No Man’s Sky, a space exploration game developed by Hello Games, has hogged the headlines this week following its release for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. No Man’s Sky could well have the biggest space ever made thanks to its innovative procedurally-generated universe and has generated a buzz on social media as players come to grips with its vastness.
Games with new concepts and an avant garde feel aren’t for everyone, though. Before investing in games some players want to understand exactly what they are and how they work. Let’s take a closer look at the design of No Man’s Sky and the objectives of the game.
No Man’s Sky’s USP is its procedurally-generated universe. This means that artists and design teams do not design the planets and animals that populate the game individually, they are generated at random from a set of pre-determined options and characteristics.
The nature of this design allows for an infinitely larger number of planets in the game than conventional design. The algorithm that determines No Man’s Sky’s universe makes 18 quintillion planets available for players to explore. Safe to say, a design team even working overtime would struggle to match that!
Players begin on a planet randomly assigned to them on the outer edge of the universe. They have a spacecraft and the ability to mine resources such as carbon, iron and other metals from the planet they are on. Once sufficient elements are mined to repair the player’s broken spacecraft they are free to leave the planet and venture into space.
There is a subtle story in the game that encourages players to venture towards the centre of the universe, however how players choose to do this – or whether they choose to do this – is entirely up to them.
The essence of the game is discovery. Players are rewarded for visiting new planets by the resources they can acquire there and rewards they gain for uploading details of new planets (which they can name) to a system called Atlas. All players of the game can view Atlas and the planets other players have discovered.
Materials gathered can be used to upgrade spacecraft and add better items to your inventory, allowing for quicker travel through the universe. Players may be attacked by space pirates or may even choose to become space pirates and attack other ships for loot, though the authorities will pursue and attack players who misbehave.
The idea of a procedurally-generated universe is fresh and no other games have experimented with the idea on such a grand scale. Aside from that the format of No Man’s Sky doesn’t diverge substantially from an open world RPG. In games such as Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout 4 players are free to explore, gather materials, craft or purchase better items and engage in the story of the game if they choose. No Man’s Sky applies a similar formula on a grander scale, though allowing players to be the first on planets and to “claim” them as their own is a nice touch.
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