Posted by Jacob Winokur

I enjoy the occasional tasteful romance in a story, but the sometimes weirdly forced relationships in anime do not quite wet my whistle, so thus I prefer to avoid the classic Japanese anime and manga. One anime caught me off guard: Sword Art Online. For those who have not heard of it, SAO is a anime cult classic which is based on a manga about children who get trapped in a full-dive virtual reality massive multiplayer online role playing game (VRMMORPG). I watched it with the hopes of spectacular video game fantasy action, but found that it had more than just that. I was treated with a social experiment. These kids were thrown into a land in which they could not escape and instead of panicking, they start to fight their way out. They learn to adapt. Most importantly, they make a society.

Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online

This show helped me realize what all people want: to create something new. That is the reason why Minecraft has more than 100 million users. Its combination of creation and survival makes it the staple of survival games. What makes this game successful is the fact that it can run on lower graphic setups, and it does this by procedurally generating the terrain as the player explores. To those who keep updated with the gaming community, this may sound vaguely familiar in relation to another game: No Man’s Sky.

No Man’s Sky takes place in a massive universe and is a multiplayer space exploration game with players playing online in the same universe. Players also get to choose and follow a role as either a scientist (planetary fauna, creatures, and minerals), starfighter, and starfreighter by customizing their exploration ship. They will be playing to discover new planets, which they get to name and harvest materials from them. This game is designed isolate the user in an undiscovered universe, yet make them feel like they are not in there alone.

NOTE 1: This seems like to be what is called in gaming community a massive multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG for short.

NOTE 2: The developer, Sean Murray of Hello Games, himself stated himself that this game is not designed to be an MMORPG.

Developer Hello Games celebrating the completion of No Man's Sky.
Developer Hello Games celebrating the completion of No Man's Sky.

I want to see this game work.

All respect to Hello Games and Sean Murray for making a game that will shape how games are made in the future, but the game he is making is doing two things. It is lying to itself about its identity and setting itself up for failure in the long run.

First let us talk about the true identity. To break this down, let’s compare the game to the acronym MMORPG.

Massive: This universe is massive. Sean claims on several accounts that No Man's Sky will contain an estimated 18.5 quintillion planets. That’s right, 18.5 times ten the 18th power planets. Now let’s say that the same amount of users who bought Minecraft, the most populous game to date, also bought a copy of No Man's Sky. To understand this size, let us reduce all the planets and player down to uniformly small points, reduce the space between each planet to infinitely small distances, and place the planets and players on the same flat plane. The players would cover only 0.000000000006% of the area covered by the planets. In comparison, if this area was to cover the entire United States, the players would easily fit inside 1.5 square inches (or 10 square centimeters) with some wiggle room. I see where Sean says that it is not the best to play with others, or even see others, especially considering the fact these planets are far apart and and these planets are legitimately sized planets, but if Hello Games were to allow some level of quick fast travel to meet up with a friend, how will that effect anyone else? If ever one were to double up, then the players now take up less than ¾ square inches. Explain to me again why it’s so important that everyone must be separate? To avoid player killers? Yeah, I’ll test my luck if that means that I can play with my friends.

Multiplayer: Look, I understand why they made it multiplayer, but there are plenty of ways to make solitary games successful. Look at Minecraft. It’s solitary exploration over a procedurally generated arena proved itself successful, but Mojang, the original developers of the game, knew that exploration and creation would get old fast, so they added the ability to create servers. MMO servers soon provided mini games and settlements along with monetary systems within the game. Societies were created. Hello Games will run into the same problem that Mojang did. They already have a multiplayer system running. If they don’t embrace that and allow those who want to explore with others, they will crash and be forgotten by the masses like any other indie game riding in the wake of Minecraft.

'Minecraft' on the left, 'No Man’s Sky' on the right.
'Minecraft' on the left, 'No Man’s Sky' on the right.

Now consider the idea of collaboration. Two players could meet up and create a base and explore worlds together. One could fly a freighter ship while the other could act as an escort fighter ship. Now consider 3 years into the future, factions are created. This being a multiplayer game (I continue on the trope because I assume that you are on the same page as I am), sections of space are claimed and controlled by organizations of players. Legions of AI guards could be hired to do various tasks when players are out of the game. There is already an economy set in, so trade routes and taxes are created in return for support from the joined factions. Factions battle and make treaties, but there will always be solo players in any great community, thus creating a society. I brought up SAO in beginning of this rant because of the society these fictional kids created. It is a fascinating study of the human condition. Watching the show is watching a society develop from nothing to a purpose driven metropolis. Playing the game would be close to the same thing.

Online: It can be played offline, but all discoveries will not be shared until logged onto an internet source. But let’s be honest, it’s meant to be played online.

Role Playing: As I said before you can develop your ship to the task at hand, whether it be for science, fighting, or freighting. You can also advance your suit to be more resilient on the various planet environments. Either way, you are still are choosing a class based off of your resources and personal preference.

Game: No one should be arguing this.

