No Man's Sky

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No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky.jpg
The cover art for No Man's Sky, showcasing the Atlas at the top center
Developer(s) Hello Games
Publisher(s) Hello Games
Distributor(s)
Director(s)
  • Sean Murray
  • Grant Duncan
  • Ryan Doyle
  • David Ream
Producer(s) Gareth Bourn
Designer(s) Will Braham
Artist(s)
  • Aaron Andrews
  • Beau Lamb
  • Grant Duncan
  • Jacob Golding
  • Levi Naess
Composer(s) 65daysofstatic
Platform(s)
Release PlayStation 4
  • NA: 9 August 2016
  • EU: 10 August 2016
Microsoft Windows
  • WW: 12 August 2016
Genre(s) Action-adventure, survival
Mode(s) Single-player[a]

No Man's Sky is an action-adventure survival video game developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games for PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. The game was released worldwide in August 2016. The gameplay of No Man's Sky is built on four pillars: exploration, survival, combat, and trading. Players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open universe, which includes over 18 quintillion (1.8×1019) planets,[b] many with their own sets of flora and fauna.

Players participate in a shared universe, with the ability to exchange planet information with other players, though the game is also fully playable offline; this is enabled by the procedural generation system that assures players find the same planet with the same features, lifeforms, and other aspects once given the planet coordinates, requiring no further data to be stored or retrieved from game servers. Nearly all elements of the game are procedurally generated, including star systems, planets and their ecosystems, flora, fauna and their behavioural patterns, artificial structures, and alien factions and their spacecraft. The founder of Hello Games, Sean Murray, had wanted to create a game that captured the sense of exploration and optimism of science fiction writings and art of the 1970s and 1980s with No Man's Sky. The title was developed over three years by a small team at Hello Games with promotional and publishing help from Sony Interactive Entertainment. The British band 65daysofstatic assisted in developing the game's music, with sound designer Paul Weir developing systems to procedurally generate the soundtrack.

Significant attention and expectations were given to the title in the months leading to its release, leading Murray and some journalists to recommend caution due to the indie nature and niche appeal of the title, seeking to avoid the pitfalls that had previously occurred at the launch of EA's Spore in 2008. At release, the game received a wide range of mixed reviews, with some praising the technical achievements of the procedurally-generated universe, while others considered the gameplay lackluster and repetitive. No Man's Sky also suffered several technical problems at launch, while lacking several marketed features, including a multiplayer element.

Hello Games expressed commitment to fixing technical issues with the release, as well as plans to expand features of the game in time. Though the game was a top seller in August 2016 in both the United Kingdom and North America, perception of the title fell in the months following release. The promotion and marketing for No Man's Sky became a subject of debate, with at least one advertising industry group reviewing their materials for any potential breaches and false advertising.

Gameplay[edit]

No Man's Sky allows players to explore planets with procedurally-generated flora and fauna.

No Man's Sky is an open world action-adventure survival game played from a first-person perspective that allows players to engage in four principal activities: exploration, survival, combat, and trading.[1] Players take the role of a planetary explorer, called in game as the Traveller, in an uncharted universe. They start on a random planet near a crashed spacecraft at the edge of the galaxy, and are equipped with a survival exosuit with a jetpack, and a "multitool" that can be used to scan, mine and collect resources as well as to attack or defend oneself from creatures and hostile forces. The player can collect, repair, and refuel the craft, allowing them to travel about the planet, between other planets and space stations in the local solar system, engage in space combat with alien factions, or make hyperspace jumps to other star systems.[2] While the game is open-ended, the player may follow the guidance of the entity known as the Atlas to head towards the center of the galaxy.[3]

The defining feature of No Man's Sky is that nearly all parts of the galaxy, including stars, planets, flora and fauna on these planets, and sentient alien encounters, are created through procedural generation using deterministic algorithms and random number generators from a single seed number. This 64-bit value leads to there being over 18 quintillion planets to explore within the game.[4] Very little data is stored on the game's servers, as all elements of the game are created through deterministic calculations when the player is near them, assuring that other players will see the same elements as another player by travelling to the same location in the galaxy. Players may make temporary changes on planets, such as mining resources, but these changes are not tracked once the player leaves that vicinity. Only some "significant" changes, such as destroying a space station, are tracked for all players on the game's servers.[5][6] The game uses different servers for the PlayStation 4 and Windows versions.[7]

Through exploration, the player is credited with "units", the in-game currency, by observing not-yet-seen planets, alien bases, flora and fauna in their travels.[8][9] If the player is first to discover one of these, they can earn additional units by uploading this information to the Atlas, as well as having their name credited with the discovery to be seen by other players through the game's servers. Players also have the opportunity to rename these features at this point within limits set by a content filter.[10][11] No Man's Sky can be played offline, but interaction with the Atlas requires online connectivity.[3][5]

The player must assure the survival of the Traveller, as many planets have dangerous atmospheres such as extreme temperatures, toxic gases, and dangerous storms.[10] Though the player can seek shelter at alien bases or underground caves, these environments will wear away at the exosuit's shielding and armor and can kill the Traveller, thus the player must collect resources necessary for survival. By collecting blueprints, the player can use resources to craft upgrades to their exosuit, multitool, and spacecraft to make survival easier, with several of these upgrades working in synergistic manners to improve the survivability and capabilities of the Traveller.[2] Each of these elements have a limited number of slots for both upgrades and resource space, requiring the player to manage their inventories and feature sets, though the player can either gain new slots for the exosuit or purchase new ships and multitools with more slots.[12] Many features of the exosuit, multitool, and spacecraft need to be refueled after prolonged use, using collected resources as a fuel source. Better equipment, and the blueprints and resources to craft that equipment, are generally located closer to the center of the galaxy, providing a driver for the player.[13][14]

