No Man’s Sky: Behind The Curtain

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

As we wait for No Man’s Sky (and due to the recent delay, wait more than we thought), I wanted to explore just what No Man’s Sky is about and what it means for the final game.

It’s obvious I’m a big booster of the game.  I even feel that everyhing NMS promises is likely due to what they’re doing and how it’s approached.  I consdier a delay completely understandable and probably a good thing.

So now I’d like to take a look behind the curtain of No Man’s Sky and make a shocking statement – none of the gameplay is particuarly innovative.

Shocking?  Amazing?  Clickbait?  No, actually the gameplay for NMS has been done before, which is both why it will succeed and why it will probably be good.

The Parts of The Journey

So, let’s look at what No Man’s Sky promises.  A quick examination and you’ll realize that it’s almost all be done before.

A Galaxy To Travel: Seen this since the old Elite days, it was there in Captain Blood, it exist today in Elite: Dangerous, Starbound, and more.  The quality of planets may vary, but no, nothing unusual here.  Speaking of planets, NMS promises . . .

Procedural Worlds: Sure Minecraft brought the idea of a huge procedural 3D world, but since then it’s kind of become standard.  It seems every ten games out there promises a planet-sized world or giant sandbox.  NMS just promises more, though what’s appearing is really all math.  On those worlds you’ll experience . . .

Encountering Life And Recording It And The World: Though we’ve seen that with, say, Pokemon snap and most games that let you name things and places.  Yes, it’s nice, but exploration has been a part of games for awhile.  Though while you find new ways to name creatures, you’ll be engaged in . . .

A Survival Sim:  NMS offers you a chance to mine resources and avoid nasty critters in an environment that’s temporarily modifiable (yes, theres some promise of permanent, but it doesn’t sound like every grenade scar remains).  We’ve seen this before in many game forms, and though the procedural nasties and environments are nice, it’s still something other’s have done.  Of course while survive, you’ll be busy . . .

Crafting Items: I do not have to explain how we’ve seen crafting games before.  So let’s move on to when you get tired and get offplanet via . . .

Spaceflight: Yes, No Man’s Sky lets you take off of planets, fly through virtual solar systems, and so forth.  Again, we’ve seen that since back in the day of Eon or Starglider.  Sure there’s space combat, which we’ve also seen.  Of course to have those ships you need . . .

Supplies And Trade: Space trading games have been around for decades as well.  NMS sounds like it has a relatively simple mine-and-trade, make-and-trade, and get-credits-and-trade game.  Nothing much new, though some of your interactions will involve . . .

Alien Races: NMS is going to have various races and factions.  You’ll interact with individuals and do things that affect reputations with various factions.  In turn, that’ll affect how they treat you.  It’s neat, and the language system is nice (though you may see similar mechanics, such as the ones in Out there), but again, we’ve seen it before.

So, No Man’s Sky, when you look at the parts, has been done before.  In fact, it’s kind of been done to death in separate pieces.

Which is why the game will not only work, but probably be amazing.

The Greater Sum Of Familiar Parts

So the fact that NMS has a lot of standard gameplay elements is a good thing.

First, it means that they can be done.  There’s precedent, research, examples, and more for the creators at Hello Games to draw on to make the game work.  There’s math and there’s code and there’s a sense of history to know what to do and what not to do.

Secondly it means Hello Games is using familiar mechanics which means the game will (probably) be quite playabe.  The game’s familiarity is going to make its wide, procedural universe, accessible to people.

Third, it means the game will proably be well polished because it builds on familiar ideas.

It’s great NMS is made of so many common parts, because all these common parts can be done well and in a playable manner.  That means the combination . . .

. . . the combinaion will probably be amazing.

Take all these familiar mechanics and ideas.  Polish and organize them.  Now link them together coherently in a universe made from procedural algorithms so you experience effective gameplay in an infinite set of worlds.  Now give it that unique 70’s sci-fi cover look.

That’s the magic.  No Man’s Sky is both evolutionary and revolutionary, building on familiar parts, but tying them together in a way that hasn’t been done yet.  It’s not the components, it’s the combination, all these popular elements tied together tightly to give you a galaxy, a universe.

Nothing Special Is Amazing

So, no, NMS rally doesn’t push the boundaries of games so much as it has many mechanics merged together to create the experience of exploring the universe.  That means it can succeed, that means’ it’ll be accessible – and that means that it’s probably going to be pretty amazing.

