No Mans Sky : Anticipation

Running the risk of losing my last two loyal readers, I will write a post today about a multiplayer, single-shard space exploration game.  Its not EVE.  And isn’t really multiplayer.  And isn’t really single shard.  Of that a little later. But No Mans Sky is definitely exploration.

And since the game is coming out tomorrow for PS4 (which I don’t have or need) and on August 12th for PC and I am not the guy who already “beat” the game by buying an illegal copy, I have yet to download it and log in. In other words, I have no clue what I am talking about.

 

 

Let me quickly summarize what I think the game is:

No Mans Sky (why no apostrophe, btw?) is a space exploration game.  You start on the outside of the universe with a basic ship, some tools, likely duct tape (duct tape is magic and should be worshiped) and you follow some grand story arc that leads you to the center of the universe.  On the way, you discover planets and all that lives and walks on them – critters, alien species whose language you need to decode (or you shoot them in the face) and resources you must harvest to build your next ship.  In space you run into asteroids, traders, pirates and the like, you know the usual stuff one finds in interstellar space.

All of this is on “one shard”, a concept familiar to EVE and anathema to WoW players, in theory someone could interact with anyone, there are no servers, realms or otherwise artificially-introduced boundaries.  The only boundary is space itself, the number of planets and solar systems are so huge that its quite possible likely that you never see another player.  The interwebs however are abuzz about the possibilities what you could do if you did find someone, blow them up, trade them as Love Slave to a reptilian species or just ignore them.  Basically, nobody knows.

So, while there seems to be some form of PvE mission arc, its still not quite clear to me what the goal is.  Why play it?  Whats the storyline? Who am I and how the heck did I end up on the very far edge of the universe?  No idea, there may not be a real story line and that’s what has people worried about the game – the “so what” – question.

Most game reviews focus on the way the game is built rather than the content.  I assume these reporters do this because the game is built using a rather innovate mathematical approach (not without controversy) and the journalists like to talk about it because it makes them look smart.  Everyone however agrees “its big” and thats about that.

The game is big because of its “procedural generation” engine, basically the environment you encounter is made on-the-fly by your PC which logically keeps the download small, the permutation on possible worlds enormous and the server (i.e. company-side) overhead minimal.  While cool (and – if I may hazard to guess – the only way games will be done in the future) it doesn’t really explain what the player is supposed to do, i.e. whether a tree is generated on my PC or existed as a sprite (there, I dated myself) on the central server, as long as I can hack it down, who cares?

And since the game isn’t out, its up to us to make up our mind whether we want to spend time and money on it. I bought it already and for me this is highly unusual.  I have never been a first mover, never had the urge to be the first one to buy something new and shiny.  I tend to wait a few years while the products marinate and really get the bugs chased out.  Oh, and I am cheap.  The thought of dropping nearly $60 on a brand new game from a small developer should be abhorrent.  In addition, I don’t really have time for another game, EVE has been my staple since 2009 with a couple of temporary forays into WoW, Elderscrolls Online, PS2 (still my go-t0 game for a 10 min quick PvP fix), Space Engineers and a couple of others.

Then why am I so excited about No Mans Sky?

Simply because I want to believe that it delivers on one of the things EVE has never really focused on – PvE and exploration. I know, I know.  CCP added hacking sites to lower class WHs and other content that needs to be scanned down, has significant risk and a decent backstory.  And yet, I rarely run any of it.  Unknown Drifters that 1-shot my T3 cruiser?  Ghost sites that blow me up with some random-generated timer?  Hacking games that feel repetitive after the first 30 and finally spacial anomalies that deliver the exact same PvE content time after time, no matter how many friends I bring, what ship class I am in or which region of space I fly in. To CCP’s credit, adding burner missions and a seasonal events which can be quite exciting – until the mechanics are worked out, a youtube video emerges that explains how to do it in the fastest possible way and with the least amount of risk.  After that, there is no secret. Run into a “unsecured perimeter farm” and don’t know what to expect?  Google this.  No secrets, no surprises.

I miss the mystery of figuring things out, the sense of achievement based on my own smarts and guile, not my ability to follow someone’s published strategy to the letter. WoW had the same issue – all the boss fights were highly scripted but of all the Raids / Instance runs I have done the ones I recalls most were when nobody in the group had done it before.  We died, oh god we died.  But we had a lot of fun.

 

And thats what I hope No Mans Sky can deliver because of the way it is built.  Its  “procedural generated” universe has the potential to eradicate “walk throughs” because of the massive number of possible permutations that allow a nearly unlimited number of encounters.  Fighting a green dinosaur with acid breath in a low Oxygen planet with 0.3g at -34 C is different than fighting a blue birdthing on fiery lava moon.  There will be boundaries of course but my hope is that my encounters may never be experienced by anyone else – including myself if I leave the area.  No guide will help me and even if I write down exactly what my working strategy was, it may not help anyone.

That is would be so cool.

I am old and cynical enough to anticipate disappointment and I certainly don’t underestimate the marketing hubris of a small engineering team (having been working in several) and the relentless negative pressure of the general public.  Also, my hypothesis that there will be no guides may be entirely wrong. Maybe there is a method to all fights, all encounters or the permutations are so small that they don’t change how I run the encounter.  But that is a risk I am willing to take.

 

At least when I log in for the first time, there will be no guides.  Not walk-throughs.  No gear score or “best in slot” fitting guides, no doctrines, no EFT warriors.  Each man for himself, may the best pilot win have a great time.  Watch this space for more posts and my experiences.

 

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