What Would Make No Man’s Sky a Better Experience?
“No Man’s Sky.” Three little words that have become a byword for disappointment. Just Google it and what stands out is not the slew of complaints and controversy, which this article won’t go into, but the utter silence. Sean Murray is the face of Hello Games, the game’s developers – he was everywhere in the lead up to the game’s release. His enthusiasm was infectious, and had us all believing that No Man’s Sky was going to be incredible. His silence now is like one of the game’s procedurally generated empty voids. But at the time he sounded so sincere – personally, I’m sure he was being sincere. Which is what makes the protracted silence so… eerie. Everyone’s waiting to hear his side of the story. Was he forced into releasing an unfinished game? Are the game elements he talked about, which aren’t in the game, in a private build somewhere, awaiting polish? Did Sony throw him under a bus to save themselves?
Time will tell. I’ll postulate that there was a degree of all those things: they couldn’t delay any longer; they released a game that they thought would work – maybe a couple updates to fix a bug or two – and then they would focus on adding all the things that would make the game more complete. What they didn’t bank on were the amount of fixes that would be needed, and by extension, the anger of players shelling out £40+ on a game still in alpha stage. (Personally, I would have been happy to play this game in alpha – just so long as it was advertised as such!)
I haven’t played No Man’s Sky for about a month, but it’s not because I don’t want to. I’m stuck in the Atlas Stone bug; I had nine of the things when I encountered the final Atlas, instead of ten, and thought I could leave it and come back to it later when I had enough. Turns out I couldn’t. This actually doesn’t have any effect on anything, besides my inventory. I could sell the nine stones and get on with the journey to the centre, but it’s the principal of the thing. I don’t want to skip anything! There’s a great game under the hood, but it’s unfocused, repetitive, and has elements that were clearly built for one purpose, only repurposed last minute to serve a different function. So let’s forget the controversy and just focus on the game, and what it needs!
Following the Atlas path
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Fix the Atlas path bug. If you leave the Atlas path after encountering the final Atlas, the option to ask Nada to resume the Atlas path disappears. It’s ridiculous that the option is there when you’re already on the path, and it disappears when you haven’t completed it yet. The game needs to know that unless 10 stones are delivered to the Atlas, it’s not yet finished.
Back to the original idea
Restore elements of the game that have obviously been removed or repurposed. Take the Observatories on the planets, for instance. You enter them, complete the simple maths task, and you are presented with a signal from the deepest depths of the galaxy. Only to be shown where a ruin lies just a few hundred metres away. This incongruous text is a perfect example of some of the odd things you come across. This was obviously meant to point to the next Atlas, or perhaps a distant blank hole. Reinstall its purpose, or change the text.
Another seemingly edited gameplay mechanic was the idea that you would be able to have a reactive and purposeful relationship with the other alien species that you meet. Meaning, if one likes you, another wouldn’t, and there would be consequences to this. (The lack of consequence in general could be something addressed in its own article.) At the moment, it barely matters how you stand with one of the three species. They don’t interact with each other (each stuck in its own star system) and they barely even acknowledge your existence. Introduce jobs tailored to the species’ mentalities – something to give them more personality, and something to give you a thing to do.
The User Interface and HUD
Add the option to tweak the UI and other HUD elements. Sometimes you land on an amazing planet that calls to your inner cinematographer – but you can’t record it without some intrusive text or voice telling you your life support system is perilously close to extinction.
Shortcuts. For the love of Atlas, add customisable shortcuts. In the middle of a dog-fight, I don’t need to be scrolling through a menu to recharge my ship’s shields. Or when happily strolling through the toxic atmosphere of a scorching planet. I don’t want my face to melt and pop, a la Arnold Schwarzenegger, just because I couldn’t scroll through a menu quick enough.
A million minorities
It’s pretty crazy to say more variation is needed. Everything in the game is procedural, from the ships and planets, to the flora and fauna. You’re mind is immediately opened by amazement – “You mean even the designers don’t know what will be generated? Wow – that could create some amazing spaces, man. Not to mention the animals.” And yet: think of it like a few six-sided dice thrown down onto a table. You might get 3, 5, and 1. Pretty random right, what are the chances of that? Until you’ve thrown the dice a few hundred times. Every procedural element needs more sides to its die – I say unleash the math a little more! (And while you’re there, have animals that interact with the environment more, like tree-dwellers!)
Where was I, again?
Setting waypoints and recording your journey. The journey is all important, right? You travel light years upon light years through a vast galaxy, inevitably finding planets you love and hate. The pointlessness of planets will be this article’s point 8, but before then, good luck if you ever want to retrace your steps, Atlas-forbid return to the planet you named after your favourite actor. The galaxy screen is a mess, pure luck if you can get back to a past system. The journey needs waypoints and more of a customisable, recorded history.
What’s the point?
Planets are simply resource mines, no matter what they look like. Spend enough time on one, and you soon start yearning to head off to that other one floating up there like a long-lost lover. Get what you want, and move on. Exploring is fun, to a point. They are what they are, and I perhaps wouldn’t have included this point if not for the announcement of base building coming in forthcoming updates. This would be cool, but in a game where the purpose is to keep moving, weird and incongruous. I can only assume that Sean Murray has a grand plan for base building, and for the perhaps promised massive freighters that we’ll be able to build. This hints of nesting. But with nesting will come other needed factors.
If we are to build bases, we’ll need to be able to return to them, easily. So add waypoints that work. In fact, I would go a step further and say that having a base, ten star systems over, is useless unless you could teleport there. We’ll also need a reason to build a base in the first place. Empire building is fun, when it’s fun. When it’s a challenge. The star system inhabitants need to be active, interactive, and varied. And to be honest, human. What’s the point of building an empire unless you can share it?
Sharing your world
It’s a lonely world out there. Some may not agree with this point, but a physical element of multiplayer is needed for any future commercial success, possibly critical success. The game is single player yes, and the fundamentals of the game would change if you were not able to pause it because other players inhabit your space, but it needs to be fun. The game can be fun, but genuine, multiplayer interaction would make the game more fun. It’s all about increasing the odds. It doesn’t have to be a multiplayer based on aggression and fighting. Like “Minecraft” it could be about building and doing customisable missions together. Or even none of that, and just sharing the same space and experiences. At the very least, with something like base building imminent, the ability to be able to share your planet and your constructions through the use of portals would be incredible. The planets, as they currently exist, are full of empty life. I see a rock formation and I appreciate the beauty of the math involved, and the fact that it may be the only formation like that in the entire game… but… plonk a man-made construction at the top of the hill and suddenly you’re intrigued. Make me want to rocket boost up there, just to take a look.
The attitude to have with No Man’s Sky is one of patience. Treat it as an alpha. If you haven’t bought it yet, wait until the bugs have been fixed and a few more game elements added. If you have it already, you’ve either stopped playing and are waiting for those bugs to be fixed and game elements added, or you’re still enjoying just looking at the flora and fauna, pressing that ‘Share’ button.