Hello…No Man’s Sky — Game Changer

originally published on notes.adamprocter.co.uk

Press Play and Read.

I am so excited about the imminent release of ‘No Man's Sky’.

I’ve been avoiding reading too much from the game press and fans recently on the game play itself as I want to explore and work out how to play without the aid of reviews, comments or tips from other gamers.

I think ‘No Man’s Sky’ is probably one of the biggest console releases in the last decade because of the approaches Hello Games have taken to game design itself. Built by a small (11 staff) but obviously passionate[1] ‘indie’ team in England, it fits the model of innovative game studios that I believe can and do have the agile potential to disrupt and push forward the Games industry.

This was the first indie title to be granted a major slot at E3 in 2014: no independently produced title had ever been featured on the main stage, and not only did Sean Murray secure this but it became the title that owned E3 that year. The team asked for little support from Sony who instead trusted the small team and have focused their support on promoting and marketing. This is often the missing element small studios actually need and a brave move by Sony and Hello Games. The team’s refusal of developer support means they can keep true to the principles their studio holds, even when the studio was flooded losing equipment and studio space, they didn’t change this status.

Making a New type of Game

One of the biggest differences is that within the game, unlike many triple A titles such as Destiny [2], everything is procedurally generated. Of course procedurally generated games are not a new thing, not in the slightest — the use of a seed state value to create large worlds in games goes a long way back with great games such as Sentinel and Elite. However, in these initial instances I suggest the technique is used primarily to create a larger playing field and not specifically a design decision for the game play itself.

The designers(Hello Games) are building their universe by establishing its laws of nature, rather than by hand-crafting its details, much about it remains unknown, even to them – New Yorker Article

This is what makes ‘No Man’s Sky’ so exciting; this is what makes it different, unique and new. Hello Games are defining game play via the rules and laws dictated by the algorithm itself — they are actually creating the laws that govern all aspects of the game. This makes a lot of sense if you’re building a Universe to explore and thus this decision fits the concept of the game perfectly.

Changes to the handling of a ship can affect the way insects fly. – New Yorker Article

The creatures that inhabit each planet are built from composite parts: arms, legs, eyes and other features. The algorithm generates the planet, then the plant life and then the animals. It follows a path of creation that means factors such as number of legs, eyes etc. are determined by the type of location of the planet relative to the galaxy and relative to the location they are created on said planet.

So what… what do you do?

The cry from the start has been “but there is no game play”. Often these comments are citing the application of current game concepts and design decisions that dictate an open world, such as massive multiplayer e.g. real humans making the game play interesting; or by using predefined missions to control and build the story, often dictating the way you play through the narrative or even how you interact with the open world itself — sure you can go anywhere in ‘Burn Out’ but the world doesn’t do anything until you find a mission. This argument misses the fundamental design of the game, that of exploration.

We are designing a set of rules, not designing a game…you then go out and experience and make stories – First Look: No Man’s Sky

This game is about the unknown; exploration is core part of what makes us human. When George Mallory was asked why he had wanted to climb Mount Everest he said “Because it is there”. ‘No Man’s Sky’ features elements of resource gathering, trading, fighting and encountering different factions that provide enemies or friends. Again I know little about these aspects of the game as it is the exploration that I believe is key to the experience and game play; no player will have the same experience in this game. This is why I do not want to find out the more detailed concepts of the Universe itself, I want to actually allow the game to dictate the experience.

But what about title X ?

Of course there are instant comparisons to Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous because of the genre and the procedural nature of these titles. However I hope that I have covered the main aspect as to why ‘No Man’s Sky’ is different. But another point that drew me to ‘No Man’s Sky’ is that of the art direction. There could be much more said about this but a quick Duck Duck Go image search proves the point.

The look of ‘No Man’s Sky’ is not a re-purpose or remix of current science fiction, its look is also in line with the concept of exploration.

No Man’s Sky is procedurally generated, but we always want it to have a unique recognisable style, to look like a science fiction book cover come to life. – no-mans-sky.com

The feel of the game is also dictated by this art direction. The art direction harps back to an era of Science Fiction art when ideas of space flight and exploration were seen through the lens of the new frontier, the Wild West. ‘No Man’s Sky’s’ lines of reference are clearly broad and deep in this regard.

The Art of No Mans Sky — Youtube video

Star Citizen and Elite look like any other space shooter, like any other current Science Fiction film. To some degree they look plausible and less other worldly; in fact, they do not feel like the wild west and they do not feel like the new frontier. They just feel like another boring space shooter.

No Man’s Sky is a game changer.

  • The rules of the Algorithm dictate game play.
  • The Art direction is fantastic.
  • Its not a MMOFPS.

Video game designers are only just really starting to embrace the medium of game play itself and allowing the technology to be transparent. They are considering how we as humans play, explore and enjoy creativity. It’s not about the tech it’s about designing for humans, This is for The Players.

The Medium is the massage — Marshall McLuhan
Official Explore Trailer

Related Links

Footnotes

  1. He (Sean Murray) believes in small teams and in the idea that creativity emerges from constraint, and so, in 2008, he and three friends founded a tiny company called Hello Games, using money he raised by selling his home. – New Yorker
  2. Destiny by contrast was created with 500+ people, was in the making for 4+ years using technology that had been in development for 10+ make and cost over $500 million. To be frank the interesting co-op play that I thought was the feature of the game is let down by a complete inability (by me) to understand what I am actually supposed to do too progress in the game, so I’ve never gotten to any stages to really try this out. The game was a total bore, but at £5 in a UK Toys R Us I shouldn’t complain.
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