As we eagerly await the drop of No Man’s Sky (OK, I am, but considering my hobbies it’s not surprising), I noticed a thread on reddit discussing the desire for a documentary on the game. I wanted to address this and more.
In short, as I expect NMS to be successful, and certainly groundbreaking even if flawed, and yes, it’s one we should know more about.
But a documentary is just the start of what we should see.
Yes, We Need a Documentary: The game itself has an impressive history, and it’d be great to see it documented. A good documentary should go beyond just the history, but also to the influences and impact – from 70’s concept art to he modern hype. There’s a great story to tell here if done right (and Hello Games could probably make more money selling one).
Management Interview: I deeply treasure the development interviews I read in Game Informer, as I learned a lot from them that I use to this day. I want to see an in-depth discussion in Game Informer if not a professional management magazine on just how Hello Games pulled this off.
Artbook: There’s tempting concept art we’ve seen, so let’s load it all into one book, have interviews with the artists, and sell it. Yes, again more money for Hello Games, but also the artistic insights that could be gained would be impressive. Plus, great coffee table or gift book.
Procedural Lessons: After making NMS, Hello Games teams could probably teach classes in procedural generation. So, do it! Imagine what people could learn with such folks as instructors.
Fandom Study: I’m expecting a huge impact from the game – not Minecraft level, but still intense. I’ve seen the hype, seen fans creating artworks and even role-playing. I’d love to see the fans studied respectfully if it is indeed the hit I expect. Great for general or academia.
So that’s what I want to see come out of NMS documentarianism (there’s a word). Things that will teach us something.
What do you want to see?
Sorry this is late. Busy few weeks, but now I’m back to my pre-release analysis of No Man’s Sky. After all I love games and i love procedural generation.
We’re counting down to No Man’s Sky’s release in August. We’re approaching the big release, and once again I’m seeing posts on the Internet asking if it will succeed or fail. This is not unusual, but it’s time for another round of them apparently.
I’ve speculated on this possible failure before, but often concern’s about NMS focus on this component or that. From the possible sameness of worlds to uninteresting space travel, there’s concerns about some elements, of the game. These concerns are legitimate, but often they miss what No Man’s Sky Is about. There’s a larger picture here for concern.
No Man’s Sky is a game about synergy, as is fairly obvious when you step back and look at the game. Characters mine to get resources to craft new items to let their spacecraft travel farther. Their adventures may require them to fight enemies with spacecraft that they hijacked by developing rare hacking chips, chips whose blueprints were found exploring a ruined building. A strange technology, found in an alien ruin, may let someone survive on a toxic world. No Man’s Sky is all about things coming together.
This is not surprising as video games are about synergy. Good controls bring a character to live. Clever mechanics entice the mind that learns them and influences the game experience. Music and graphics work together to set the mood. Good games depend on pieces working in harmony.
For No Man’s Sky, it’s even more dependent on the synergy – that’s really it’s selling point. Where procedural worlds and exploration and crafting and all come together, the game offers a whole of an experience. It’s not a game with clear boundaries, which is the point – it’s a supposed seamless exploration experience. It just happens to be a very big one based on some very, very smart use of math.
This synergy is also where it can fail.
Because No Man’s Sky relies on the parts of the game coming together, there’s several possible modes of failure that can occur.
Poor Synergy: One way the game can fail is if the different parts don’t support each other properly. Perhaps the ability to acquire resources makes the crafting parts too hard – or too easy. Straightforward planetary exploration might contrast with hyperkinetic space combat, creating tone shifts that are hard for players to adapt to. If the parts of the game don’t come together correctly, the game suffers because the synergy of the promise is gone – even if the parts are good. This may be the biggest synergy risk of NMS because a dev and even a testing team would be unlikely to catch it due to being used to the product.
The Flaw: Another way I can see NMS fail is if one part of the game is done so poorly that drags the rest of the game down. Planetary exploration is an area I’ve worried about, and if it is poorly done or dull, that diminishes the thrill of the rest of the game. Truly egregious resource gathering could be another fun-killer as the rest of the game depends on that. One poor part of the game could drag the rest down – the synergy backfires when one part fails really hard.
The Drudge: NMS also has to make sure that its individual components are good enough to support the game, because though one bad component might drag the game down, so can many mediocre ones. The game may not fail on its many fronts, but if too many are uninspired or uninteresting, the synergy of them makes the game not good, but dreadfully mediocre. The synergy of game component’s can be a double-edged swords when many are just uninspired. I think people may be more forgiving of a game with one big flaw and ambition than one that just kind of plots.
