2016 is an exciting year for people like me. With the advancing technology edging us forever closer to the promise of being able to explore actual universes it becomes increasingly less of a problem to imagine oneself floating about into the great black void that is outer space. Elite: Dangerous has shown that a space simulator running on modern machines is both possible as well as entertaining, and the hugely anticipated Star Citizen will throw a heavy narrative into the mix. While both these things try to at least pretend like they’re set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, there is one game that it trying to create something that is so ambitious, that it has the potential to shake up an entire industry because of the use of procedural generation. This game is, of course, No Man’s Sky.
To say that No Man’s Sky is wholly unique might be stretching it a little too far, but it’s hard to deny that this game has been turning heads since it got announced a few years back. Now that Shaun Murray and his development studio Hello Games have officially (well, sort of) announced a release date for the game in June, I’m officially ready to board that particular hype train to whatever station it’s heading. The thing that gets me the most about No Man’s Sky is the way it presents itself; striking visuals with warm and vibrant colors that stretch out for thousands of miles as you listen to a soundtrack made by post-rock royalty 65daysofstatic seems like a decent proposition to me.
Even though I’m one of those people that can forgive a game’s flaws when the narrative hits all the right spots, it might seem strange that I’m looking forward to a game that has no story or real characters to speak of. The game’s focus seems to lie more on the exploration of the actual galaxy-sized galaxy and the exploitation of resources found within it than telling you a gripping story as you hop seamlessly for celestial body to celestial body. Because of this, the narrative isn’t really coming from the game itself. It’s coming from you. I can’t wait to tell my friends about the planets I’ve discovered on my travels, or the (also randomly generated) wildlife that I can name if I’m the first human to lay eyes on them.
I’ve seen people raise some questions regarding the game’s longevity since it doesn’t have a story or even a fully-fledged multiplayer component, and they may be right in thinking that this game might get rather boring in a short amount of time. While this might be true, I’d like to refer back to my time with Elite: Dangerous. It’s a game that has very little going on right now. Yes, you have space and yes, you have an incredible amount of star systems and planets to see as you ferry cargo, shoot baddies and dock at many an exotic station but other than that . . . it doesn’t have a lot. Yet I’ve somehow managed to pump an inordinate amount of hours into that game just because I like seeing the sights. Now compare that to some of the promised features in No Man’s Sky; being able to land on fully formed planets each with different flora and fauna, it’s own periodic table with elements you can use to trade and craft stuff, the promise of seamless travel between countless worlds in a universe so big that it can’t ever be explored by anyone completely. It might turn out to not work in the game’s favor and it might very well be possible that the content within the game loses its luster quickly, but there is also the possibility that they will knock this one out of the park.
One last thing I’d like to note is how much procedural generation as a piece of technology is riding on the success of No Man’s Sky. If this game is a success, you’ll see more and more developers use it as a focal point of development and, if the tech gets developed enough, it might be able to give future games a way to dish out near-endless amounts of content. So maybe my interest in No Man’s Sky is only partially because of finding out what’s at the center of the galaxy. Another part entirely might be me wanting this game to be good as well as financially successful, so the technology that’s making all of it possible gets developed to a point where a game’s longevity is no longer tied to the story arcs games serve us.More About This Game