While on a planet, the Traveller may be attacked by hostile creatures. They also may be attacked by Sentinels, a self-replicating robot force that patrols the planets and takes action against those that take the planet's resources. The player can fend these off using the weapons installed on the multitool. The game uses a "wanted level" similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto series; low wanted levels may cause small drones to appear which may be easily fought off, while giant walking machines can assault the player at higher wanted levels.[2] While in space, the Traveller may be attacked by pirates seeking their ship's cargo, or by alien factions with whom they have a poor reputation. Here, the player can use the ship's weapon systems to engage in these battles. Should the Traveller die on a planet, they will be respawned at their last save point without their exosuit's inventory; the player can recover these materials if the player can reach the last death location. If the Traveller dies in space, they will similarly respawn at the local system's space station, but having lost all the goods aboard their ship.[1][8] Again, these goods can be recovered by travelling to the point at which the player died in space, but with the added uncertainty of pirates claiming the goods first.

Each star system has a space station where the Traveller can trade resources, multitools, and ships, and interact with one or more aliens from three different races that populate the galaxy. The player may also find active or abandoned alien bases on planets that offer similar functions. Each alien race has their own language, presented as a word-for-word substitution which initially will be nonsense to the player.[15] By frequent communications with that race, as well as finding monoliths scattered on planets that act as Rosetta stones, the player can better understand these languages and perform proper actions when interacting with the alien non-player characters, gaining favour from the alien and its race for future trading and combat.[15][16][17] Consequentially, improper responses to aliens may cause them to dislike the Traveller, and their space-bound fleets may attack the Traveller on sight.[18] The game includes a free market galactic store accessible at space stations or alien bases, where some resources and goods have higher values in some systems compared to others, enabling the player to profit on resource gathering and subsequent trade.[3][19]

No Man's Sky is primarily designed as a single-player game, though discoveries can be shared to all players via the Steam Workshop, and friends can track each other on the game's galactic map. Hello Games' Sean Murray stated that one might spend about forty hours of gametime to reach the center of the galaxy if they did not perform any side activities, but he also fully anticipated that players would play the game in a manner that suits them, such as having those that might try to catalog the flora and fauna in the universe, while others may attempt to set up trade routes between planets.[20] Players can track friends on the galactic map and the system maps.[21] Due to limited multiplayer aspects, Sony does not require PlayStation 4 users to have a PlayStation Plus subscription to play the game online.[22]

Post-release updates[edit]

Foundation[edit]

A large update released in November 2016, known as the "Foundation Update", added the ability for players to define a planet as a "home planet", and construct a base on that planet from modular components created from collected resources. Once constructed, the player can then immediately return to their base via teleportation from a space station in the rest of the galaxy. The base supports adding special stations, such as research terminals, that can be manned by one of the sentient aliens, which can help to unlock additional base components and blueprints, tend to harvesting flora for resources, and other aspects. The player may opt to tear down the base and relocate to a different home planet at any time. The player also has abilities to construct devices such as automatic mineral drills in the field. Players are able to purchase starship freighters, which serve both as a space-bound base (with similar base-building and construction options as the planetary base), and as additional storage capacity that collected resources can be transferred.[23]

The Foundation update also adds in two new play modes, with the original gameplay considered as the third, default mode. Survival mode is similar to standard gameplay but the difficulty is much higher—atmospheric effects have larger impact on the exosuit's armor, alien creatures are more hostile, Sentinels are more alert and deadly, and resources tend to be sparse. If a player should die in Survival mode, they must restart without being able to recover their lost progress, though they still possess their credits, alien language progress, and known blueprints. Creative mode removes much of the mechanics that can kill the player's character, and gives them unlimited resources for constructing bases.[23]

Path Finder[edit]

The "Path Finder Update", released in March 2017, adds several new features to the game; among these include: the ability to share bases with other players; new exovehicles, called exocraft (Nomad, Roamer and Colossus), to help in exploration. The exocraft can be built on the player's set home planet, and called upon on any other planet via a minor update released a few days afterwards. The update also contained a permadeath option that wipes the player's progress completely on death; support for Steam Workshop for user modifications on the Windows version; new base building features and materials, ship and multitool classes and support for PlayStation 4 Pro enhanced graphics.[24][25][26]

Plot[edit]

The player character, known as the Traveller, wakes up on a remote planet near their crashed spacecraft. They receive a message from an entity called "The Atlas" that offers its guidance, directing the character to make the necessary repairs to the spacecraft and collecting the resources needed to fuel a hyperspace jump to another solar system. En route, they encounter individual members of three alien species, the Gek, the Korvax, and the Vy'keen, that inhabit the galaxy.

As the Traveller moves towards other systems, they are alerted to a presence of a space anomaly in a nearby system. Travelling there they find a special space station ("space anomaly") where two aliens wait for them, Priest Entity Nada and Specialist Polo. Nada and Polo have knowledge beyond what other aliens in the galaxy appear to possess, including being able to speak without translation to the Traveller. They are able to guide the Traveller towards meeting Atlas, either by directing them to the location of a nearby Atlas Interface, or to a black hole that can quickly take the Traveller closer to the centre of the galaxy. The Traveller investigates the Interfaces to find themselves in direct communication with the Atlas which wants them to continue to explore and collect information all while moving towards the center, where the Atlas entity appears to be. The Atlas judges the Traveller's progress, and grants it an Atlas Stone if it deems the Traveller worthy.

