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The never-ending journey of No Man's Sky

Why I Love: EA Vancouver games researcher James Berg loses himself in Hello Games' vast universe

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by EA Vancouver games researcher James Berg. This article is a reflection of his personal views.

My adventure with No Man's Sky has, thus far, lasted 3 years and well over 400 hours. There's never been a better time to see it for yourself.

I began my adventure in Hello Games' galaxy when it launched, restarted with the Next update, and restarted again for Beyond. If you've never played before, now is the best time there's been to jump in. If you have played before, well, I recommend restarting with a fresh save file, to take advantage of the faster and more in-depth onboarding, particularly for features that may not have existed when you last played! Enormous (and free) game updates over the last few years have consistently made No Man's Sky more focused on enjoyable, low-stress exploration, and less about the micromanagement of resources. While survival mode remains for those who desire it, I am entirely happy to report that the universe of No Man's Sky is much more welcoming than it used to be.

No Man's Sky is much more welcoming to new players now than at launch

No Man's Sky is much more welcoming to new players now than at launch

So, onto the journey, and why I love No Man's Sky. At its core -- for me -- No Man's Sky is a game of exploration and discovery. The procedural generation of No Man's Sky does have limits, but within those, it creates a dizzying variety of creatures, planets, and inhabitants of the various overarching biomes. From lush tropical paradises to bizarre exotic worlds, and from sun-blasted deserts to oceanic cave networks, there's something new and interesting to discover for at least dozens of hours of gameplay. Even after hundreds of hours, I still discover meaningful things that are new -- even some significant things I've only seen once in all my time playing.

"How many games do we make that give us truly unique discoveries? Meaningfully unique experiences?"

One of the most interesting bits of No Man's Sky for me is the fact that I know, when I discover some weird duck-billed dog-thing on a planet that itself leaped straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, I'm very likely the only human that will ever discover that weird little race. The universe is simply so vast, that even with millions of players, it will often be the case that nobody will ever discover the system you live in, let alone the creatures themselves. I adore that I can name the creatures, plants, minerals, planets, and systems that I discover. I named that peculiar little race of creatures 'Bob,' and although I recognize that I should not be allowed that particular authority, I make no apologies.

Now, I ask you, as my fellow devs, to stop and think about that for a moment: How many games do we make that give us truly unique discoveries? Meaningfully unique experiences? It's a small thing, but an important one for me, and that bit of visionary design is something I really appreciate in No Man's Sky.

It's also virtually the only game I have ever bothered to take screenshots of, so I could look back on some of my most interesting discoveries later, and share the vistas with friends (and Twitter, I suppose). Incredible space scenes, goofy creatures, and vast landscapes - I would share them all, but really, I'd rather you discover your own!

A sampling of the sights contained in No Man's Sky's universe

A sampling of the sights contained in No Man's Sky's universe

So, about the general game structure. It's familiar to many others we've all played: While exploring, I harvest resources and learn to build increasingly impressive technology. The game's central story focuses on my role in the universe's past, present, and future. There is a central mystery and questline, but I could spend a literal lifetime ignoring that and just exploring the universe, and the game would make no attempt at requiring me to engage with the main narrative.

As my journey continues, I travel ever on towards the center of the galaxy, picking and choosing amongst a functionally infinite array of planets to explore. On foot, the continents would take me days of real-time travel to cross, so I mostly fly over them in my ship, or zip across in one of my various vehicular exocraft. Exotic planets are fantastical and sometimes very lucrative, but I enjoy chilling out on the pastoral earth-like worlds just as much. Worlds with larger oceans to explore add some nice variety, and airless moons are a serene low-gravity bit of fun. Some systems are barely lit by dying suns, others are filled with planets and moons of varying types, inhabited by a menagerie of creatures to catalog, milk, ride, harvest poop from, and eat. I.. look, those are all very real activities, not all of which I'm proud of partaking in, but sometimes there's fun to be had, and sometimes there's profit to be made.

There's no shortage of intriguing detours as you make your way to the galaxy's center

There's no shortage of intriguing detours as you make your way to the galaxy's center

Throughout, I'm acquiring and building spaceships, improving personal suit technology, crafting weaponry to annihilate both mountains and beasts, building a gigantic hydroponic farm inside the enormous freighter I typically call home, and all the while, I'm leaving behind a string of planet-side bases that I can return to via teleporter. Most of my bases are functional things - built to give me access to the planet's resources if I need them later, but I appreciate that players with more artistic skill than I can create wonderfully beautiful homes and complexes. I mostly just name things with terrible puns, throw up a teleporter, and fly on.

Another of the small touches I quite enjoy is the process of learning various languages, a handful of words at a time, so that I can piece together the universe's history and understand more about what is going on in the galaxy's present. Or, actually, is it the past? The future past? Honestly, I guess I could stand to pick up a few more words here and there. Learning the three major languages also comes in handy when I need to fix an ancient automated factory so I can learn some valuable crafting knowledge, or uh, reclaim unwanted goods from it's clearly-abandoned stores.

No Man's Sky features a lot to experience, and a lot to do. For me, the game works well on both axii - the experiential and the crunchy-mechanical.

To finance my growing empire, I seek out and harvest resources directly, although the most valuable require discovering and surviving inhospitable worlds, which means investing in technology and tools. There are a myriad of other options I make use of as well: digging up lost relics to sell, earning pay from guild jobs on space stations or at trading outposts, raiding freighters for cargo, establishing automated mining outposts, trading commercial goods across the galaxy, crafting valuable items, and more. Some evenings I can putter about on a single planet, trying to catalog every single race of wonderful beastie it harbours, while other evenings I'll skip through a dozen systems, hurtling through black holes to accelerate the pace at which I can turn up my nose at new systems' lack of decimated hellscapes.

If assembling a terrifying armada is your thing, you can do that, too

If assembling a terrifying armada is your thing, you can do that, too

Over time, I purchase more ships for my freighter's fleet, and my empire of space-faring allies grows. I send them out regularly to explore, trade, and pillage on my behalf. I also carefully learn how to leverage system-wide economies for profit using an Excel sheet that meticulously maps out a network of space stations; it's up-front legwork, but on evenings where I'm looking to do something straight-forward, it's a nice option.

Alas, over the course of many evenings and weekends spent meandering towards the galactic center, I solve some mysteries of the universe, I feed a lot of weird critters things that shouldn't be edible, see a lot of amazing sights, and despite being in a functionally infinite universe, eventually I come to realize that I'm satisfied with the depths of my exploration again, for now. For now.

Hello Games has consistently made it worth my time to revisit the universe I feel we now share, and I fully expect to do so again whenever their next big update is. In the meantime, if you are out exploring it yourself, and you do manage to meet a Bob, well, do say hi for me?

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

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