Sadler's Selections - A Look Back on "No Man's Sky"
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
"You're a space explorer, so you get to take your own starship and explore the universe at your leisure, discovering new things and uncovering new mysteries along the way." (Screenshot taken by Andy Sadler on Playstation 4)
If you were digging into the gaming scene during the mid 2010's you may have heard the title No Man's Sky before. Depending on when you heard about it, you might've heard one of two things: either that it was one of the worst games ever created, or that it is one of gaming's greatest comeback stories. Why is this the case? Let's dig a bit deeper.
During the 2013, VGX Awards the gaming world was introduced to No Man's Sky. Being developed by Hello Games, No Man's Sky was an ambitious project with an unprecedented scale - a procedurally generated universe that would take 582 billion real world years to fully explore, with seemingly limitless possibilities. The general premise was simple: you're a space explorer, so you get to take your own starship and explore the universe at your leisure, discovering new things and uncovering new mysteries along the way. A game of this scale had never really been done before, and thus caught the attention of the entire gaming press.
Sean Murray, the lead director of No Man's Sky and founder of Hello Games, was seen in every interview regarding the game. The people had questions: Would you be able to build your own space stations? Would you be able to land your spaceships on asteroids? Would you be able to meet up with your friends in such a large universe? And to all of those questions, Sean would give either a simple yes or no. The expectations of the game were beginning to build, and No Man's Sky was beginning to be treated like a AAA release, despite being developed by a team of only 6 people, later expanding to 15 people.
Sean Murray celebrating with the Hello Games team. (Photo credit: Twitter.com)
However, when expectations are raised so high, things can go terribly, terribly wrong.
Before the game officially launched in August of 2016, the game was leaked onto an auctioning site and was being sold to the highest bidder. A Reddit user by the name of "daymeeuhn" won the auction for a whopping $1,250, and began recording and uploading his experiences to YouTube and Vimeo. The game was revealed to be very shallow in actuality, and the audience was becoming more aware of the experience was actually going to be like.
You can read about daymeeuhn's experiences, as well as watch his original videos, right here: https://www.reddit.com/r/NoMansSkyTheGame/comments/4v860w/my_journey_has_begun/
When the game finally launched in August of 2016, the skepticism raised from the leaked copy was confirmed. The game was merely but a shell of what was promised by Sean and his team. While the scale was certainly still there, it didn't mean that there was actually much to do or find in this gargantuan space sandbox. If anything, the entire game in this state boiled down to a simple loop: gather resources, manage your inventory, get an upgrade, and fly to another planet to repeat the process. This simple loop in such a large universe... for $60. People felt like they had been ripped off and cheated, to the point where Sean and his team received numerous death threats, and Sean's Twitter account was even hacked.
At this point, Hello Games was beaten down. People had found their studio and taken photos, revealing the offices to be empty. "Had they taken our money and ran?" The audience thought. No words were coming from Hello Games at this point, and that only stoked the flames further. There was only radio silence.
One of the many photos taken of Hello Games' office building. (Photo credit: SegmentNext.com)
Despite being beaten down by the weight of expectations and the seemingly endless mob of angry consumers, Sean and his team were not ready to give up on their vision. Over the years, they began to work on updates that would slowly but surely add features that were initially promised by Sean in the interviews he appeared in. On November 27th, 2016, Hello Games announced the Frontiers Update for No Man's Sky, which introduced base building as its main selling point. You could now create your own base of operations on the planet of your choosing, as well as discovering new tools and technologies for your Multi-Tool and getting further immersed in the world via the usage of new visual effects. Another big feature that was added was the ability for players to purchase their own freighters, which were giant starships that housed normal starships and served as a mobile base of operations (think of Star Destroyers from Star Wars).
One of the many freighters players can purchase in the game. (Photo credit: No Man's Sky Wiki)
However, the damage was done - no one really cared about No Man's Sky anymore other than to talk poorly about it. Hello Games was downtrodden to the point where even when No Man's Sky won GDC's Best Innovation Award in 2017, but the team didn't even bother to show up. They were so confident that they weren't going to win anything, that they didn't appear to accept the award that they had won.
