It's almost been a year since Hello Games released their massively hyped space simulator No Man’s Sky. For many, the hype that once spread like wildfire has been doused completely. The rocky release of the game, prompted by the accusations of broken promises and shallow gameplay, led to No Man’s Sky being considered one of the most disappointing titles of 2016. It is a dubious honor to be sure, but not one without merit either, as the game did have a share of problems despite it’s own flashes of brilliance tied to it—sentiments I echoed in my own review of the title.
For many, the toxic history of No Man’s Sky is one to be ridiculed; as the adage goes, “the Internet never forgets.” But within the past year, Hello Games has done everything in their power to not only support their long-developed labor of love but improve upon it slowly and surely. From two major updates with more changes planned in the future, No Man’s Sky is still growing as a game and is slowly becoming a different experience than it was twelve months ago.
That labor of love has extended beyond the developers, however. The No Man’s Sky community has been one of the most active sub-cultures in gaming today and has taken it upon themselves to fill in the gaps left behind by Hello Games to create a “shared experience” that cannot be found in other titles.
Much of this is credited to the fans of No Man’s Sky showing their passion for the project, long after many have written the game off as a one-note experience. Many of them have formed several different community groups on reddit and Facebook, such as “NMS Love” and “No Man’s Sky.” These groups have become the one stop-shop for No Man’s Sky news and the shared domains for fans to show off their experiences, from stunning photos to short videos.
Through these groups, other fans have flocked together to create their own content for the game. One such fan is Conor Hansen, one of the most prominent members of the No Man’s Sky community. Hansen’s claim to fame is the current founder of the community's largest undertaking, the Galactic Hub Project.
Hansen conceived the idea of the Galactic Hub after seeing RecommendedLocations, a feature found on the No Man’s Sky wiki that showcases the coordinates of major solar systems and planets found in the game. One of the most important systems came well before the Galactic Hub Project was conceived, which was the creation of the Pilgrim Star.
For fans of No Man’s Sky, the Pilgrim Star system became the mecca of the Euclid galaxy, marking the place where the user St3amb0t chronicled his trek across an entire planet in the game. The story of his exploits was fully documented on reddit and even received press coverage for the feat.
The planet, known as Dudenbeaumodeme, is now the most famous planet in the game, and its solar system, the Pilgrim Star (or Starfall on the PlayStation 4) has become a pilgrimage point for many explorers. So much so, users created a way to triangulate your position in the game to determine how far you are from reaching the Pilgrim Star. Now known as the Pilgrim Star Process, the triangulation method is the primary way players of the game can nearly pinpoint their exact location among the 18 quintillion planets found in No Man's Sky.
“With RecommendedLocations, people were recording their discoveries to share with other people,” said Hansen. “At Pilgrim Star, multiple players were going to a single location, but it was more of a “rest stop.” They’d go, pay their respects to St3amb0t for his historic circumnavigation of the planet, then leave, back into empty and uncharted space.”
Hanson combined the two concepts to form the Galactic Hub, which is currently located in the Euclid Galaxy in the Rentocniijik Expanse, a section of space found in the southern Gamma quadrant of the galaxy. The Galactic Hub is now one of the largest fan-driven community projects found in No Man’s Sky, which is seeing players slowly carving up the galaxy into several different factions, such as the Amino Hub, The NMS Love Hub, and the Deep Thought Collective. These groups act, along with countless others, like de-facto factions, each of them pushing for a different goal and set of guidelines for members of their community while simultaneously carving out space in the galaxy for themselves, transforming No Man’s Sky in the process.
“I had felt so alone in the game (and it was sort of the point of the game at launch, I feel, to manipulate your senses into being a lone traveler) but I now saw this family there, this community and was overjoyed,” said Joseph Reed, a community member at the NMS Love Hub. Reed spent a whole week tracking down the exact coordinates of the Hub, located close to the galaxy’s center.
“The best part has been the feeling of acceptance,” Reed said. “I could come onto the Facebook page and ask a stupid question about how to find my system; Reddit conditioned me to expect, “Noob, Use Google, LOLZ” or “Didn’t you read the page rules?” But no! I’ve watched one of the admins answer the same question I asked to at least 10 other potential NMSL Dwellers with the same enthusiasm and excitement as if it were the first time he were asked.”
The feeling of community has been a major shift in tone for the game. For many fans, the founding of in-game community groups like NMSL or The Galactic Hub was a game changer for them.
