Saturday, July 8, 2017

Consuming the Galaxy of No Man's Sky

There's this game.

It's not actually a game, it's something else. It's someone's interactive piece of art. A simplified but massive simulation of the Galaxy. If you're a fan of 70's cerebral sci-fi novels you'd love it. There are
18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets to discover (that's the actual number!) and explore is mind numbing and tantalizing. The game came out and there were some very loud people on the internet who shat on it. I've had a great time mainly because I didn't go into it looking for a game, but an experience. A laid back trip through someone's work of art.

I got picked up and accepted into a community who has claimed an area of space around the center of the galaxy. It took me better part of a year to "warp" the hundred-thousand plus light years to get there. Things have been very active and it's a very positive community. It brought the game to life for me again in a completely new way. We were approached by some member of the video game press and one of the administrators of the group suggested he approach the players. I got asked by this guy to answer some questions. I love to write words whether they're fun to read or not, so I answered him.  Below, for your reading curiosity or boredom, is my copied and pasted reply:

(If there are typos, I'll peek back in and fix them and make the words flow fancy)

I'm very excited to share my thoughts on the game. There's something special about it and with my recent discovery of the NoMan'sSky Love Hub, my energy and excitement for it got rekindled.

When did you first start playing and what drives you to keep playing the game?
I was a player from launch. I was sold on the game by one of Sean Murray's demonstrations. He was at some conference in a private interview showing basic gameplay on a planet's surface. When he launched into space from his starship, barnstormed some freighters, then zoomed out to the galactic map and I saw how HUGE the game was, I was hooked. The gameplay looked chill. At almost 40 years old, I can't complete with the high school and college kids on Call of Duty, and I don't have the time with two young kids to bang my head against new, innovative control schemes. No Man's Sky is laid back, can be played in bursts, and doesn't put you under any pressure at all do accomplish anything. It is very literally a sandbox you can use however you want. 

Has your expectations for the game been met upon launch, or did it take time to get there? 

I was immediately satisfied at launch. I watched as many interviews and gameplay trailers as everyone else, but I didn't notice at all what was supposed to be missing. The environments were spectacular and the ambiance had me memorized. I could regale you with stories of my early outings and the gut-wrenching despair and loneliness. The game immediately played with my . . . what's the word . . . the game got into my head. It effected my emotions, my feelings. . . I was immediately immersed.

The updates have done a little to, I think, take away from some of those feelings of being a lone explorer. The theme of the game changed a bit from "go to the center and explore everything along the way" to "find a nice planet, build a base, and settle down. Keep exploring, but now you have a home."  So I noticed a tone shift and the feelings of being immersed are gone but have been replaced my something just as rewarding (which I'll go into later)
Many people seem to write off the game because of its harsh backlash when it was launched but today it seems to be thriving in it's own way. What is it that you think drives people to keep playing the game?

I don't believe that most people who play games are picking over every gameplay trailer frame by frame, or reading transcripts of interviews checking things off a list. The type of people who do that are also the type of people who get onto the internet and complain. I think the harsh backlash was coming from an extreme minority of players. We all have access to numbers of players playing and . . . oh man that number is disappointingly small. Stacks of the game are for sale used at all my local video game stores.

BUT the people who still are playing this game are playing it because they never felt mislead about what the game was "supposed" to be. Ultimately it's a game for people just like me--older folks who grew up on Star Trek and read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke books.  The game is more cerebral and it takes goofy people like us to enjoy it. The game isn't for everybody. Some people looked at the gameplay and saw Star Wars. Other people looked at the trailers and saw Andy Wier's The Martian.
What are your thoughts on community-driven initiatives such as the Galactic Hub and the Love Hub as well, and how do they change the general impressions of the game for you?