What’s behind the CUrtain? Not The Wizard of Oz working a con-job, but more a group of actors putting on a show.  We look behind the curtain and see “yeah, these folks are doin a pretty good job.”

Now we can enjoy the show in Agust.

– Steve

Civic Diary 6/18/2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Pretty ugly week, so let’s jump into my civic diary here.

The shooting at Pulse is horrible and heartwrenching.  It’s also an example of why you have to follow not just issues, but how people react to issues- the assumptions, the erroneous reporting, the political grandstanding from previously LGBT-hostile politicians, etc.  Horribly, the blood wasn’t dry before the bullshit started.

At the same time, you have to stand back and see what really happened – a troubled man (I will not call him insane, he clearly was sane enough) that got his hands onto powerful weaponry and committed a massacre.  Seeing everything from family homophobia, to access to guns, to how we seem to seriously miss the potential for violence.

Needless to say, I do support gun regulation, and know what I’m calling my representatives on.  However I also want more studies of gun violence and other violence, and plan to support that.  Violence is a health issue and one we should be studied.

It kind of feels weird to talk about anything after that.  But that’s the point.

I have a political meeting next Sunday, which should be interesting – and I hope it’s not cancelled.  I don’t suspect it will be.  This is where I take a look into getting involved in GOTV efforts, which seems to be a good starter focus for being more civicly engaged.

I’m finishing up that book on political engagement and dialogue, “The Little Book Of Revolution.”  It’s still something I’ll have to reread, but it is giving me ideas – and it does remind me that dialogue is important as a big part of the book is engagement and discussion.  Note the discussion part – most political “discussion” is yelling at people.  The author of this book talks respect and engagement.

So that’s about it for me so far.  May next week allow me to share more pithy advice and so forth, and may we have less to mourn.

– Steve

Steve’s Update 6/14/2016

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Evening everyone, so let’s get to an update!

First of all if you want to hear me talk old ahead-of-their-time DOS games, tune in to this DOS Nostalgic Podcast.

Now let’s get onto the status update!


Seventh Sanctum:

Still not doing any new generators – I think it’s going to be another month or so before I get back to one.  That’s because I’m busy with . . .


Way With Worlds:

Book one is pretty much ready, though I’ve got one more print copy to test.  If all’s well then we’re good to go!  I’ve also got some guest blogging going on during July when we build up to launch!

Book two will come back to me end of month, though not sure when I’ll do the first edit.  I’d like to get to it right away, but . .


Sailor Moon Book:

This gets formatted this weekend – and if all goes well I’ll have a hard copy before the end of the month.

My only concern is the cover.  The cover is actually wraparound, so there’s issues of centering the different sides of the cover, titles, etc.  I’m going to give it my best, but I may nee to reformat the whole thing, which usually means going through 2 copies to get it right.  Fortunately we have 3 months to get that right – but I always find this cover formatting to never be as smooth as hoped.


Other Books:

My skill portability book is about ready to go, and should drop to ebook in the next few weeks depending on my schedule.

I’ll also be working on some Way With Worlds stuff beyond the books as noted.

However, though I have other things I want to try . . . yeah I seem booked into 2017.


So pretty much no new projects except the above for the rest of the year.  Well, as much as I’m able to stick to that . . .

– Steve

Civic Diary 6-10-2016

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Well the California Primaries are over, my Twitter feed and news feed are filled with politics, and I’m of course thoughtful.

So I haven’t always followed up on primaries in the past, but as I’ve become more aware of politics and civic engagement, I see their importance.  It’s not just the presidential Primaries, but its the local voting as well – local politics has an influence on people’s lives, change minds, and build future political careers.  Those local bills and policies change a lot.  You’ll want to pay attention to.

Since that political meeting I wanted to go to was cancelled, I scheduled two more this month, figuring A) I can make at least one, and B) No one is going to cancel both of them.  I pretty much decided I want to find out how to do get out the vote work as a start to real civic engagement.

There are also local political clubs I found and joined one.  I figure it can’t hurt to check one out if I have time.

And speaking of time, I’m feeling the time crunch from work, social obligations, my projects, and more.  It really takes effort to make time for civic engagement, especially NEW civic engagement.  I’m having to rethink my plans and schedules.  That’s good, but man, it’s a bit of a pain.

Which brings in another realization – being civicly engaged is a long-term commitment.  yes, I knew this and understood it, yes some of my civic work has been long term, especially my more local and geek stuff.  Yes, I usually think long term.

