Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 26, 2017
No Man's Sky

In a presumably not highly original way I put all the games I see on Steam that interest me over the year on my wishlist, and then buy them when they are heavily discounted. The Steam Summer Sale just started this weekend, and one of those heavily discounted games was No Man's Sky. Now I know the reviews of the game weren't great, and a lot of people who paid $60 on release felt somewhat cheated out of their money by a game that over-promised and under-delivered. However three factors persuaded me to buy the game now: 1) 60% off. 2) Large content patches since release (Foundation, Path Finder) 3) A personal preference for exploration/crafting/survival games without PvP. So I bought the game.

8 hours into the game I am still having fun and don't regret my purchase. At first the game caused me headaches, literally, and nausea, but searching the internet I found how to modify the field-of-view FOV setting in a file to 120+, which more or less solved that problem. After spending maybe too much time exploring the starter planet, I now followed the breadcrumbs of the tutorial to first learn everything I needed to explore space, and then find a planet on which I could build a base. I still have to find out how exactly this will work if I move on towards the center of the galaxy, but I read that there are teleports from space stations as well as a way to move the base.

Having seen a handful of planets I already noticed the fundamental problem with the advertised 18 quintillion planets: The human brain has an enormous capacity of pattern recognition and simplification. We live on a world with 7.5 billion people, but have a neocortex that can only handle 150 stable relationships. But that doesn't cause us a problem, because we simple recognize patterns of behavior and just bundle people into large groups where we don't need to treat them as individuals. We think of "Americans", or "Nerds", or "Gamers" as groups, not as individuals. So in a game like No Man's Sky, we also group all "small, non-aggressive creatures" into one group and don't care about how many trillion of them the game has in it. They all behave the same, so our brain can treat them as one, not many. And unlike humans the creatures in the game actually *are* just one, not many, because they are all ruled by the same algorithm. Once you count how many different algorithms or distinctively different groups of content No Man's Sky has, you quickly end up with a much smaller number than 18 quintillion. Probably below 100 even.

Once we look at the game like that, it actually contains "less content" than a typical $60 game with hand-crafted environments and creatures. So I would agree that No Man's Sky isn't worth $60. However it is well worth the €24 I paid for it, because it is a reasonably well-crafted exploration game which can provide a good number of hours of fun. Having said that, I am more interested in the fun hours of exploration than in grinding hours of crafting Bypass Chips or mining minerals for sale in order to pay for things like ships or exosuite upgrades. But fortunately the standard money cheat program I use, ArtMoney, works perfectly well with No Man's Sky, and I can just hack myself the money I need instead of grinding. There is still enough mining and crafting to do in the game just to build the stuff I want, I don't need to prolong that by mining and crafting only for money.

In summary, I like No Man's Sky at the summer sale price, and am looking forward to playing it some more until I get bored or reach the center of the universe, where the answer "42" is hidden.

My main gripe with NMS is that "exploration" is an empty word. There is nothing to really explore: you get infinite planets where you find "infinite variations of the same". I also hate the way developers decided to create monsters, generating them from a pool of fixed parts, so you can get a rhino with chicken legs and butterfly wings that looks absolutely weird and cringy. They don't have any sort of AI, I never felt like an explorer in a living, breathing world. Not even once.

My personal "final nail on the coffin" is the engine. It really looks amazing on static screenshots but when you move around... boy it looks like crap. Textures, rendering distance, stuff popping out of nothing (trees, entire mountains, asteroids, ...). When you fly over the surface of a planet you keep seeing pieces of world appearing in front of you. It kills the immersion, at least for me.

Overall I feel this is a $5-$10 game. There are free/indie titles that cost that money and deliver better content than NMS.
If you run into Zaphod, please tell him I said hello. :-)
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