Though I’m sure that Hello Games has thought of this, it’s worth considering for analyzing the game once it’s out, and for analyzing future games of its type. Synergy is the strength of the gaming art.
It’s also a place where failure can happen, even if the parts are right or mostly right.
As we wait for No Man’s Sky (and due to the recent delay, wait more than we thought), I wanted to explore just what No Man’s Sky is about and what it means for the final game.
It’s obvious I’m a big booster of the game. I even feel that everyhing NMS promises is likely due to what they’re doing and how it’s approached. I consdier a delay completely understandable and probably a good thing.
So now I’d like to take a look behind the curtain of No Man’s Sky and make a shocking statement – none of the gameplay is particuarly innovative.
Shocking? Amazing? Clickbait? No, actually the gameplay for NMS has been done before, which is both why it will succeed and why it will probably be good.
So, let’s look at what No Man’s Sky promises. A quick examination and you’ll realize that it’s almost all be done before.
A Galaxy To Travel: Seen this since the old Elite days, it was there in Captain Blood, it exist today in Elite: Dangerous, Starbound, and more. The quality of planets may vary, but no, nothing unusual here. Speaking of planets, NMS promises . . .
Procedural Worlds: Sure Minecraft brought the idea of a huge procedural 3D world, but since then it’s kind of become standard. It seems every ten games out there promises a planet-sized world or giant sandbox. NMS just promises more, though what’s appearing is really all math. On those worlds you’ll experience . . .
Encountering Life And Recording It And The World: Though we’ve seen that with, say, Pokemon snap and most games that let you name things and places. Yes, it’s nice, but exploration has been a part of games for awhile. Though while you find new ways to name creatures, you’ll be engaged in . . .
A Survival Sim: NMS offers you a chance to mine resources and avoid nasty critters in an environment that’s temporarily modifiable (yes, theres some promise of permanent, but it doesn’t sound like every grenade scar remains). We’ve seen this before in many game forms, and though the procedural nasties and environments are nice, it’s still something other’s have done. Of course while survive, you’ll be busy . . .
Crafting Items: I do not have to explain how we’ve seen crafting games before. So let’s move on to when you get tired and get offplanet via . . .
Spaceflight: Yes, No Man’s Sky lets you take off of planets, fly through virtual solar systems, and so forth. Again, we’ve seen that since back in the day of Eon or Starglider. Sure there’s space combat, which we’ve also seen. Of course to have those ships you need . . .
Supplies And Trade: Space trading games have been around for decades as well. NMS sounds like it has a relatively simple mine-and-trade, make-and-trade, and get-credits-and-trade game. Nothing much new, though some of your interactions will involve . . .
Alien Races: NMS is going to have various races and factions. You’ll interact with individuals and do things that affect reputations with various factions. In turn, that’ll affect how they treat you. It’s neat, and the language system is nice (though you may see similar mechanics, such as the ones in Out there), but again, we’ve seen it before.
So, No Man’s Sky, when you look at the parts, has been done before. In fact, it’s kind of been done to death in separate pieces.
Which is why the game will not only work, but probably be amazing.
So the fact that NMS has a lot of standard gameplay elements is a good thing.
First, it means that they can be done. There’s precedent, research, examples, and more for the creators at Hello Games to draw on to make the game work. There’s math and there’s code and there’s a sense of history to know what to do and what not to do.
Secondly it means Hello Games is using familiar mechanics which means the game will (probably) be quite playabe. The game’s familiarity is going to make its wide, procedural universe, accessible to people.
Third, it means the game will proably be well polished because it builds on familiar ideas.
It’s great NMS is made of so many common parts, because all these common parts can be done well and in a playable manner. That means the combination . . .
. . . the combinaion will probably be amazing.
Take all these familiar mechanics and ideas. Polish and organize them. Now link them together coherently in a universe made from procedural algorithms so you experience effective gameplay in an infinite set of worlds. Now give it that unique 70’s sci-fi cover look.
That’s the magic. No Man’s Sky is both evolutionary and revolutionary, building on familiar parts, but tying them together in a way that hasn’t been done yet. It’s not the components, it’s the combination, all these popular elements tied together tightly to give you a galaxy, a universe.
So, no, NMS rally doesn’t push the boundaries of games so much as it has many mechanics merged together to create the experience of exploring the universe. That means it can succeed, that means’ it’ll be accessible – and that means that it’s probably going to be pretty amazing.
