To Infinity and Beyond in No Mans Sky

Back before E3 in June the expectation was for a triple-A console title to ‘win’ the show. Fast forward to post-E3 however, and you’ll find almost all media outlets that covered the show uniting in their praise for No Man’s Sky. No-one expected it, and even when a painfully nervous Hello Games founder Sean Murray stepped onto the stage at Sony’s E3 Keynote conference no-one expected to be wowed and won over by the footage on show.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Screenshot

It’s fairly easy to see why No Man’s Sky won over critics and fans alike at E3; it has an impressive checklist of features. Beautiful art direction – check, infinite universe – definitely, dinosaurs – oh yes, flying a ship into space – you certainly can, battling with that same ship in space – yep! No Man’s Sky seems to have covered it all and despite the fact it’s being developed by a team of just ten developers and released as an indie title, it manages to best even the strongest triple-A franchises in many regards.

One of the most exciting features No Man’s Sky offers is the infinite procedurally generated universe. For anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, procedurally generated worlds and/or levels essentially means that they are generated randomly within parameters defined by a series of rules. It’s the same type of generation seen in PC and PS4 title Don’t Starve.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky E3 Demo Screenshot

For example, No Man’s Sky may randomly generate a planet, but be given specific parameters to work within such as minimum or maximum planet size or a rule that states every single planet must have a water source for instance. The complex algorithms would then compute, working within any specific rules, to create the worlds seen in No Man’s Sky and place wildlife, items, water and anything else.

It’s a thrilling prospect, and the fact that the generation is infinite means that the game will essentially never end – if a player wishes to explore further, then they certainly can. It’s hard to imagine the sheer enormous scale of the game without seeing it visually but Hello Games are seemingly working exceptionally hard to make each planet feel fresh and unique.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Screenshot

No Man’s Sky is also a massively multiplayer game in some respects although Hello Games insist you will never come into direct contact with other human players on a planet, but you can share your findings and make your mark on your own planet, as well as those discovered by others. Each player will start on an outer-rim planet, and Hello Games have said one of the key gameplay goals will be to reach the centre of the universe with “motives pushing the player that way”.

The engine in which No Man’s Sky runs is also bespoke; Hello Games’ own creation. Within their engine, which was designed specifically to accommodate a procedurally generated universe, the developers can click to produce hundreds of variants of the same thing, trees for example. They also promise that if you can see something, you can go there – mountains, planets, and even suns with their own solar systems. For anyone who likes exploration in their games, No Man’s Sky truly reaches a completely new and unprecedented level.

It’s fair to say that the technology behind No Man’s Sky is awe inspiring, and the planets and universe that players will discover will offer a phenomenal amount of exploration opportunities and doubtless water-cooler discussions; sharing tales of what each explorer found or had happen to them at any given time.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Art

Not content with simply creating an infinite universe to explore, Hello Games has ensured there will be plenty to do in that universe. Simple exploration is an option, but delve a little deeper and it’s possible to find ancient artefacts that enable you to learn more about the universe or the world you’re on. No Man’s Sky also promises to give players a choice as to whether they share these discoveries with friends and other players or not. There’s potential there for a massively collaborative puzzle that requires players to come together and pool resources, artefacts and discoveries for the greater over-arching story arc.

In terms of the player, it’s possible to upgrade your equipment, ships and suit. No Man’s Sky promises to offer danger around every corner – whether you’re taking part in ship based combat in space or fighting from a first person perspective at ground level or in a cave. Exploring planets to discover new resources that you trade for these upgrades will undoubtedly keep players interested, offering an RPG style addiction to upgrading and finding new loot.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Art

While the details have yet to be fully explored, No Man’s Sky promises lasting consequences for everything you do. Killing wildlife, for example, could imbalance the ecology and lead to another species taking over a planet or possible extinction if enough of a particular species are killed. Hello Games also promises lasting effects on player death too – it’s likely that No Man’s Sky will follow a similar process to Don’t Starve in that you lose everything when you die. Whether or not you’ll restart on a new planet or be able to go back and grab everything you dropped, hopefully before someone or something else gets there, is unclear but remains one of the most exciting details Hello Games has yet to offer.

Other gameplay details are fairly thin on the ground at this point, although he inclusion of fighting, pirates and bounty hunters have all been mooted. In terms of terrain, Sean Murray has also discussed toxic environments that would require a specific suit upgrade, as well as the ability to go under the water on a planet to further explore.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Concept Art

He also discussed a “central antagonist” who has been described as a “malevolent force”. It’s difficult to speculate what this will offer at present, but the potential is there for players to build up a fleet of ships with the goal to take down the fleet of a central villain. The storytelling in No Man’s Sky is said to be implied, rather than authored. Questing would appear to be whatever the player wants to do, rather than a specific list of missions, goals and objectives. No Man’s Sky seems to borrow from Minecraft with regards to letting the players’ imagination run wild.

In a recent interview Sean Murray also stated that No Man’s Sky will have “traditional multiplayer” although it’s not a fully formed idea at this stage and is something the team at Hello Games will be looking into further down the line, for those that are inclined to play with others as opposed to being the lone explorer.

No Man's Sky art
No Man’s Sky Concept Art

It’s testament to the exceptional development and almost incomprehensible scope of No Man’s Sky that there are still elements I haven’t been able to explore fully. What we’ve seen of the game so far is only a minute amount in relation to the complete game. The E3 demo is below for you to watch, and see what you can take in from what’s on show – everything shown is being generated or happening real time, none of the demo is scripted at all.

We’ll definitely be keeping you up to date on Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky here at PopGeeks, so stay tuned. No Man’s Sky is a confirmed console debut exclusive on PlayStation 4, although it could follow up with a PC release (which has been discussed) and possibly on the Xbox One.

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