Available on PS4 and PC
No Man’s Sky release date: June 24, 2016
Few games have enjoyed the feverish anticipation of No Man’s Sky. When the game was unveiled at E3 last year, the idea behind it caught the imagination of millions of gamers: what if you could visit an entire galaxy of planets and name the ones you found? The hype train has been rolling ever since.
This year at E3, developer Hello Games delved into what you actually do in the game, aside from just flying your ship across space looking for new worlds to name after rude words. If we were wearing our lazy journalistic comparison hat, we’d say No Man’s Sky appears to be a mix of Elite and Grand Theft Auto -- you can choose to be a warrior, a trader, an explorer or a mix of all three, but if you do anything wrong, expect to have the space police chasing after you.
When you find a new planet in No Man’s Sky, the idea is to scan for a beacon in order to name the planet. Once you name that planet, that’s how it will be known to everyone else through the galaxy. To answer some immediate questions: Yes, you can give multiple planets the same name (if you want them all named after you, for example). Yes, there will be some filters on what you can and can’t name planets. And yes, they really are huge in scale. Or as Murray keeps saying: “Our planets are planet-sized”.
When you land on a planet, the idea is to scan for beacons and other points of interest. Some life forms will be hostile, but most of the wildlife is friendly. If you shoot at the innocent inhabitants of a planet, a local enforcement sentinel will take an interest. Continue to misbehave, and your wanted level will rise, much like in Grand Theft Auto, with stronger and stronger law enforcement units at each level. Get a wanted level 5 and the huge walkers come in. Thankfully, you have a rechargeable shield that protects you, but once that’s gone, there’s only five hit points between you and death.
Most people won’t want to destroy the local wildlife though, at least according to Hello Games. “You will find creatures you want to share,” says Murray. “If you’ve been travelling for tens of hours, what you’ve collected becomes a point of pride.” Other players will be able to see what you’ve discovered in your profile -- a screen that currently looks very similar to the profile screen in Destiny.
Murray also hopes that you’ll want to explore the galaxy out of your own curiosity, finding relics from previous civilisations on your travels. Nearly all of the content in the game is procedurally generated: from the worlds, to the ships and even the weapons -- No Man’s Sky has thousands of unique-looking weapons. You also need to discover new technology on your travels -- technology determines how far you can jump through hyperspace to find new worlds.
Naturally, you’ll be able to perform upgrades to yourself and your ship in No Man’s Sky. You have a certain number of inventory slots -- these slots can hold cargo or upgrades, so you need to balance being able to carry stuff or improving the capabilities of your ship.
Likewise, your space suit can also be upgraded. Your suit determines how long you can last in toxic environments or stay underwater. Different planets will have different resources -- some planets will be packed with really valuable assets, whereas others will be more barren. If you do find valuable goods, you can travel to a local trading post and sell the resources you’ve gathered.
With so much hostility in No Man’s Sky, you have to think about the possibility of dying. If you die on a planet, you lose discoveries that have been made; if you die in space, you lose your ship and you’re put back on a nearby space station. Some planets are really dangerous -- you’ll have pirates warping in from afar to take you out. Far off planets will have more deadly enemies: you can kill their fighters who will drop loot, but killing them gets your wanted level up. Thankfully, if you can get off a planet quick enough, your wanted level doesn’t carry across the map, so you can evade the police like in GTA.
The main restriction in No Man’s Sky is fuel -- you can buy it, but it’s expensive. The alternative is to mine fuel directly from planets, but this takes time and resources. This is the central economic mechanic of the game -- you can buy, mine, steal, or trade fuel. Freedom is a big thing for Hello Games -- you don’t need to ever land on a planet if you don’t want, according to Murray.
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What we know about the story is still minimal, but we know you’ll start the game on a planet and go exploring from there. Murray cited games like Salt, Stranded Deep and Terraria as influences in the way that they put you in a world and don’t explain why you’re there. “That’s for you to find out,” he teased.
The multiplayer aspect of the game was compared to Journey by Murray. Don’t expect to meet a lot of people in No Man’s Sky -- the universe is just so overwhelmingly massive, it’s going to be difficult to find people. “We could start a million people on one of these planets and they’d probably not find each other,” he claimed.
One final question that we had answered in our session was that day and night cycles exist, and they are realistic in relation to the nearest sun.
Clearly, there’s a lot of thought that’s been put into this game, and we’ll undoubtedly continue to think up new questions as we discover just how big this world is. No Man's Sky will be coming to PS4 and PC on June 24, 2016, so we don't have long to wait.
