The planets in No Man's Sky are supposed to be, well, planet-sized. Most players will only see a small percentage of any locale, if that, before boredom sets in and another planet is explored. One man, however, has decided to undertake a pilgrimage that is testing the limits of his sanity, if not the limits of the planet generation itself.
No Man's Sky player Steambot was fifty hours into his playthrough when the idea of walking across a single planet crossed his mind.
"Word had gotten out that the center of the galaxy was a bit underwhelming so I was kind of at a loss as to what I wanted to do next," Steambot told me via email. "I was still obsessed with the game (and had been since it was first announced) and wasn't ready to stop playing."
More overtly, Steambot saw his idea as a way to combat some of the negativity and backlash surrounding the game.
"I really wanted to add something fun and positive to the conversation and show people (including Hello Games) that there were still people that believed in this game and weren't ready to give up on it," Steambot said.
The planet Steambot settled on for his experiment was random, he says, in that he wasn't necessarily looking for the most interesting or well-populated globe. Instead, he was intrigued by No Man's Sky planet-name generator, which presented a world with a curious name: "Dudenbbeaumodeme."
"It's a cold world with infrequent, extreme blizzards that has greenish-gold days and vibrant purple nights," Steambot said. "You'll find tall mountains, deep, water-filled canyons as well as large snow-capped forests in shallow valleys."
In terms of creatures, Steambot said that "fourteen foot tall deer-like creatures wander the land and large shark-like creatures prowl the waters."
Steambot landed on Dudenbbeaumodeme and then just started walking in a single set direction. The plan was to keep walking forward until he circled back to his ship, no matter how long it took. To help himself out, he was going to make use of the jetpack trick, which allows players to glide across the landscape quicker than they would on foot.
"My favourite moment was the very beginning: landing on a random planet and just walking away, not knowing how long it would be before I saw my ship again," Steambot said. "It was a palpable sense of stepping into the unknown that I hadn't gotten from the game until that point."
Four hours in, the scope of Steambot's ambition actually started to sink in.
"I may have bitten off more than I can chew folks, Steambot wrote on Reddit. "I'm currently 4 hours from my ship and really have no idea how much further I have to go." Fortunately, at that time Steambot still hadn't 100% all of the creatures on the planet, so there were still things that could theoretically keep his mind occupied. Things were getting tedious, but not unbearable.
It also helped that Steambot was telling people about his adventures on social media, where folks could chime in with encouraging messages. Crucially, some players offered not only tips to make everything more bearable, but potential songs to listen to while on his expedition.
It almost wasn't enough, as Steambot chronicled online:
I really wanted to quit tonight. It all started when somebody posted a video of themselves flying their starship through a canyon earlier today. I couldn't get that image out of my head as I loaded up the game and started walking. I missed my ship so bad. I missed it like an ex-girlfriend.
Then I came across a language stone. The word was 'leave'. I kid you not.
Worse, Steambot kept being reminded of how easy it would be to just leave — build a bypass chip, rev the engines up, and get the hell out of dodge. But he kept going anyway, out of a sense of duty to players who had been following his pursuit with great interest.
Ten hours in, things picked up a little more. He started naming creatures — some of which would attack him on sight. More importantly, Steambot afforded himself the luxury of exploring more of what he came across, just as a distraction.
"It's so hard to resist exploring some of these caves I come across," Steambot recounted. "Even though I know exactly what I'll find they're just so damn mysterious."
The second wind was somewhat short-lived, because a couple of hours later, Steambot was back to feeling a profound alienation. Landmarks that he came to count on, like planets in the distant sky, were no longer providing the comfort they once did.
"The worst moment was when the three other planets of what I had named 'The Pilgrim Star' disappeared over the horizon," Steambot told me. "For the first several hours they hung in the sky and provided a constant landmark in addition to giving a sense of how far I had travelled. When they were gone, I felt rudderless."
Things only got worse from there. For the first time, No Man's Sky crashed on him, stealing even more momentum away from Steambot. He also started losing a sense of where he was, and where he was headed. Waypoints around him seemed to fluctuate in location. Steambot was basically experiencing the closest thing a video game has to space madness.
"I feel hopelessly lost out there in the dark...I yearn to stand on a different planet and look at a different sky," Steambot wrote.
So he took a few days off, tried to recharge the proverbial warp drive. It helped, and he came back re-energised to take on the ill-advised challenge. Even so, he knew that he still had a huge problem on his hands.
"For this entire journey a single issue has vexed me more than any other: how do I travel a straight line without a compass or a waypoint in front of me?" Steambot mused. He decided that, in order to simplify things, he was going to start following the direction of the sun.
The other big worry at that juncture was the rumours of a huge glitch that had plagued other players. According to reports online, when players reached the halfway point of planet exploration, the game would erect an invisible wall that could not be breached, therefore making it impossible to walk around a planet:
This knowledge scared Steambot. Had he come this far just to be defeated by some random bullshit? Was his tenacity and dedication all for nothing?
Fortunately, Steambot didn't get hit by the bug that was making the rounds across the No Man's Sky community. As of a few days ago, a few dozen hours into his trip, Steambot managed to cross the halfway mark:
As of this writing, Steambot's not sure how much farther he has to go, nor is he 100% certain that he's heading in the right direction. Even so, he's not planning on stopping anytime soon — not until he finally sees his ship again, anyway. And when he does? He says he'll just keep playing. This whole debacle somehow hasn't soured him on No Man's Sky, if anything, his experience just makes him eager to see more.
"There's still so much to explore and cool new things are still getting discovered every day," Steambot said. "I'd like to start working on the portal mystery too."
"No Man's Sky is one of the most interesting, if divisive, pieces of software ever made," Steambot continued. "I'm obsessed with it. I recognise that it has it's flaws but I frankly don't care. It gives me a spaceship, a laser gun, and a practically infinite universe to explore and that's just the game as it is now. It's the kind of game I've always wanted to play."