Shortly before the GDC Awards, however, Hello Games had another update to bring out, the Pathfinder update. This introduced Exocrafts, miniature vehicles that the player could operate that served different purposes, though most of them were used for exploration. It also overhauled the graphics of the game, allowed the player to own multiple starships instead of just one, added new traders and merchants throughout the universe, and expanded upon the base building introduced in the Frontiers Update via more customization options.
On August 11th, 2017, around one year and two days since the initial launch of No Man's Sky, Hello Games brought the Atlas Rises updates, which introduced a central storyline for players to follow, procedurally generated quests outside of the main story, the ability for different star systems to have their own economies, and an overall improvement to planetary variety, among other changes and quality of life improvements. The game was beginning to take more shape, and some people were beginning to notice that the game was becoming better than what was initially given to them.
But the train didn't stop there. On July 17th, 2018, No Man's Sky released an update with one of the most requested features yet: multiplayer. The No Man's Sky NEXT update introduced online multiplayer. With this came all sorts of new features such as community-built bases and player-driven space battles, as well as more improvements to the base building system, such as being able to build closer to the atmosphere and even underwater. This update was a game changer: now players could squad up with their friends and explore Hello Games' universe together, and carve their own galactic stories.
A compilation of the many major updates that No Man's Sky received over the years. (Photo credit: No Man's Sky official website)
Over time, more and more updates were released for No Man's Sky. Here's a brief list of some of the notable ones and what they added to the game:
- Abyss (October 29th, 2018): Overhauled underwater aspects of gameplay, adding more eerie features and a new storyline about a stranded freighter crew.
- Visions (November 21st, 2018): Added more planetary biomes and more planetary variety, and introduced new features such as salvaging crashed freighters and archaeology.
- Beyond (August 14th, 2019): As a celebration of No Man's Sky's 3rd anniversary, the multiplayer experience was greatly expanded upon, and things such as NPC's, base building, and technology trees were overhauled.
- Crossplay (June 10th, 2020): The multiplayer experience of No Man's Sky was now able to be played across every console that it was released on. Playstation players could now play together with Xbox and PC players, and vice-versa.
- Origins (September 23rd, 2020): The procedural generation of the universe was overhauled - more planetary variety, more biomes, terrain generation improvements, new creatures and weather conditions, and colossal new structures to find and explore.
- Expeditions (March 31st, 2021): Introduced a brand new game mode that starts players at a set point in the universe, and challenges them to complete specific missions and milestones in order to earn exclusive rewards.
- Frontiers (September 1st, 2021): Introduced procedurally generated alien settlements on planets, and allowed players to become the Overseer of said settlements. Players could befriend the denizens and help protect them from the sinister Sentinels, as well as make use of more new base building tools.
Below, there is a chart compiled by fans showing what features were promised or mentioned (as well as things that weren't), and whether they have since been included in the game (as of writing this) or not.
So, after 5 years of evolution, No Man's Sky has become a far different experience than what was given to consumers in August of 2016. Was the overall gameplay loop the same? To a degree - you still have to gather resources, manage your inventory, get upgrades for your inventory/Multi-Tool and explore new planets; however, what today's version of No Man's Sky has that the launch version didn't have was purpose.
Why bother gathering resources and expanding your inventory if it didn't amount to anything in the launch version of the game?
In today's version, you can do far more. You can gather materials to build your dream base. You can harvest rare materials to make enough money to buy your own freighter and manage your own fleet. You can follow specific storylines and learn more about the mysteries of the universe. There are reasons to gather resources, get upgrades, and explore new planets. There are reasons to go out there and explore what the 584 billion year long universe has to offer. That is the key difference between now and then.
Have the angry consumers died down? They have indeed. Over time, the updates that were released began to add more and more of not only what was initially promised, but also what the community wanted to see. The game finally began to take shape and show its true form, and nowadays, consumers such as myself couldn't have been happier.
But what will come next from Sean and his team over at Hello Games? Only time will tell...