“The hubs completely change the game,” Said Marco van Hylckama Vlieg, a fan and blogger who chronicled his own journeys in No Man's Sky. “They turn a very cool but lonely single player experience into something that almost feels like multiplayer and is highly social. Discovering things together and sharing discoveries, game tactics, cool ships, planets and other resources is just great. I bet [Hello Games] hadn’t even anticipated this happening.”
The creation of these groups has also been a peaceful transition for the time being, mostly due to the game's own limitations.
“Some people have ventured more towards 'war games' – which, in No Man’s Sky, are basically limited to words,” laughs Hansen. “The cooperation aspect is really where most energy goes. We share Wiki templates, base building ideas, civilization ideas (ie, the concept of community farms is still somewhat new), and more.”
The camaraderie between the subgroups is leading to friendly competitions between the factions as well. Hansen talks about how the first “No Man’s Sky Olympics” is being planned, which will simulate multiplayer by using simultaneous streams. Fans of the game, despite the limitations of no true multiplayer, have begun congregating their own stories together in this form.
All of this has been done as a labor of love by the fan communities, with no real aim other than playing the game. “There isn’t really an end goal,” remarked Hansen. “When we started, exploring one region seemed like a lofty, potentially unreachable goal, but we hit that goal months ago. I guess it’s not an end-game so much as a constantly-evolving objective: to continue to provide a community where a large number of players can all congregate together and to create the closest thing possible to a multiplayer experience.”
The use of streaming and YouTube have given No Man’s Sky a major boost in the past year as well, despite the more popular videos stemming from the controversies espoused upon release. Many fan channels instead have focused on continued adventures in the game news updates and even shared community videos. Some channels have also been following the game well before it was even released.
“I was searching for information on the game like many others were, and I'm the type of person that takes notes and creates folders for certain things, I noticed no other youtuber was talking about this game, and I had loads of info on my PC so I decided to make a video,” recalls Ron Carpenter.
Carpenter, better known as Cobra, currently operates a YouTube Channel Titled CobraTV, which features a ton of No Man’s Sky coverage and content.
“My channel back then was mostly negative, and the kind responses I received from the No Man’s Sky community began to change my perspective of people in general, including myself. What attracted me to it was the ambition behind it, and the ability to go anywhere and just exist in the No Man’s Sky universe.”
Carpenter’s channel now has over 30,000 subscribers, and it features several original productions featuring the game.
“My series Galactic Hub and Revenge of the Survivor series has edged people back into playing the game,” stated Carpenter. “The Galactic Hub series was my journey there and Revenge of the Survivor is a mild roleplay set inside survival mode. Also the SubCasts that I do are heavily influenced by Art Bell from Coast to Coast. It’s a format that I include my subscribers in, instead of a podcast I let them call in and give them a voice.”
Carpenter, like many fans of No Man’s Sky, has continued to support the game despite the negative reception that surrounded the title upon its release. “It is open ended [the game],” he said. “That's the positive and the negative aspect of the game. To some not ever getting closure makes the game seem unfinished, but to others it makes it seem like there is so much more to do, and there is. The story some will say is non-existing. But it is something you have to work for to uncover it.”
For many fans, the journey to No Man’s Sky has been an attractive one before the title was even launched. One of the most common themes expressed was a similar love towards science fiction and a thrill of the unknown.
“I’ve always been driven towards sci-fi,” Stated Daniel Bozi, a prominent member of the NMS Love community. “I love space and I spent my whole childhood wanting to be an astronaut. I started studying math and physics, all the way to a PhD in the end. I guess it’s that urge of seeking knowledge, of wanting to know more, to understand the mystery and to learn about the ultimate driving forces of mankind.”
Mike Turner, a community member of the No Man’s Sky Facebook group, echoed similar sentiments. “The space inter-stellar trading aspect reminded me a little of Elite – which I first played on the BBC microcomputer in the mid 80’s. With the Design Museum demo, I was instantly struck by the graphics – the rich visual appeal of the planets showcased – and the seemingly vastness 'open world' style gameplay – no set rules, invent your own path, etc. For me it was really appealing, as I’m not a big fan of shoot-em ups. I wanted something a bit more chilled, and perhaps a bit more cerebral / escapists.”
In many ways, No Man’s Sky has adjusted to its niche in the gaming community; that of a free-form “soft” sci-fi game with roots in other forms of speculative fiction.
