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Coming to PS4 and later to PC
No Man’s Sky release date: 2015
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
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.
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