NO MAN’S SKY: LOOKING DEEPER AT ONE OF E3’S BIGGEST HITS

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Ambition is a word I feel has been lacking at times in the discussion of video games these days. Some games may have an ambitious idea, but as a whole, rest gently in genre comforts or traditional elements, with bold new ideas sprinkled in to breathe life into it. This isn’t a bad approach by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not very often we see a game that is built entirely around pushing boundaries. Games where when they’re explained to you, you go “there is no way you could possibly live up to that”, but when it’s shown to you, you start to wonder if maybe we’re finally there.

At this point in time, No Man’s Sky is that kind of ambitious. A project that promises you not just worlds to explore, but entire galaxies. Universes of possibility. Where the sky isn’t the limit – It’s just the starting point. 

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No Man’s Sky was a game that was introduced to the public a handful of months ago, with it’s first big moment in the spotlight coming on Spike TV’s VGX awards. I was instantly taken by the design concepts being introduced by the developers, and began hyping the game as one that was in need of attention. It was a game I knew was going to get a lot of people excited, and one that, if it could live up to it’s promises, would show just what it means to push a game to the next level.

The impressive part of it is the size of the studio making it. This is not a massive company with hundreds of employees, each dedicated to rendering their own tree. This is a four-man studio, with a few programmers brought in. And that’s it. Does Hello Games have experience developing massive open-world adventures? This is their first game of this kind, as they are best known for their fun, light-hearted Joe Danger franchise. The kind of studio where a flooded office can be a huge setback, which is just what they dealt with last December while working on the game.

After the initial announcements,we didn’t see or hear too much reported or shown on the game. That’s why it’s sudden reappearance at E3 this year was so impressive. Hello Games had time to develop the game more before finally showing off all it’s tricks and nuances to the public. The gameplay trailer was an instant eye-opener, and a huge talking point for Sony’s Presser. Allowing a representative from the studio to come out and talk about the game showed that this was an indie project that was really being given attention to match the scope of it’s intentions. It wasn’t long before a lot of people were calling it “Game Of Show” for E3.

If you missed out on the gameplay shown off, take a moment to watch the trailer, because we have some things to discuss.

The first thing that’s instantly noticeable is the stunning color combinations. No Man’s Sky looks to make every planet you visit feel alien and new. Instead of the very traditional styles of sci-fi planets we’ve seen in most video games, it uses strange color combinations and twists on familiarity to make every planet look like nothing we’ve seen before. These are truly unique environments to explore and discover, with stranger creatures, unique plant life, and even vague signs of different civilizations.

What was really remarkable to me was the wildlife. All the strange creatures, ranging from beautiful butterflies, to small four-legged animals, to massive dinosaur-like monsters, seem to have an organically programmed life. They gather around water sources, they form packs, and at one point a giant rhino-like creature even charges recklessly through trees after a smaller, more helpless critter. Being able to scan these creatures and learn their names, and watch them interact promises a game that’s a pleasure to just explore in. The animals are not just there as background decoration, they’re full features.

You’ll also notice your scanner picks up resources on the planet’s surface. No Man’s Sky promises a trade system which allows you to collect stuff from the surface of planets and trade them for new crafts and upgrades. Another reward for careful exploration and taking your time to enjoy the planets.

Mixed among the nature and creatures, are spaceships. We see different ships fly by, ones crashed into the planets, and even massive floating fortresses in the sky. Coming across your own little ship, it seems to be just a press of a button to hop in, point off to the horizon, and take flight. In a matter of seconds, we’re off a planet and into space, where huge asteroids and pitched space battles greet you. It appears you have a gun that you can use to blow up the rocks, or even join in the on-going conflicts.

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Space battles aren’t anything new, but what really impressed me about this aspect was how the battle seemed to go from space to the surface of a new nearby planet seamlessly. In an instant, you’ve entered the atmosphere of a wasteland planet with mysterious floating land masses! Blasting the last few of the enemy(?) ships, you’re now allowed to just explore this new world.

If you notice, right as you enter that planet, a small window pops up that shows the name and “Discovered By:”. This is one of the big promises that Hello Games has talked up since the game was introduced. These are your planets. With each new discovery truly being just that. You’re not just moving from planned set pieces that a million other players have seen before you, you are actually discovering things no one has seen before. This isn’t just the procedural generation of a dungeon, this is your own planet to discover! You can even share these with other players, or keep these places all to yourself.

The interesting thing about the multiplayer aspect is that Hello Games promises that you’ll never actually see another player. However, if they’ve shared their discovered planets, you can visit them and “leave your mark” on their discoveries. This focus on personalized experience and discovery lends itself to water-cooler gaming on a level that has rarely been reached. This isn’t just finding a planned dungeon in Skyrim that your friend hasn’t found yet, this is stumbling upon entire game worlds that can literally be all your own. This kind of unique experience is a perfect fit for Playstation 4’s Twitch streaming!

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With this game pulling in so much attention now, I wonder just how possible it is going to be to keep so many unique worlds and discovers contained? If we end up with potentially millions of players sharing planets and discoveries, how will the game manage to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Not only to the player, but to the systems the developers have put in place. This is the kind of ambition that pushes the industry to it’s limits, then breaks them. This has the potential to prove that gaming still has more room to grow.

No Man’s Sky is everything a space-obsessed child could dream up. The imagination of discovering whole worlds, strange creatures, and going absolutely anywhere in your own space ship. This is the kind of thing almost everyone daydreamed about while staring at the stars growing up. It’s the kind of escapism and freedom that most adults have lingering in their minds as they work their 9-to-5 or stand in line at the DMV. Having worlds all your own, to just get lost and lose hours to beautiful landscapes and surprising discovery. This is an embodiment of the very core of what video games are. And if it ends up even half as incredible as it looks and sounds, then we may very well have a defining game for many years to come.

Let’s end on one more screenshot because, seriously, this game is breathtaking.

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