a key component of the generation system.

About the author:  Anne Sullivan is a PhD student researching player-driven quest-generation in RPGs. She wants to grow up to be the crazy cat lady. Read more from this author

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  1. DF
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

    Yes. About generation x selection, seems to me it’s a matter of depth of detail.

    You generate a city using pre-made houses.
    You generate a house using pre-made bricks.
    Bricks of course are made of pre-made molecules.
    They say molecules came from the Big Bang. Which is my stop.

    Ayways, nothing is new – online or offline. It’s all transformation, combination.

    Did I wander off? :)

    PS: awesome screenshot – which Diablo is that one?

  2. Andrew Doull
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 7:58 PM | Permalink

    Experience has taught me that you’re probably making an artificial distinction between selection and generation. To take a simple example, even if the level is generated independently of the player, they will select the part of the level to occupy more time in that allows them to exploit the mechanics of the game more. e.g. a room that they can kite monsters in because of the presence of a pillar.

    Coincidentally, I’m just in the process of writing an article on the various approaches to taxonomies of procedural generation. I’ll be linking you from that…

  3. Andrew Doull
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 8:03 PM | Permalink

    See Analysis: The Game Design Lessons Of Permadeath for more about my thoughts on player selection strategies in procedural landscapes.

  4. Nox
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 2:46 AM | Permalink

    I don’t see much point in struggling to place black&white label for something that is rather of grayscale character … as your article actually uncovers

    That is upcoming Diablo III … for some reason I like II’s visuals better

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