No Man's Sky Preview
Due to the increasingly instant-gratification nature of video games (and indeed, of all forms of entertainment), we’re losing our capability to appreciate more cerebral elements. The thrill of exploration and adventure isn’t rooted in shock and titillation. In fact, as a child searches for creepy-crawlies beneath rocks in the creek, the virtual traveler should be fascinated in what he finds. It’s not about constant battle or endless drama; it’s about creating a singular, memorable experience. And that’s precisely what Hello Games set out to do with the insanely ambitious No Man’s Sky.
The sheer size of the game environment is what will turn heads. In fact, it already has, as its procedurally generated approach creates an endless series of possibilities. And when we say “endless,” we’re almost being literal. Rather than utilizing the same basic approach all games use – i.e., a narrative wrapped around an adventure that is 99 percent action and about 1 percent story/drama – these developers have taken a big risk. There are no quests or missions in No Man’s Sky. There’s essentially no direction whatsoever. You’re given a few bare essentials and a basic life pod, in which you can putter around at the edge of space. How you progress is entirely up to you.
You can be a bounty hunter or even a freight security guard, or you can start out by mining resources on various exotic planets. There are more careers out there but in order to find them all, you’ll have to keep branching out. At first, it’s going to feel daunting and intimidating as there’s no hand-holding at all; there’s no “auto-travel;” there’s no quick portal that magically shoots you from one star to another. You have to manually pilot your little craft everywhere and while this may sound tedious, just imagine what you’ll see along the way… You won’t be seeing the same stuff over and over, that’s for sure. This particular virtual universe is unbelievably expansive.
Hello Games said that if they started a million players on one planet, all of them would still be “really far apart.” And yeah, that’s just one planet. Thing is, the universe is a very large and foreboding place, which is why you won’t be running across swarms of aliens everywhere you go. In fact, the developers have instituted a “90/10” rule: 90 percent of the planets aren’t habitable and there’s no life on them. Of the 10 percent that are habitable, 90 percent of the life will be very primitive. Only a very small fraction of the worlds we explore will feature advanced life forms. So, you’re asking: “What exactly do we do in this game?”
Well, all players are going to be funneled into the center of the universe, where more options exist amid greater dangers. At some point, you’ll probably want to cooperate with fellow star travelers, especially when faced with more difficult circumstances. But in all honesty, the designers aren’t really sure what’s going to happen. If more gamers keep to themselves throughout the experience, things will be more chaotic. If they work together more, who knows what could happen? Build your own alliance? Hard to say. As for basic gameplay control, we know we’ll get a jetpack for when we’re on foot, and there’s an “infinite number” of available spaceships you can fly in the game. You can’t build them or customize them; you can only buy them. But really, do we need more depth?
I only question the procedurally generated part. Of the games I’ve played that have used this system, most have turned out to be relatively boring. The aspects they randomly generate aren’t all that enthralling and just because there are a zillion different outcomes, who cares when 98 percent of those outcomes are pretty darn similar? In other words, so what if there are thousands of planets out there? If the majority of them look and feel the same, the universe won’t seem quite so engaging, yes? Still, I have faith that Hello Games knows what they’re doing, and I look forward to playing a game that finally puts a premium on adventure.
Now all we need is a release date. No Man’s Sky is slated to launch some time this year.
1/20/2015 Ben Dutka