First revealed way back in December of 2013, No Man’s Sky has been making waves in the gaming industry ever since. The developers over at Hello Games have taken on one of the biggest projects in gaming history, and now, almost two and a half years since the game was revealed, its release is almost upon us. As we get ready to explore the universe in No Man’s Sky, let’s look back on everything we know about the game so far, with just under two months till the game’s official launch.
At first glance, No Man’s Sky is a space exploration game. However, a closer look will reveal that there is a lot more going on. Each player will begin their journey in No Man’s Sky on their own, undiscovered planet at the edge of the galaxy, and the player’s main goal is to reach the center of the universe. But this isn’t your normal game world. The developers of No Man’s Sky have created a game the size of the universe for each player to explore and take on different roles in using procedural generation. You can play the game as an explorer and frontiersman, as a space pirate, or maybe even as a humble trader. Hello Games have been clear in stating that they aren’t trying to limit the player in any way, and want them to map out their own experience. Thanks to the scale of the game, that experience will be completely unlike anybody else’s journey through No Man’s Sky.
To better understand No Man’s Sky, let’s first take a look at the development studio behind the game, Hello Games. The studio was founded by four friends who came from various development studios, and their first published game was Joe Danger. The studio talks about the making of Joe Danger a little bit on their website, and the hardships that when along with its development. Founder and managing director Sean Murray—lover of plaid shirts and manly beards—even had to sell his house at one point when the studio ran out of money, just to finish the game. However, when the game launched on PS3 in 2010, it recouped its development costs within 12 hours of being on sale. Hello Games went on to make three more Joe Danger games before finally announcing No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky actually began as a sort of side project at Hello Games. After the success of the Joe Danger series, the original team of four was able to hire a larger staff and move into a bigger studio. A group of four people from the studio eventually split off from the rest of the team into a side room and began work on the first prototypes for No Man’s Sky. After months of slaving away at the game in complete secrecy, the side-team was finally ready to pitch it to the rest of the studio, and the rest is history. No Man’s Sky was officially revealed to the public at VGX 2013, and now, two and a half years, two E3s, and dozens of gameplay demos and interviews later, No Man’s Sky’s release is finally almost here. It is still mind-blowing to me that the largest game ever made is being developed by a studio of just 15 people.
One of the most important things to take away from No Man’s Sky is the game’s incredible scale. Just how big is No Man’s Sky? 18 quintillion life-size planets big. To help put this a little bit more into perspective, the Milky Way holds about 100 billion planets. If you were to visit ever planet in the game at a rate of one every second, Earth’s actual Sun would have died before you had the chance to see them all. Founder and managing director Sean Murray, who I’ll be referencing often throughout this article, stated during the No Man’s Sky E3 demo in 2015 that the game is a “universe sized sandbox.” The scale of the game can really be seen when scrolling through the galactic map. In seconds of scrolling you pass dozens and dozens of suns, each with their own full-sized solar systems that are all ready to be explored. Although every player may start out at the edge of the same galaxy, Murray has said before that there will be multiple galaxies within the game. So as to not spoil too much, he left it at that and said that players will need to find out what that means themselves.
The universe isn’t the only thing that’s big in No Man’s Sky; the same applies to the planets and stars too. Every planet in the game is the size of an actual planet. When you warp into a solar system in your ship, you can fly around and behold each planet as it actually is. What I mean by this is that if you see a planet from space, and it seems lush with green and filled with large oceans, that’s how the planet will be when you fly down to it seamlessly without any loading screens. Spend time on that planet, and you might notice that it is actually revolving and orbiting the nearest star like an actual planet would. The day night cycle is a result of the planets actual rotation, unlike most other games. If a life-size planet seems daunting, know that every planet is mostly the same all around, so exploring one section of it should suffice in allowing you to get a feel for what the planet is like as a whole. Whenever you want to leave, all you have to do is jump back into your space ship and fly out of the planet’s atmosphere seamlessly into the space above.
