Just in time for the holidays, Xbox One owners can begin to experience the pangs of hunger associated with promising new next-gen titles. No Man’s Sky, an upcoming indie potential blockbuster from Hello Games, is just that kind of game—it promises to be insanely prolific, has no release date, and isn’t officially slated for either of the next-gen consoles. Yet.
What’s the hype?
Once viewed, the trailer for Hello Games’ No Mans Sky will likely spark a taste for a game that, until its segment during the recent Video Game Awards (VGX), didn’t even occupy a spot on the average gamer’s digital-menu.
[See the trailer using the link at the bottom of this article]
The lines that introduce the viewer to the games managing concept read, “ALL FOOTAGE CAPTURED IN REAL-TIME.” “EVERY ATOM PROCEDURAL.” “EVERY : _____: PROCEDURAL.”
The words between “EVERY,” and, “PROCEDURAL” flash out of existence as they are replaced by another, and the scope suggests that the game will be pan-galactic.
The developer’s implied message is clear. Just about every physical object in every location in the games advertised multiple-galaxy span are procedurally generated. Good luck finding the edge.
“Ambitious” is a painfully understated description of what Sean Murray, the Managing Director at Hello Games, touts as “a science fiction game,” but Sean is very careful to qualify that label.
In his VGX interview, Mr. Murray shared what his vision of science-fiction looks like.
“When I say that [science fiction game] you picture space marines, you picture—like—the post apocalypse, you picture dystopia, and that’s not what I picture when I think of sci-fi.”
Citing the influence of the books he grew up with he continues, “Sci-fi for me is actual fiction, is like Asimov and Clark and Heinlein and people like that.”
Murray’s vision for No Man’s Sky comes with rich source material. The ships, at least from the stunning trailer footage, seem like they are at least indirectly influenced by the graphic artist Chris Foss, and with Chris Foss comes—
The “oh man!” moment for many viewers will be the view of a desert planet, a red and barren waste whose surface is chaffed savagely by storms and blasting winds. There is an old standard, some sort of quasi-monolithic flag, mounted on a metal rod and sheathed in a huge, carved base representing some house or government or kingdom that had long been consumed by the advancing sands. It whips as the wind snaps it on the left of the screen.
And then the sand worm happens.
The head of the endlessly long creature is not visible, the view as if the camera caught the movement out of the corner of its vision and twisted just in time to see its body surging into the distance. Clearly Murray can add Frank Herbert’s Dune to his list of influences.
The scene with the fighter approaching an asteroid—which then has a hole bored through it with weapons fire—is pretty cool too.
Just to be clear, the advertisement is that every single piece of scenery from the mountains in the distance to the planets, stars—suns with surrounding planets—every one of them can be visited, whether on foot, in a tracked vehicle, or by interstellar craft. Oh, and the ocean depths, allegedly, are as infinitely populated by procedural animation—players will never encounter the same fishy twice, unless of course that fish happens to be a fixed fish-of-some-importance—as the rest of its home galaxy.
The mind boggles.
But what is the game about? Like—what’s the point?
With a game of this apparently epic scope, the question of playability comes to mind. Does the game, for instance, focus so heartily on the procedural generation of terrain, star maps, and the underwater ruins of long submerged civilizations that it forgets to remember that some sort of action should take place?
Is it single or multi-player? Does the action fall into place as an afterthought because the developers spent so much time showcasing their prized procedurally generated terraforming capabilities?
Is it going to release for Xbox One or PlayStation 4, or both?
No Man’s Sky is starting to look like a plate of biscuit’s and squirrel-gravy being dangled on a hot plate in front of the entirety of District 12.
Fortunately, Murray had a lot to say.
When asked about mechanics he answered, “It’s a huge game, like I can’t really do it justice.”
“We wanted to make a game about exploration,” he says, “and we wanted to make something that was real, right?”
He confirmed that it was a multi-player experience, but the conflict—as in any good story—doesn’t always come from the bad guys. The environment, he says, is as much of a hazard as any faction—group—person they may be on the outs with.
It’s always first-person. There’s combat when you’re on the planet, there’s combat in space—kind of like our universe, it’s an adversarial place. It’s a dangerous place—I said it was a game about exploration, it’s not just kind of wandering about passively, ambiently you know—these are planets that have an ecology, they have an ecosystem, and you’re not necessarily at the top of that chain.
So—exploration, encounters with local flora and fauna, multi-player interactivity with disputes settled at the end of a terrestrial or extra-terrestrial war machine, scenery that is generated procedurally guaranteeing that what players see is unique to that encounter, and the scope to allow for every person in the actual-for-real world to take up playing space in a multi-galactic science fiction adventure. Check.
Players can only hope Hello Games has purchased some equally expansive server space.
Ok, but it IS for Xbox One, right?
Well that’s the thing. Murray used the words “next-gen consoles,” and there aren’t really many choices as to which consoles he’s referring to. The world basically has the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 at this point.
Hungry fans who own either console can probably rest-assured that they are going to have their appetites sated with this next-promising-indie title, but technically—well, there hasn’t been an actual announcement for which console(s) he was referring to.
The bummer for many consumers may be this:
There was no mention of a plan for release to PC.
So, what’s the take away?
Hello Games, the creators of the successful Joe Danger series has set out to ruin the public’s perception of their brand.
The idea that a game so progressive, forward thinking, and whose scope is larger than any comparable title to date—theoretically anyway—has been produced and designed by an independent game company staffed by four guys might just be a programming game changer.
If No Man’s Sky is only mostly as incredible as the trailer suggests—and veteran platformers are sure to understand the actual value of a trailer whose content is controlled to show only the best bits—then it is sure to be a gold-no-platinum value smash-hit.
It will also, hopefully, change the vision of game companies.
Imagine a world where every single title that is put out by an established industry leader isn’t marketed with breasts, fast cars, and gang affiliations. Imagine a world where marketers don’t spend as much on selling consumers a re-hashed has-been title every single time—with rare exception—based solely on psychological triggers that guarantee x% of the population will buy it. Again.
Imagine a world where the intellect, the design, and the courage put into game design matches the furious passion exhibited by fans, gamers, and customers that are dedicated to playing hard, learning, growing and evolving with the experience that is the ever-changing culture of life-long gaming.
Imagine a world where pre-release hype-articles are not just whipped frosting on a steaming hot slice of post-release depression-pie.
Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners should pay close attention to that hunger that burns deep within their bosoms. The wait for the next life altering moment in gaming may be just around the bend, and Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky might just be the game that will fulfill that hunger.
Stay tuned, and please feel free to start a discussion in the comments section below.
By Matt Darjany