No Man’s Sky: How Big is Too Big?

Hello Games’ procedurally generated open world title is big but does that make it better?

Posted By | On 08th, Sep. 2014 Under Article, Editorials


Hello Games debuted No Man’s Sky at the Spike VGX Awards 2013. It’s hilarious when one looks back on it, primarily because the VGX was an utter cringe-fest and also because of the game’s subsequent impact. We didn’t know it at first but No Man’s Sky would slowly ramp up its scale until it was re-revealed at Sony’s E3 presser and confirmed for the PS4 (along with PC). The absence in between wasn’t due to any confusion or re-working of the core concept – on the contrary, Hello Games suffered from flash floods destroying the majority of its office, forcing a relocation and subsequent rallying of development.

43. No Man's Sky

"The scale of the game is so large then Hello Games actually plans to have one player per planet."

Since then, No Man’s Sky has evolved to become a game that requires 5 billion years to see all of its planets. That’s only if you spend a second on each planet though. According to the developer, that makes for 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planet or 18 quintillion planets to explore. If you’ve seen any footage of No Man’s Sky, you’ll know these aren’t basic planets either – they’re fully fleshed out locations with their unique flora and fauna, dynamic weather and more.

The scale of the game is so large then Hello Games actually plans to have one player per planet. You’ll explore the universe, maybe run into other players, encounter opposing fleets, and engage in space dogfights which can spread across the terrain of neighboring planets and much more.

There are resources to mine, monuments to discover, species to record…and that’s only counting your own experiences. Imagine how big the universe of No Man’s Sky would be when you try to investigate other’s discoveries. It’s inevitable that Hello Games will find a way to let players share their discoveries. It’s even more likely it will find a way to have these discoveries play into the core economy, factions, resource management and gameplay.

It’s rather a lot to take in.

no man's sky

"The difference with No Man's Sky though is that its scale is much closer to infinity than Skyrim's."

There’s an age old addendum that says “Bigger is better”. Over the years, “quality” was emphasized more over “quantity”. Then there came games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that brought both the quantity and quality forth for gamers. We’re not even considering MMORPGs which are seemingly limitless in their own right, whether it comes to exploration or in the number of quests you can complete. In this age of gaming, it’s very easy to present both quality and quantity to the avid gamer.

We’re not going to say the numbers lie and admit that Skyrim is difficult for most people to get into due to its sheer scale. The millions of copies sold and loyal consumer base say otherwise. However, personally, I’ve always found this scale to be so imposing. Even a game like Grand Theft Auto V pales in comparison to Skyrim’s insane attention to detail and sheer size.

Skyrim is a game you live in more than just play, exploring every nook and cranny of the world, uncovering its lore across numerous books, dabbling in side-quests to learn more about residents and maybe take on a dragon or two. You can do so much in one play session of Skyrim and yet still feel like you have a ways to go.

The difference with No Man’s Sky though is that its scale is much closer to infinity than Skyrim’s. After a point, you do start winding down the quests. You do eventually become an unstoppable bad-ass and wreck havoc across the land. You lead every known faction and are known far and wide for your deeds (and misdeeds). Skyrim has a very long but ultimately clear sense of rhythm. You’ll know when you’re in the end-game.

no man's sky

"Maybe each discovery will have a grander purpose in the scheme of things. Maybe each planet won't start blending together in a sea of muddled animals, climates, environments and flowers."

At this stage, No Man’s Sky seems to be going in the opposite direction. Its end game is its beginning – it never ends. You’ll find new planets and discover new things but all for what purpose? While there isn’t enough information to properly discuss the rhythm of narrative in No Man’s Sky, the game is built to have you continuously exploring, doing the same things over and over again, and attempting to capture the same magic you experienced the first time you played.

Yes, you could effectively apply the same argument to MMORPGs. There’s no way any hardcore World of Warcraft player still feels the sense of awe that the world inspired all those years ago. The insane Raids in WildStar have now become ordinary (and undoable due to dwindling server populations). The Elder Scrolls Online arguably began winding down a few weeks after launch. Try as you might, you just can’t experience that same sense of wonder again.

Maybe No Man’s Sky will change that though. Maybe each discovery will have a grander purpose in the scheme of things. Maybe each planet won’t start blending together in a sea of muddled animals, climates, environments and flowers. Maybe each experience will feel new and unique, no matter which planet you visit.

