The faster the hype train is going, the worse the crash will be when people find out it actually sucks. Much is the destiny of No Man’s Sky, the upcoming sci-fi space explorer and adventure game from British developer Hello Games.
The game was teased back in December 2013 and has subsequently seen a plethora of marketing material and coverage by many major outlets. They seem to be suckling on the teat of the game, salivating at the mere sight of its procedurally generated goodness and neat art style, much to the delight of gamers who think No Man’s Sky is going to be the best video game ever made ever. It’s not.
1: Procedural generation
The game’s procedural generation is touted as a high point. In some games procedural generation works to improve the experience and add much-needed variation where it wouldn’t exist otherwise, though almost total reliance on it makes for a game that seems never ending, but will probably get boring fast.
“Exploration is seeing things that no-one else has ever seen before. Every creature, geological formation, plant and spaceship is unique,” is one of the features that it boasted on the game’s official website.
“Unique” is a poor term to describe what we’ll see in the game. Sure, everything might technically be unique, but just because this spaceship has a slightly shifted shade of blue on its hull doesn’t mean it’s really any different from the hundreds of other variants of the same model, with only minor alterations made to be able to claim it’s unique.
The world of No Man’s Sky won’t seem so fantastical once you realise that all procedural generation means is that creatures which inhabit one planet will look marginally different to the ones on the last one you visited, except the water’s pink here, not green. You get the idea, I think.
Unless you’re a colour enthusiast, the variation will stop seeming so great and you’ll start to notice the patterns in how it generates diversity in the game. You’ll be pretty sure you saw the same alien animal on the planet you were on 10 minutes ago, except this one is 50% bigger, has fur instead of scales, and has a very sharp horn on its head.
Isn’t procedural generation just the greatest?
2: Story? What story?
Story and characters are often a key part of any modern video game. They’re the reason many are now considered art and offer something that’s a whole lot deeper than “shoot bad guys until they die”.
Everything we’ve seen and heard of No Man’s Sky indicates we won’t see any kind of actual story or real characters in the game, unless Game Director Sean Murray takes time away from seeing the Matrix to craft something deeper than maths and clever algorithms.
It isn’t Minecraft in Space; it can’t get away with having no discernible story or three dimensional characters inhabit it. We want stories in our games, a reason to push on and see its completion. To my knowledge, No Man’s Sky won’t offer any incentive of the sort and that’s going to be a big letdown for those who want a game that keeps them hooked after the initial few hours of enjoyment.
3: Exploration and mining resources won’t stay fun for long
It’s clear a major—if not the whole—aspect of its gameplay will revolve around exploring the world of No Man’s Sky in your starship, visiting various planetary bodies, mining its resources and fighting off whatever hostile forces you’re faced with.
That’s great and all, but it’s not going to be all that fun when that’s all you do, day in, day out. One could argue that titles like Minecraft could be described as this, though Minecraft lets you create, too.
Unless you have a serious passion for virtual exploration and mining endeavours, it’s hard to see how such gameplay could possibly sustain players’ interest long enough for it to be a worthwhile purchase or to see anyone care enough about it weeks or months after its initial release date.
4: It’s nice, but I wouldn’t want to live there
As I’ve said before, the world of No Man’s Sky will be almost entirely procedurally generated. In layman’s terms this means that a computer chooses where to place things like rocks, trees, plants, lakes and more, shaping the land in a unique way that won’t be repeated elsewhere.
The reason the game is even possible with the comparatively small team at developer Hello Games is because the environments you’ll explore won’t have been crafted by a human hand. Humans will, of course, have designed all the things you see in the world, though the actual level design will have been created by maths and algorithms. The game’s design teams give it a few basic rules so that it doesn’t just create something that makes you feel like you’re having a really bad acid trip. This ensures the basic laws of physics apply, such as the ground being below the sky, terrain formations actually making some kind of sense and making sure too similar things aren’t clustered close together. In the words of Grant Duncan, an artist working on the title: “If you’re going to create a universe for people to explore, you’ve got to make it believable.”
Yes, and that’s all fine and dandy, until you realise that the game is leaving traditional world design behind. No Man’s Sky will be unique, though a computer can’t intelligently create a beautiful and memorable virtual world. Nothing will ever repeat, but it will do so at the cost of offering a place that feels like it has been designed in a purposeful way and with due care and attention.
You won’t remember the details of No Man’s Sky’s world. It’s galaxy-sized, larger than anything we’ve ever seen in any video game before it; that’s a fine achievement and one the team behind the title should be proud of. Sadly, it doesn’t make for a compelling world to explore that enthralls you with its mere existence.
Hello Games won’t be hanging up any awards for best level design in their office anytime soon.
5: Pixel peeping
The world of No Man’s Sky is stunning, I’m not going to lie. The art style that has been chosen for the game is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a video game before. In that respect, it is truly unique—no sarcasm or sly jabs at procedural generation here.
That being said, things don’t look great up-close. Planets will look amazing as you’re approaching in your super awesome, procedurally generated starship, though delusions of grandeur will evaporate when you reach the surface and realise the world isn’t as pretty as you thought.
Graphics don’t make a game, but this article isn’t about critiquing No Man’s Sky; it’s about looking at things from the point of view of fans eager to get their hands on the game. The hype surrounding it has been immense, and I mean immense. Running on Sony’s current-gen console, the PlayStation 4, and PC, most people aren’t going to be blown away by the game’s graphical prowess.
No Man’s Sky has got to be the most hyped game of recent years, if not ever. Developer Hello Games’ fancy promo clips showing off its expansive landscapes, unique world, style and gameplay aren’t going to help it when it finally hits shelves and people realise that the expectation is far superior to the reality.
This isn’t the first time hype for a game has gone awry, either. Visions of the infamous Dead Island trailer come to mind and how, for all its awesomeness, developer Techland weren’t able to deliver on the promise and hype generated around what could have been and what gamers expected.
More recently, Bungie’s Destiny was so hyped that everyone thought it was going to be the next best first-person shooter coming from the devs that made the acclaimed Halo series of video games. Sadly, this wasn’t the case, though many still enjoy Destiny as a good FPS, but not as a masterpiece it was once thought to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I doubt No Man’s Sky is going to be a bad game by any means, but it’s not going to be the greatest gaming achievement of all time by any stretch of the imagination. Some aspects of the game are to be praised, of course, given the small team behind the title. However, the package as a whole is likely to be a huge letdown for gamers hyped to play it. What is being shown off by the devs is the highlights, something akin to the climatic sequences seen in first-person shooters.
The reality? You’ll probably just be exploring lifeless, boring planets, with only the native wildlife to talk to, like you’re Tom Hanks in Cast Away. No Man’s Sky will surely keep you enthralled for the first few hours, but will soon offer very little stimulation to keep you from slapping a far more enjoyable video game into your disc tray or starting up a digital download.
The more they’re hyped, the harder they’ll fall. And No Man’s Sky is going to fall face first into a big pool of mud while the Internet is going to collectively post sad face emoticons and spamming Sean Murray’s inbox with hate mail.