Come on a journey through the stars and planets of No Man’s Sky. Welcome to Player 2’s Stories from the Universe.
Stories from the Universe: How No Man’s Sky Changed Everything
In only the first hour of my time with the newly released No Man’s Sky, I’ve come to realise that for all the reviews, previews, features and lists I’ve written over the years, for all the weeks of podcasts that I’ve recorded and interviews I’ve conducted – I know far less about this gaming business that I thought. In only an hour of gameplay, all pre-conceived ideas of what a game should be that I knew were turned on their head, everything I had come to assume as the norm or standard fare altered forever… and I couldn’t be happier for it.
In nearly every game there’s a critical path, one which leads you to a final outcome, whether that is conflict or something else. Some of these critical paths are more clearly defined than others, differing depending on whether you play a very linear experience such as Uncharted, or something a little more open-ended one like GTA or The Witcher 3. I’ve often struggled to remain engaged in a game that I’ve just been dropped into, one where I’ve not explicitly had that carrot dangled in front of me to keep me motivated to push on. No Man’s Sky though is different, No Man’s Sky drops you in the middle of nowhere, gives you precious little information and expects you to find your own way through the universe, yet it also dangles a solitary carrot in front of you, in the form of a question – What is at the centre of the universe?
Thanks to this one carrot, I’m doing things I never thought I would do in a video game. I’m digging for ore, I’m documenting wildlife, and checking out every wall terminal to learn words from a new language – all to collect enough resources to upgrade my ship which will, in turn, allow me to travel to new systems, which will allow me to upgrade further, to travel further again… and so on. The gameplay loop is both simple and obvious to me, and it’s not one I would typically find all that appealing, yet in the case of No Man’s Sky after admittedly only one day after release, I’m hooked.
The day of No Man’s Sky’s release was a traumatic one – in the real world, I’m a teacher, and I had Parent/Teacher Interviews, this meant the day was going to be a long one, and that I finally wasn’t able to get to No Man’s Sky until late in the evening where I was by this stage both physically and mentally exhausted. I committed to putting an hour in when I got home before pulling the pin for the night, lest I fall asleep on the couch and my character gets mauled by some local monstrosity, but in the early hours of the next morning, with the bit of time up my sleeve before I began my daily pre-work schedule, I squeezed in another 30 minutes… and I only craved more of it.
I sat at work on Thursday, fantasising about what I’d see next, the planets that I’d discover, the creatures that I’d find and discoveries that I would make that would propel me closer to my final goal. As recess and lunchtime passed, I planned my next movements in the game, and as I drove home from work, I planned how I would get the time to achieve such lofty goals. But you know what they say about the best plans – naturally, No Man’s Sky threw a million curveballs at me, from meeting alien species, and discovering Space Stations, all this on top of the already countless surprises that are found on each different planet.
No Man’s Sky has changed my whole perspective of procedurally created games. I’ve always associated the method with 2D platformers, in levels that while procedurally developed, are still largely the same. No Man’s Sky, at least for the limited play period I’ve had with it, has blown my expectations out of the water, with each planet having its own unique feel, and each alien species (no matter how advanced) looking, sounding and acting differently.
For so many years we’ve had developers tell us that they’re creating “living, breathing worlds”, but in the end they’ve come to feel quite predictable – but in the case of No Man’s Sky, I never feel confident in knowing what I will see next, and I don’t feel I can predict what the next curveball will be and that excites me beyond belief. It may be quite a while before I can render what I consider to be a rock-solid opinion on the game, it will take dozens more hours before I feel confident in what I know of the game to express an authoritative opinion on the game, perhaps I’ll never fully understand the inner workings of the game – and that just shows the genius behind the game. No Man’s Sky has me in it’s grip, and who knows when (or if) I will ever escape it.