But then I realized a good chunk of what influenced me was the 2016 election and the realization people could be better engaged in politics.  But still a apart of me had stopped thinking about anything past November.  I’m realizing that’s (obviously) short-sighted.

So yeah, I want to get more involved politically and see if there’s anything I can do for this election.  But I’m trying to shift my mind to long-term engagement beyond my flirting wit the idea of being on a city board – and I’m kind of drawing a blank right now as to what that is.

I mean I have my civic engagement in the form of social groups and museum work and speaking at cons and the like.  But it doesn’t quite feel like its got a lot of long-term planning in it – or even the long-term planning of doing “yeah, that’s good enough.”

However, I have come to realize about 70-80% of what I do outside of politics is pretty satisfying civicly.  I may need a bit more thought of what I’m doing, a few changes there, but I feel like my whole elder geek/geek job guru/social integrator thing works pretty good.

So that’s it for my Civic Diary.  How are you doing?

– Steve

Steve’s Update 6/9/2016

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Hey all, so where are all those projects . . . well still busy. New job has my busy, but here’s where we are.

Sailor Moon Book

Sent to my co-author, who in turn just edited it and sent it back. I plan to take one more crack at it next week or so then I can actually format it. If all goes well, we’ll be looking over a print beta sometime in early/mid July.

The editing went really well. Frankly, there wasn’t that much left to do considering how many times we’ve been over it. I’m starting to think extended editng periods of sometime and/or swapping among people has real benefits. It makes me wonder if editing is best done by long editing cycles – or many smaller ones.

We’re looking good for September people!

Way With Worlds Book #1

I’m editing the second print copy. Still a bit annoyed I’m finding issues or things I want to change (mostly a bit of formatting and such), but that’s the way it goes. I’m going to give it two read overs to be sure, then try to make the last run count.

The strangest things?  I find more errors at the start of the book, even when I reread it.  It’s like somehow I have to get into an “editing zone” to do my best work.  Go figure.

As much as I enjoyed doing this I kinda confess I’ll be glad to get it finished. I think there’s only so long you can read your own advice, and I’m there.

Way With Worlds Book #2

Comes back from the editor end of Month. I’ll probably make the first editing run in July just because it’ll be fresh, but I might save it to August as I will be busy with Book #1 and the Sailor Moon Book. It sort of depends how well those go.

Skill Portability Book

This fun little experiment is probably out end of June. It’s pretty easy to do and needs only about one more big editing run – basically its my columns on skill portability expanded and improved.  Going to be a neat little experiment.

The Blog

Holding off starting a new series for now as I’ve got so much on my plate. I will continue to blog on No Man’s Sky however, and Civic Diary.

New Generators

I’m afraid with everything else on my plate there will be no new generator in June. Now as for July, let us see . .

And that’s it for me! How are you doing?

– Steve

No Man’s Sky: Why The Delay Is Good

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

So if you’ve been following No Man’s Sky, and haven’t heard that A) the game was delayed, and B) some people had a meltdown over it, you’ve been living under an extremely insulated rock.

So anyway, the game is delayed.  Though I’d like to address some of the bizarre reactions on it (including death threats to the lead and to a reporter), as I’m focusing on the game I’d like to discuss the delay.  Also there’s only so much I can write “stop it you morons.”

So, NMS delayed.  Good.

Why do I say good?  Because that’s a sign of two things:

  1. That Hello Games knows that there’s more work to be done.
  2. That Hello Games will admit there’s work to be done and do it.

First, as noted earlier, the NMS team seems to be doing everything right to actually make the game work.  Right focus, right methods, etc.  The fact that they can outright say “no, we need more time” means they’re aware enough of what they’re doing to take more time.

Secondly, the fact they will admit this in public, for a game whose hype has become a living thing entirely separate from their own efforts, is a good sign for the final product.  Unless the problems were epic, they probably could have gotten away with a flawed game with a day 0 patch or something.  They didn’t – that speaks to an honest about getting a good product.

The delay tells me NMS is probably going to live up to the (actual, not imagined) hype.  The team can say “stop, wait” as opposed to tossing out a game that – let us be blunt – would probably get a lot of love anyway.

I’m reminded a bit of Starbound, another game that I’m looking forward to (and that sadly, I will have to play through before OR after NMS because its pure crack to me).  The team has taken extra time to work on it, but as of the last beta I played – and I played through the game 3 times Early access – it’s evolved amazingly.  Time can make a better product (ask Blizzard).

