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No Man's Hype

No Man's Sky has literally been on the top of my Steam wish list for over a year.  Now less than two weeks from release, my preorder is good to go.
Choo choo, baby!
To those who are late in coming onto this hype train, lets start with what No Man's Sky is.  It is a game that lets you explore a vast, procedurally generated universe.  You will have your own ship, and the game supports seamless transitions between that and the planet's surface.

Need to know more?  Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, than a video must be worth a thousand words a frame, so I'll simply post up the official four trailers released for the game thus far.  Although these are Playstation 4 trailers, note that No Man's Sky will also be released for the PC, albeit possibly at a slightly later release date of August 12th (which I feel is mighty convenient to any company looking to leverage hype to sell consoles or score a few sales ahead of zero day piracy).
Trailer 1: Explore, showcasing biome variation.
Trailer 2: Fight, showcasing the combat.
Trailer 3: Trade, showcasing the exchange of resources.
Trailer 4: Survive, showcasing hostile environments.

These trailers are insidious in that they throw just enough at the viewer to get them excited, then cut off and leave them wanting more.  They're hype makers, great for sales, lousy for the gamer who wants to keep their expectations low so the reality doesn't crush them.

In the spirit of counter-hype, talk about what No Man's Sky is not:
  • No Man's Sky is not Minecraft in space.   Diverse biomes to explore are in, but that's about it. 
    • Building bases has no gameplay purpose, as the primary goal is to keep moving towards the center of universe.  Consequently, there is no base building, the buildings you encounter are already built.
    • Resource gathering is completely different, the world isn't made out of blocks anymore, the only thing you will be collecting is specific resources from specific outcroppings made of those resources, and the resources will not be spent on building bases (see the previous bullet point for why).
    • From what I have seen so far, it looks like planets probably won't remember terrain changes you made, so don't be too shocked to discover you take off and land only to discover all the holes you've made are no longer around. 
      • It makes sense that Hello Games' servers have no chance to store the changes required by millions of players deforming the surface of over 18 septillion planets.  A feasible in-game excuse could be that there's no navigation to take you back to where you were on a planet so you can imagine you have landed somewhere else on it.  A player could spend their entire life trying to ravage the surface of a planet and this excuse could still work: planets are big.
  • No Man's Sky is not really multiplayer.  It is designed in such a way that it is hard to play multiplayer and, even if you did, you would be better off playing single player.
    • You probably won't be able to play with your friends.  The universe simulated is nearly as staggeringly big as Douglas Adams makes it out to be, and players start out at random locations.  From what I have heard, they're deliberately preventing you from communicating exactly where you are to other players, so it's a near-impossible task to hook up... but where there's a will, there's a way, right?  Sure, but it may be easier to find a needle in a haystack.
    • It's built for players to interact mostly indirectly.  The entire design writes it off as extremely unlikely that two players will ever encounter each other.  Instead, the vast majority of player interaction has to do with discovering places and letting the players who follow know that it was you. 
      • Expect this to be abused in many ways.  Planets, plants, and animals will be named after third-wall breaking garbage.  Undoubtedly someone on the Internet will try to use hacks and bots to claim vast amounts of space because they are bright enough to know how to do this but thick enough to not understand why this was wrong.
    • Though the developers have mentioned it's possible to "meet" other players, the netcode probably sucks, since developer quotes so far have revealed very little emphasis on multiplayer interaction.   I say "probably" because, given the power of middleware and the widespread application of multiplayer gaming in the 21st century, it could be that the netcode is fine despite how unimportant it is to the central premise of the game.
    • The game may punish playing together.   Lets say you and your buddies don't care how long it takes or how bad the netcode is, you just want to play together.  Your reward will be that you just broke the game for yourself because everything I have heard about it so far suggests that No Man's Sky is balanced around a single player experience, resulting in a punishing multiplayer experience.  Hello Games could be hiding special multiplayer activities as a "surprise," but if so then they are quite good at keeping secrets.
  • No Man's Sky is not primary a PC game.  I say this because every official trailer they've released so far has targeted the Playstation 4 and, whenever it is demoed, we usually see them playing the Playstation 4 version.  There's a couple of obvious consequences here:
    • Expect the user interface to be rife with consolitus.  At no point during development did anyone at Hello Games mention that they put an emphasis on making it play well with mouse and keyboard, so get ready to whip out that XBox 360 controller.  It would be a pleasant surprise if the mouse and keyboard interface is fine anyway.
    • Expect poor PC hardware optimization.  It would be nice if it plays great on PC, but it's honestly pretty damning that we've rarely ever seen it demoed on the PC.  You could argue that No Man's Sky was developed on PC, and therefore should be optimized for it... but every console game has been developed on PCs and poorly optimized PC ports still happen.
Some more pessimism can be found when looking at what No Man's Sky likely will be:

