This has been a big week for gaming. No Man’s Sky has released for the PS4 on Tuesday and PC on Friday. Fans have waited for this game for the better part of 3 years, and with it, No Man’s Sky, brings many monumental moments to gaming history. The jury is still out for most review outlets whether or not this game is “good,” but this is going past what this game carries apart from just its content.
No Man’s Sky is a game that is remarkable in many senses. Creator of the game “Joe Danger,” Hello Games is a small indie developer that announced their new project, No Man’s Sky, in 2013. The game is a procedurally-generated universe that has its roots in survival and exploration. Players can grind for resources, discover and name not only planets, but the creatures that inhabit them, and are meant to make their way to the center of the universe, where, apparently, a surprise is hidden (as the center is considered the endgame. If it’s an inescapable supermassive black hole, I bid you the best of luck on your new save file).
The game, which has been divisive in fans’ and speculator’s excitement, holds more implications than only a massive fictional universe can be simulated. This game, if treated correctly, can become a platform for fans to build off and maintain for some time. We’ve seen this previously with Minecraft and how it took off with world building, private servers that offered entirely different experiences from the base games, learning platforms for schools and students, and practically engineers with how in-depth the game can get with its crafting system and physics. Am I claiming that No Man’s Sky will be the same with its longevity and ability to lend an open platform to imaginative minds in its players? No. But the possibility is there, and, as with Minecraft, if that is there, this could only be a great thing for the game.
The procedural generation is technically nothing new – going back to Minecraft, an observer can see that generating a world has been done before and can be done on smartphones. This game, however, is using generating an entire universe – filled with 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 18 quintillion planets) – and it’s open to anyone. A player can stumble upon another’s planet and see the species they named, the same places they’ve explored, and can follow in their tracks until they end up leaving the planet once again. Simultaneously, it’s perfectly reasonable that a player could play the game and never once come across another player or their planet. It’s quite chilling how analogous that can be when thinking about that in terms of the real world and traveling civilizations.
The procedural generation doesn’t necessarily mean that every planet will be an amazing place to explore with interesting creatures and structures. Many planets may be void of curiosities and reasons to keep exploring. That’s part of the beauty of this game – the exploration. Seemingly unending planets with hills and valleys and caves and monoliths of alien ruins to learn the language and cultures of different species are simply fascinating things to come by.
The issue, though, seems to be that this game is more of a technical marvel than it is an artistic one. Sure, there’s a bit of story and drive in the game, and reading through the monoliths to solve word puzzles is intrinsically rewarding, but there’s no real reward besides further exploration. Interactions with other species feels very empty, the gameplay loop is based on finding materials to make fuel cells to blast to new star systems, and the fascination with exploring new planets fades after a few hours.
The fate of No Man’s Sky’s future will be in Hello Games’ updates and what they will add to bring players back. Actually having multiplayer servers to play with friends (be it that you are stuck in one star system or even planet), more reasons to explore, and a better variety of planets would all be great updates. There are more that I’m sure I cannot even imagine, and I have faith that Hello Games will be able to build on this beautiful platform they’ve built and make the fun of the game match its technical prowess.