The Loop #1 : No Man’s Sky

How No Man’s Sky encourages you to explore a planet

Pip Turner
Sep 3, 2017 · 5 min read

A Quick Note: Hey! Welcome to a new, perhaps infrequent series analysing game loops (woo hoo!) In this edition of The Loop, we’re going to be looking at No Man’s Sky’s base building quests, and how it helps No Man’s Sky communicate to the player some of the game’s necessities.

No Man’s Sky, at its core is a game of exploration. One of running round distant planets in wide eyed wonder, staring up at strange pineapple-shaped animals and colourful scenery. Its huge universe is, of course, its selling point. Billed as an “infinite procedurally generated universe”, focused around “exploration and survival”, it presents you with an overwhelming amount of possibilities — its latest major patch introducing having an impressive number of overhauls, improving upon the previous couple of patches & launch build.

One of the most significant systems introduced into the game since its launch is base building — something I originally saw as reductive — forcing the game to become more of a “survival” game than the game of long exploration sessions that I initially fell in love with. Base building essentially let you choose a planet as your “home planet”, and create a base upon it out of predefined parts, giving you more options for storage & research. I felt that this was a backwards step for the game, drawing the focus away from infinite possibilities and more inwardly towards its weak upgrade system.

However, the latest patch is its most significant overhaul, adding a ridiculous amount of content, including a whole new mission system. Within this mission system, employees within the base were included within the mission system, adding lore and purpose a-plenty. This change is what, in my opinion, has given the base building system a purpose, and brought No Man’s Sky back towards an exploration base game.

The base building, rather than being a step backward, has become a subtle tutorial, teaching players the essentials of exploration, through slow growth of the scope of each mission. The missions tend to be either travelling to different locations or buildings to find blueprints, gathering enough of one resource, or killing x amount of things, however it all bottles down to resource collection in order to further your base.

Your motivations for each mission lie in physical rewards (exocraft, or blueprints to upgrade weapons) and, more importantly, snippets of lore. The Atlas Rises patch added huuuuge amounts of new lore to find, and the base building received a big chunk of it, allowing you to learn more about each race and your own story.

The basic loop of these quests looks like this:

A beautifully constructed MSPaint diagram

Whilst this loop is quite basic, get quest, do quest, give in quest, the important step is the one in between each of these — the travelling. This is the aspect that slowly grows with each additional quest. Whilst the first few missions have you explore around the initial area of the base, gathering iron to build structures, it grows, beginning to task you with exploring caves to gather a certain plant. Eventually the quests have you exploring all over the planet in order to find certain buildings, contextually related to the quest’s storyline.

The distance growth through each quest, in another elegant MSPaint diagram

In slowly growing the scope of each quest, No Man’s Sky slowly begins to let you become familiar with your surroundings, enabling you to recognise the planet more and more. Each quest slowly pushes you further away from the base, giving you more and more ways to be distracted by No Man’s Sky’s brilliant terrain generation.

In slowly exploring the planet, No Man’s Sky shows you what it has to offer. Serene walks, mixed with quick flights. Lore, abandoned buildings, crashed freighters, strange terrain and happy creatures, caves and space stations. The quests all slowly reveal these, giving you an idea of what future planets may hold. Smaller quests show you the joy of its details, medium travel giving you the knowledge of the density of its treasures, whilst quests covering larger distances allow you to understand the sheer scale of No Man’s Sky.

my child

All in all, the base building has been transformed from something of little interest or importance to a feature which gives the player a tutorial for exploration. When the game was first announced, the main question associated with No Man’s Sky was “What do you do?”. Whilst the answer was exploration, No Man’s Sky initially failed to easily convey it to its player base, leaving some confused and others angry. This update is one of many in bringing the vision of No Man’s Sky to fruition, creating a game of true exploration.

For further reading on No Man’s Sky, try these:
No Man’s Sky just wants you to walk and i am ok with this

2. No Man’s Sky: A Poem

3. Colours in games — small memories

Pip Writes Stuff

Pip Turner

Written by

Slightly too obsessed with games as an art form

Pip Writes Stuff

Pip Writes Stuff is where Pip Turner used to keep post his ramblings. This is rarely posted on anymore, but feel free to have a browse and relive the good times.

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