Grammar-Based Generation

To me, this is a new form of procedural generation. You declare specific rules for your desired content, and then a generator runs accordingly. I’ve only seen it used for text, but I’m sure the same technique works for anything. The simplest example is picking a random item from a list, and a slightly more complex version shows the power of defining a grammar:

grammar = {
  "first name": "Anna", "Belle", "John"
  "last name": "Brown", "Jameson", "Williams"
  "full name": "{first name} {last name}"

G(grammar, "full name") -- ex: Anna Williams

The syntax above is pseudocode for a generator I am working on. I plan to allow the use of a custom seed along with the generator so that you can do things like have uniquely generated people for a population, where only a lookup number needs to be stored (if you wish to remember a specific person).

It gets even more powerful when you make it possible to define multiple versions of the same grammar and use different ones depending on an object’s properties, and allow inline code within the grammars. Here’s an incomplete example based on my continuing efforts to build space games:

  "system name": {
      props: { pulsar: true }
      "PSR {random(1000)}"
      props: { pulsar: false }
      "{Greek letter} {Latin name}"
      "{random(100)} {Latin genitive}"
      "{modern constellation} G{random(1000,9999)}.{random(1000,9999)}"

For this example, pulsars would get their traditional “PSR ###” names, while non-pulsars would get names based on differing classification methods.

I’m currently thinking about a game based on Aurora, but massively simplified and playable in-browser. Grammar-based content generation would play a very important role in this, from generating system names (as above) to NPC ship design.


Resources that helped me recognize the potential of grammars:

(Normally I would like to publish working code along with these posts, or some other form of useful data, but today we’re looking at a work-in-progress idea without even that much concrete form.)

Simplified Fluid Storage System

One of my game ideas involves constructing 2D spaceships, and the concept of a simplified system for storing fuel, oxygen, water – really any kind of fluid mixture – in storage tanks. Along with this, it allows simulating breaches between containers, hard vacuum, and the pressurized areas of the ship itself!

{ -- a rough approximation of Earth's atmosphere
  pressure: 1
  volume: 4.2e12 -- 4.2 billion km^3
  contents: {
    nitrogen: 0.775
    oxygen: 0.21
    argon: 0.01
    co2: 0.005

{ -- hard vacuum
  pressure: 0
  volume: math.huge -- infinity
  -- the contents table will end up containing negative infinity of anything that leaks into the vacuum

It all comes down to storing a total pressure and volume per container, and a table of contents as percentages of the total mixture. The total amount of mass in the system can be easily calculated (volume * pressure), as can the amount of any item in the system ( volume * pressure * percent).

Breaches are stored as a reference in the container with a higher pressure, and a size value is added to the container with lower pressure (representing the size of the hole between them).


  • Everything has the same density and mixes evenly.
  • There are no states of matter, everything is treated as a gas.
  • Attempting to directly modify the amount of a fluid is prone to floating-point errors it seems, while mixing containers via the breach mechanic is working as expected.

The code was written in MoonScript / Lua and is available here.