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: All The Plants Kind of Look The Same And That’s Okay
I’m not an astrophysicist, but I know that the real universe – the one we are tied to with our paltry fleshy forms – is pretty damn dead. Close your eyes and point your imaginary starship in any direction and the first planet you come across is likely to be a gas giant or some inert lump of ice. And the next few thousand after that.
So when No Man’s Sky populates just about every planet you land on with exotic flora and fauna, it’s already fiction. The dream of arriving at a star system and leisurely cataloguing its verdancy is fallacy. You’re playing a video game and video games need visual cues and systems in order to help the player traverse its systems. If, for instance, No Man’s Sky decided to be extreme and somehow got its impressive algorithms to simulate each planet’s billion-year history in order to create completely realistic plants and ecosystems for you to discover, I admit the results would be gloriously exciting. But they would also be terribly confusing. In a game where the collection of a common set of resources (iron, plutonium and lots of other iums) is essential in allowing you to continue your journey, such face-smacking alien-ness would make it impossible to tell your plutonium from your unobtainium. It would be a completely different game, if admittedly one that we all kinda want to see.
Therefore, when you’re stranded on a planet with depleted engines, knowing that the spiky red stuff is what you need to refuel them really helps. The plants and formations that give you these elements thus look the same across every planet. Often, you’re too busy looking at the hilariously deformed creatures wandering about to care, but it does shatter the illusion a bit that each planet is unique. No Man’s Sky’s focus is on space travel, but you’d do better to think of the space between planets as stitching together an archipelago of fraternal planets, each connected with a common visual language yet all quite exciting to visit anyway.
No Man’s Sky is also about crafting a personal narrative as you chase Pigdogzebras across pink-and-purple landscapes, plus all manner of other cool stuff such as coming across massive deposits of minerals, warping into massive space battles, exploring cave systems and diving underwater to retrieve ancient languages. It doesn’t matter if there are common strands of DNA, because the alternative would be true boredom as you landed upon inhospitable rock after inhospitable rock, and then – on the million-to-one-chance of finding a planet that supports life – it would be completely overwhelming.
I’ll admit that I do actually want to play that perfect version of No Man’s Sky, the one we’ve all imagined. Perhaps I will in my lifetime. But for now, I’m totally happy to splash about in the kiddy pool of fictional universes. I’m happy to bring my imagination to the party, knowing that every planet will have the resources I need to keep exploring and that I don’t need to try and understand entire alien ecosystems anew. This is the No Man’s Sky that we’ve got, and I intend to keep enjoying it for what it is.