The Traveller continues on its journey, continuing to gain help from Nada and Polo and Atlas Stones from other Interfaces. As the Traveller progresses, they become aware that they, like Nada and Polo, are different from the other sentient beings in the galaxy, having some sense of the universe's construction and nature.[27] It is revealed that the galaxy itself exists as a computer simulation managed by the Atlas, the Traveler an entity created by the Atlas to explore the simulation, while Nada and Polo were "errors" that had become self-aware of being in a simulation and isolated themselves in the anomaly to help others.[27]

Ultimately, the Traveller reaches the galaxy's centre, finding another Atlas Interface. The Traveller presents the Interface with the Atlas Stones they have obtained, upon which the Atlas creates a new star and solar system, as well as creating another new Traveller entity to restart the exploration. The current Traveller is released, free to explore on its own, while from the player's view, they are placed in control of this new Traveller, effectively restarting the game.[27][28]

Development[edit]

No Man's Sky represented Hello Games' vision of a broad, attention-getting game that they wanted to pursue while they secured their financial well being through the Joe Danger series of games.[29] The game's original prototype was worked on by Hello Games' Sean Murray who wanted to create a game about the spirit of exploration inspired by the optimistic science fiction of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein and the cover artwork of these works in the 1970s and 1980s.[30][31] Development expanded into a small four-person team prior to its first teaser in December 2013. About a dozen developers worked on the game in the three years leading up to its release, with Sony Interactive Entertainment providing promotional and marketing support. Sony formally announced the title during their press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014, the first independently-developed game to be presented at the Expo's centrepiece events.[31][32]

The game's engine employs several deterministic algorithms such as parameterised mathematical equations that can mimic a wide range of geometry and structure found in nature. Art elements created by human artists are used and altered as well.[31] The game's audio, including ambient sounds and its underlying soundtrack, also uses procedural generation methods from base samples created by audio designer Paul Weir and the British musical group 65daysofstatic.[33]

Release[edit]

Sean Murray at the 2017 Game Developers Conference

Promotion and marketing[edit]

No Man's Sky was first revealed at the VGX Awards in December 2013, and subsequently gained significant attention from the gaming press.[34][35][36][37] Hello Games sought help from a publisher and got the interest of Sony Interactive Entertainment (then Sony Computer Entertainment). Sony offered to provide development funding but Hello Games only requested financial assistance for promotion and publication.[38] Sony presented the game at their media event during Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014 (E3); until that point, no independently-developed game has been demonstrated during these centre-stage events.[31][32]

Rumors circulated in the lead-up to the 2015 Paris Games Week in October 2015 that No Man's Sky would be released alongside Sony's press conference, but Murray and Sony denied these rumors.[39] Instead, Sony used their press conference to announce the game's expected release in June 2016 for the PlayStation 4.[40][41]

The game's scheduled release during the week of 21 June 2016 was announced in March 2016, along with the onset of pre-orders for both PlayStation 4 and Windows versions. Hello Games also announced that the PlayStation 4 version would also be available in both a standard and "Limited Edition" retail release, published by Sony, alongside the digital version.[42][43][44] About a month before this planned release, Sony and Hello Games announced that the game would be delayed until August 2016, with Murray opting to use the few extra weeks as "some key moments needed extra polish to bring them up to our standards".[45] Hello Games opted not to present at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2016 in June 2016 so as to devote more time to polishing the game, with Murray noting that due to the structure of the game, "we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up."[46] The game had gone gold on 7 July 2016,[47] and was officially released on 9 August 2016.[48]

The release date in the United Kingdom, originally slated for 12 August and two days after the rest of Europe, was later pushed up to 10 August due in part to a new deal Sony arranged with retailers to allow for simultaneous release in both regions.[49] Two weeks before release, the worldwide Windows version release was pushed out a few days, to 12 August 2016.[50] Murray stated through Twitter that they felt the best experience for players would be a simultaneous worldwide release on the Windows platform, something they could not control with the retail aspects that were associated with the regional PlayStation 4 market, and thus opted to hold back the Windows release to make this possible.[51] They also used the few extra days to finish additional technical features that they wanted to include at the Windows launch, such as multiple monitor widescreen support.[52]

The limited edition retail version includes an art book and a comic written by Dave Gibbons, James Swallow and Angus McKie; Sony previously expressed interest in companion fiction for the game's release, and Murray had engaged with Gibbons on developing such a work.[31][53] Swallow also helped with some of the in-game narrative.[54] A limited-run "Explorer's Edition" for the Windows version, published by iam8bit, included a miniature replica of one of the game's spacecraft alongside other materials.[55] Sony released a limited edition bundle with No Man's Sky and a custom face plate for the PlayStation 4 in Europe.[56]

The New Yorker featured No Man's Sky in their 2015 New Yorker Festival as part of their inaugural Tech@Fest event, highlighting topics on the intersection of culture and technology.[57] On 2 October 2015, Murray made an appearance and gave a demonstration of the game on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, an American television late-night talk show.[58][59]

In the weeks leading up to the game's release, Sony released a set of four videos, each focused on the principal activities of the game: exploring, fighting, trading, and surviving.[60] Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe also released a television advertisement for the game featuring comedian Bill Bailey.[61]

Intellectual property issues[edit]

Hello Games had been in legal negotiations with Sky plc over the trademark on the word "Sky" used for No Man's Sky, a trademark Sky had previously defended against Microsoft's choice of "Skydrive". The issue was ultimately settled in June 2016, allowing Hello Games to continue to use the name.[62]

