Why ‘No Man’s Sky’ Can And Should Only Be So Deep

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky – which is apparent if you see my Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or just talk to me. The procedural space adventure fascinates me as it pushes all my buttons – and of course I’m big on procedural generation, so of course I’m following it.

Acknowledging this, this is fair warning you’re gonna see some No Man’s Sky posts. It’s relevant to my interests, to what I do here, so I hope they’e informative and interesting.

As I’ve scanned internet posts and Steam communities, one useful insight I’ve seen is that the game may face an issue of being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” A game, in short, of great breadth but not a lot of depth. I think this concern is worth addressing, as it reveals some truths about games, procedural games, and their development.

The concern is one I feel is legitimate for some in the audience. NMS’ videos make it clear that the game presents an enormous Sandbox galaxy, with straightforward systems of crafting, exploring, fighting, trading, and reputation-building. This may be enough for many (such as myself), and certainly enough for a broad, wide adventure – but it may not be enough for everyone attracted to the premise.

The “mile wide” may stand for people, but for some people the game may not have the depth they want – or the kind of depth they want. You won’t be building structures, negotiating trade agreements, or going on elaborate story quests – hallmarks of other games and science fiction. For some NMS will have everything they want – for others it’ll be a beautiful galaxy that might not have what they want, or enough of it.

I analyze what I see from NMS’s designers and ads, because watching this dream game evolve has taught me a lot about games and procedural generation. The concern about NMS not having the depth some one made me ask, simply, what if the game tried to add more?

It’s not hard to imagine adding some more classic science fiction elements from the novels that inspired it. Take the simple alien language engine and add some negotiation and trade deals. Allow some encounters to spawn some quests – like smuggling something thorough a blockade. Maybe even a bit of building or improving buildings. Just a bit more maybe . . .

. . . and this is where it gets complicated.

First, even if there is a desire to add “more” we’re talking a game with a setting the size of a galaxy, filled with procedural content so large the devs had to make in-game probes to study the worlds. Any addition of new features could produce development nightmares, adding them onto an already careully developed and tweaked engine.

Second, the developers would have to choose what new features to add to their already polished set. What would sell? What do people want? S much work is procedural, so much unknown, can the devs predict what people will want? Will they be able to balance demands? They can’t be sure how people will react to the game – potential pirates may become explorers, traders decide to cut out the middlemen and become pirates, and explorers may drop their archiving duties to just swap rare minerals for cash. Throwing in more features requires careful consideration of how the audience will reacts.

Third, if the new items could be added, then comes the question of testing. Adding new features onto procedural content produce a new nightmare of testing it and making sure nothing else broke and all the pieces work together. That “mile wide” part means a lot more testing work when you try to make that “inch” a bit deeper.

Fourth and finally the extreme “width” of the game means that, with too much “depth” the game might become a muddle of choices and options. NMS may give you the stars, but its focus on being a kind of space exploration/survival game provides useful boundaries for play. Throw in a few more features and a game that already provides little direction could end up a muddle.

Those concerned about depth have a legitimate concern – for some of the audience (again, I think most people buying NMS who are informed will know what they’re getting). But I think the creators have a sweet spot of features for this grand enterprise, and changing beyond that is fraught with dangr.

Is it the right choice? Well, we find out in June 2016 . . .

– Steve



“Will It Be Good” Is The Wrong Question To Ask About “No Man’s Sky”

I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky, a video game of space exploration.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a game a few years in development that promises exploration of a giantic, procedurally-generated galaxy. It sounds like it’s going to hit a lot of my sweet spots with exploration, mystery, procedural generation, and visuals off of a prog rock album cover.  If you’re not up to speed on it, this reddit archive is helpful.

As the game promises a lot, comes from a small team, and has had it’s share of delays, there’s obvious skepticism out there in the world of gaming – at least to judge by the threads, discussions, and so forth that I see.. The question comes again and again – will No Man’s Sky be any good?

That’s actually the wrong question.

Clearly, the game has a lot put into it. Interviews with the developers and demonstrations show a serious dedication to the project. There are videos discussing the procedural generation that seem to show that, yes, this giant universe can be made. The idea of wedding modern graphics and procedural generation together to make huge, infinite worlds doesn’t sounds particularly outrageous.  Getting it to work sounds at least probable, and we’ve seen demos constantly that suggest it’s going to work.

From what I’ve seen of the game, I expect No Man’s Sky’s going to deliver pretty much what’s promised – a change to run around an enormous setting, find stuff, build equipment, and explore cool things.

The real question is not “will it be good” – it’s “is it going to be what people want?”  Any team this public, any team making these promises, would be foolish to screw this up.  The question people should ask is really is this a game you’re going to enjoy.

From what I can tell No Man’s Sky involves:

  1. Traveling in space.
  2. In space you may encounter places to trade and enemies to fight, if you want.
  3. If you choose to fight, you affect how factions regard you, and may be able to call for help in fights..
  4. You travel to procedurally generated solar systems.
  5. You land on planets which are procedurally generated.
  6. On the planets you find resources, catalog things, upload data, and maybe find odd and interesting stuff.
  7. There are probably some other secrets and things you can do to have impacts.
  8. Build new equipment with resources, and go back to #1.
  9. This takes place in a sort-of-shared setting that happens to be enormous.

To me this sounds great. It sounds like a game I’ll put a lot of hours into, and then play more casually, now and then finding a new planet to wonder at before moving on.  This is something I easily see me playing for 3-9 months in total because it pushes all my buttons.  This and Starbound will probably occupy my gaming space for 2016 and parts of 2017.

But it’s also cleary not a game for everyone. You don’t build homes or colonies worlds, you don’t lead fleets or create super-customized ships. There’s the simplest factional system. It’s a game about a journey, and it has both classic space game elements while lacking others.

I think there’s reason to have confidence in the developers, but when the game hits I expect we’ll see people both enthralled and disappointed with No Man’s Sky.  The game is going to not be for everyone, and that seems to be due to a deliberate choice about development. However with all the hype, I think there are people who are interested in the game due to hype, not if they’d actually enjoy it or only because they’ve projected expectations onto it.

Once it launches in June 2016, I want to watch the public and reviewer reactions.  Me, I’ll be exploring space.

  • Steve

And My Gaming Confessional Is Here

Yes, over at Fan To Pro I admit I have no idea WTF is going on with gaming careers, and I’m not doing so hot on gaming itself.  CES and a few other things blew my mind.

Honestly, it’s insane out there.  In fact I think the probably big company/small company split is going to make it harder for people to break into gaming – at least more confusing.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.