Most Wanted 2015: No Man’s Sky

When I first played Joe Danger at Eurogamer Expo a few years ago I was astonished at how fun it was, but unsurprised that it came from a small team. Hello Games – at that time – were an incredibly small team made up of former Criterion, EA and Kuji staff who set up a small studio to make games *their* way. Amazingly their third release, following two Joe Danger games has captured the imagination of the gaming world and press like no other.

No Man’s Sky promises a lot, and every time it has been shown to the public at press events it has held it’s audience enraptured. The concept is simple. A universe to explore. That’s it. A whole, massive, procedurally generated universe.

There is an industry joke made up of developers promising the following:

“See that mountain? You can climb it!”

It’s something that is always at the heart of what makes a sandbox game. Are the mountains in the distance part of the game world proper or part of nothing more than a fancy invisible wall. With No Man’s Sky it kind of blows that out of the water:

“See that star? You can go there!”

Not just go there either, go there, name it, explore the planets orbiting it, encounter nature inhabiting it etc…

Why wouldn’t this be something that we should all expect from games that promise to be ‘sandbox’? The Crew promised a scaled down version of the USA but in many ways the game suffered as a result. It’s fine to have a large world, but if most of it is boring, then smaller is best. As a result Sleeping Dogs is more involving as a game than Grand Theft Auto V. No Man’s Sky seems to be different though. You aren’t expected to find everything, the size simply allows for a unique experience. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Hello Games’ Sean Murray was asked how long it would take to traverse the game’s world:

Do you have any head-spinning stats about how long it would take to go from one edge of the game world to the other in real time?

“I’ve never done it. If you didn’t use hyperdrive to go between two stars, it would take a very long time. I don’t actually know how long, but it would take a very long time. Travelling across would take quite a while. But a clever, good player who knew exactly what they were doing could get to the centre from the outside in… maybe, 100 hours? Or something.

“But that’s not the end of the game. We’re not going to say what happens when you do [get there] – there is a point when you could put the controller down… But also there would be a reason not to.”

The game is so immense that he even joked that if there was a trophy (the game is a PS4 timed exclusive) for visiting every planet in the game, and the player visited one every second, it would take 584 billion years. Consider that for a moment and much as humanity has looked up at the stars and felt small and alone, I can honestly say that even a game like Skyrim suddenly feels tiny.

It’s not all about the size, it’s simply a case of how the world is crafted. The size isn’t about making something big, it’s about creating a true reflection of what it is to be exploring a galaxy.

Then there’s the secondary feature that has me so excited, the procedural generation.

Procedural generation was explained to me once, in a way that actually makes it very easy to explain:

These types of games are nothing more than a recipe.

The code gives instructions that can be interpreted in a number of ways, much like a recipe book.

Give the same ingredients and the recipe card to 100 people and you would end up with 100 different end products.

In essence this is how procedural generation works, the game has rough instructions for creations. So an animal would have four legs and a specific personality type, but the actual way that this is manifested could vary wildly in every instance. This isn’t likely to throw out massively entertaining results, but it will ensure that every player, in every game, finds something unique at every turn.

Finally we still don’t know a whole lot about what the ‘point’ of the game is, such is the strength of the concept, but hints have been dropped about resource mining, trading and exploring, as well as portals and jump stations. For me, I would be happy enough just to explore, but I also have a lot of confidence in Hello Games to make a game that will live up to, and exceed expectation.

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