What’s behind the CUrtain? Not The Wizard of Oz working a con-job, but more a group of actors putting on a show. We look behind the curtain and see “yeah, these folks are doin a pretty good job.”
Now we can enjoy the show in Agust.
So anyway, the game is delayed. Though I’d like to address some of the bizarre reactions on it (including death threats to the lead and to a reporter), as I’m focusing on the game I’d like to discuss the delay. Also there’s only so much I can write “stop it you morons.”
So, NMS delayed. Good.
Why do I say good? Because that’s a sign of two things:
First, as noted earlier, the NMS team seems to be doing everything right to actually make the game work. Right focus, right methods, etc. The fact that they can outright say “no, we need more time” means they’re aware enough of what they’re doing to take more time.
Secondly, the fact they will admit this in public, for a game whose hype has become a living thing entirely separate from their own efforts, is a good sign for the final product. Unless the problems were epic, they probably could have gotten away with a flawed game with a day 0 patch or something. They didn’t – that speaks to an honest about getting a good product.
The delay tells me NMS is probably going to live up to the (actual, not imagined) hype. The team can say “stop, wait” as opposed to tossing out a game that – let us be blunt – would probably get a lot of love anyway.
I’m reminded a bit of Starbound, another game that I’m looking forward to (and that sadly, I will have to play through before OR after NMS because its pure crack to me). The team has taken extra time to work on it, but as of the last beta I played – and I played through the game 3 times Early access – it’s evolved amazingly. Time can make a better product (ask Blizzard).
The delay may be painful for some of us, but it’s just another sign we’re going to get a good product.
One of the concerns I see expressed about No Man’s Sky is that a small team of indie developers like Hello Games just couldn’t do this. I disagree, and in fact think it’s quite likely’ll they’ll succeed.
So you know i’m not wasting your time, I base this theory on:
So let’s look at the reason I think Hello Games is going to pull this off.
First of all, no matter how “big” No Man’s Sky seems, if you look at it, it’s an extremely focused piece of development:
No Man’s Sky, when you look at it, is somewhere between evolutionary and revolutionary. All the parts have been seen before, its the combination of them that stands out to create a universe.
The game design is very focused – Sean Murray and company have deliberately restrained adding new features. This means that Murray and Team can pay attention to what they want to deliver exactly. Well-defined features allow for focused development, focused testing, and good delivery. If you know what you want to do, you can deliver it a lot easier.
No Man’s Sky is delivering a very focused experience, which allows for focused development. Speaking of . . .
The first developer on No Man’s Sky was Sean Murray himself, who built the core engine, which he eventually expanded to 4 then 13. This is the way you do core initial development.
Small, tight teams – sometimes an individual – are a great way to start a project. One or a few people, working together (often unmanaged) can deliver a prototype with surprising speed because theyre focusing on getting everything together. They’re not trying to market. They’re not trying to make it run on every machine. They’re not even making the most efficient code. They’re ot havign people constantly try and change things. They don’t have to write patches.
They’re making a start. As one guy I worked with called it – “stick smart guys in a room and feed them pizza.”
This is the kind of arrangement that I’d expect would deliver a decent prototype. It may not be perfect – it may only be a prototype that’s eventually discarded. But it lets you get the basics down.
This is exactly how I’d expect a project like this to start – and be successful. It’s a good core foundation.
So you have a focused plan and a core prototype. How do you polish something like this into a game? It’s procedural, it’s going to have a lot of complexities, and it’s not something you plan easily.
The not-so secret is Agile Development. Basically, tight, integrated development where teams have a large list of goals, but focus on small deliverables that are high priority, deliver quick, and focus on interaction and iteration.
Sean Murray’s team uses classic agile processes. They have a morning meeting, set goals, and do a master build in the evening. This is all happening in roughly the same space from what I’ve seen in videos, increasing interaction.
Really, what Agile does is acknowledge that planning everything out often fails as you find the flaws to your giant plan as soon as you start. So you set goals and meet them in increments, researching them as needed, and cooperating tightly with your co-workers. Even if you don’t deliver everything, Agile’s focus on “delivering stuff that works” means you usually get enough – or more than enough – done to meet your goals.
In short, the team at Hello Games is using the exact kind of software processes that would lead to success.
A team of 13 or so people may seem small, but gaming (and indeed any software development) has a number of resources to call upon.
In short, there’s all the resources out there the team may need to make NMS a reality – resources other games have leveraged. In fact . . .
The NMS team, despite the game’s hype, is remarkably modest. Sean Murray seems affable and humble. The game is getting played up, but Hello Games isn’t bragging or strutting around. It’s refreshing.