A few weeks before the game's launch, No Man's Sky was claimed to be using the superformula based on work done by Dr. Johan Gielis in 2003, and subsequently patented by Gielis under the Dutch company Genicap which Gielis founded and serves as Chief Research Officer. Murray had mentioned the superformula while describing the procedural generation aspects of the game in an interview with The New Yorker during development.[31] Genicap anticipates developing a software tool using the superformula for their own product that they can see being used in video game development, which Hello Games would be infringing on if they had used the superformula in the game. The company states they have attempted to reach out to Hello Games to ask them about its use for No Man's Sky but have not received anything back. Genicap said they did not want to stop the launch of No Man's Sky, considered the game to be "very impressive", and that they would like to talk more with Hello Games to exchange knowledge with them, but "if the formula is used we'll need to have a talk".[63][64][65][66] Murray replied that No Man's Sky does not use the superformula, and was working to arrange a meeting with Genicap to discuss the situation and their respective mathematics.[67]

Pre-release and release issues[edit]

Two weeks before the official release, a Reddit user was able to purchase a leaked copy of the game for the PlayStation 4 from eBay for roughly $1,250, and started posting various videos of their experiences in the game.[68] Other users also claimed to have leaked copies, and began sharing their own gameplay videos. Some of these reports included negative elements about the game, including frequent crashes and a much-shorter time to "complete" the game by reaching the center of the virtual galaxy than Hello Games had claimed, leading many fans to express concern and frustration that the game might not be as good as they anticipated.[69][70] In response, Murray asked fans waiting for the game to avoid these spoilers, stating "We've spent years filling No Man's Sky with surprises. You've spent years waiting. Please don't spoil it for yourself."[71]

Some retailers broke the street date, as several players, including journalists at Kotaku and Polygon, streamed their starting playthroughs of the game starting from 5 August 2016.[72][73] Polygon noted that Sony had not issued any review embargoes for the game at this point.[74] Hello Games reset the servers for the game just prior to 9 August 2016 so as to give all players a clean slate.[75] Prior to official release, Sony requested sites to take down videos from early copies, citing that due to the nature of the game, they considered that Hello Games' vision of the game would only be met once a day-one patch was made available at release.[76] Some of these video takedowns had accidentally included users discussing the game but without using these pre-release footage videos, a situation that Murray and Sony worked to resolve.[77]

The day-one patch, which Hello Games had been at work at since the game went gold in July, altered several aspects of how the procedurally generated universe was created, such that existing saves from previous copies would no longer work. This patch also removed an exploit that was observed by pre-release players that allowed them to complete the game much faster than anticipated.[54] Commentators noted that the patch would substantially change the aspects of the game previously critiqued by aforementioned early players, and believed some of the changes were made specifically to address these concerns.[78][79]

Concern was raised by the fan community when OpenCritic, a review aggregator site, stated that there were going to be no review copies of the game prior to the public release and a review embargo that would end on the date of release.[72] The lack of review copies is a general sign within the industry that there are concerns by the developers or publishers that a game may not live up to expectations and thus indicates that they want to minimize any impact reviews may have prior to release.[74] However, both OpenCritic and Sony later affirmed there would be pre-release review copies and that they were waiting on a pre-release patch before sending these out to journalists.[72] Eurogamer noted that they had expected to have review copies by 5 August, but these were pushed until 8 August so as to get the day-one patch in place, a situation they attributed to the certification process required by Sony for any games on their service.[80] Because of the late arrival of the review copies, and the size of the game, critics presented their reviews "in progress" over several days, omitting a final review score until they had completed enough of the game to their satisfaction.[81][82]

At launch, a number of software bugs affected both the PlayStation 4 and Windows versions. A game-breaking bug occurred with an in-game pre-order bonus spaceship players could collect that would potentially strand them on a planet, and a resource duplication exploit could significantly reduce the time needed to reach the game's endings.[83] The Windows version also garnered several reports of poor graphics rendering, framerates, and the inability to even start the game.[84][85] Within a day, Hello Games had identified several of the common issues and issued patches while working to provide better technical support and resolve other issues.[86] Murray stated that their initial patches for both systems would be "focused on customer support" before moving onto adding in new features.[87]

Future[edit]

Murray has offered the potential to extend the game through downloadable content that, because of the procedural generation systems used, would likely be in the form of added features rather than new content.[16] For example, with release of the day one patch, Hello Games has pointed to base building and the ability to purchase freighters as planned additions to the game.[78] Murray anticipates all updates will be freely available,[88] but did not rule out that some yet-planned features may require them to charge for the content.[89] Former Sony executive Shahid Ahmad, who led Sony's efforts to get No Man's Sky, stated that Hello Games had a planned schedule of updates for the game as early as 2013.[90]

The game's first major content patch, called the "Foundation Update", was released in November 2016 and added the ability for planet-side base-building, interstellar freighter purchases with similar base-building customization, as well as an open Creative mode. It also includes a Survival mode, which reduces the availability of resources and makes encounters with hostiles more difficult, and makes various other improvements.[91][92]

Murray did suggest the possibility of releasing modding tools for Windows players to alter the game, though noted that they would be limited, and would not allow players to create new planets in the game, for example.[93] About a week after the Windows release players had already started to examine the game's files and create unofficial mods, with at least one mod-sharing website offering these for distribution.[94] Hello Games have since provided patches that help to support these user mods.[95]

Murray stated in an interview with IGN prior to release that VR "would be a really good fit" for No Man's Sky, as the immersive experience could create "really intense moments within a game".[96][97] Murray also commented on the potential for a remastering of No Man's Sky for a system with more hardware capabilities, suggesting that they would be able to both increase the texture resolution and the degree of complexity of the flora and fauna on the planets.[98]

Reception[edit]

Pre-release[edit]

