Every image, video and detail I hear about No Man’s Sky gets me more excited. Infinite space exploration? Yes. Every player starts out on their own unique planet? Awesome. Randomly generated ecology and terrain for each planet? Yes please. Gathering your forces to hunt down an as-of-yet-unannounced malevolent force which spans across the universe? Hell yes.
When Hello Games revealed their rather drastic departure from Joe Danger, of all things, I have to admit I was a little sceptical. There was good reason to be; early video of No Man’s Sky was mostly slow-panning walks around beautiful alien landscapes. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good walk-em-up, but you have to hope for something a little more involved when you’ve got spaceships to pilot and treacherous alien planets to explore. After E3 it’s hard not to park that scepticism at the door and indulge in the possibilities of what might be.
No Man’s Sky was a definite highlight of Sony’s press conference and if you haven’t seen the trailer yet you should go watch it now (look below). Seriously, I’ll wait, it’s okay. Done that yet? Yep? How awesome did that game look right?
To clarify what you just saw was apparently randomly generated actual game content. Yes, it was admittedly selected after hours of the dev team searching for something that looked exactly like their concept art – but the possibility that you can randomly discover a living world like that gets me pretty hype.
Randomly generated content is not an easy thing to get right. While there’s always potential for the limitless journey of discovery we’re more often left with bland copy-paste games where none of the elements are quite as fully formed as they could be, if crafted by hand. To fix this hello games has deployed a set of AI to fly around the universe and collect thousand of GIFs of individual planets. They throw these up on a wall and see if they notice any repetitive elements, then tweak the generator to make sure things stay more varied. This kind of thorough testing gives me confidence that they’ll produce a universe that players will really enjoy exploring.
The question that still looms over all this optimism is what players will actually do in No Man’s Sky. It’s a question that the development team is generally sidestepping in interviews, but through all the coverage we can piece together that you’ll be exploring for wreckage, plants and minerals, assaulting freighter convoys and stations in space, exchanging gunfire with some foes on the ground and just generally, boldly going where no man has gone before.
It remains to be seen whether any of these activities will actually be engaging. Hello Games has been pretty clear that there won’t be any kind of traditional quest structure, so for players who want some tangible progression to keep driving them along this might not be the game for them. I mean, don’t worry Star Citizen is right around the corner – you’ll get your fill of simulated space fights – but No Man’s Sky is for lovers of Journey more than fans of Freespace.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s still some confusion as to what the multiplayer element actually is in No Man’s Sky. While this is unclear the current understanding seems to be that all other players will be exploring the same universe, but the universe itself will be so vast that encountering them is a rare treat. So you’re not going to be teaming up with your buddies to take out an enemy base, Hello Games wants you to strike out on your own.
Hello games is keeping things relatively close to their chest – and I can see why. They don’t want to fuel the hype train out of control. There are uncomfortably close-to-home mutterings of ‘remember what happened to Spore?’ – but it’s hard not to get excited and Molyneux this out of proportion. Honestly, if at the end of the day this is just a bunch of beautiful planets to explore in my spaceship, I’ll probably be cool with that. If it’s something even better I should probably just go and cancel all my appointments for the next few years.