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Guido Henkel

11/25/16

Guido Henkel maintains a blog and has written a three part series about text generation in RPGs and how it adds depth to the narrative. (P1, P2, P3) Guido has worked on RPGs such as Planescape Torment and the Realms of Arkania games.

 

One of the key elements in your toolbox when developing role-playing or adventure games is a smart text generation stage that allows you to intelligently create dynamic text strings on the fly so that you can embed item names, monster names, character names and other things right in the text. Simple enough, right? Well, perhaps not as you shall see.

 

Even in today's world of high-end RPGs, we still frequently see text output such as this:

Sword taken!

Acquired item: Sword

 

I may be over-simplifying this right now for illustrative purposes, but these impersonal, one-fits-all text snippets are the result of over thirty years of trying to avoid one basic, underlying problem-grammar in text generation.

Dynamic text generation adds depth to your narrative

 

See, in order to keep things a bit more interesting, the designers could just as well have picked a different sentence and made it look like this

Samwise picks up the sword and gives it a quick look-over before stowing it away.

 

or at the very least, in the fashion of old text adventure games, add an article to the respective words.

You pick up a sword.

 

Naturally, the requirement for longer text changes with each game. Some clearly keep text short as not to get in the way of gameplay, but games that rely heavily on text are better served with more verbose string generation. It is much more in line with the narrative storytelling that classic role-playing games were striving for, and it would create a whole lot more depth, wouldn't it? It would, no doubt, and it was one of the key ingredients that made the Realms of Arkania games such a rich and incredibly detailed experience. So why aren't more developers doing it? Are they truly so afraid that people don't like to read? Hardly. If any audience in the computer game world is willing to read voraciously, it is role-players and adventurers.