I will come out in the open and say it and I am not one bit ashamed of it: my love for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar knows no boundaries. The movie had the perfect blend of urgency, hopelessness, and isolation that had me on the edge of my seat from the moment the countdown reached zero. The concept of exploring deep space with only the human element of characterization made for a unique twist on space travel. The lack of supernatural and extraterrestrial life gave me the feeling of hopelessness in that we, as humans, may someday die and that, when the time comes, we will die alone.
In 2013, Hello Games first teased No Man's Sky, which predates Interstellar by nearly a full calendar year. I would like to say that I was on the No Man's Sky train, or ship, the moment it was announced, but I remained hesitant at first. Full disclosure, I am not one for science fiction or space fiction. I honestly could not care less for Star Wars and Star Trek and other space inspired media, such as Mass Effect which did not grab my attention. The initial pitch for No Man's Sky caught my interest because of my profession as a biology teacher. A randomly generated universe that uses mathematics to determine whether or not planets would sustain life seemed like the perfect way to rope in a gamer who also studies the science of life. After sitting through Interstellar, the idea of space travel and pure galactic exploration became a central focus as well.
Primordial soup, a concept in which life was created through the combination of volcanic vents and a chemically enriched ocean fusing the base components of ribonucleic acid with other organic macromolecules (proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates) in order to spontaneously generate life, is a relatively agreed upon theory for the origin of life on Earth. The idea that the right mixture of molecules and compounds would combine to generate a single celled organism, which would then lead to the evolution of modern day species, fascinates me so much that I am excited to see how Hello Games' algorithm will mirror that of our own evolutionary history. I am not expecting the game to run an accurate simulation of Earth's spontaneous generation and evolutionary history; however, it would be nice to see some biological accuracy when observing the life of an alien planet within No Man's Sky.
The lack of a scientifically accurate life generation mechanism is not a make or break feature for me when it comes to No Man's Sky. Would it be nice to use this game as a hook for intriguing students in all things biology? Yes. Would I love to be able to use this as a classroom tool when teaching evolution of life? Yes. Do I want Hello Games to name their algorithm Primordial Soup? Uhhh, yea! But the lack of these criteria will not turn me off of this particular video game. In the end, No Man’s Sky is still going to entertain me with its interstellar travel; however, there are concerns placed within this area of gameplay as well.
I have remained relatively in the dark on news about No Man's Sky. My plan is to enter this universe with as little knowledge possible; however, some news, or concerns in my eyes have entered my brain as I visited various sites in search of non related content. No Man's Sky as a resource based survival game is a concept that excites me because it adds a sense of urgency to the equation; however, the ongoing presence of a galactic police force of sorts and complex intelligent life takes away some of my excitement. I understand the idea of a persistent universe in which all gamers will explore the same planets. I also understand how you would want to keep players in check by not allowing them to completely ravage a planet; however, would a somewhat social experiment where the players are the only intelligent life work for a game like this?
I like the idea of leaving the preservation or depletion of planets up to the player. For a game that is meant to be a race to the center of the universe, another topic I will touch upon, it really seems to take the player on player competition away by making the players main struggle with the AI police force the focal point of the game. I want to be faced with the moral choice of depleting every resource a planet has, including all of its living organisms, just to get a leg up on the competition. It seems, though, that the developers want to prevent this exact type of gameplay from taking place. From the way this game appears to be shaping up, the only sense of urgency and conflict this game brings to the table is an ever prominent regulating force pushing back if you push too hard.
On the topic of urgency, Interstellar had me counting every minute, or year, that was wasted during the odyssey of the saviors of Earth's future generations. The idea that there was a time limit looming over the mission added a tension that never changed. Time was the ultimate antagonist, it never changed and it did not care how hard the explorers tried. From what I observed, No Man's Sky seems to have this simple plot: race to the center of the universe. If that is the only impetus, I have to ask myself why even have a plot or objective in the first place? I await a reveal of the true nature of the plot of this game; whether it be the player is from a destroyed planet and is exploring the universe for other survivors or if there is a myth in the game that states that the heavens or almighty being is at the center of the universe, I will still be excited. If the game ends up being a simple race, my engagement with the game may be lessened. My dream scenario would be that the key to all life, the big bang, can only be found at the center of the universe and that you play as someone on a pilgrimage to discover these answers. As it stands now, the idea of exploring new planets for the sake of curiosity is enough to warrant a full price purchase for me; however, I will need something more to keep me engaged.
What is this game to me if it fails to have urgency and deep scientifically accurate systems? It is simply a game in which I can be teleported to a new world, or series of worlds, in which I can take ownership over my discoveries. There is one area of advertised gameplay that I know Hello Games will deliver upon, and that is that I will have my own unique experience that no other person will have. I understand that ninety percent of the planets I explore will be sad and barren, but they will be my sad little planets. Whether or not I actually get to play with other explorers is negligent as long as the impacts I make on my planets appear in other players’ worlds. If I deplete a planet of its resources, no other player should be able to obtain anything from that planet. Unfortunately, random generation cannot replace the good puzzle or world designs as well as well-placed secrets that traditional hand-crafted world design can create; however, it does bring a sense of randomness and newness around every corner. This is a game that I look forward to staying up all night playing because that next planet may just be the one blooming with life that I spent hours looking for, or it may just be an ice planet, which is pretty cool in its own way.
This piece is not meant to be a downer or negative impression of the game. I was sold on the original concept of exploring these randomly generated planets and my purchase was more or less solidified after Christopher Nolan captivated me with the idea of interstellar travel grounded in reality; however, it is important for expectations to remain checked. It is troubling to see that we are a little over a month out from this game’s release and there are still so many questions that need to be answered. Part of the allure of this game is that these answers will need to be discovered by the players; however, there is one question that Hello Games and Playstation needs to answer: why do I need to play this game? Whether or not we get an answer between now and release is irrelevant to me, I guess. I will begin my journey to the center of the universe on June 21, 2016.
Are you excited to explore No Man's Sky
** All screenshots sourced from Playstation's official website**