No Man’s Sky

Hello Games sheds light on the dark mat­ter of what you do in its pro­ce­dural uni­verse



Em­bar­rass­ingly, we’ve only just landed on a new world and al­ready we’ve mis­placed our ship. “It’s a ballache; I like that,” says Hello Games man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Sean Mur­ray when we crack and ask if there’s a faster way to re­turn to our craft. “I have this [de­sign] ar­gu­ment with the guys all the time, but if I hand some­one the con­troller, the first thing they’ll do is lose their ship. Even in games like

Far Cry 4, Dragon Age or The El­der Scrolls IV: Obliv­ion, which are huge worlds, there are path­ways. They want me to go this way to get some plant at the top of a moun­tain, but I pre­fer to go this way, and I’ll just bug­gily hop up. We don’t have those pre­de­fined path­ways.”

That’s partly down to the fact that hand-carv­ing lanes into 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 plan­ets would put No Man’s Sky’s re­lease date be­yond the life­spans of the cur­rent team, but Hello Games isn’t look­ing into pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­at­ing paths ei­ther.

“It’s re­ally fun to watch, be­cause peo­ple spend their first half hour with the game get­ting lost – hope­fully in a good way,” says Mur­ray. “Then you see some­thing: sud­denly they start treat­ing it as a real place, us­ing land­marks [to nav­i­gate]. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m at the other side of that lake now.’ They’ll land their ship and say, ‘I’m leav­ing my ship by those trees,’ remembering places like that to find their way back. That’s quite a nice thing.”

If only we’d planned be­fore bound­ing off into the un­known. When we do find our way back to the space­ship (which, mor­ti­fy­ingly, turns out to be only 40 or so me­tres away), our im­me­di­ate im­pulse is to con­tinue ex­plor­ing, so we burst up through the at­mos­phere and then hold Cir­cle to gad about the so­lar sys­tem at in­ter­plan­e­tary speeds. Such a no­madic lifestyle is all very well, but Hello Games hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal on what you can do when you reach a new lo­ca­tion. Quite a lot, it turns out.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, ex­plo­ration forms

the back­bone of the game. You can turn your intrepid wan­der­ings into profit by cat­a­logu­ing the plan­ets and crea­tures you en­counter, and then up­load­ing that in­for­ma­tion to a net­work called At­las via bea­cons found on ev­ery globe. Ev­ery­thing you find grad­u­ally builds up a mas­sive per­sonal en­cy­clo­pe­dia, too, but dis­cov­ery mat­ters: if some­body else hap­pens to land on a planet you’ve al­ready vis­ited and tries to upload the de­tails of a crea­ture that you iden­ti­fied first, the name you chose for it will be im­posed upon their data­base. Nam­ing an ugly crea­ture af­ter one of your en­e­mies, then, is a con­vo­luted – and math­e­mat­i­cally im­prob­a­ble – way to get one over on them.

“A lot of peo­ple will share those dis­cov­er­ies,” says Mur­ray. “Not just by

up­load­ing them [at bea­cons], but by ac­tu­ally press­ing the Share but­ton, or up­load­ing to YouTube, or cre­at­ing lit­tle an­i­mated GIFs of the spec­i­mens that they’ve found, be­cause you do find some weird, hi­lar­i­ous crea­tures.”

Con­ser­va­tion and clas­si­fi­ca­tion don’t have to fea­ture at the top of your list of pri­or­i­ties, how­ever. Ear­lier on in our demo, Mur­ray re­luc­tantly ex­e­cutes a bipedal lep­ori­dae-like – “I hate do­ing this, be­cause I’m a hippy” – to demon­strate the con­se­quences. A float­ing drone floats into view and at­tacks, and as Mur­ray con­tin­ues to slaugh­ter the lo­cal fauna, the num­ber of bots in­creases. A wanted level fills as the sit­u­a­tion wors­ens, and even­tu­ally the game sum­mons tow­er­ing walk­ing drones to the fray. De­stroy­ing any drone makes you money, so if your equip­ment’s good and you aren’t eco­log­i­cally minded, you can rampage your way across gal­ax­ies with­out both­er­ing to con­trib­ute to the col­lec­tive en­cy­clo­pe­dia. Mur­ray’s rage isn’t suf­fi­cient, how­ever, and he suc­cumbs to a bar­rage of lasers.

The gun you carry is more than just a weapon, han­dling scan­ning and min­ing du­ties along­side the po­ten­tial for catalysing mass ex­tinc­tion events. It can be up­graded by adding alien tech­nolo­gies (which you’ll dis­cover and com­bine through­out your trav­els) to a grid menu that rep­re­sents the tool’s in­nards, and plac­ing sim­i­lar techs next to each other of­fers fur­ther per­for­mance boosts. Your scan­ner, for ex­am­ple, starts out as a short-range di­rected beam, but with the right tech can be­come a wide-reach­ing pulse that em­anates out from you. The im­proved scan­ner can also de­tect re­sources buried be­neath the sur­face or in rocks, and you can then use your laser to mine them.

“In a lot of sci-fi games, all their weapons are ba­si­cally AK-47s with some red stripes down the side,” Mur­ray says. “We don’t like that; we want some­thing that feels ad­vanced and cool. So you have this mul­ti­tool, which is a lit­tle bit like a tri­corder.”

Your ship can be up­graded in a sim­i­lar man­ner to your mul­ti­tool, and you can take your ac­tiv­i­ties of­f­world, too, pick­ing sides in the space bat­tles that will erupt across the uni­verse, bring­ing a cer­tain brand of jus­tice to pi­rates, min­ing as­ter­oids, or trad­ing at the space sta­tions that ferry goods back and forth from trad­ing posts found on planet sur­faces. If you’d pre­fer to put down roots, you could the­o­ret­i­cally spend all of your time ex­plor­ing, min­ing and trad­ing from just a sin­gle planet (ev­ery ex­am­ple be­ing “planet-sized”, Mur­ray stresses). All told, there’s a lot more to do in

No Man’s Sky’s un­fath­omably large uni­verse than early demos sug­gested.

Another as­pect that hasn’t been dis­cussed in de­tail be­fore are the var­i­ous day/ night cy­cles that you’ll en­counter on each strange new world. See­ing the night make its way across the sur­face of a sphere as you de­scend into its at­mos­phere for the first time is a stir­ring sight. We head into the dark to land, and Mur­ray apol­o­gises in ad­vance – it’s Sod’s law, he says, that this un­ex­plored planet will “look ugly” when we touch down. He couldn’t be more wrong. The dark­ness en­cour­ages new crea­tures onto the bluetinged sa­van­nah and the grass sways in the soft light of a sky-fill­ing moon. You can be as in­dus­tri­ous as you like in it turns out, but your strong­est mem­o­ries are likely to be forged in the mo­ments when you do noth­ing and just take it all in.

“In a lot of sci-fi games, all their weapons are ba­si­cally AK-47s with some red stripes”

Hello Games man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Sean Mur­ray

While plan­ets’ sur­faces are tempt­ing enough to ex­plore, more waits be­low for those pre­pared to dig in. “One of the nicest feel­ings is drilling a hole and find­ing mas­sive cav­erns or un­der­wa­ter caves,” Mur­ray says

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