The delay may be painful for some of us, but it’s just another sign we’re going to get a good product.

– Steve

Civic Diary 6/3/2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Hello everyone, it’s the latest Civic Diary. As noted I figured I’d post this late or not at all considering the weekend, and I figured I’d just do one this week. Not exatly what I’d want to do, but I do acknowledge my limits.

So this weekend I attended Fanime 2016. I do a lot of conventions where I speak – but this time it was just recreational, cosplay, and hanging out with friends in a mini-reunion. This got me thinking.

Lately my usual work at a museum doing accessioning has been on hold due to remodeling. I just had my first event I haven’t spoken at in years. So having a sudden spate of not doing “my community thing” was insightful. I felt like something was missing, a visceral sensation.

That sensation is a guide to Civic Engagement that trully is something from “you.”

There is something we humans crave in engagement, the desire for meaningful activity that ties us together. Having a rare moment where I did not have my museum work, did not have speaking, made me aware of that lack.

It led me to rethink – and appreciate – my various forms of community involvement. What was important? What mattered? Why did I do it? What more can I do. I’m going to be re-evaluting my civic engagements in the weeks to come now that I have this “gut feel” about what’s important.

I think I need to sort of write up my “system” for civic engagement if that makes sense. This is, of course, part of it.

What else is up?

  • That local political meetup?  Got cancelled.  So I need to find out where the next one is.  I’m annoyed, but thats the way it goes.
  • With all the eventful activities I got behind on “The Little Book Of Revolution” – I’ll try to finish that soon. Its kind of a heavy read to be blunt – plus right now I’m not in the mood to learn to Change People’s Minds.
  • I’ve been thinking over my idea of Strong and Weak links in Civic Engagement -and I hate the terms. I’m thinking of them more as Strong and Diffuse links – do we build specific powerful structures or more of a networked system. Voter registration via a political party is a Strong form of Civic Engagement. Charity work to distribute food to the needy is more diffuse. Running an anime convention is Strong, running a general writer meetup is Diffuse.
  • People really, really should appreciate the power of their fannish groups, game clubs, and more. Those connections provide a lot of support and social structure – as my own experiences at Fanime reminded me.
  • I’ve gotten behind on writing my representatives – though I wonder I’ve overfocused – since usually as of late I write them on trans rights. Do I keep mailing on the same thing or try to keep discussing different important items? For instance, this time I wrote them on voting rights.
  • I keep forgetting my state reps. I really need to remember them.
  • I’ve seen a county political party encourage letter writing to the media. Does that work? I admit the media is a pretty giant mess but I wonder if, much like me writing my reps, it at least has a chance to work?

Thats it for now. More next week!

– Steve

Steve’s Update 6/1/2016

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

OK got plenty of updates, so what’s been up?

Sailor Moon Book:

  • The Sailor Moon Book is back from the editor – and I plan to tackle it this weekend (fair warning, this might get interrupted). What’ll happen is I’ll go through the edits, then hand off to Bonnie with notes, then a final polish. The book seems pretty solid as is, so I’m quite positive on it.
  • We also are getting the sample cover for the book together, so I hope to do a print test run very early.

Way With Worlds:

  • The sample print copy of Book One worked pretty well – though there were some edits. I’ve got a second copy on the way now and if that works out . . . it’ll be good. So dropping in July looks quite likely!
  • I did note the draft copies that I get are kinda lower quality than final prints.  That has made cover formatting a tad harder.
  • I’m hoping to do some blog promotions on the book – and to share my insights!
  • Book Two is going to definitely be moved to November. The Sailor Moon book drops in September and the followup could be pretty busy. On top of that my editor is swamped so I’m giving her some breathing room.
  • Yes, the followup plans are still in place. Stay tuned – though you may not see them until December 2016 or January 2017.

Skills Transfer Book:

  • I’ve got a little minibook based on my previous column on skill portability. I’m rewriting and expanding the ideas to release a useful 99 cent guide.

Other Works:

  • I realized I sort of got to the end of my Job Skills For The Future posts and am evaluating my next writing goals. Maybe you have ideas . . .


  • Yep the theme is still food for 2016, though right now I’m juggling at least 3 generator possibilities. Stay tuned.

Whew, that’s a lot.  How are you doing?

– Steve