Is it Possible for a Video Game to Be "Infinite"?

Playing Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the DS yesterday got me thinking: excluding drug runs (which seem to come up randomly, though I could be wrong), I’ve completed about 8-10 missions out of a possible, I dunno, 300?

I know next to nothing about computer/video game programming, but my theory is that, given the manipulation of a few parameters (changing the names/races/ages/etc. people I have to kill/rescue, manipulating the difficult/locations of the jobs, manipulating how much bribe money the police take, safehouses becoming mansions, ad infinitum), the game could theoretically be infinite and I’d never run out of missions.

Is this possible? I know that there are certain games (like the Sim- franchise) where you neither win nor lose, you just keep on playing. I also know that in “Vs.” games like Mario Kart there’s a (theoretically) infinite number of situations/outcomes. But in a more hands-on, immersive game like GTA, is “infinity” possible? Has it been done?

Sure. You just need a good robust mission generator, which builds missions from parts like: origin, destination, deliver X, retrieve Y, defeat Z- that sort of thing. The challenge would be to keep the missions from becoming too boring.

*Daggerfall *did something similar years ago, as I recall. They even built dungeons out of parts randomly strung together.

The dungeon crawler *Torchlight *has an “infinite dungeon”, but I don’t know if they randomly build missions for you.

Depends on what you’d accept as infinity.

For example, the dungeons of Diablo are random - every time you enter a given dungeon, the floorplan will be different, and the monsters in it too. It’s not truely infinite, because the randomizer is based on a finite number of dungeon “sections”, but factoring in the monsters, their (random) aptitudes, the (random) items they drop etc…, you’d have to play for a long long time before running into the *exact *same dungeon.
However, because of the finite number of floorplan “tiles” and the even more finite number of monster types (two, three per dungeon, tops), after a while it does feel like sort of the same dungeon over and over.

Another form of infinity is incremental : MMORPGs. By the time you’ve completed every quest available (and probably sooner than that), a new expansion of the game is released, chock full of new questy goodness. This time, you might even have to kill 10 lizards instead of 8 bears ! :slight_smile:

There were some talks about generating random worlds and set pieces using mathematical formulas, but those would always require some human tweaking to make them balanced, interesting and/or playable.

From what I’ve heard Star Wars Galaxies had a procedural mission generator which basically just filled in a planet, an enemy or item or some other random thing, and a number and told you to go for it. I’m pretty sure Eve Online also has something similar for some things like courier mission, but I’m not too sure on that specific example. So yes, you CAN have something like that, how much fun it is depends on the gameplay and the person as with everything else.

Ah, speaking of which : Civilization IV.
Random starting positions, land masses and resources each time, more than a dozen different world generation algorythms (e.g. some to generate archipelagos, some to generate one giant continent etc…) each with its set of tweakable variables, up to 24 opponents (directly or randomly picked from a total of… what, 100 ? 150 ?) each with their own “personnality”, and definitely no two games the same.

I’m not sure that counts. Each game is finite, having a strict limit on turns and the like. And you gain nothing from one game to the other. So the game is not infinite in quite the way the OP means. But I do agree it has a high re-playability due to its randomness.

In a highly moddable game, yes you can, if you assume the modders and level/scenario makers are able to churn out content faster than you can play them. Alas in the real world, people eventually move on, new content dries up, and the game becomes moribund.

Good point.

The main problem with procedurally generated content is making it actually something worth playing. It usually doesn’t take long before the players pick up on the generation templates used, and the illusion is lost once the man behind the curtain is visible. Once the basic patterns are recognized, the “infinite” content starts to look more like constant reruns.

Yeah, that was the problem with the Diablo II dungeons. They all just felt so cookie-cutter, and were a major contributing factor in my not getting bored with and not finishing the game (and I finish almost every game I start).

Agreed.Dark Cloud 1 and 2 were enjoyable games, but the “randomly generated” dungeons ended up being very, very alike after a while. There was also the matter of difficulty: you could get several powerful monsters at chokepoints, or they could all be located in out-of-the-way areas making progress a little too easy.

Disgaea’s Item World actually does a pretty good job.

And another thing is that you’re never going to be surprised. A human scripting encounters will be able to throw weird, unexpected things at you, while generated content doesn’t really have character. I guess if you’re really desperate for content, you’ll get a lot of game for your buck, but right now, my limiting factor is time. With that in mind, I’d rather my game experiences be excellent but short than mediocre but last a really long time.

Does’nt MegaMan 9 offer an infinite level? It’s an add on.

I wouldn’t know, I can’t beat the first level in that game.

Not infinite - just “really, really, really long” - but I nominate Little Big Planet. There are an infinite number of items you can collect, since you can receive items other people create when you play their levels. And it’s the user-generated content that is going to keep this game going for a very long time (or until the sequel - which they don’t need to make, but will because it’ll make money).

Sure, but how long do you need it to be. Practical things get in the way like hardware failure, OS problems, crashes, memory leaks, variable limits, poor coding, etc. Modern games are so complex that its difficult to debug all of this. Sure, you can probably play the same game for a year or two, but not 10 or 20 years.

If I recall, Spiderman 2 for the PS2 (and similar systems) had a random mission generator sort of thing. The game is fairly open ended, with a linear story line, but with plenty of leeway in when you do the missions. In the meantime, there are always side missions (gang wars, stolen cars, boat rescues, etc.) popping up.

Once you beat the game, you get to a final mission which consists of trying to rack up some crazy amount of points. But even after you reach that limit, you swing around the city and the side missions still pop up.

Theoretically, you could accomplish every last mission, side mission and token hunt, and still spend eternity swinging around the city rescuing citizens.

Infinite games? Have you young people never heard of Asteroids marathons? That game could go on and on until it either malfunctioned or human endurance ran out.

It’s actually interesting that the earliest video games didn’t have “endings”; you just kept playing, and the enemies got faster and faster, until finally you died. There was no way to “win”. Somewhere along the way, games turned into plot-driven exercises that draw to a definite conclusion. Can anyone put a finger on where exactly the turning point happened?

The market changed from coin-op machines to home machines which you could play at all day in the 1980s. Story driven RPGs were here on the console as early in 1982 with Atari’s Dragonstomper and earlier on the PC with Ultima and King’s Quest. I guess it didnt peak until around Dragon Warrior or Zelda on the NES.

This ignores all the earlier text based games like Zork.