“The people who are still playing this game are playing it because they never felt mislead about what the game was 'supposed' to be,” argued Reed. “Ultimately it’s a game for people just like me- older folks who grew up on Star Trek and reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke books. The game is more cerebral and it takes goofy people like us to enjoy it.”
The more casual aspects of No Man’s Sky have been considered a negative by some in the gaming community. For fans of the game, however, it is the sweet spot that drives them to keep playing.
“It’s a niche game,” stated Hansen. “Some people need a story line and constant firefights and 'go here, kill this' quests, and No Man’s Sky just doesn’t have those things. It’s just not the kind of experience everyone can appreciate.”
That niche appeal has been one of the major points of contention against the game, with many arguing that Hello Games released an incomplete indie title as a “AAA” experience. Players and critics have also compared No Man’s Sky unfavorably to other space simulation games, such as Elite: Dangerous, which recently released on the PlayStation 4. Hansen, like many others, take a different approach to these comparisons.
“I think Elite: Dangerous is as different of a game as possible from No Man’s Sky, while still being a space game,” he said. “Elite: Dangerous caters to the simulation crowd who need a lot of combat and realistic mechanics. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t play both, but I don’t see Elite: Dangerous as being any kind of 'threat' to No Man’s Sky or No Man’s Sky activity levels.”
After its explosive start with one of the best launches for the PlayStation 4 and over 700,000 copies purchased on Steam, the sales of the game stagnated as the negative word of mouth continued to spread. Today, the userbase of No Man’s Sky is a shadow of its original release, but it has been steady for months since release. Steam Charts show that the game has hovered between 700-1100 active players at a time, and that number is slowly increasing over this past summer.
In fact, the continued support from Hello Games has helped drive continued interest from the community. The two major content changes to the game, the Foundation and Path Finder updates, added many features that have been met positively by their fanbase. Many of the changes include tweaks to the procedurally generated content, the additions of a new survival and permadeath mode, a photo mode that has produced stunning pictures by many members of the community, and the addition of ground vehicles, base building, and more.
Outside of the official updates by Hello Games, the PC version of No Man’s Sky also has a robust modding community. Some of the most celebrated mods off the popular website Nexus Mods include graphical upgrades and the ability to fly low on planets with your ship. Others, such as the Better Worlds and Megalith mods, add more diverse biomes and alien ruins into the game. The modding community for No Man’s Sky is still small, but coupled with the official updates it has helped in breathing new life into the game.
Players, of course, are eagerly awaiting what is next from Hello Games, who have been teasing more content updates for some time now with a high profiled Alternative Reality Game, Waking Titan.
Waking Titan is an ongoing ARG that has combined puzzles, radio broadcasts and websites to tease upcoming updates to No Man’s Sky. It was confirmed a few weeks ago that the ARG was being headed by Sean Murray, the co-founder of Hello Games, and the most recent updates have hinted at new content being released soon for the title. The ARG is currently in Phase 2 of three, as personal emails with puzzles are being sent out to active community members to solve.
What the content is has not been officially announced or confirmed, but some of the hints left for those actively participating in Waking Titan have speculated it will involve the in-game portals and a new, fourth alien race, according to recent developments.
The Waking Titan game has a somewhat mixed reception within the No Man’s Sky community, with some worried that the game is in danger of building up too much hype again.
“[Waking Titan] annoys me, simply because it seems to stir up stress and wild speculation in the communities,” said Turner. “It’s a form of hype that seems to bring out less healthy traits in groups – and generally seems to create more antagonism than anything else. For me it’s all about the game, and the updates when and as they happen. An ARG sideshow does nothing to enhance my enjoyment of No Man’s Sky.”
Others, however, are more positive on Waking Titan. “Many people say and feel that Hello Games is hyping for another internet riot,” stated Carpenter. “While this may be hyping I look at it as engagement with the community. Something players have been screaming at Hello Games to do. And they are, such a fun way at that.”
Regardless of the feelings on Waking Titan, the speculation of what is being updated into the game is at an all-time high, and everyone in the community has a different take as to what they want to see in the future.
For the fans of the game, a year has made all the difference in the continued development of No Man’s Sky. The creation of the fan-based communities coupled with Hello Games continuous support of the title have made the game robust within its niche, defying all expectations of those who wrote it off after the troubled release of the title.
“I hope that one day, people can see this game the way many of us do,” said Carpenter. “For a year, many of us have been having a blast among the stars. I hope to see the game be at its fullest potential, and players coming back to No Man’s Sky. At [this time], Steam reviews are rising, so that’s a great sign.”