Why I'm Loving No Man's Sky

There's a fantastic episode of the original Star Trek series called "Arena", where Captain Kirk is forced into one-on-one combat against the Gorn. No Man's Sky feels like the best part of that story stretched out into an entire universe. In "Arena", Kirk has to scour the barren landscape of the planet he's trapped on to figure out how to survive. When he builds that crude cannon that fires diamonds at his reptilian enemy, it's a victory of technology and the mind. His refusal to kill his enemy shows that his experience has helped him evolve his understanding of the cosmos.

I've been having the same kind of experience playing No Man's Sky on PS4 for about a week. Hello Games' long-awaited opus is a space exploration game that takes place in a universe spun together from millions of different parts that manifest in weird lifeforms and planetary bodies. For me, the game feels like it homes in on the idea of scientific information being the key that unlocks the horizons of the universe. From the very beginning, I've been asking myself, "How do I find the elements I need to get off this planet/into another star system, while also absorbing all the newness I'm encountering? Oh and I also need to stay alive too?" Those questions dovetail into bigger, fundamental existential concerns that animate good science-fiction: "How do I find out more about the universe around me, while maintaining the balance of my earthbound life? How do I integrate what I learn/create into an ever-expanding understanding of things?"

No Man's Sky isn't a game about repelling an hostile alien threat; it's a game where you're the xenoform, bouncing your lost and confused self from planet to planet. There's a lot about science-fiction that we take for granted, like the idea that there'd be logic that human brains could follow. While No Man's Sky does present players with familiar design ideas -- resource-gathering and crafting systems and decision-point plot structure -- its true triumph is maintaining a feeling of wonder and aloofness. Space would have to be lonely and full of mystery, right? And just because mankind can build the tools to escape Earth's gravitational pull doesn't mean we'd be smart enough to understand what we find out in the cosmos. This universe doesn't care how much of it you see or understand. It will exist without you.

Each little discovery drives me to slide my fingers across the texture of the game more and more. At one point early on, I fed a little insectoid quadruped on the planet I started on. It was the third species of fauna I'd fed so, other than a smiley icon hovering over it, I wasn't expecting anything special to happen. But then it wandered off and a question mark replaced the smiley icon. The darn little critter rooted around and found me some stuff. Then it wandered away to rejoin others of its kind, nuzzling up against a tentacled pink-and-beige plant.

For every new planet, lifeform or location that I scan and upload, it feels like there are hundreds more that are waiting to be found. I'm not making a dent, as far as quantification of data goes. I have to throw the idea of one-hundred-percenting this game out the window. It's coming across as a big, long fable and that kind of goal-setting doesn't seem to be the point.

My favourite kinds of science-fiction have always been the realities where you could fill in the negative space with your own imaginings. One of the things I like about Star Trek as a concept is the idea that neither the starship crews nor the audience was seeing everything that was floating in the void. There was just too much variability in the universe; literally anything could be out there. How would we deal with it?

My experience in No Man's Sky so far leads me to think there'd be some pretty stupid stumbles at first. At one of the monoliths left by ancient civilisations spread throughout the galaxies, I was presented with a choice to grab for powerful resources or leave the balance of things alone.

Everything I thought I understood about the culture led me to believe a show of force would be the way to go so I made the decision to loot. It was the wrong one, a move that left my health damaged and standing with the local race decreased. I made another similar gaffe with a Vy'keen functionary at a trading post. Discretion, not money, was the coin required to open transaction.

My knee-jerk response -- well, of course, he wants money -- made me ignore the text prompting a swap of inventory. Obvious in hindsight, but also a sign of how the norms of different cultures clash in tense situations. Disappointment is a fact of existence, something that loads of games never acknowledge.