Check out this gameplay demo from E3 2015 for a look at the galactic map and a reference for just how big the universe in No Man’s Sky is:
What does it mean for a game to be procedurally generated? In short, instead of a developer creating an entire game world by hand, algorithms are used to craft data in the game for them. With over 18 quintillion planets in No Man’s Sky, it would be impossible for every planet to be manually designed, and so Hello Games have opted to use procedural generation to create almost everything you see in the game. From the planets, to the ships, to the animals and more, almost everything you’ll see in your journey with No Man’s Sky will be generated by a computer based off of your character’s position at that point in time, and none of this data is stored on the disk or on your gaming machine. The whole entire universe isn't generated every time to start up the game. Only the area that you are in at that exact period of time, and the only things that have been generated are the things that you can see around you. The area around you isn’t created until you are there, but because the algorithm used to make that area never changes, even if you leave and come back to the same spot later, it will remain exactly how you left it. The universe of No Man's Sky is constant and will not change. Procedural generation is just a way for the developers to craft this massive universe without having to do it all by hand and store it on the game's disk or your machine.
In the universe of No Man’s Sky, there is a specific reason everything is the way it is, and that is because of the algorithm used. For example, say a planet is x amount of kilometers away from the nearest star and is rotating at y speed. Well, those variables—as well as many others—will influence the geography of the land, the temperature, the weather, whether or not it can support life, et cetera. The chemicals and elements found on the planet may be impacted by the solar system the planet is in, which in turn influences the life that might be found on the planet. It goes even further. Is this a desert planet? Well then you might find reptilian creatures, but now how does the game create those creatures without having them look too similar to other reptilian creatures on other planets. Well, other variables influence this and impact the animal’s color, shape, diet, and more. Nothing that you’ll see in No Man’s Sky is completely random; everything has a specific reason for why it is the way it is. This is similar to how the landscapes in Minecraft may seem random, but in actuality, there is a method to its madness.
For a closer look at how procedural generation was used in No Man’s Sky, check out this video form Gamespot:
One of the biggest questions concerning No Man’s Sky has been about what you actually do in the game. Although that question contains many answers, it’s been clear since the game was revealed that the idea was built around exploration. With endless amounts of space to explore, it’s likely that most of the things you discover will only ever be seen by you.
Before you visit a planet, you’re going to have to get to its solar system first, and to do that, you’re going to need to have a hyperdrive capable of getting you there. That’s why you can’t just warp straight to the center of the universe. As you continue to upgrade your hyperdrive more and more, the closer you’ll get to the center. Your hyperdrive is also what allows you to enter the atmospheres of planets quickly. If it’s not upgraded to the recommended point, then it might take you over an hour just to land on that certain planet, while it would only take you only a couple of seconds to land on another planet in a different solar system with the same hyperdrive.
Once on the surface of a planet, there’s plenty more to explore. When approaching the planet on your ship you can send out a scan that will alert you of nearby points of interest. You can also scan for these points outside your ship, too. These points of interest can be many things, many of which haven’t even been shown to us by Hello Games. Some of the buildings and landmarks we do know about found on planets are beacons, relics, and trading posts.
Beacons are places where you can upload discoveries like entire planets or animal species. Then, other people who travel there will see that you discovered it first. If you don’t upload your discoveries and die, however, those discoveries will be lost. Relics are structures resembling monoliths that you can interact with. Each relic is a kind of chose-your-own-adventure where you can learn words from an alien language and increase your standings with an alien race. I’ll go into more detail on relics later. Trading posts are exactly what they sound like. NPCs (non-playable characters) may fly in and out of a trading port with goods that you can barter for. They also serve as save points in case you die while exploring. If you die while out in space, you will respawn at the nearest space station. These are just a couple of the things you might find on a planet in No Man’s Sky. Although we do know about some other things like wrecked ships, factories, and even portals, it’s still unclear as to how you will be able to interact with them right now.
One of the most exciting aspects of discovery in No Man’s Sky is the ability to discover new life forms like plants and animals. Thanks to procedural generation, there is virtually no chance of encountering the same species of animal twice on different planets, so every type of animal you encounter will be a new discovery. The actual act of scanning an animal is still a bit unclear at the moment. In some demos, it is as easy as using your pulse scanner to log any nearby creatures, while in others, you need to focus your binoculars onto an animal in order to add it to your log. Whichever way, once you find a beacon to upload your discoveries to, they remain your discoveries forever. You can even name the things you find. However, the life of an adventurer is not the only way to play No Man’s Sky, but it is the one most talked about.
