You’ve written it, we’ve read it. In our first round-up we consumed entirely too much #content on No Man’s Sky to find you the best of the best. Behold!
No Man’s Sky and the Joy of Being Stranded
Alex Newhouse experiences an epiphany after he is stranded on a planet with no way to fuel to his ship.
“There’s a certain feeling you get when you hike in the wilderness and stumble across wildlife. You come across a giant being in the process of living its own life, and you feel like an intruder upon an entirely different world. But it’s not a negative feeling, necessarily. I’ve always had a strange sense of calm upon seeing animals in their habitats, detached from civilization and purely natural. I felt this while I watched this great bipedal alien in No Man’s Sky. Far from my ship, far from any colonial outpost, I was fully within this thing’s domain–and perhaps no other player will ever see it again.”
In light of those realities, it’s easy to settle on a sequence that makes the near-miraculous routine. Jump to a solar system; scan it for objects of interest; plant your flag on a planet or moon; visit a few save points located at interchangeable, generically labeled installations (“trading post,” “transmission tower,” “abandoned building”); visit a cookie-cutter space station to offload your loot. This is fun the first few times. Paradoxically, though, the more ground you cover, the smaller the game’s scope starts to seem. The “journey milestones” that sporadically flash on the screen, celebrating some number of steps walked, solar systems seen, or words in alien languages learned, feel less like achievements than testaments to the player’s endurance.
The obvious effect of these decision is that they make the worlds desirable to explore. Yet there’s also a deeper logic behind those decisions. By heavily evoking the mythical when creating its worlds, No Man’s Sky instills them with an ahistoricity, like they’re frozen in time. This has two consequences. First, it justifies the player’s claim of ownership over these planets. Without any other parties to dispute your claim, there’s no moral quandary to what you’re doing, giving you a green light to do as you please. The second effect, though, is more subtle. For as impressive as these lands may be, they’re also threatening, in a way, since they lie outside our previous understanding of the world. Mapping them out and laying claim to them, then, helps to bring them into our understanding by exerting our own power over them.
It might seem crass to use gameplay tricks to encourage what should be an innate desire to experience the wonder of No Man’s Sky‘s algorithms. But the game already does something like this in its own clunky way by asking players to identify every new plant and animal they see through their binoculars (and rewarding them with in-game currency and naming rights for their troubles).
It is an unusual and contradictory game, one that asks very little of its players while simultaneously demanding a great deal. It’s a frustrating failure in many ways, technically unpolished and seemingly unfinished. It’s full of perplexing design decisions and half-realized ideas. It gets a few big things right and a hundred little things wrong. It draws you in with a promise of endless splendor, then swiftly reveals itself to be something much more ordinary.
No Man’s Sky reaches for the sun and comes back with a light bulb. I’m pretty much fine with the light bulb.
Firing on No Man’s Sky with staccato paragraphs that hit like buckshot, Marius Masalar challenges its conceit as an “exploration game.”
You can’t make wonder and awe without fear and risk.
“T.S. Eliot famously said in “Little Gidding” that the “end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time,” and that’s kind of what No Man’s Sky means to me. Even now, in thousands of cities, it’s impossible to see the Milky Way at night owing to the bunched clusters of human settlement. “Wildness” in North America is usually merely relative, only 524 years after European settlers started arriving here en masse. Part of No Man’s Sky‘s magic is the freedom to see worlds largely as they were before we cut up the prairies with subdivision plots and leveled mountains for ore. It’s seeing where we started.”
Gareth Damien Martin argues No Man’s Sky is a game about landscapes and how you frame them.
This use of color gives No Man’s Sky an incredibly distinct character, and it seems hard to imagine a screenshot of its bright and bold worlds being mistaken for anything else. Red grass is offset by teal ferns, a pale green borealis glowing above, while on other worlds amber deserts are brought to life by patches of lavender scrub from which yellowing cacti grow.
This round-up’s Choice Read goes to Dan Starkey, evoking Sagan, dev Sean Murray, and…Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a wonderful read with a bizarre quiet to it: Reading this one reminds me, vaguely, of Elysia, in Metroid Prime 3. Hmmm…
But then that gnawing realization comes back: No one will ever see my worlds. No one, besides myself, will know what I saw and who I was in this facsimile. It reminds me, consistently, of my own arrogance, my presumed meaning.No Man’s Sky says that we are all conceited for thinking that our lives have purpose. No Man’s Sky is predicated on the idea that there is poetry in the knowledge that we are as lonely and as small in its computer-generated space as we are here in reality.
We know the best games writing takes months to surface. That’s why this isn’t our only round-up on No Man’s Sky. We’ll be dropping another one in the future.