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The presentation for No Man’s Sky has to be the most Ying/Yang experience I’ve sat through in about eight years of writing about games. It began with a fifteen minute preamble from Hello Games’s studio head, Sean Murray, explaining to a room filled with hacks that he didn’t want to be there, that he didn’t like talking to people like us and that everything that we were about to “see was going to be shi*t”. He then went on to say that No Man’s Sky was the game that he and his colleagues at Hello Games had always wanted to make . But then admitted that nearly every developer spouts that sentiment and it feels rather forced.
“Everyone says that,” he said. “I’ve said that. I said it about Joe Danger – but this time I actually mean it.”
It was a touching way to start. After all, one of the many complaints hacks hurl at the gaming industry concerns the slick salesmanship practiced by many spokespeople for publishers and developers.
More often than not, interview questions are deflected in favour of sounding like a press release and presentations are stripped of any kind of human engagement. Murray’s approach came on as more heartfelt, if utterly ramshackle to begin with.
Then he picked up a control pad and proceeded to blow every mind in the room.
It’s hard to explain No Man’s Sky unless you’re some sort of genius like Murray, but I’ll give it a go. Imagine a large sprawling galaxy filled with players. Every player starts at the very outer edge of that galaxy. Bring up your map and you can see tons of planets begging to be explored. Zoom off to one of them and you can tread over every inch of it and, if you like, take note of the local fauna and flora and upload any information to a central database.
When you start, you have nothing.
“Your ship is crap,” said Murray. “You are trapped in your starting solar system you have nothing and you have to buy either a new ship or a hyperdrive. Do this and you can travel further.”
In order to purchase a hyperdrive, you need money and to earn this you can take on any number of roles. You can become a trader, picking up items of interest from the planets you visit and selling them. You can become a pirate and attack space freighters moving through galaxy, looting them of their contents. You can become a combatant, piloting a space fighter and protecting freight run. Any employment in the game will net you money and you can use this to buy equipment – which isn’t just limited to your ship. You may wish to purchase new space suits that allow you to explore the terrain of gas cloud covered planets
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As players progress, they’ll head towards the centre of the universe. The encounters in space on the planets they visit will become more dangerous but the rewards they glean from them will be bigger.
As he spoke Murray showed the room the surface of a Planet in No Man’s Sky called Oria V. Bathed in light from a yellow sky, its surface was awash with lush burnt-orange vegetation, deer tottering between giant trees and slow, massive lumbering reptiles bearing a stark resemblance to brontosauri. Murray guided his avatar through a series of purple caves and out onto the veldt, where a space fighter was parked. He entered the vehicle and then pointed its nose towards the heavens.
The ship zoomed skyward. Clouds rushed towards the cockpit and then faded away altogether as Murray’s vehicle broke through the atmosphere and into deep space. Once in orbit, he spied a series of space freighters under attack from small fighters. Players had the option to join in the attack, he said, but for the purposes of the demo, he decided to help the freighters out. A small dogfight ensued, which ended with Murray chasing his quarries back down under the canopy of Oria V, and pursuing them through the sky, flying past giant slabs of rock hovering above its surface.
The transition between all of these activities was seamless. There were no loading screens, no shedding, no framerate drop and no breaks in the action whatsoever. Then Murray proceeded to tell us how it all worked and our mouths fell open.
Like I said earlier, I’m not in Murray’s ballpark in terms of smarts, but the gist of what he said was this: No Man’s Sky is underpinned by a mathematical formula that generates everything in its universe on the fly. Every blade of grass, every rock and every creature is created at the player approaches it.
Planets don’t exist until the player arrives at them and when they leave, those planets vanish. The avatar sits at the centre of an algorithm that generates environments as far as the eye can see. There’s no danger of the player running out of space because no mode of transport they’ll ever use is capable of moving faster than the algorithm’s speed at generating the environment.
No Man’s Sky will have no narrative arc. This may be a problem for more traditional gamers but those millions who bought into experiences like Minecraft will be right at home here. For my money, I think Hello Games is underestimating the tendency for players to form gangs and factions in a game like No Man’s Sky – hey, just have a look at EVE: Online – but apparently, even if thousands of players join the party, it’ll take them eons to find each other. The size and scope of No Man’s Sky is mind-boggling.
No Man’s Sky’s universe isn’t infinite, but its vast and ambitious and filled with things to do. It also happens to be very pretty indeed.