Why You Should Be Curious About the Game No Man's Sky...

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No Man's Sky is Perhaps the Most Anticipated game of 2016.

"Hey Preludes!" I hear you say, "You seem to have got some gaming 'journalism' smeared all over my casual-education blog, here. What's the deal?"

And yes, yes I have. But I would argue that this is a game that should perk up the interest of anyone with a healthy sense of curiosity, as it seems to promise some seriously innovative new approaches to how games are coded and how we, as artistic humans, can go about world building with glorious, terrifying maths.

So What Is It?


No Man's Sky is a procedurally generated  sci-fi exploration game that boats 18 quintillion full scale planets for you to explore. When I say 'full-scale' it's not a quirk of phrasing, I mean that each world is quite literally the size of a planet, allowing you to walk in any one direction for years at a time if you so choose. Each planet is, in turn, teaming with unique landscapes and unique life.
It seems impossible: if you were to spend only one second on each planet and explored every planet available, the sun - our actual sun- would have burnt out before you finished. It is completely possible that the heat death of the universe will arrive before you are able to experience every inch of this game. 
What's more? It was developed by the tiny indie studio Hello Games, that only has 4 founders and a handful of staff, and was previously most well known for their very well reviewed cartoonish stunt game 'Joe Danger'.

So how is it that such a small game studio can create something that is almost infinitely large? The key is how the innovative technology of procedural generation is used.
Procedural generation has been around for years and is a way of creating randomised but controlled content for games that otherwise would need far too high a memory to run. While games like Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim are large sandbox-style worlds, they are restricted in that they are all hand-crafted by gaming artists: every single element is deliberately designed. As a result, once gaming systems were large enough to accommodate them, this allowed for some gorgeous visuals and room to spread your wings. Procedural generation, on the other hand, is the realm of games such as Minecraft. The idea is that as you walk around, the games creates itself in front of your feet, allowing for organic exploration. Artists are most certainly involved in the original design and in keeping the world in check and making sure that things don't get too crazily random, but fundamentally these games rely much more heavily on hanging something pretty off an innovative and clever code as its core mechanic. No Man's Sky and Minecraft are not designed to ever really be finished in their standard mode.

How Do They Do That?

This PBS Game Show video explains it far better than I can, but effectively the answer is a whole lot of clever maths.
No Man's Sky takes the concept of procedural generation up a notch not just in using it to generate planets, but also the trees and creatures and even ships and audio that you find on it. While Minecraft may randomise what monster spawns, they are pre-rendered pieces of art. No Man's Sky instead crafts its creatures like you might in Spore or your Sims: it starts off with a basic skeleton and movement features created by an artist and then it messes around with various 'sliders' and randomised features to create them. Algorithms that are created to imitate scientific principles are then grafted in so that things always make a certain amount of sense. For example, you won't find life on planets that are too close or too far away from the central star, and if you do find animals the bigger ones are far less likely to be afraid of you, in fact they may even be a little mean.

I find that the way the developers are forced to interact with their own potentially unruly universe fascinating in that it so closely mirrors what's going on behind the scenes in our own. Maths is a language of science and science is the fabric of the universe: what are we but a load of sliders restricted by the logic of DNA? What are physics but a set of rules to stop everything from going infinitely haywire?

Will It Be Worth Buying?

On a personal level, it's a tricky one for me. Oh I'll most certainly buy it : even despite the rumored hefty price tag (the current price listed on amazon.co.uk is £54, making it even more expensive than the £49.99 triple-A game Grand Theft Auto 5). After all, one doesn't spout a whole blog post about how excited one is about a game concept without supporting the game itself, and I do think that it's a worthy game to risk your hard earned cash on. The real question is, will I enjoy it as much as I hope?

I've become a convert to sandbox games, but while I love having the option to roam around aimlessly I most appreciate large games where you have plenty of story elements - both core 'plot heavy' missions and the bazillion little side missions that give the world real flavour. I really find myself disliking MMOs where worlds get so vast and saturated in players that the story is little more than repetitive fetch quests and grinding - (though No Man's Sky  is perhaps the world's most introvert-friendly community based game). As for the procedurally generated or randomised worlds that I come across myself -such as Minecraft and Risk of Rain - or those I appreciate through Lets Plays on youtube like Stranded Deep, it can really be a mixed bag. On the one hand I love that there is clever exploration to be had. I love the idea of them and striking out into something infinitely varied. But...without much direction it can be repetitive and, dare I say, without value. In Minecraft, for example, I find myself starting over again new from scratch over and over because I get bored of getting lost or the same basic biomes repeating themselves over and over with slight variations. With Stranded Deep the core concept of being a castaway is dulled by the countless repetitive mini islands you find, the lack of logic in some of the loot you find, and the realisation that you can't really ever be rescued. You physically cannot beat the game. It's not designed to be resolved even in an open ended fashion. So....what's the point?

My hope is that No Man's Sky will operate along the same lines as one of my favourite open-alpha/beta games of last year The Long Dark. The Long Dark itself isn't procedurally generated - all the levels are very much designed - but it fundamentally doesn't hold much hope of resolution: all you do is just try to survive for as long as possible. What it has that Stranded Deep doesn't is instead a huge feeling of atmosphere. The art style is unique and beautiful, the world feels very real and often very threatening at times and peaceful at other times. It's a game that can challenge you and also let you settle into your own feeling of zen. exploration in The Long Dark is desirable from an aesthetic as well as a practical standard when resources run low, but also challenging enough to escape boredom.
Perhaps No Man's Sky will also do best, for me at least, if it can fill a similar niche. Instead of viewing it as a game of set objectives of any sort, it should instead be an experience: a chance to jump back into the good old days of sci-fi before it was quite so dystopian and take a childlike hour or two to just wander around and enjoy the atmosphere and the creativity.

You can certainly say that you get a lot for your money. 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets, to be exact.

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Stay curious!


-PBS Game/Show - how minecraft generates such huge worlds
-PBS game/Show how no man's sky creates a universe
-PBS game/show comment responses to how no man's sky creates a universe
-Intel: No man's Sky Procedural Generation
-Playstation blog; '41 amazing things you might not know about No man's Sky'
-Gamespot: No man's sky Images
-Hello Games
-No Man's Sky 2015 E3 Demonstration
-Metacritic; Joe Danger
-IGN: Joe Danger Review
-IGN: A tour of 5 new planets
-IGN: Procedural audio- otherworldly sounds of no man's sky
-IGN: 18 minute gameplay demo
-IGN: How no man's sky infinate universe actually works
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