Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown on No Man’s Sky and nd the perils of over-ambition
Less than two weeks into my brief spell at a London university, I was staggering home through Soho late at night and spotted an unmistakeable figure up ahead. It was 1996, and there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind about who the lanky, bespectacled ginger fellow was. I picked up the pace and there, indeed, was Chris Evans. These days he’s the voice of BBC Radio 2 in the mornings and the face of Top Gear’s post-Tory-gobshite-era ratings nosedive, but back then he was actually, like, cool. But not, in turns out, in person – at least not when accosted by a drunken student on Shaftesbury Avenue at midnight on a Tuesday. He was brusque; I, offended and full of teenage bravado, said some unpleasant things. He crossed the street to avoid me, so I started shouting instead. For a few years I would dine out on this story: look what a dick this famous man is. The penny dropped eventually, of course. The dick was I.
I can only hope that one day a certain subset of No Man’s Sky players will feel the same. Passion is what drives this medium, admittedly, whether you play games, make them, or write about them (god knows the latter camp isn’t in it for the chicks and money). But rarely have I seen so stark an illustration of what happens when passion spills over into something much darker than with all this No Man’s Sky business. I might, in my margarita-induced fervour, have been a bit unpleasant to Chris Evans. But I didn’t send him death threats – I just slagged him off to everyone I met for a year or two, which is, of course, absolutely fine. These people. Oh, you reported that No
Man’s Sky was going to be delayed again? Death threats. Better send some to the people making the game too, just in case, because nothing motivates a team to really knuckle down and focus on the task at hand than the niggling worry that the guy that brings the sandwiches round is really active on the subreddit and has stashed a knife in the tuna brioche. And when the delay is officially confirmed? Tell Sean Murray, the likeably dishevelled head of studio, to watch his back, because we’re coming for him.
This is a reflection of the world we live in, of course. Yes, I saw Chris Evans on the street one night in 1996 (20 years ago? Good god). But after that he retreated to his TV and radio studios while I got on with the important business of spending my student grant on watered-down cocktails and PS1 games. Yet the death-threatener, the online abuse-hurler, the comments-section-rage-frother and so on go to bed at night, wake up the next morning and maintain the exact same relationship with the object of their ire that they had the day before. And it is precisely because of the apparent closeness of this relationship, I think, that people have turned so ferociously on Murray now that No
Man’s Sky is in the wild and failing to meet expectations. When such a small team, dreaming big, is judged to have failed to meet its promises, the reaction is more personal than if a 600-person team had done it. When Ubisoft Montreal made – OK, half- made –
Assassin’s Creed Unity, the entire company’s reputation suffered. With no disrespect to the dozen-or-so other people who made No
Man’s Sky, Sean Murray is Hello Games, and so this is all his fault.
I realise I’ve written about this before – of the power of the online hate mob, of the darkness beneath the delight that is the social Internet’s direct line between creator and consumer. But I’ve written about an awful lot of other things too, and what really strikes me about No Man’s Sky specifically is how many of them the story of its development touches upon. The consumer’s distrust of, but simultaneous inability to not get swept up by, the hype cycle. The perils of over-ambition, even if that’s what we really want from our games. Our failure to accept the need for delays. Our assumption that if a publisher delays the arrival of review code, it must be sitting on a stinker. And that if promised, or hinted-at, features don’t make the final cut, it’s because the developers are liars. How appropriate that a game of such unprecedented scope, that gives every player a universe to explore, should also encompass just about every troubling aspect of the way the games of today are made, played, marketed and discussed. I’ve enjoyed my time with No Man’s Sky, though I’m also disappointed with a lot of it. I expect a lot of you feel the same about this column, too. That’s fine – but easy on the death threats, please. I get enough of that in the office.
With no disrespect to the others who made No Man’s Sky, Sean Murray is Hello Games, so this is all his fault