"What makes it more fun is that - even as the architect - I don't know exactly what's going to appear on the screen when I hit the generate button. I focus on making this bigger, better, and keeping it efficient, and then I get to watch it come to life in new and interesting ways."
An interview with Brandon and Sabelyn, creators of Nerd Building
Q&A With Creators of Nerd Building
How did you get into creating random generators?
Brandon - I have been building my own world for years, and the main problem I kept running into was getting caught up with mundane details. Like, what kind of trees were in the area, and which of those trees were the population using to build things.
So, I started building a spreadsheet to try and get randomized lists of what could be in the vicinity of whatever I was working on.
Unfortunately, purely random lists were not working very well for me. I would get results that didn’t make sense, and I would end up going back and re-doing things completely. So, I contacted my friend and we started working on a generator that would generate results based on a logical flow of constraints. No more palm trees for boreal areas!
Sabelyn - For me, it was a coding challenge, a project outside of work that would help keep my skills sharp and let me learn more along the way.
I was constantly starting and abandoning projects when the scope got too large for me to handle, but working on Nerdbuilding as a team means that I can focus on engineering as opposed to all the extra stuff - like data aggregation and keeping up with social media - that always killed my motivation in the past.
It feels great to have created something and gotten far enough to actually put it out there for other people to enjoy!
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
Brandon - Nerdbuilding.com is the first generator I have worked on that is actually usable. I am super proud of the progress we have made so far. The amount of information that we are generating constantly surprises me.
Sabelyn - So far, Nerdbuilding is the only generator I've worked on, but given its scope, I don't think that's a bad shot. I feel accomplished as an engineer already, and we aren't even closed to finished.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
Brandon - The most fun I have is when we are testing a new piece of the generator.
After days or weeks of research, collecting information, building indexes and identifying relationships; seeing the first generation of new information, and how it fits in with existing information is a very rewarding experience.
Sometimes We have to rethink how our constraints work, or add more objects to make sure we have a good spread of possibilities, but just seeing new information showing up, and working how we had envisioned is a super special time.
Sabelyn - It's like a puzzle. I love the problem-solving aspect of coding, and trying to build an ever-expanding application where so many pieces are interconnected presents a lot of interesting problems to solve.
What makes it more fun is that - even as the architect - I don't know exactly what's going to appear on the screen when I hit the generate button. I focus on making this bigger, better, and keeping it efficient, and then I get to watch it come to life in new and interesting ways.
What are the biggest challenges of creating generators?
Brandon - Definitely the biggest challenge is trying to decide which information we are going to use that will give us the most utility, without breaking my brain, lol.
Nearly every object in the generator (landscapes, water features, animals, plants etc) has certain prerequisites to be able to generate, and then those same objects have items or products that will then influence the next things to generate.
For example: certain trees may require a certain proximity to water, a certain type of soil, special temperature ranges, or a minimum amount of rainfall in order to exist in a given area. And then, that same tree may have fruit that can be used as a food source, maybe the bark is a good source of tannins and would allow for the settlement to have Tanner, or maybe the only useful information about the tree is that the wood is hard and good for building structures.
Sabelyn - Putting it all together in a way that makes sense. Nerdbuilding doesn't just pick randomly from lists. What it picks from a list determines what options from other lists are available, and this continues all the way through the generation process.
Anyone who knows anything about coding can probably already see the spaghetti piling up. Keeping track of all the rules and making sure the code remains clear, robust, and extendable is a constant challenge.
How do you use random generators yourself?
Brandon - I love generators! Sometimes I will pick one of my bookmarked generators and just start clicking.
I never know what might spark some kind of idea in my head. One of my favorites is the “Fantasy Name Generator” because I am horrible at coming up with names. Eventually all my NPC’s names begin to sound the same.
Sabelyn - My primary use is name generation, but ultimately, I view generators as a seed. When looking for a name for a character or location, I search for something that inspires me, something that rings. I might use it directly or come up with a derivative.
To me, generators from the simple dice roll tables to the more complex applications are meant to spark creativity, be a spring-board for ideas when you're not sure where to start.
What is the most interesting generator or tool you've seen?
Brandon - That would be a tough one. Between Watabou’s medieval city generator and Eigengrau’s generator, I think I would have a hard time picking the most interesting.
I love the map generator because I can play around with it and make changes. But, Eigengrau’s generator has some amazing use of narrative description, and the linking between people, buildings, roads, places is just amazing!
Sabelyn - That's a difficult one because it's so broad and I have trouble ranking things I like. It's also difficult because - due to my visual disability - the most "interesting" tools aren't really accessible to me.
I find people who can randomly generate coherent maps fascinating, and I love any tool that gives a creator a wide array of tools that allow them to focus on their strengths without being entirely held back by their weaknesses. Technology is great for that!
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
Brandon - development of Nerdbuilding is going to be my main focus for the foreseeable future. We have a lot of ideas for it. Right now we are still working on the basic, bottom level generations.
Future additions to Nerdbuilding, will be the ability to use it on a mobile
Integration with sites like World Anvil, so that you can import your generations through the use of API or formatted output.
Also, something we are currently calling, “Regional Generations.” That feature, we are hoping, would allow a user to generate and save smaller settlements, like towns and villages. Then they could generate a larger city and assign the smaller settlements as suppliers to that city, and imports/exports would start to take a role in what could and could not exist in the larger city.
There are also a LOT more pieces of the generator that still need to be implemented, like social systems, power centers, trades, buildings, local menus. As well as some of the larger, more secret, plans that we still have to figure out.
Sabelyn - We'll probably be working on Nerdbuilding for the foreseeable future. We both have full-time jobs, and this generator has a long way to go. As for what I'd like to eventually work on: I've wanted to make games since I was young. I've tried my hand at a few text-based games, but I always ran into the scope problem I mentioned in the first question.
Hey, maybe we can utilize Nerdbuilding's code to generate random locations for a game down the road. :)
Where can people find you on social media?
For the most part, our Subreddit and Discord are the two places I am most active. We do have pages on World Anvil, Patreon, and Instagram.
Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Nerdbuilding/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nerdbuilding/ Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/nerdbuilding World Anvil: https://www.worldanvil.com/w/nerdbuilding-the-bearded-heathen
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Brandon - Nerdbuilding.com is currently a “Pre-Alpha”
But, it is open to the public and free to use. We are really just looking for people to use it, give feedback, and maybe help us find bugs that we might have missed. Or, if there is something, someone would really like to see, we would love to hear about it.
The more information we can cram into this generator the better. You don’t have to use all of it, just what looks cool, or whatever you find useful.
You can find more more Creator Interviews on Rand Roll.
I have a discord for discussing random tools and tables and I'm also on instagram as rpg_generators with random tables and gens.