Unbearable Buzzkill or: How I Learned to Begin Worrying and Question the Hype
Recently on BitCultures you may have seen an article concerning Hello Games’ space exploration game No Man’s Sky. Give it a look if you haven’t already, it’s both a great read and a fantastic explanation of why this particular game is so exciting for so many.
Now get ready for a bitter article which isn’t anywhere near as fun to read.
It’s a difficult thing to be pessimistic about No Man’s Sky, especially considering that the creator Sean Murray is, from what I’ve seen of him, the happiest and most instantly likeable man on Earth. It’s easy to be drawn in by his unwavering enthusiasm. I may have misgivings about his game, but I’d follow Sean Murray to the end of the world.
I do not think that No Man’s Sky is bound to be a bad game. I don’t know that it will be a particularly good one either, and I have that in common with everyone else. Honestly, in an industry rammed with all-consuming monolithic corporations, I’m as happy as anyone to see a small British indie getting this much exposure.
Still, the fact remains that what we currently know about No Man’s Sky is nowhere near enough to justify the shambling colossus of hype that precedes it. Let’s take a look at the actual content of the game. Its features so far can, to an alarming degree of accuracy, be summarised as follows:
“Big! Big! BIG! Look at just how stonkingly gargantuan this all is! Go to that planet! Yeah whatever, collect those resources, blah blah blah… Give the planet a name! Although obviously it won’t make a jot of difference because no-one else will see it because WOULD YOU LOOK AT HOW GINORMOUS THIS ALL IS?!”
When actual features are discussed, it often seems to be in the form of vague suggestions. Take the ‘ultimate goal’, for instance, of finding the centre of the universe. We’ve been told that this is the main aim, we’ve even been told that “it will be compelling” in a move similar to saying how funny a joke is before telling it, but we have no idea about what’s so remarkable about the middle. There’s no need to spoil anything, but some context would be nice. Is there a narrative reason, or are there bountiful resources, or is it something entirely different? It’s fine to keep a few cards up your sleeve, but when you’re putting out a sixty dollar pre-order it’s not unreasonable to expect a few questions about specifics.
What else do we know? Well, there’s been a video released by GameSpot which by usual standards for games coverage would be little more than a brief overview but, relative to what we usually hear about No Man’s Sky, actually comes across as an incisive, detailed look at the minutia of the gameplay.
From it, we learn that there will be alien NPCs with whom you can trade. You can learn their language, thereby aiding understanding and allowing the ability to barter for better items. According to the video, language can be learnt via sparse monoliths found on planets, or by trading. Admittedly, trading to acquire language is a novel idea. Presumably it will be slightly more nuanced than “Yeah, I reckon I can get you a couple of verbs and a preposition for that steak slice.”
There’s also the usual gameplay surrounding resources. Shoot at trees to get carbon, shoot at ores to get a particular element, shoot at other ships to get more carbon. These resources can be used to upgrade your ship, weapon and suit and forms the entirety of your character’s progression, as it’s confirmed that there will be no levelling or skill trees or anything of that ilk. It seems very cool, and perfectly complements the idea of boundless exploration. A collection of elements (including new elements as part of a new periodic table, which is pretty awesome) that are required for certain upgrades adds some sense of purpose to travelling around, but is it enough?
For the players who don’t really care about any of this, those of you who really just want to fly around in space with your friends, well it looks like you’re bang out of luck too. The percentage likelihood of running into another player is, according to Hello Games, around one. In absolute fairness to Sean Murray he’s repeatedly said that multiplayer is not a focus, still it’s weird to have a situation in which multiplayer isn’t impossible, just very very unlikely. The idea of having an incredibly slim chance of meeting another player seems like a challenge to find the multiplayer aspect, when I’m sure it isn’t. I’m sure it’s actually just another reason to talk about the bloody size again.
Just to repeat what’s already been said, this is not a diss on No Man’s Sky. I couldn’t diss anything even if I wanted to. This is more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive hype, particularly when combined with the minefield of pre-orders.
It’s also a cautionary tale about articles like this one published over on Escapist Magazine entitled “Five Amazing Facts About No Man’s Sky”, which basically finds inventive ways to say “It’s big!” five times over pretty screenshots.
The game itself might come out, be astounding, and then everyone can point and laugh at all the stupid nay-sayers. As a card-carrying member of the Sean Murray fan club, none would be more thrilled than I to see that happen. Until such time, though, let’s calm it down a touch.
We all remember Spore, let’s not have that happen all over again.