I found an abandoned ship on the second planet of the second star system I discovered. It was a far better craft than the starter bucket I was flitting about in. But it had busted launch thrusters and other broken elements, and I couldn't juggle enough inventory to gather resources to fix it. I had to leave it behind. I understand enough of how No Man's Sky's procedurally generated design works operationally to guess that I'll stumble across another ship soon enough. But I'll never stop thinking about that silver-painted could-have-been. I found it, put a fair amount of work and resources into it but still couldn't claim it as mine. I know there are probably several ways I could have shuffled things to get that ship, but pressing onward felt more important.

No Man's Sky tickles the part of my brain that enjoyed DC Comics' Elseworlds projects and Robert Heinlein's The Number of the Beast when I first read them years ago. The promise of realities based on variations of what we already know is a deceptive one. Pay attention and you'll understand how things have been re-ordered, it whispers. But I've realised that I don't want to make sense or impose order on No Man's Sky. I'm having too much fun trying to suss out how to make my way.

That classic "Arena" episode of Star Trek ends with Kirk and the Enterprise crew lightyears away from the planet where the life-or-death battle happened. The prize that Kirk won was an affirmation of why he and his fellow Federation members were boldly going in the first place. They're all answering some ineffable call to the unknown and doing the best with what they encounter. No Man's Sky makes me feel the same way. For once, I don't want to be the saviour-master of the universe in a science-fiction video game. I just want to breeze through its vistas, leaving marks that bear witness to my journey.


Comments

    To put it simply, this game has caught me off guard and I'm loving it and I keep trying to find reasons to not enjoy myself each time I jump back in as I was very skeptical!
    One thing I will agreed with, the price really shouldn't be $79 at all, maybe after a few big updates it will justify the $79 but for now it feels like $50-$60 worth of content.

    Last edited 16/08/16 11:13 am

      it was $60 on GOG....
      but i agree not worth the price imo

    Oh... I have spent all of my time finding ships with ONE extra inventory space.

    I'm a salvager I suppose. Find a ship with less inventory? Swap for it, strip it for parts and then swap back. I have a bit of money from this and I somehow enjoy it.

      How do you swap back? Every time I swap ships, my old one disappears. I have a preorder ship that I'm not game to retrieve because by this point it's far far worse than my current ship...

        This has happened to me only once... I'm not sure why? My game crashed in between transferring though.

        If you return to your ex ship it can be re-entered with 'square'

        My advice is to land extremely close to the crashed ship beforehand so there's no way it can get lost. I swear it works like GTA when it comes to populating the roads, turn around on the spot a few times and the cars/spaceships are different/absent!

        Lot's of odd things in the game, I used to be able to re-use terminals to find multiple crash sites, doesn't work now, has had an impact on my salvaging business let me tell you :(

    For me, what the game offers more than any other I've ever played is the chance to feel like a scholar of the universe. In a lot of open world games, I'm the type who goes out of his way to find out that scrap of lore or hunt for that book, just to tick it off and know I've learnt it.

    Whenever I land on a planet and find one of those transmission things that can search for locations, I always look for monoliths. Uncovering more and more words just feels so satisfying to me. Like I'm an intrepid archaeologist, dusting off the ruins of an ancient civilisation to uncover it's secrets. Like piecing together bits from one dig site with another, finding the words is like gradually revealing more and more of the wider universe. Ultimately a useless endeavour given how big it all is, but for me, just to know I'm searching, a sole agent of knowledge pushing the boundaries of what is known and has been seen feels exhilarating.

    Yes, the resource management is there, the combat is there. But for me, the holy grail really is the search for knowledge itself.

      I spent so many hours searching for monoliths and knowledge stones on my first planet. Then I discovered a total hack way of getting new words once you have good standing with the race you're learning words for.

      *spoiler* sort of I guess

      Whenever you run into an alien trader, etc, every second interaction will give the option for a new word. A lot of the time you will get the option for fuel or isotopes if you have high standing and that will generally yield enough carbon to keep talking to the trader and getting new words.

        Oohh, I need to try that.