At the same time, the NMS team has been very clear about the game and game goals and what it does. Though there’s occasional assumptions by gamers about the game, it’s easy to find the team being very clear on what they’re doing.
They’re being publicly accountable. They’re saying what the game is – and if they screw up, it’ll be very obvious.
Frankly, I don’t think anyone does something like this and delivers anything less.
NMS has focused goals, started right, uses the right management techniques, has resource to call on, and Hello Games has been clear on what they’re doing in a way that holds them accountable.
Me, despite some concerns about the game that I’ve stated, I think Hello Games is going to deliver.
With No Man’s Sky (NMS), the giant procedural space game coming out, I am gladly analyzing as A) I game, and B) I love procedural generation. So let’s turn back all my speculation on what could be and focus on what could go wrong.
As much as I am enthused about it, I can see areas where the game could have problems. I’m going to explore these areas, so we can review how right/wrong I was – which should be useful to measure both my predictive abilities and how the NMS team works!
Now to make this more useful, I’m going to rank the chances these things could go wrong as Red (at least 50% chance), Yellow (50-25%) and Green (under 25%). These are not necessary interest-killers or will make it a bad game – but it would be a problem for enjoying it and experiencing the game.
Now let me get predicting:
High-pressure Survival Grind (Red): NMS is a survival game, but my concern is that the game is going to mix high-pressure survival with tedious grind – you’ll be on the edge of your seat all the time, but the edge is going to feel the same and never end. That’ll get both stressful and boring, and that would be an interest-killer.
Hopscotch (Red): Planets may be procedural and bursting with detail, but I’m also concerned that planets could be clusters of neat stuff separated by not so neat. This means hat exploring a planet is really a game of scanning-and-flying hopscotch that will also turn into a kind of grind. My concern is that this would not be optional but required to really experience the game.
Pacing (Red): You start out with little equipment on a distant world, have to survive, and eventually build your technology and resources. Sounds standard, but unless the game is carefully designed, you could experience highly erratic pacing – most likely a slow start but a surprisingly fast end if you max out equipment (see below). I also see potential pacing issues in different worlds and goals making it extremely hard to predict what one has to do to achieve a goal – because of the procedural generation.
Every Planet Different – And The Same (Yellow): I’m pretty confident the planets themselves will vary interesting, but not quite confident every planet will be different enough to warrant interest in exploring it a lot. I could be wrong (which I why this is yellow), and the NMS team seems to want to avoid this, but I can’t shake the concern. It seems like there’s a lot of impressive math, but what I’ve seen suggests some relatively standardized environments and all planets are single-environment. That can get boring – it’ll be new then quickly seem the same.
Stretches Of Boredom (Yellow): I don’t mind a bit of boredom or peace. But one of my concerns about NMS is that it’ll have uncontrollable stretches of boredom, stuck on dull worlds and sectors of space. Good visuals and environments will alleviate or eliminate this (yes, you spent 30 minutes looking for a mineral but it looks awesome).
Topped Off (Yellow): There’s supposed to be all sorts of ships and blueprints to find, but I’d be concerned the game could have some people max out their equipment and the like too early – loosing challenge and initiative. It’s procedural, so it may be hard to put pacing into the game. This is part of my larger concern about Pacing (above).
The Hunt (Yellow): Certain items, equipment, minerals may be vital for parts of the game, for equipment – but for some players they may be out of reach (again, due to procedural generation). If it’s not something people can find/buy/substitute for in a reasonable amount of time the game may be frustrating.
Same Old Equipment (Yellow): We get various ships, suits, and Omnitools, but from what I see they’re mostly about premade traits and various plugin spaces. Not sure they’re going to be that interesting after awhile. Are you going to go that far to get an Omnitool that moves a plugin space to one grid cell further rightward?
It Doesn’t Hold Together (Green): Though I trust Hello Games on the Lore, I’m concerned that it won’t be experienced enough, in enough context, to keep interest. The game may not need a story, but it’s sense of experience requires Lore. The whole thing could not cohere, have no sense of “there.”
Different, But Not Different Enough (Green): I’m mostly confident Hello Games can deliver varied worlds – but not entirely convinced it’ll be different enough for a whole game. I’m concerned that past a certain point – say about 70% of the way – things will start looking too much alike. I’m aware we’ve only seen a limited subset of worlds, but I’m not totally convinced. Yzheleuz and Phlek do give me some hope. This is one of my lesser concerns, but if planets aren’t different enough from each other and individual planets are large stretch of “same” (above) it’d get boring fast.