The first introduction of No Man's Sky at the 2013 VGX awards was considered to be the best aspect of the awards presentation.[99][100] Its expanded coverage at E3 2014 was also met with similar praise, with several critics considering it to have "stolen the show".[101][102][103] The title won the show's "Best Original Game" and "Best Independent Game" by a panel of game critics, as well as receiving the "Special Commendation for Innovation" title.[104]

Release[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic (PS4) 71/100[105]
(PC) 61/100[106]
Review scores
Publication Score
Destructoid 7/10[107]
EGM 7/10[108]
Game Informer 7.5/10[109]
Game Revolution 3.5/5 stars[110]
GameSpot 7/10[111]
GamesRadar 3.5/5 stars[112]
IGN 6/10[113]
PC Gamer (US) 64/100[114]
Polygon 6/10[115]
VideoGamer.com 6/10[116]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[117]
Metro 6/10[118]
PC Magazine 4/5 stars[119]
Time 4.5/5 stars[120]
US Gamer 3.5/5 stars[121]

No Man's Sky received mixed reviews from critics,[122] according to review aggregator website Metacritic.[105][106] While many praised the technical achievement of No Man's Sky's procedurally-generated universe, several critics found that the nature of the game can become repetitive and monotonous, with the survival gameplay elements being lackluster and tedious.[123][124][125][126][127][128] As summarized by Jake Swearingen in New York, "You can procedurally generate 18.6 quintillion unique planets, but you can’t procedurally generate 18.6 quintillion unique things to do."[129]

Some of the game's criticism was found to be a result of the limitations of what procedural generation can bring to a game. While the engine can produce a vast array of different planets, it is built atop a finite number of predetermined assets (such as basic creature shapes or planetary biomes), and one quickly exhausts these core assets even with the variations allowed by procedural generation.[130] An evaluation of the game's code showed that Hello Games had the foresight to enable new predetermined assets to be added into the game through updates, which Gamasutra's Alissa McAloon suggested that with more artists to provide more content, Hello Games or third-parties could exponentially expand the perceived uniqueness of each planet.[131] Kate Compton, who worked on the procedural generation elements of Spore, called this issue "procedural oatmeal", in that while you can pour a near infinite number of bowls of oatmeal with various differences, the end result still will look like a bowl of oatmeal.[132] Compton noted that No Man's Sky lacks a quality of perceptual uniqueness, a problem that other game researchers are looking to try to solve to provide a more crafted but still procedurally generated experience to the player, placing less emphasis on the vastness of potential outcomes as No Man's Sky's marketing relied on.[130][132]

Polygon's Ben Kuchera hypothesized that No Man's Sky may follow the same route as Destiny, a 2014 game that at release received lukewarm reviews as it lacked much of the potential that its developers and publishers had claimed in marketing, but with several major expansions that added several features, became a highly praised game. Kuchera referred to Hello Games' statements regarding new features, downloadable content, and tracking what players are interested in as evidence that No Man's Sky will evolve over time.[133]

Within 24 hours of the game's official launch, Hello Games reported that more than 10 million distinct species were registered by players, exceeding the estimated 8.7 million species identified to date on Earth.[134] On the first day of the Windows release, No Man's Sky saw more than 212,000 concurrent players on Steam, exceeding the largest number of concurrent players for most other games including other 2016 releases like XCOM 2 and Dark Souls III.[135] Chart-Track reported that sales of the physical release of No Man's Sky in the United Kingdom during the first week was the second-largest PlayStation 4 launch title published by Sony, following Uncharted 4, and the 5th highest across all publishers and Sony formats.[136] However, a week later, these numbers had dropped significantly: the concurrent player count on Steam fell under 23,000,[137] and United Kingdom sales fell by 81% in the second week.[138] The number of concurrent players on Steam fell to around 2,100 by the end of September 2016.[139] While player dropoff after release is common in games, the dropoff rate for No Man's Sky was considered unusually high.[140] Steam Spy reported that No Man's Sky had the third-highest "hype factor", a statistical measure of concurrent player dropoff from publicly-available reports, of all games released on Steam from the start of 2016 to August of that year.[141]

The game was the top downloaded title from the PlayStation Store in the month of August 2016.[142] Physical sales of No Man's Sky across both PlayStation 4 and Windows in August 2016 made it the second-highest selling game in North America by revenue that month, according to NPD Group.[143] SuperData Research stated that for the month of August 2016, No Man's Sky was the second highest grossing game in digital sales across all consoles, and sixth-highest for PC.[144] Steam developer Valve Corporation reported that No Man's Sky was one of the top twelve highest-grossing revenue games available on the platform during 2016,[145] while Steam Spy estimated that more than 823,000 copies were sold in 2016 for a total gross revenue of more than $43 million.[146]

No Man's Sky won the Innovation Award and was nominated for the Best Technology Award for the 2017 Game Developers Choice Awards.[147][148] Murray and other members of Hello Games had attended the Game Developers Conference, but had not expected to win anything given the game's reputation by that point, and opted to go elsewhere for dinner when they were named the winners of the Innovation Award.[149] The game was nominated for the Excellence in Technical Achievement for the 2017 SXSW Gaming Awards.[150] The title was also named for the British Game award for the 13th British Academy Games Awards.[151]

Soundtrack[edit]

The game's official soundtrack, Music for an Infinite Universe by 65daysofstatic, was released on August 5, 2016, and received positive reviews from music critics.[152] Andrew Webster of The Verge described the soundtrack as an extension of past 65daysofstatic albums, particularly from Wild Light, but with a greater science-fiction vibe to it, considering the track "Asimov" to be like "taking flight into a Chris Foss painting".[153] Sam Walker-Smart for Clash rated the album 8 out of 10, considered the album one of 65daysofstatic's best, and that it was "apocalyptic, transcendental and drenched in a sense of pure epic-ness".[154]

