Limit Theory and Procedural Generation

One of the Kickstarter campaigns I supported last year was Limit Theory (Kickstarter campaign, official site), an infinite, procedural space game. “Procedural”, a word used 19 times by campaign creator Josh Parnell to describe his game on Kickstarter, in this context refers to procedural generation - that the content of the game is generated algorithmically rather than manually.

Here’s how Josh describes the way procedural generation will be used in Limit Theory:

Well, almost…the music and sound effects will be hand-made. But everything you see will be procedural. Planets, nebulae, stars, asteroids, ships, stations, textures, and so on. Thanks to cutting-edge procedural generation technology, Limit Theory will have the ability to keep providing you with new experiences. No matter how long you play, there will always be more to explore, see, learn, and conquer!

Every mission, every event, and every asset that you encounter in game will be unique - and it won’t be the same next time you play. You’ll never “beat” the game, nor will you ever know it like the back of your hand. When you feel that it has become too familiar, all you must do is click “New Game,” and you will once again be completely lost.

That is some seriously impressive stuff right there.

I was not the only one that was impressed with the Limit Theory’s potential and Josh ended up raising almost $190,000, 375% of his original goal of $50,000. Numerous interesting updates on Kickstarter haven’t made anyone less impressed and expectant. In case you’re still not convinced Limit Theory might become a great thing, here’s Josh monthly video update for January 2013:

But even though all this sounds amazing, there are a few risks associated with Limit Theory. At the moment, the development team is one man, Josh himself. Even though he is probably a infinitely better and more disciplined coder than yours truly, my experience is that solo projects tend to become disorganized and hard to maintain over time. You might not realize it yourself because you have intimate knowledge of your code, but to an outsider it might become a nightmare to eventually start working on and maintaining your code.

Another pitfall Limit Theory might fall into is that the game, by design, is without any end-game goal - it is, after all, infinite. There is no campaign or story in the game, making it a single-player version of EVE Online. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but my experience with EVE Online is that is can quickly become a second job that can suck you completely dry. In the Limit Theory FAQ it says that “there are plenty of missions, quests, and “stories” going on inside LT, if you’re the type that likes missions and such.” This will might make up for the lack of a campaign and I like “missions and such”, because they give me game play goals.

But someone has to write and design all these missions and quests, and will poor Josh has the capacity and time to do both this and deign and create the actual game? I fear that this is too much of a job for one man, even though he has taken an official leave of absence from Stanford to work full time on Limit Theory and that it seems like Josh has somehow managed to cram more than 24 hours out of each day.

The game is scheduled for a late 2013/early 2014 release, but I will be very surprised if the release date isn’t pushed well into 2014. All this said, though, I root for Josh and hope he is able to deliver. Limit Theory has great potential and with a little multiplayer thrown into the mix at some point he might come out of all this a very wealthy guy, maybe even Notch-wealthy.


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