I had played the game very heavily before getting distracted by Overwatch on PS4 and Breath of the Wild on WiiU. I took time off but did peek back in to the r/NoMansSkyTheGame subreddit every now and again, and the game as well. When I first learned about the Galactic Hub, I was disappointed to find that I had already passed it on my way into the Galactic center. I had anticipated that players would congregate somewhere and I thought that would have been around the galaxy's core. I wasn't so much interested in seeing other players or interacting as much as just poking around seeing how the more creative players named things in the systems.  So when I made it to the center (before my long break) I felt very very alone and was afraid to go too far from my base star for fear of not finding it again. I played the other games a while, checked back in every now and again to build up resources and money in case another update drop, and checked out.

Then one day on Reddit, I read that there was a hub at the galactic center: NoMan'sSkyLove.  I immediately took down the coordinates, packed up my base, and used the third-party coordinate app to find NMSL - 1. I was at it for a solid week. In tracking down the star system, I found the Facebook community and immediately learned there are so many players out there who like the game for the same reasons I do. I had felt so alone in the game (it was sort of the point of the game at launch, I feel, to manipulate your senses into being a lone traveler) but I now saw this family there, this community and was overjoyed. The best part has been the feeling of acceptance. I could come onto the Facebook page and ask a stupid question about how to find my system; Reddit conditioned me to expect, "Noob, Use Google, LOLZ" or "Didn't you read the page rules?"  But no!  I've watched one of the admins (Ty Beecham) answer the same question I asked to at least 10 other potential MNSL Dwellers with the same enthusiasm and excitement as if it were the first time he were asked.

I have met people in voice chat ALL OVER THE WORLD. It is amazing. The UK, New Zealand, Australia, and that far off place known as the southern United States, (I'm from the midwest US) And every single one of them is an absolutely solid, great human being. I've only been a part of the Dwellers group for maybe over a month. I feel compelled to give back to the community as much as I can just to support it, and contribute to its life. And now I get to stroll around looking at everyone's creations AND spread our naming convention around as I explore new worlds and seek out new life. The game came alive like it never had been. The loneliness has been replaced by family and connections with other humans.
What do you hope to see for the future of No Man's Sky?

As an artist, I feel we should all be at the mercy of what the designers intend. I know what I want to see, but ultimately, I'm more interested in experiencing the game Sean and his team want to give us. My silly ideas might just destroy some critical game mechanic or change the tone, or have unforeseen consequences.  But here are my two cents anyway:

I want to see the Universe reboot. I want to see all of us players brought back to the outer rim--maybe us old timers get to keep our gathered resources, maybe not. With a universe reboot, I want to clear out all the discoveries and have a more robust engine for naming, tracking, locating, and logging discoveries with an ability to fix spelling mistakes and "un claim" named things if we want to vacate a system.  The main purpose for the universe reboot is that there can be more variety added to the algorithm that generates planets. I'd love solid city-worlds, post apocalyptic worlds, gas giants (and new ways to gather resources), ringed planets. . . I want to see Freighters, starships, and vehicles to work a little more in concert with a little more of a Star Trek flair. I'd like to see occupations play out a little more. I want to design and build starships others can buy. Other people could be miners, traders, bounty hunters, base builders, on and on.

I do not DO NOT want to see any sort of versus experience. I don't even want them to spend the time building an isolated mode for it because the tone of such a thing doesn't match and I don't think the long term players are hankering for it. It opens the world to griefing--another player coming in to my world, my life, my living room to ruin my day. It was never intended to be that sort of game and as bad as the dude-bros who gripe about the disappointments of No Man's Sky, they would come back if it meant they could grief people. Some people thrive on that. But that's NOT why I love No Man's Sky. Now Co-Op? An ability to invite one or two people into my world? Yeah, that'd be neat if done well. Certain (infrequently placed) space stations that act as a gathering place to meet other players (like how the Citadel felt in Mass Effect or how the Tower in Destiny works as a social hub)

After that, he thanked me for my time and closed the letter. I hope you cared enough to enjoy reading!  THANK YOU!