Issues over promotion[edit]

Since its reveal at the 2013 VGX show and over the course of its development, the potential of No Man's Sky had been widely promoted across the video game industry and created a great deal of hype.[155] Matt Kamen of Wired UK called No Man's Sky "perhaps one of, if not the, most hyped indie titles in the history of gaming".[156] Much of the attention has been drawn to the massive scope realised by the procedural generation of the game, and the relatively small size of the Hello Games' team behind it.[157][158] No Man's Sky was seen as a potential industry-changing title, challenging the status quo of triple-A game development, which according to Peckham, had become "rich and complacent".[159] The game had been considered to have similar potential to impact the game industry as Minecraft, though in contrast, The Atlantic's David Sims opined that Minecraft's relevance took several years to develop, while No Man's Sky was burdened with expectations from the start.[160] No Man's Sky has been considered by Nathan Lawrence of IGN as a mainstream-friendly space flight simulator game, providing controls that were "simple to learn and fascinating to plumb" compared to Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen while still offering engaging gameplay.[161]

During development[edit]

The concepts behind No Man's Sky, allowing for a "grail-like feedback loop" around the exploration of near-infinite space according to Time's Matt Peckham, created a great amount of anticipation for the game from gamers, as such lofty goals were often seen as a dare for them to challenge.[159] In a specific example, Hello Games had first claimed their system would achieve 4.3 billion planets (232) through the use of a 32-bit key; when players expressed doubt that this scope could be done, Hello Games altered their approach to use a 64-bit number as to create 18 quintillion planets to prove otherwise.[162][163] Many commentators compared No Man's Sky to 2008's Spore by Maxis, which had promised similar ambitions to use procedural generation to construct new creatures and worlds. However, by release, the extent of the use of procedural generation was scaled back during the course of production, and the resulting game was not as well-received as anticipated.[164] Murray was aware that some critics were applying caution to their view of No Man's Sky due to their previous experiences with Spore.[165][166]

Kris Graft for Gamasutra commented that many players and journalists had both high expectations for the game as well as wide expectations, with some believing that it would be, among other aspects, the "best space sim", the "best multiplayer action shooter", and the "best pure exploration game".[157] Ars Technica's Kyle Orland found that unlike Spore or Fable which had "saturation PR campaigns that promised revolutionary and industry-changing gameplay features" which failed to be present in the final releases, Hello Games' statements about No Man's Sky were "relatively restrained and realistic about what they were promising". Orland surmises that many players and journalists "layer[ed] their own expectations onto the game's gaps" from what Hello Games actually claimed.[155] Vlambeer's founder Rami Ismail considered the strength of the marketing campaign by Hello Games and Sony to generate interest in the game, calling the pitch using the concept of magnitudes and scale rather than absolutes as "a little masterclass in explaining an abstract concept to the largest possible audience"; Polygon's Ben Kuchera agreed on this point, but considered that the marketing may have gotten away from Sony and Hello Games since players did not have a concrete understanding of the game's limitations prior to launch.[167] Murray himself was aware of the "unrealistic, intangible level of excitement" that fans had of the game and given that they had been waiting three years to play it, would be expecting it to be perfect. He countered that he felt he and Hello Games tried to be "reasonably open and honest about what the game is" all throughout the marketing cycle to set expectations.[168] On the day before the official release, Murray cautioned players that No Man's Sky may not have been "the game you imagined from those trailers" and instead that the title was meant as a "very very chill game", giving players a universe-sized sandbox that makes you feel as if you "stepped into a sci-fi book cover"; Murray believed the game would have a "super divisive" response from players due to some of these expectations.[169]

No Man's Sky developed a dedicated fan-base before its release, with many congregating in a subreddit to track and share information published about the game.[160][168] Sam Zucchi writing for Kill Screen proposed that the players anxiously awaiting No Man's Sky were a kind of religion, putting faith in Hello Games to be able deliver an experience that has otherwise never been offered by video games before, the ability to explore a near-infinite universe.[170]

Following the news of the game's delay from June to August 2016, Murray, along with Kotaku writer Jason Schreier, who first reported on the rumor of the delay, received a number of death threats in response, which Murray publicly responded to in good humor.[171] The situation was seen by other journalists as a growing issue between the pre-release hype created by marketing for video games, and the excited nature of the fans of these games even before their release. New Statesman's Phil Hartup considered that when marketing for a game drives a need for any type of news by those anxious to play the game, disappointing news such as delays could readily lead to online fans reacting in a paranoid manner against marketing expectations.[172] Phil Owen writing for TheWrap blamed such issues on the video game marketers, as the field had become less about selling a game and more about creating a cult-like following for the game and "weaponizing fandom".[173]

At release[edit]

In addition to its mixed response from critics, player reaction to the release version of No Man's Sky has generally been negative in response to several issues at the game's launch, buoyed by early reactions from those that had played the game before its official release. Users expressed concern with the apparent lack of features and other issues associated with the PlayStation 4 launch,[174] while many players on the Windows version via Steam and GOG.com gave the game negative reviews due to the poor graphics capabilities or inability to launch the game.[84][85][175] Players were also disappointed at the apparent lack of features that Hello Games and Sony had stated in earlier announcements and interviews would be included in the game;[176] with a list initially compiled by members of the No Man's Sky subreddit consisting of all such features around a week after launch.[177] By October 2016, the game had one of the worst user-based ratings on Steam, with an aggregate "mostly negative" average from more than 70,000 users.[178] At the 2017 Game Developers Conference, Murray admitted they have far underestimated the number of players that would initially get the game; using estimates from Inside and Far Cry: Primal, both released just before No Man's Sky, the studio had expected about 10,000 concurrent players at launch, but in actuality saw over 500,000 players across both PlayStation 4 and Windows, with about half coming from the Windows side. This overwhelmed their expected server capacity and overloaded their support team with bug reports and technical help, leading to the noted problems with communications within the release window.[179] At the same event, Hello Games announced that they had started their own support program, known as "Hello Labs", which will help fund and support the developers of games using procedural generation, or otherwise experimental gameplay. Murray stated they anticipate funding one or two games at a time, and that one title was already part of the program at the time of announcement.[179]