Or maybe the magic is in the search itself and letting players define their discoveries for themselves. We’ll find out as we head closer to the release of No Man’s Sky.


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  • Matthew James Perry

    I personally cant wait for this game , its gonna be like starring in my own star trek movie !!

  • David Kramer

    The whole point of No Man’s Sky enormous size is so that they could have a universe big enough to have a player actually be able to be the first, and possibly last, to ever see a particular place on a particular planet. An actual game where true exploration is actually possible is something that really hasn’t been done before. Even games like Skyrim, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, EVE and the like, even though they’re huge, you know almost everybody has experienced the same things as you have. Near infinite size, along with near infinite diversity, that’s the kind of exploration game I’ve been doing for.

    • ItsRainingTrees

      Honestly though, wandering aimlessly will get boring eventually (and I LOVE exploring). You need to have some sort of goal; ancient artifacts with a treasure map, or mythical planets or something. But these things also need to be able to be found by everyone, which is pretty much impossible in a near-infinite world. I wanna love this game, but some parts of it sound kinda iffy.

    • David Kramer

      I agree that infinite worlds without quality content could be boring, but the dev said this: “Something we haven’t shown yet is a mini-map at the bottom of the screen that will have waypoints marked on it for every planet you visit. They’ll show things of interest, which might be resources, or a ship that’s crashed, or some sort of beacon. It could be something to discover like a new species of creature, a mountain range or a vast lake. But you’ll have to go and find out what they are; we’re not going to tell you what’s out there. And that’s a great way to earn money to buy the upgrades for your ship or suit – and in turn that’ll help you explore even more.”

      Now, I’ve felt like the dev has been intentionally keeping quiet on a lot of things, to not ruin any surprises, but of course we can’t just assume that’s going to be the case, although those couple examples are investing. You’ve probably read that one of the long term goals is to reach the center of the galaxy/universe, which is still vague, although it’s intriguing enough for me at the moment. However, another more short term “goal” is the constant upgrading of your suit, weapons, and ship. The devs said that losing your ship would be a large setback, as you would lose all the tech you’ve found/scavenged/bought. Steady character/ship/weapon upgrading sounds like it could be fun. That also sounds to me like a healthy amount of roguelike elements to me.

      Also, now this is just my thoughts, but if they generated tech upgrades or artifacts the way they generate the universe (i.e. Suit upgrades that will have random jump, hover, shield, ammo/energy regeneration) then we could have a really awesome loot based game play as well. Time will tell, but these devs seem very passionate about making this the game of their dreams.

    • ItsRainingTrees

      The way you said it certainly makes me look at this game more positively again. I don’t know if I like the idea of losing your ship = losing almost everything, though.

    • David Kramer

      Well, only time will tell how that while system will actually work. Maybe different ships will have different/better base abilities, so losing a ship would only be resetting a “tier” or something. Considering the game is about exploration, maybe losing everything could happen, you keep all your discoveries but start your tech over, with only keeping a few overall improvements, or maybe keeping credits (insurance on destroyed ships? Haha) so that it isn’t completely back to square one. Maybe ship and suit tech will be similar, but suit tech is permanent and more expensive, although that doesn’t make much logical sense.

      I personally love roguelike games. Difficulty with perma-death makes you really think about your actions and strategies while making encounters way more tense and rewarding. This doesn’t sound like the kind of game that needs to be full on roguelike at all, but the right elements balanced in the right place could make this awesome, and if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll add a hard-core mode for people who want it really tense. Like I said though, only time will tell.

  • David Kramer

    Also, I posted a large comment on this that apparently got deleted. Is there a reason for that? It was all very respectful, no foul language or anything. I spent a lot of time talking about something I felt strongly about, so I’m just slightly upset that it got taken down (and yes I made sure that it was successfully posted in the first place)

  • bleh

    Skyrim wasn’t nearly as deep as you seem to think it was. It was nice, and in many ways an improvement – but all in all very shallow compared to oblivion and morrowind.
    Skyrim had a whole lot of nothing in it. Drab colors, repetitive areas. Little effort was made with the lore.

    Still a fantastic game of course, but i never really felt a connection to the land. I kinda did in Oblivion – but nothing compares to San Andreas to me for truely feeling i’m in the game.


 

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