Besides being an explorer/frontiersman, there are multiple other ways to play No Man’s Sky. The other roles you can take up in the game talked about in past interviews and demos have been the roles of a trader, a miner, and a pirate. However, it is important to remember that unlike in an RPG, you are not set on any one path. You can switch between any of these roles, or hold two or three of them at the same time. There’s nothing stopping you from being a miner who also does a little pirating on the side, for example.
Being a trader means buying goods in one place and selling them in another for a profit. For example, plutonium may be a plentiful commodity in one solar system but rare in another. So, as a trader, you might purchase this element for a low price in solar system A, and sell it for a much higher price in solar system B. Sean Murray has stated that if you want to, you don’t even have to set foot on another planet other than the one you start on. You can simply trade and make money to buy resources and upgrades, and make your way to the center of the universe that way. There are even trading routes visible from your space ship mapped out all across space so that you can see the paths used most often by other traders. Or you can use them to plan your next attack as a pirate.
As a pirate, you might want to attack other small space ships like yourself transporting goods, or go for the big score and take down a space station. Space stations are much harder to take down though, so it might be best to jump in when you see another group of pirates attacking one, or hope that if you start attacking, other pirates will join you. However, as soon as you collect those dropped resources, you better be ready to take some heat and either fight back or get away.
Mining also is exactly what it sounds like. As a miner you’ll be exploring planets looking for resources and minerals to mine with your mining laser. Everything on every planet is completely destructible. You can even land on asteroids and mine them for resources. However, mine too aggressively and you might attract the attention of the Sentinels.
The Sentinels are a groups of robots tasked with protecting life on various planets, but not all planets. There are three different types of Sentinels that we know of so far. The smallest and least dangerous look something like the Viper Probe Droid from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The next kind of Sentinel is a quadrupedal robot that is apparently much faster than the other two and looks like a robotic four-legged animal. The biggest Sentinel we’ve seen is a bipedal robot that resembles an AT-ST from various other Star Wars movies. Now, the way that the Sentinels know to target you is with a wanted level system similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto series. The more your harm the environment on a planet or the more you fight back against the Sentinels, the higher your wanted level will be, and the more aggressively the Sentinels will come after you.
The Sentinels aren’t the only thing you’re going to need to survive and defend yourself from in No Man’s Sky. Just like in our actual universe, not every planet in No Man’s Sky is hospitable. There are many planets with harsh environments that you will need to brave, but these planets often hold the most raw materials. Planets with extremely hot or cold climates will do a number on your shield and health bar if you stay out in the open too long, and could eventually kill you. You can either upgrade your suit to stay out in the open for longer periods of time, or you could find shelters to help make your exploration easier. Remember though, the more barren the planet, the more plentiful the resources. At least that’s the general rule for the universe. Shelter from the harsh climates could come in the form of buildings like trading posts, or could even be made by you. Blast a hole in the side of a mountain and maybe you’ll find a hidden cave that you could take cover in and recharge your shield in. Another environmental hazard you might need to take cover from is acid rain, or a planet might be too volatile for you to even explore in the first place, forcing you to come back once you’ve upgraded your gear. Overall, no matter what role you choose to take on, survival is going to be a big part of it.
Crafting and Upgrades
Crafting and upgrading your character in No Man’s Sky is your progression system. There are no experience points or levels or skill trees, only upgrades for your gear. The three things that we know for sure that you can upgrade are your gun, ship, and space suit, and each one can be upgraded in many different ways.
The gun you carry with you in No Man’s Sky is more than a weapon; it functions as your pulse scanner and mining device, too. You can craft upgrades for your gun like a land disruptor that blasts craters in the ground instead of slowly chipping away at it with your laser. However, upgrades like these are finite and can run out, so you’ll need to craft more eventually. You could possibly upgrade your scanner to widen its pulse radius, which could be especially useful if you decide to take on the role of explorer. Upgrades really exist to help bolster your play style. A trader might want to upgrade their ship with a cloaking device to slip past pirates unnoticed, while a pirate might choose to upgrade their ship’s armor so that they can take more hits in a dogfight. It’s really left to you, the player, to decide. You can also upgrade your space suit to do things like survive longer in extreme climates or use your jetpack for longer periods of time without it running out of fuel.