One of the more significant features that appeared to be absent from the release version of No Man's Sky was its multiplayer capabilities. Hello Games had stated during development that No Man's Sky would include multiplayer elements, though the implementation would be far from traditional methods as one would see in a massive multiplayer online game, to the point where Murray has told players to not think of No Man's Sky as a multiplayer game.[21][169] Because of the size of the game's universe, Hello Games estimated that more than 99.9% of the planets would never be explored by players, and that the likelihood of meeting another player through chance encounters is nearly zero.[15] Murray had stated in a 2014 interview that No Man's Sky would include a matchmaking system that is similar to that used for Journey when such encounters do occur;[180] each online player would have an "open lobby" that any players in their in-universe proximity would enter and leave.[21] This approach was envisioned to provide "cool moments" for players as they encounter each other, but not meant to support gameplay like player versus environment or fully cooperative modes.[169]

Questions regarding the multiplayer aspects of No Man's Sky' were raised a day following the official release on the PlayStation 4. Two players attempted to meet up at the same location in the game's virtual universe after one player recognized the other by their username associated with a planetary discovery. Despite confirming they had been at the same spot on the same planet outside of the game through their respective Twitch.tv streams, they could not see each other.[174] Furthering this was the discovery that European copies of the limited edition packaging used a sticker to cover the PEGI online play icon.[181] Journalists noted a number of potential reasons why the players may not have encountered each other, including the users being on separate instances or server problems reported by Hello Games at launch, though some opined that this may have been a feature removed before launch.[174] Hello Games noted that they have had "far more" players than they expected at launch and are bringing on more people to help support the game along with patching the critical issues at the game's launch, but they have not made a direct statement on the multiplayer situation as of September 2016.[174][182][183][184][74]

Outside of patch notes, Hello Games had effectively gone silent on social media right after the game's release up until the announcement of the Foundation update in late November 2016. Murray, who used the Hello Games' Twitter account with some frequency before release, had not been visible online for the first two months following the game's release.[185] In the announcement of this update, Hello Games admitted to being "quiet" but have been paying attention to the various criticisms leveled at the game.[91] Schreier from Kotaku and Ben Kuchera of Polygon commented that some of the negative player reaction was due to a lack of clarification on these apparently missing features from either Hello Games or Sony in the weeks just after release, with Kuchera further stating that with the silence from either company, "the loudest, most negative voices are shouting unopposed" and leading to a strong negative perception of the game.[183][184] Kuchera later wrote that many of the issues in the lead-up and follow-up to No Man's Sky's release, whether by choice or happenstance, provide many lessons on the importance of proper public relations. Kuchera specifically pointed to the decision to withhold review copies and an apparent lack of public relations (PR) to manage statements relating to what features would be in the game. Kuchera also noted that many people had taken the hype generated by the press only to be disappointed by the final game, and that consumers did have ways to evaluate the game following its release before they purchased the title.[74] Sony president Shuhei Yoshida admitted that Hello Games did not have "a great PR strategy" for No Man's Sky, in part for lacking a dedicated PR staff to manage expectations, but still support the developers as they continue to patch and update the game.[186] Jesse Signal, writing for the Boston Globe noted that some of the hype for No Man's Sky may be attributed to game journalists themselves for getting too excited about the game, positing "Had journalists asked certain questions at certain times, perhaps it would have been more difficult for Hello Games to make promises it couldn’t deliver on."[187]

The lack of features in the release version of the game became a point of contention, with many players using the Steam and GOG.com review pages, along with Metacritic reviews, to give it poor ratings.[84][85][174][175] Sean Murray received a great deal of online criticism from players, including accusations of lying.[188][189] A Reddit user temporarily took down the documented list of removed features after he received messages that congratulated him on "really sticking it to these 'dirtbag' devs", which was not his intention in publishing the list; he wanted no part of the anger towards Hello Games.[190] The subreddit forum had become hostile due to a lack of updates from Hello Games or Sony, leading one moderator to delete the subreddit due to the toxicity of the comments, later undoing that action on further review.[191] The Hello Games' Twitter account had been hacked into in October 2016 and used to post the message "No Man’s Sky was a mistake" among other tweets before the companies regained control of it, leading to confusion and additional drama within the community.[192] Users sought refunds for the game via both Sony and Valve outside of the normal time allowance for claiming such refunds by their policies, citing the numerous bugs within the game and/or the lack of features,[193] and while some players claim to have received such refunds, both companies have reemphasized their refund policies in response to the volume of refund requests.[194]