So there’s my concerns, roughly boiling down to:
What concerns do you have?
Last time I speculated on what would come next for No Man’s Sky. My take is that though it may have a good life (5-10 years) it’s going to end eventually. The comparative lack of interactivity is probably the killer.
My friend Serdar noted something that jumped the gun a bit in my analysis of the future – namely, that the studio should consider releasing the code. I was going that direction and wanted to expand on it.
So at some point I think NMS will end-of-life, and I’m leaning towards five years. But in that time – and at that time – Hello Games could do a few things.
First, I think they should release a planet generator that allows people to tweak various parameters – or randomize it. Serdar referred to the idea as a generator for Roger Dean Album Covers. I heartily concur. People might even pay a few bucks for it.
Secondly, the above planet generator? Pair it with some non-interactive exploration and music. After seeing what could be done on Panoramical, imagine what it’d be like to just jam to procedural music and scrolling alien landscapes?
Third, and foremost, at some point they should release all or most of the code of the game. Maybe license it, maybe free. Have the final legacy of No Man’s Sky (which will truly be foundational if it’s what they say it is), be the launching of even more children. It would doubly cement Hello Games legacy, and give innumerable people and groups and games a boost.
NMS could truly be world-changing. However there’s one more thing . . .
I think there will inevitably have to be a No Man’s Sky Next. No Man’s Sky-er. The Noer and the Manner Skye. Whatever.
Hello Games is going to learn an enormous amount of lessons from this. They will learn more about their code. They will learn more about players. They will release patches and updates and experience the limits of what their engine can do. They will, in short, be equipped to create a sequel that would outstrip what the original could do.
So, with NMS having a probable limited lifespan, my thoughts are this:
Would releasing the code empower competitors? Doubtlessly, but you can be pretty sure they have and will have plenty. Releasing the code just cements the possibility of it.
And of course if done right, NMS Next would live on far longer than the first, becoming a doubtlessly deserved fixture.
As noted due to my interest with No Man’s Sky I’m blogging about it as it fits my interests in computers, media, and of course procedural generation!
I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky. I expect it to be a hit. I expect it to be huge. I’ve also wondered that after that “huge hitness” what’s next for i?
This is worth asking because if NMS is a hit, what happens afterwards may be a model for other, similar properties. NMS’ broad scope and procedural content make it stand out – but as there’s many procedural games with broad scope out there and/or coming.
Or in short, I assume what happens to NMS may provide a template for future games and concurrent ones. I want to try and guess now.
Here’s a few things I see:
* GO LONG TERM: It sounds like NMS is going to be around for awhile, and with a galaxy to explore there’s certainly many places to go. We’ve seen long-term games with broad content have endurance (Minecraft, Terraria) and others with similar ambitions (Starbound). NMS is something I can see people playing obsessively, though . . .
* NEEDS MORE: Even hough I’m jazzed for it, I’m not sure the current content set would keep me playing regularly beyond 3-6 months. I think NMS will need to add more content and features over time to maintain interest, else it’ll be for dedicated explorers (which may be the goal). Dedicated explorers would probably play this for 1-3 years.
* MAY ENTER PUBLIC CONSCIOUSNESS: NMS has been on Colbert, been in the news, it’s got the kind of buzz that could make it become “A thing” like Minecraft – something everyone hears about and many try. If successful, it will inspire others to try the same thing (much as Minecraft did), and may give it a longer life. That will also inspire imitators (I imagine at some point procedural games will become comparatively common). That gives it more life.
* WILL LIKELY GO TO ALL PLATFORMS: If NMS is the big hit that I suspect it is, I think there will be an obvious effort to get it to other platforms (I’m at least sure Microsoft will want it on X-Box, but I think the X_box will become a sealed PC next iteration so it might not be an issue). There’s no reason not to extend it, and I imagine there’s demand. (The fact Starbound is on X-Box intrigues me)
* HOW FAR CAN IT GO? The limit of NMS is that its own limits work against it. Hard/impossible to find people. No/little building or influence. As big a booster as I am I’m not sure how far NMS will go before it seems that there’s not as much interest. People do like interaction and exploring and pimping out equipment isn’t like building castles. I also wonder how much they can add on to a game with so much procedurally balanced content.
My prediction on NMS is that it’s got up to 5 years of life in it, but I can’t see it bearing large expansions.
However, an interesting question is how it could not be expanded on, but retrofitted. With all that code and all that work, it might be better if Hello Games focused on No Man’s Sky II and made it truly long-term.