Sunday, June 29, 2014

Some games are the games you want them to be.

No Man's Sky is the indie darling, right now, and the game is still a long ways off.  Oh sure, we're all hyped for Hyper Light Drifter and Hotline Miami 2, but twice in the past six months, No Man's Sky appeared at a video game event, and twice No Man's Sky kinda' became the game no one can shut up about.

It's probably had more coverage, more articles, more hype since E3 than the latest Assassin's Creed - and that's pretty huge - but Ramzeltron raises a good point.

Which is wise.

When the game was announced at VGX, we all kinda' peed ourselves at the concept, but at the same time it was like, really?  Really, this was put together by four guys at the studio that made Joe Danger?  An infinite universe in which everything is procedurally generated?

That's insane.

It's been explained a bit, now - yes, every plant, animal, rock formation, forest, river and planet is procedurally generated - but it's not quite as infinitely-organic as it seems.  The system creates planets by randomizing sliders on everything from vegetation density to the length of a herbivore's neck.  The devs themselves create those templates - they create a basic antelope-like animal, with the basic features - and then have sliders for all of that creature's aspects - the size and shape (and existence) of their horns, the color or pattern of their hide, and so on and so on.  If the game rolls the dice and the planet it's generating has antelope-like animals on it, it runs its randomization on all the sliders Hello Games have permitted an antelope-like creature to have, and what comes out the other side is... procedurally generated.

Once explained, it seems totally doable - totally reasonable - but it's the questions I have that make No Man's Sky so exciting.

Is this a space station?  I hope it's a space station.  I hope I can land on it and trade goods I've obtained from space piracy.

No Man's Sky's public face is that of Sean Murray, an adorable, bearded, accented fellow who beams with love at what his team are putting together, and he describes far more than an ambient experience that sees the player passively wandering around an infinite number of procedurally-generated planets going "nice trees!"  He describes a universe alive with interstellar commerce, militaries, societies and intelligent alien species interacting with each other - and I'm dying to know how the player interacts with them.

You can't procedurally-generate dialogue, can you?  If I can land on a space station and trade for goods, is it procedurally generated?  Has Hello Games put together a dozen alien species that are responsible for broad swaths of the galaxy we'll be exploring, and we'll communicate via text options at spaceports, or is it even more ambitious?  Is it less?  Will hostile species call me on my space-radio and warn me to stay back from their borders, lest they train their Omega-7 disintegrators on my ship's vulerable hull?

'Cause that'd be awesome.

All those unanswered questions are part of why No Man's Sky has prominently featured in the post-E3 conversation - because the game Sean Murray grins and gushes over has sparked our collective imaginations with everything he hasn't told us, everything we haven't been shown.  We fill in those gaps, automatically, with our hopes for the game - and Ramzeltron's not wrong to suggest those hopes are describing a game that cannot exist.  I mean, that'd be crazy.

But sometimes, man.  Sometimes the game you see in your head - the game you want - is the game you get.

Games do come along that redefine what you believe video games can be capable of.  Fallout: New Vegas actually happened, man.  That's real.  Far Cry 3 and Batman: Arkham City and Dark Souls - those are games that are so damned good we could not have reasonably hoped for them to exist - but here we are.

We live in a world where sometimes - not always.  Not even once a year - someone makes the game you've been dreaming of.  Once in a blue moon, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas happens.  Once in a lifetime, Dragon's Crown happens.

And hyped as I was for Dragon's Crown, I didn't expect it to be Dragon's Crown.  I expected Vanillaware to give me another Odin Sphere or Muramasa - a game I'd find myself absorbed in for forty or fifty hours, but no more.  I didn't expect to still be playing it, 220 hours later, because I told myself I really should put more time in to Battle Princess of Arcadias today and convinced myself to instead get re-familiarized with all the things it's not, and ended up getting ten levels on my Sorceress and speccing her into the Curse spell so now I can turn those goddamned red cap goblins into frogs.

No Man's Sky could be one of those games.  I can't guarantee anything, of course - it could also be another Watch Dogs or Thief - you never know.  But I kinda' doubt it.

But I keep on thinkin' about somethin' Sean Murray said in his PlayStation Blog video.  About how, when he was a kid, this was the game he imagined playing.  For years, he went on hoping someone would make the game he saw in his head - the one he wanted to play - until he realized that he'd just have to step up and make it.  It's that kind of personal vision and creative ownership that gave us games like Dead Space and Mark of the Ninja - that gives rise to the special ones.

Sometimes the game on the disc is the one you saw in your head, when you saw its first trailer.  No Man's Sky could be one of those games that changes the world - that redefines what we believe a video game can be capable of - and, if nothing less, trying to do what's never been done before is an excellent place to start.



  1. I want to believe, but in a world where peter molyneux and David cage exist, I gotta steel myself a bit. Enthusiasm and good ideas are infectious. But that alone does not functional code, make.

    Also I don't know if you've stumbled across planets3 (planets cubed) but that's like a sci fi mine craft with art direction and depth of field. It's been pinging on my radar for quite a bit.

    Check it out:

    1. Hm, that does look awesome. Speaking of sci-fi interplanetary-roaming-do-whatever-you-want-to-do, have you seen Star Citizen? It's No Man's Sky without the infinite-procedurally-generated universe and with triple-A production values. PC-only, I think.

  2. Yes! god, it's about time an indie game (with tens of millions of dollars) gave a damn about character models.

  3. No Man's Sky is the game that I've always wanted to play. I've thought about games like this for years -- this represents what was in my head almost exactly.
    Despite all this, I'm still skeptical. I WANT this to be the game of my dreams, but I also don't want to be disappointed. The game industry is full of empty promises. I don't doubt that this will be a good game, but I question whether it'll be a truly great game. Only time will tell and I can't wait.

    1. For me, GTA: San Andreas (and GTA V) are those kinds of games. Games I saw in my head when I was a kid, and someone finally made. They weren't the exact experience I'd designed for myself, but tooling around back-country forest roads in an open-world game, stopping in at little towns out on a desert highway, feeling that sense of freedom - they fed the appetite I had.

  4. Also:
    Sweet, I'm featured in a post!