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