Game journalist Geoff Keighley, who had been in discussions with Murray and Hello Games throughout the development, had expressed concern to Murray in the year leading up to release, according to Keighley in September 2016. He said he was "internally conflicted" about the state of the game near its release, recognizing that many of the features that Murray had been talking about were not going to make it, and compared Murray to Peter Molyneux who had overpromised on a vision for his games that ultimately fell short. Keighley had expressed to Murray his concern that the $60 price tag was a bit steep for the current state of the game and recommended that they take an early access approach instead. According to Keighley, Murray said he didn't want to be around Keighley anymore as he was "a little too negative about the game and [Keighley]'s assessment of where the team was at". Keighley felt that Murray could not "rip off that band-aid" and explain exactly what had made it and had to be cut for the game prior to release, and in the end appeared to "disrespect his audience". As such, Keighley sympathized with those that felt they were misled by the marketing. Keighley rekindled the relationship with Murray since launch, and anticipated discussing more of what happened near release with him.[195] Sony Chairman Shawn Layden, in November 2016, stated that Hello Games had an "incredible vision" and a "very huge ambition" for No Man's Sky, and that the developers are still working to update the game to bring it to what they wanted, adding that "sometimes you just don't get all the way there at the first go". Layden further expressed that from Sony's side, they recognized that they "don't want to stifle ambition" and force a specific style of play onto their games.[196]

In September 2016, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of the United Kingdom, following on "several complaints", began an investigation into the promotion of No Man's Sky. The ASA has authority to require publishers to remove offending advertising materials if they are found in violation of ASA standards. In the No Man's Sky complaints directed at Hello Games and Valve, the ASA specifically evaluated materials used on the Steam store page to promote the game that demonstrate features that do not appear to be a part of the final game, but has also reviewed other official promotional outlets including the game's official YouTube channel.[140][197] Several game industry lawyers, speaking to PC Gamer, noted that while the ASA has successfully taken action in previous cases of false advertising, demonstrating such for a procedurally-generated game of No Man's Sky scope may be difficult since it is impossible to play the entire game to prove something does not exist. The lawyers also noted that most of what Murray and other Hello Games members said outside of any official promotional channels, such as interviews or through social media, cannot be taken as part of the game's advertising, furthering limiting the claims that the ASA can act on.[198] The ASA ruled in November 2016 that the Steam storepage advertising of No Man's Sky was not in breach of their standards, attributing the used footage and screenshots to be reasonable representative of the average player's experience with a procedurally-generated game, and dismissed the submitted complaints; the ASA further ruled that as Valve has no control over what Hello Games included on the store page, they were not liable for the material either.[199][200]

Post-release updates[edit]

On 25 November 2016, Hello Games announced it was planning on bringing a large update, known as the Foundation Update, to the game, stating that "We have been quiet, but we are listening and focusing on improving the game that our team loves and feels so passionately about."[201] Hello Games had not mentioned a release window, and many journalists were surprised when the update was released just two days later.[202] The update was generally well received by journalists, that while not fully satisfying all the features that seemed to have been promised for the game, helped to push the game into the right direction in anticipation of future major patches.[203][204] The update had drawn back some players that had previously turned their back to the game and created a better reception across some players,[205] while others still remained disappointed from the game's initial release problems.[206]

In retrospective following the patch, journalists generally commended Hello Games for staying quiet about the exact details of the update until just prior to its release to avoid the same situation that the game got on its initial release.[207][208] Gamasutra named Hello Games one of its top ten developers for 2016 not only for the technical achievements within No Man's Sky, but also for not collapsing amid the anger directed at the company and instead keeping to making improvements to the game.[209]

Influence[edit]

The discontinuity between No Man's Sky expectations and its initially-released product are considered a milestone in video game promotion, with many sources considering how to properly promote a game in a "post No Man's Sky world".[210][211][212][213]

The situation around No Man's Sky's promotion using screenshots and videos that were not from the game's final state (a practice known as "bullshots") led to discussion among developers, publishers, and journalists of how to best showcase upcoming games without being deceptive to the audience. Keighley, who felt some responsibility for the No Man's Sky situation, announced that all games that will be shown during The Game Awards 2016 ceremony would be more focused on gameplay of near-completed titles, using a Let's Play-type format, rather than allowing for scripted or pre-rendered videos.[214] Several journalists attribute a change in Valve's Steam storefront policies in November 2016, requiring all game screenshots and videos to be from the final product, as a response to the No Man's Sky situation.[215][216]

The failure of No Man's Sky's promotional aspects has affected other space simulation and open world games that are based on the premise of providing a vast ranging sandbox for players, as players have become wary of the broad claims that these games might make. Novaquark, the developers of the upcoming open-world Dual Universe, found themselves struggling to complete their Kickstarter funding in the months immediately after No Man's Sky's release, but have recognized the need to be open and transparent to potential funders on what the game will and will not have.[217] Fenix Fire, the developers of the space exploration game Osiris: New Dawn, used the various question-and-answers that Sean Murray had to handle during the pre-release period as to gauge what players were looking for in such games and guide development of their own game.[218] According to a report from Kotaku, BioWare had envisioned that Mass Effect: Andromeda would use procedural generation for creating a universe to explore prior to No Man's Sky's announcement, and further pushed for this following the exciting for No Man's Sky once it was announced, but could not get the procedural generation to work well with the Frostbite 3 game engine, and had to scrap these plans by 2015.[219] Eurogamer's Wesley Yin-Poole observed that following No Man's Sky problematic release, developers appear to be "keeping their cards close to their chests for fear of failing to deliver on a promise that never should have slipped out in the first place"; as an example, he stated that Rare's Sea of Thieves, whereas having only been promoted through obscure videos that left too many questions to potential players in its earlier stages, has started an "Insider" program in December 2016 to provide limited alpha-testing access and more concrete gameplay videos.[220]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The game was stated before release to have included multiplayer but there have been several issues regarding its availability within the title. See description of multiplayer features and issues found with multiplayer after release for details.
  2. ^ Specifically, the number of planets is 264 or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616, based on the 64-bit seeding process used in the game.

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External links[edit]