An endless sky, with no masters or boundaries… that’s the promise of No Man’s Sky, a sci-fi survival game that uses math formulas to generate explorable universe on the spot. Being the first indie game present (and stealing the spotlights) at the E3, will it live to the incredible hype that surrounds it?
In No Man´s Sky, you put on the helmet of an intergalactic explorer, surviving in the vastness of a science-fiction, almost infinite universe. Undiscovered stars, planets and galaxies are yours to explore, chart and share with everyone in the cosmos (in this case, other players that “share” this world with you). Every one of the millions of planets (well, the actual term used is quintillions) has unique flora, fauna, and plenty of space to dock your ship.
“Great! What can I do there?”
As a player, you take the first-person seat in your starship to reach for far away planets. While there’s no one giving you missions, each planet has a Beacon that connects to The Atlas, the universal map that you and every other player in the world will be creating together. When you reach a Beacon, you will document the flora and fauna of the planet, along getting the chance to name it (there are appropriate filters in place, but sure, you are free to name planets after yourself if you get to them first).
As you might have guessed, most planets are inhabited by wildlife and wildlife isn’t known for its social skills. Being an explorer, you have laser pistols and your ship’s cannons at your disposal to fight off beasts and other cruisers, but you are no action-hero once you get out of the ship – after your spacesuit force-field breaks, you are as vulnerable as most real humans would be facing the behemoths that hide in the depths of the universe (that is, about 5 HP vs dinosaurs when you are starting).
If you do manage to become enough of a juggernaut to take planets down, the Sentinels, protectors of everything you can see, will be there to stop any player form role-playing as demi-god of oblivion.
Multiplayer gets all players, all over the world sailing the same sea, and No Man’s Sky is big enough for them to never directly cross paths. The Atlas keeps -and it’s kept by- everyone to date, so you have every player as a companion in your mission, yet you might never meet them – with luck you might stumble upon an already conquered Beacon.
This could change over time, as places become better known and people start developing meeting points, trade routes, groups, factions, and overall start molding the No Man’s Sky with the reality hammer.
Since information is a currency (you don’t need to use Beacons in undiscovered places), there are many shops, and farming is legit, some sort of player economy could be established, and being a trader could become a reasonable option.
But that will take long, and if so you desire, offline mode gives you the exact same universe all for yourself.
“Is it as pretty as those pics?”
The game is stunning, and that’s not a compliment to the graphics themselves (which are great on their own), but to the scenery craft. Sean Murray, the wizard behind this universal curtain, talks about his main inspirations residing in works of fiction like those of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.
He based the visual style of the game in that of the illustrations that accompanied fiction books, which, while having little resemblance with the content of the actual text, did spark the imagination of its readers and gave them alluring, memorable scenes (this was so important that his team, at one point, splattered their working room with science-fiction imagery to help them get in the mood when working on the aesthetics).
“They coded an entire universe?”
Certainly not! Math is the fabric of this universe – more precisely, a single seed, a number that, thanks to many complicated formulas, can recreate creation itself by using pseudo-random number generators to produce the coordinates for planets and starts, and parting from these, generate life-form-like shapes, render terrain looks and structure, and keep an ongoing cycle of evolution for every planet.
This system possesses not only incredible power (able to fabricate a complete, alive universe), but since everything you see in the sky and beyond its created on the spot thanks to the self-procedural algorithms, it has little impact on the game memory usage. The only stored information is mathematical seeds, music, some hand-crafted textures and details for the graphics, and the math magic that turns it all into game magic.
Hello Games went for a science-fiction game that lets you explore at your heart’s content. They didn’t force any narrative in it (though it is heavily hinted some important secrets are kept at the very center of this universe); it plays on the same principles that Grand Theft Auto or Minecraft, just in a cosmos-bigger scale.
Not many games promise and actually give this honest freedom. Videogames are known for their contrast in the promise of “freedom” and its actual execution (even in GTA you have invisible walls impeding you to get to that one island over there), and maybe we are before the first one able to stay true to that simple promise – keeping its cool no matter how far you reach.
No Man’s Sky will launch for PC and PS4 somewhere in 2015.