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 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.