One of the main reasons for Minecraft’s continued appeal is the way its environments are designed. They are randomly generated, although the environments follow certain procedures and all generally adhere to a set of rules. This allows for incredible variety among the game’s various regions, or “biomes,” as they are called.
The biomes, as well as all the monsters, minerals, and masses (of land) contained within them, are what is currently being termed “procedurally generated” because Minecraft generates the biomes and so forth by following a procedure (simple enough, right?). Procedural generation as a feature is a trend we’re seeing more and more of, and I for one am glad to see it on the rise. Randomly generated environments have been a part of the gaming lexicon since Rogue at least, and randomness itself has always been a feature (be it in item/enemy placement, enemy behavior, or chance of critical hits), but only recently has procedural generation as it is practiced today risen to the forefront as something to be boasted about.
All that being said about Minecraft, I want to talk for a moment about clouds and God. Clouds, I believe, have the propensity to be the most beautiful naturally-occurring phenomenon in nature. Mountains provide challenges for us; we can climb them. Forests we can walk through, take from, give to. Oceans we can use to feed ourselves, be it by fishing or moving things from one shore to another. In some way all of these things in nature provide us tangible benefits and uses in addition to their inherent beauty. But clouds, to us on the ground, provide only aesthetic enrichment (so long as they haven’t spawned a tornado and are actively trying to kill us).
When I was younger, I used to often muse and that clouds were blobs of paint on God’s sky-canvas. I now know, of course, that they are the result of weather patterns, atmospheric pressure, and butterflies flapping their wings a world away. Science tells us that clouds are condensed water vapor frozen in midair, subject to the whims of changing air pressure known as wind to move and rearrange them. Indeed, counter to my earlier point, clouds are far from a purely aesthetic exercise. Through a form of augury we can do much to improve our lives based on the movements of clouds. It is the swollen and dark storm cloud, after all, that has made the non-nomadic lifestyle possible and brought us to where we are today as a society. Clouds, in fact, in addition to being a purely scientific phenomenon, are incredibly useful if harnessed and planned around.
That does not, however, make them any less beautiful.
It does nothing to detract from the fact that clouds even today and probably always will, fill me with wonder. In fact, my understanding of the procedurally-generated nature of clouds, the Grand Canyon, coastlines, Jupiter’s storm, forests, cells, supernovae, the Kuiper Belt, and anything else in this world, only gives me a deeper appreciation of the beauty I’m witnessing. By understanding that the clouds in the sky are the output of an algorithm running on literally a global scale (as if in Deep Thought, eh? Eh?), I find myself in awe, and arriving at a kind of spiritual reverie at the wonders of our procedurally-generated universe. Instead of paint, God is working with far more beautiful and intricate systems.
I mentioned earlier that I am glad to see procedural generation on the rise as a mechanic. Other games, such as Sir, You Are Being Hunted (PLAY THIS GAME NOW), Dwarf Fortress, and Rogue (and its various ‑likes) are capable of incredible depth and literally endless variety and replayability. Though the majority of games use mostly statically-generated levels and environments, there seems to be a call for more variety of the procedural variety. Otherwise game developers wouldn’t advertise that they used a computer program to do their job for them.
In my experience, procedural generation brings a lot to a game. Because the levels are not designed for a specific purpose, feelings of linearity are erased and are replaced with freedom to explore and experience the game world. This can result in far greater variety of experiences, and gives Minecraft’s developers in particular a terrific excuse as to why there are so few gorram diamonds to be found. But that, after all, is part of the fun; endless depths of the environment lead to endless hope for reward, endless incentive to go onward, endless reason to explore, to, you know, play the game.
To close, I guess what I want to say is that even where randomness appears to be the order of the day, there is always some sort of guiding principle, some path along which the dice fall. Whether you, reader, ascribe any form of deity to this phenomenon or not, I feel, is irrelevant. You are a player in this crazy universe, and I encourage you to stop for a moment every now and again and consider what an amazing construct Real Life is. Now get out there and play!