There's a lot of complicated math being done under the hood of your favorite video games. These equations, processes, and algorithms make up the central nervous system of every type of game on the market. Though these are all crucial processes, random number generation might be the most important in modern gaming. So, what is RNG in gaming and how does this seemingly chaotic algorithm affect your playing experience? Today we will look deeper into this seemingly random system and show how it can make or break a game.
What Is RNG in Gaming and What Does It Do?
In the real world, you can count on the randomness of life to keep you on your toes. The world around us is subject to a complicated tapestry of physics and statistics, and something as simple as the roll of a die is unpredictable while subjected to these physical laws. Translating that chaos into gaming seems like it should be easy, but that's not the case. In fact, creating truly random events in an electronic game is literally impossible.
What if you need to recreate an unpredictable action in a game? How do you introduce randomness into a world built on a framework of strict procedural rules? Answering the question “what is RNG in gaming” is hard because the answer is counterintuitive. But fear not, because we're here to break down this concept and make it easier to digest, hopefully giving you a better understanding of how harnessing the forces of an RNG can improve the gaming experience.
What Is a Random Number Generator?
Random number generators, which are called RNGs for short, are tools that give a numerical value at random. The most well-known RNG would be a die. You roll a die and the unpredictable forces that rule our world take control and offer a random number of one through six. This simple little act is subject to such chaotic elements of the physical world that it's virtually impossible to determine the value ahead of time. Using this type of RNG in board games is what creates genuine excitement and makes each play through different.
These types of RNG tools are everywhere in physical gaming, be it a simple coin toss or the pull of a random ball in a game of Bingo. These games are exciting because the element of chance is unpredictable and subject to, some would say, luck. Unfortunately, translating something as simple as a coin toss into a video game is one of the most difficult tasks facing programmers. While our world is built upon the chaos of unpredictable physical forces, the game inside your computer or console is constructed of finely tuned laws and procedures that cannot function in chaos.
This creates a problem for game designers that need RNG systems to work in their products. There is currently no programming language that can adequately mimic the true randomness of a physical RNG. What is RNG in gaming if it's not a die roll or a coin flip? In the case of modern RNG programming, it comes in the form of complicated algorithms and massive data tables. The desired end result will always be a simple numerical value, but the process of generating that number can be dramatically different from game to game.
Are There Different Types of RNG Algorithms?
Yes, RNG systems come in a variety of algorithms and programmed toolsets. The simplest form of RNG uses a base table of pre-selected numbers to generate the final roll. While the tables can be thousands of numbers long, depending on the range of values and data type, they are never truly random once the algorithm finds an entry point. No matter how complicated the underlying equation might be, there will always be a definitive answer based on the initial data points.
Simply put, this means that the numbers that start the RNG will be what determine the table output, and that answer will always be the same if the entered data is the same. Because of that, data tables are tricky to work into video games and have low replay value in most cases.
That's why there are different types of RNG algorithms for different levels of predictable outcomes. Something as simple as a fifty-fifty coin flip is okay with an expansive table, as the right level of processing can make the “flip” match real-world statistical outcomes. But, if you're doing something like character or scenario creation, then additional levels of calculation will be needed to shake out the predictive selections. Therefore the type of data getting fed into the algorithm is what determines the randomness.
Passive RNG vs Active RNG
There are two ways an RNG can calculate an outcome, and they are both based on where the input data is coming from. Something like the roll of dice or the spin of a fortune wheel can work well with a passive RNG system. This only requires the user to initiate an RNG sequence. This sequence calculates the output value and translates that number into a random form. These often require expansive value tables, making the predictive value more difficult to anticipate.
An active RNG algorithm is as close as you can get to pre-programmed chaos, as the input values often come from the player rather than a preformed data table. This is handy in turn-based games, where the outcome of a move partially depends on the choices of the player. These algorithms work on multilayered equations that translate the input from the player into a limited value set. These are never truly random, but the selection is multilayered and derivative, so predicting the outcomes is all but impossible.
Examples of RNG in Modern Games
The expression of these random numbers can be used for a myriad of rules and processes. What is RNG in gaming in regards to popular titles people play today? You may not have realized it, but RNG algorithms control some of the most important elements in your favorite games. The following examples are some of the most common ways RNG systems are used in video games today.
If you've played any kind of game that requires you to collect items dropped from enemies or other non-playable characters, also called NPCs, then you've been subject to an RNG. If killing the same NPC gave the exact same drop every time, there would be no fun in hunting down rare items. What is RNG in gaming where drops are part of the play? The RNG system is programmed to give out certain items, or drops, at statistically limited parameters. Using an RNG to control these drops introduces the need to work towards finding rarer elements as they will drop less frequently than common items.
Attribute Rolls and Character Generation
If you've ever played a role playing game, known as an RPG, then you've been heavily influenced by random number generators. What is RNG in gaming types like these, and how do they create unique characters? Most RPGs will start with a seemingly randomly trained character with different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the key drives for an RPG is the replay value, which relies completely on the RNG system to “roll” for individual traits and characteristics at the start of each play through.
Random Scenario Creation
Some games use random scenario creation to produce different challenges during each new round of play. This is most apparent in city builders or other management style games. What is RNG in gaming types that seem more rigid and managerial? If you've ever played a city simulator, then you know it's important to be on the ready for natural disasters. Of course the fun in preparing for these calamities is you never know when they'll happen. This is only possible with RNG systems that are running through metric tables to determine when it will surprise you and test your emergency response timing.
Turn-Based Battles or Fighting
The most popular games of today rely on turn-based strategy, either fighting a real opponent or an adversarial NPC. Battles would be untenable if the player could accurately predict their opponents every move, so RNG tools become central to exciting gameplay. A simple RNG system can “roll” a number for each of your attacks, which can determine how successful each hit is on your opponent. When this RNG is extended to defense and special moves, from both sides, it ensures each round of play will differ from the last.
What Is RNG in Gaming for the Future?
???????The next generation of video games is moving towards virtual reality, where a player is transported to a new world. So that begs the question, what is RNG in gaming going to be like in the future? As virtual reality games become more immersive and the demand for fidelity grows, the RNG systems will need to grow with it.
While we may never truly develop an algorithm that's one hundred percent random and subject to chance, we will certainly develop new and ingenious ways to mimic that real-world chaos. Random number generators will always be an important part of electronic games, and there will always be programmers, mathematicians, and game designers chasing that perfect unproductive algorithm.