For a long time I have maintained that two concepts are central to the evolutionary future of interactive entertainment:
- That other people are the source of our entertainment and
- That the interactions between basic systems and ecosystems give rise to emergent properties which provide endless possibilities
I can think of about a dozen instances over the past few years in which I have lamented or commented on the lack of emergent properties in video games. Game designers seem content, if not eager, to define everything for us. They strictly define the boundaries of the world and the ways in which we can interact with that world. They do this ostensibly to protect us from ourselves, because doing it any other way requires insane amounts of testing, debugging and balancing. When half or more of your budget goes towards your graphics alone, precious little time and money are left to dedicate to difficult and "unnecessary" features such as, for example, good AI. The real reason game designers are so eager to define our worlds for us is because that's just The Way Things Are Done.
A few designers have attempted to break from this, to the point where now it is becoming somewhat of a cult trend. Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress are notable examples of attempts to allow players to define their worlds. Dwarf Fortress is, I think, the best current example of a game attempting to allow the interactions of various systems to provide a player with entertainment. Dwarf Fortress, unfortunately, suffers from an obtuse interface, limited scope and difficult, often-opaque gameplay mechanics, a result of the designer rebelling against the status quo just a bit too hard.
After years of wishing and wanting, I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and my skills to use in designing and creating a proof-of-concept model of emergent ecosystems interacting to furnish a user with an inexhaustible set of opportunities for creating his own funny, bitter, sad, happy and epic stories and adventures. In homage to Carl Sagan, I'm calling it "Flat Galaxy."