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.
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?