No Man's Sky will be a game with too much content for too little gameplay.
I say this because they've created an absolutely huge universe, functionally unlimited content, but what do you do in it?
  • Gather resources.  Some cherry picked elements from the periodic table of elements join a few additions.  You can get them from the planets' surface, by trading, or from space.
  • Trade, using credits earned by selling minerals, discovering things, and so on.
  • Upgrade your suit, ship, and multi-tool.  This is the only "building" you will do.  Components can be built using elements and blueprints you have already acquired.  You are limited in component slots by your current suit, ship, and multi-tool, so you will want to find improved versions, and this involves exploring for opportunities.  For example, you can find a crashed ship and repair it to make it your own.
  • Shoot stuff on foot.  Pew pew pew.  The only point in doing this is to mine minerals, defend yourself, or to break into locked facilities.
  • Shoot stuff with your ship.  Dogfights, including capital ships, seem to be in.  However, there is rarely ever a reason to do this other than self defense or to steal minerals from freighters.  More commonly, you'll be shooting asteroids for minerals.
  • Get credit for discovering stuff.  It sticks your name right on it.  Optionally, rename that stuff you discovered.
  • Find out the words alien use so your auto-translator works.  Cool mechanic.  Meeting aliens or finding ruins usually resorts to a multiple choice dialogue puzzle you won't understand fully without all the words.
  • Move towards the center of the galaxy.  Because that's your only big goal.
Now, realistically, how many hours do you see that lasting you?  Some would say hundreds, at least.  I would say at a hundred, at most.

To an extent, they're missing an opportunity here by making the goal about moving towards the center of the universe.  They could have made this game about building a space empire, Egosoft X Universe style.  Or fighting back against some intergalactic threat.  Those would have incentivized players to develop parts of the universe being simulated.  Instead, it seems investing yourself in any particular part of the universe is being deliberately pushed away, No Man's Sky will primarily be about exploration; this is an explorers' game at heart.  But if that is enough for you, then you are set.

No Man's Sky's servers will likely be unreachable during release day.

My final counter-hype warning about No Man's Sky is this: their servers are very likely to buckle at release.  A lot of people will schedule their vacations to play it only to discover that the servers are down.
It is an easy prediction to make because script kitties love DDOSing Sony and more popular games are more attractive a targets for attention seekers.  Combined with the people already hammering the server because the game is popular, the challenge of making the game up and playable at release is set extremely high.  If the No Man's Sky releases and the servers are reachable without a hiccup, somebody deserves a raise.

The good news is that an offline mode has been confirmed.  However, has Hello Games made it so you have to go online before going offline?  If so, not a lot of people are going to be able to enjoy it on release day.

Lets end this on an optimistic note.

Despite everything I could see going wrong with No Man's Sky, I still pre-ordered the game, and I don't regret it.
Why?  Because I'm quite certain this game will be a major technical achievement, that seamless space to planet transition will probably be worth the price tag alone.  The same could be said of the attention paid to producing a wide range of fantastic alien fauna.

Under this set of expectations, even if the game turns out to be the worst possible sum of everything I've seen about it so far, No Man's Sky will nevertheless be a fantastic interactive tech demo that will be fun to play with, if not to play.

Yet, it is far more likely that the game will redeemable; No Man's Sky is unlikely to be as bad as a worse case scenario game.  From what has been revealed about it so far, it would not take much for it to be a true progression upon the Elite formula that will kick off a whole new genre, and that's why it has so much promise.

Hype is a killer of good games, this is true.  However, does No Man's Sky really have nothing to be excited about?  I doubt that, I think it will be pretty good, at least worth the full AAA box price I spent on it.  Until it is released, we can only speculate, and the challenge is not to allow our speculation to run wild and set us up for a fall.


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