All that we’ve really seen concerning crafting in No Man’s Sky is that you can take a couple of elements that you’ve collected, combine them, and then make something better like more complex compounds or upgrades. However, Hello Games have taken this just a little further and created their own periodic table of elements. While there are some familiar elements like carbon and plutonium, there will also be many made-up elements in the game. This makes crafting just a little more complicated because the game will not guide you through crafting according to Sean Murray. He compared it to something like Minecraft, where players had to experiment with different combinations of materials to figure out how to craft different things. No Man’s Sky is purposefully taking away the easy way out and forcing experimentation, something that isn’t done very often in games anymore.
The in-game economy is another thing that hasn’t been touched upon very much in No Man’s Sky. Although we know that there are trading posts on planets and on space stations, it is unclear as to what you can do there. We know that the game’s currency is Units, but what can we buy with them? It’s unclear whether you can buy upgrades and tech, or only the materials needed to craft them. Also, is it possible to buy whole ships from NPCs you see flying in and out of trading posts, or does each station have specific stock? While we know a lot of the general details about the game, this is one thing that we know almost nothing about.
Speaking of things we know little about ... the lore of No Man’s Sky. Of course, this has been deliberately kept secret, but Hello Games have alluded to a couple of things about the universe. Still, we know almost nothing about the center of the universe other than there is a reason we will want to travel to it and that it has something to do with Atlas, which relates somehow to the game’s logo. No Man’s Sky isn’t structured like most games with missions and side objective, only this end goal. Another question: who are the Sentinels, why are they here? There’s a lot to learn, but we do know a little bit about how we may learn it.
I previously mentioned relics and how they are a form of interactive story. Well, it is expected that these relics will give us some background on the lore of the universe you will be exploring. These relics also relate to the other alien races in the game, who we don’t know much about. Each relic will teach you a bit of language from each race, which can help raise your relations with them if you choose the right option when interacting with a relic. Choose the wrong option and your standings with that alien race will go down and they may be less willing to work with you in the future. Learning a race’s language through relics will make it easier to communicate and interact with that race, which could in turn benefit you with better trade deals.
Factions are another thing briefly mentioned in some gameplay demos. Sean Murray has talked about how you might warp into a solar system to find two fighting factions, and you get to choose which one you would like to help, or you can stay neutral. Each faction will control a section of the universe. It is unclear as to how much this will actually influence the overall game, but there’s plenty of potential to do something interesting with that idea.
Multiplayer has been a confusing area with No Man’s Sky since its reveal, but the message is much clearer now. First and foremost, No Man’s Sky is NOT a MMO. You will not be able to encounter other players while playing the game. However, the actions of others could still affect your game. Certain things are saved to the game’s online servers that could show up in your game. For example, names. When you discover something, you get to name it, so it only makes sense that if somebody else were to come across your discovery, they would see the name that you gave it. Another thing that would get sent to the game’s online server is if you or somebody else made a major change to something in the universe. By this, I mean if you did something like destroy an entire space station. Then, if somebody else were to warp into that exact same solar system, the space station that you destroyed would be gone and they would need to do their trading somewhere else. Small changes to the game world are not saved online, however. Things like resource mining will be saved locally, but if somebody else were to travel there, the resources you mined will still be there for them. So no, you can’t carve your name into a planet for somebody else to see. Chances are, because of the scale of the game, anything you discover will never be seen by anybody else anyways. There is a way to play offline if you choose to opt out of these features and play the without feeling the effects of other players.
No Man’s Sky releases on June 21st, 2016 on both PlayStation 4 and PC. There is still no word on whether it could come to Xbox One later, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out as a possibility later down the line. You can get the game either digitally or through retail, and there are limited editions for the game on both PlayStation 4 and PC, and each collector’s edition is very different form the other. Well, that’s pretty much it on No Man’s Sky. All there’s left to do now is wait.
[sources: The Guardian, IGN First coverage of No Man's Sky, Game Informer Q&A with Sean Murray, Explaining the Tech, PlayStation Access, and other sources credited in article.]