Wednesday, August 10, 2016

No Man's Sky

Yesterday, after three years of development, hype and disappointment chasing every footstep along the way, the video game No Man's Sky was released.
Looming Planet by Morgan Crooks (2016 - taken from No Man's Sky)
I first encountered this game while researching a short story based - in small part - on procedural generation. I was flabbergasted when I saw the trailer, imagining the possibilities of a universe entirely created by the application of complex algorithms - every planet, every mountain and valley, every plant and animal. If the trailer released at that point hadn't been so convincing and frankly awe-inspiring, I'm not sure I would have credited its existence.

Now over a year later, I have it in my hands.

Is this a good game? That's a tough question. If your idea of a game is something like Call of Duty, Madden Football or Dark Souls, than this isn't going to be a game for you. There are threats and a story that sort of pushes the player forward from episode to another, but nothing that really raises your blood pressure. This isn't a game in the sense of it being a challenging pulse-pounding amusement. At best the game can be vexing or mildly annoying, but I've never felt that grip of excitement signaled by martial music or a dramatic cut-scene.

It falls basically within the "sandbox" school of video games, Minecraft being an obvious point of comparison. There are moments in a variety of games such as the Elder Scrolls, Witcher, or Fallout that reach for the grandeur of pure exploration, of striking off for the horizon to see what's there. But ultimately, even in if a secluded glade in Skyrim is unknown to you, or you find a clever in-joke in a supply closet in Fallout 4, someone has put that view in your hands, crafting it directly for your amusement. There's no genuine discovery there.

Jump Drive by Morgan Crooks (2016 - taken from No Man's Sky)
No Man's Sky is different. Because its entire existence is the product of a computer program, there are worlds that no one has ever seen. The basic code might be known to the developers, but at 18 quintillion planets, there's no way the small team of a dozen or so programmers could have gone planet by planet to see what's there. When you play No Man's Sky, you are discovering something new.

Is this an exciting prospect? For me, yes. Beyond the outlines of a grand galaxy-wide quest and the occasional troublesome security bot, this game expresses a philosophy and a healthy sense of wonder.

For me, I spent 10 hours yesterday hopping from one planet to the next, naming scenic locations, plants, and animals never finding myself anything less than enthralled. At times I just strolled across the surface of some alien moon, taking snapshots when some particularly lovely scene came into view. Everyonce in a while a vague sadness would seep in as I watched a distant world dip below the horizon. Considering the vastness of this universe, I would probably never see that world again.

There is a distinct mathematical possibility that no one will ever see that world again.

Want to see more? I've put my favorite shots in a imgur gallery for your amusement.





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