No Man’s Sky — The multiplayer lie

The galaxy is 18 quintillion planets wide. To give that some context, if the peak of 212,321 PC players running the game on Friday evening each visited 1 planet per hour, it’d still take over 9 billion years to discover them all. And so, given that, you could be excused for thinking that the chance of bumping into another player in all that space is so slim it might as well be impossible.

Nonetheless, over the course of 3 years of development since the game was first unveiled at VGX 2013, the possibility of bumping into another explorer as you traverse the warp lanes towards the galaxies centre was touted a number of times. The scenario of double-taking as you see a distant figure disappear over the horizon was raised, leading you to wonder if it really was a player, or one of the indigenous species of the planet, as you race towards them to find out.

It’d be the first time you could catch a glimpse of what you — and other players in this vast open world survival game — look like. Are you human or some alien life-form? Does your appearance give any hints as to your purpose or objective? Does it shed any light on what this game is all about?

Do we ever get to see ourselves?
Err, no. You don’t see yourself so the only way for you to know what you look like is for somebody else to, y’know, to see you.
Can you run into other people — other players — in the game?
Yes, but the chances of that are incredibly rare, just because of the size of what we’re building.

Perhaps one day, a long time from now as players get closer to the centre, you could arrange to meet up with friends and take down some pirate ships. And so however rare, the sheer possibility of encountering another player is exciting.

And so it was with some disbelief, confusion and ultimately frustration that 2 players found each other on the game’s first day. Granted, they narrowed the odds of that encounter by using the PlayStation Networks messaging tools and the game-play broadcasting service Twitch to ensure they were in the same place at the same time — but an incredible feat regardless.

Except no one was there. Both players stood outside the same outpost, on the same planet, staring at the same building — and yet not only were they not able to see each other, they also noted that the lighting seemed different, as though it was a different time of day. What gives?

Perhaps it was server issues. It had been a hugely anticipated title, and so the Hello Games servers had been taking a hammering as people log in for the first time and start uploading their discoveries. Sean Murray — founder of Hello Games — hinted at how heavily the servers were loaded, although didn’t directly blame that fact for the curious inability for these two players to see each other.

The players tried again the following day — still no joy. What if this is more than just server issues?

To be fair, the signs had been there. For starters, the game can be paused — surely an impossibility for an online game where another player could warp into your solar system or land on your planet at any time.

And then there are the vague statements made by Murray in the final run up to the release — that at the time seem to just be implying multiplayer encounters were super rare, but under a new light seem to be hinting — albeit indirectly — that multiplayer actually isn’t possible at all.

If you hoped for things like pvp multiplayer or city building, piloting freighters, or building civilisations… that isn’t what NMS is. Over time it might become some of those things through updates.
Multiplayer for the game, we’ve always said, is not really a big focus actually. If you want an MMO or a deathmatch game, or something like that, there’s loads of other games that cater for that really well.

It’d certainly make sense if the feature was dropped during development. Given the anticipated likelihood of two players bumping into each other (this recent anomaly excluded), it was likely a sizeable piece of work that would have the least impact on overall game-play if pushed out of scope. It’s a prime candidate to be dropped further down the road-map — or off the feature list completely.

What’s curious, though, is Hello Games reluctance to confirm either way when asked directly. Do they themselves feel as though they’ve pulled the wool over our eyes? Are they afraid that admitting it was dropped might lead to a raft of refunds or lost sales? Or are they keeping tight-lipped because it’s supposed to work and they need to investigate why it didn’t?

Alas, we may never know the truth. Perhaps the feature will reappear one day — two players bumping into each other when they least expect to, as the developers originally intended — because they found and fixed the bug or silently added the feature in a later update. Or perhaps that’s it — and our bold explorers are destined to traverse the galaxy alone.