          I do it in little bursts. Like 4-8 words whenever I come to do a big trade. It's boring as hell but even with hours of searching I was only at about 40 words. I'm well over 100 now with gek and a few of the other species as well now.

            Ah ok. I've already hit the maximum milestone for words learnt so, will see how much mileage i get out of this.

      Also so satisfying when you are at a manufacturing plant and you know just enough words to give you a hint on the correct answer.

        But then so disappointing when the schematic you get is one you already know!

          I have unfortunately failed most of mine, but I havent been searching for manufacturing plants much, mostly just drop pods and monoliths lately.

          Did work out how to create magma balls and farmed them for a but but they didnt provide much profit.

          Also just got the plan for power cells (made from carbon) which is going to come in very handy

    I am loving the game for what it is. Zipping around being a universe wide Natural History Explorer discovering new life and planets and harvesting as I go. Sure it is not without its flaws and annoyances but the framework is there for an amazing game. If not this when more stuff is added, then a sequel or when someone takes this games big ideas and applies to them to an MMO type thing.

    My only real complaint is the variety. I would rather that the harvest resources would change from planet to planet, even if the randomise was added to them. So you had to blast things when you first arrive to work out what items on that planet would give you X, Y etc. Likewise with the layouts inside space stations.

    Naturally once the game is stable and a month old I would like to see bigger random seeds in world creations, plant life and animals.

    I love this game because its a great structure from which an even better game/universe can be filled with in time.

    Last edited 16/08/16 11:49 am

    Really enjoying it. It's tickling the same sense of wonder that Elite Dangerous tickles.

    If only there were a way to meld the two - more sim-like space flight like E:D, but with planetary landings on ELWs and other worlds with native life, from wet planets with slimy algal mats to fully evolved ecosystems...

    For what it is, NMS is bloody amazing (on PS4).

      I was having this exact discussion with a colleague the other day.
      Give me the sense of wonder of exploration that No Man's Sky provides, couple of the fantastic sense of flying 400tons of steel in E:D... In VR...
      if that ever happens... man... hook me up with an IV because i'll be stuck in there for the next many years :P

    Found a crashed ship that has a heap more storage than my old one, exchanged my old one for this so I have a new ship. Didn't even consider that I had to repair everything. Spent about an hour trudging across the planets face while keeping close to my ship searching for all the stuff I needed because the planet was a frigid world with constant -97 degree days, and frequent -150 degree storms. LOVE this game so much.

    Im finding you can have a bite sized adventure or you can settle into a long haul of mining, example is a planet with hardcore sentries but valuable resources, its a dash to get the gear and sell it all while fending off robots.

    The next night i'm at a barren planet with lots of resources, mining up a small fortune to sell whilst planning my next ship purchase.

    The night after that im pumping off mass bypass chips to scour for signals on a map, upgrading my exo suit spaces and finding new materials.

    I dont know where all this hate is coming from, im playing no mans sky, not sure what everyone else was expecting.

      You've just described my own experience! Absolutely loving how much/little time you can go at it with and still feel like you've accomplished things!

    Oh look, someone else who thinks No Man's Sky sucks.
    Oh wait... he doesn't! \o/

    I'm loving it, it's so ambient and interesting. And popping out of Pulse flight into a planet's atmosphere is so satisfying.

    If this game had Egosoft's X3 trading and empire building it would be complete 👍

    I'm gonna go ahead and say it... Starbound is a better no man's sky....

    By the way, that Star Trek episode is based off a really cool, award winning short story of the same name. Very recommended.

    Do not pay attention to these positive comments im certain they are made by the developer or family members of the dev team.

    No Mans Sky is NOT a game it sucks as there's no content and nothing to do. Worse is we were lied to by that snivelling weasel called Sean Murray announcing features and gameplay that were not in this tech demo. This tech demo is a point of inflection for millions of gamers, i for one will never EVER pre order a game again as whatevers shown or displayed could all be lies the same way that rat Murray did.

Join the discussion!