So let’s say a farmer desires a cow. He goes to town and searches for the best prices, but nothing is cheap enough, but the pigs are cheap. An idea blossoms in the farmer’s head: make the pig look like a cow, act like cow, and moo like a cow and it will be a cow. It can’t be milked nor be harvested for beef. Needless to say, this farmer was not successful. Sean Murray and Hello Games, in all their good intentions and creative genius, are disillusioned. They are correct that is nearly impossible to encounter anything other than AI traders, space pirates, and explorers, but denying that fact that No Man's Sky is not a MMORPG is ignorant of the literal definition of their creation. Just because a pioneer decides to pave a new path, does not mean that path is far from the original road.

When Sean says that No Man's Sky is not a MMO, what he is comparing it to the densely player packed worlds of World of Warcraft style games. As a developer, you must simplify your creation so that the general consumer can understand. MMO’s these days are designed around the path set by Blizzard’s masterpiece, so if Sean were to call No Man's Sky an MMO, thousands of people would pull away at the mention of such an cooperative game. The truth is that this is not an cooperative game. I agree with Sean on that, but in his endeavour to simplify No Man Sky’s explanations has over simplified the description, because it is a MMORPG. Sean is calling his pig a cow and the most vocal members of the community (*coughcough* subreddit /r/NoMansSkyTheGame) were tricked.

Yeah, I’ll test my luck if it means that I can play with my friends.

On the matter of longevity, one must look at path set by Mojang’s procedurally generated one-hit wonder. As I said before, Mojang evolved Minecraft to keep its relevance. The addition of online gaming on custom servers allowed the game to constantly evolve to what players want. No Man's Sky has the possibility to be more than just a simple space exploration game. Such games are one trick ponies with shelf life of mere months. Sean has made it seem that No Man's Sky will be the premier exploration game, but how long can it last when all your pony does is find new animals, plants, and geography. He hinted at a story, but it sounds so vague and hollow, that it seems futile. The animals, plants, and geography are randomly generated as the player explores, but how long before the player sees all there is to be seen?

I want to see this game work. I want to see a massive unexplored world expand in front of me in the games I am to play in the future. This game could headline a revolution to move games towards more expansive worlds with more robust landscapes, but only if it successful. I believe that the millions of people that will buy it on opening day will forget about it 2 years later. I believe that the only way to prevent this is to adapt through in-game market expansion, interstellar travel, and a construction system.

A game called Warframe is one of the most versatile in-game environments I have ever seen. Its play style combines the checkpointed horde fighting gameplay of Left 4 Dead, with hack-n-slash/shoot-em-up sci-fi action of those indie games that no one cares about on mid-week madness Steam sales. If you are not fighting off hordes of AI enemies, you in your landing craft, selling, trading, and negotiating with other players to obtain items or in-game currency. There is also a developed market for certain items. One day one item might skyrocket in price due to that fact that a mission or an update made that item a high valued commodity. No Man's Sky has a market system implemented, but it seems to not be the most robust. There are traders. There are stations to trade in. But imagine a lobby in which the players could teleport to trade with other players, buy directly from their friends, visit seedy black markets, or just watch the prices of the different minerals collected fluctuate like stock brokers. An intergalactic economy could develop within the game that could mimic what really happens in the real world. Not only would it allow players to control how much they pay, but also would make for an atmosphere that could be more profitable for the traders, a challenge for the bored players, and a petri dish to study how millennials and generation x will control the economy in the future. It maybe even be possible that new systems of governing could form from this as well. This world from an analytical point of view is a breeding ground of information like no other.

Imagine a player meets their friend on this subspace market. They can get coordinates from their friend to where go to meet up with them. They could transport to their friend and work together with them to create a team: one freights materials collected and the other escorts that freighter. Sean does emphasize that this is meant to be played in isolation, and the only reason why there’s multiplayer is to make the player feel that they are not alone. He claims that it is highly unlikely that you will ever encounter anyone. (He even said that the characters will not be labeled on the screen, but the player suits will look different from anything else in the game.) But this is an MMORPG by definition. I have done the math to show that his statement is true, so if I were to link up with my roommate on NMS and work together, the chance of ever seeing another player is reduced even greater. So the idea that I want to play with some of my closest friends will not only barely affect the other players, but the more I join up with, the less likely that chance will even see another player. When the fans scream heresy at the idea of team playing on a (by definition) MMORPG, they are shooting themselves in the foot, because let’s be honest, I do not know how long I can roam around the universe by myself. I hop onto a game to be taken in and be distracted from the real world, but when I need a change of pace inside of video game, then something is wrong.

If you let the people expand by themselves and learn about their new unexplored universe, they will discover more about themselves and sometimes more about them game than the developers meant to be discovered. That is the true joy in life: discovering something the maker did not even know existed. When you find a path that no one else has ever discovered, then that is your path. Human nature is to expand, and limiting them to just discovering would limit the experience and thus the possibilities.

I believe that games can expand us as a society. We can study people’s behaviors and thought processes through these exercises. We can also test systems of government and other social experiments with such activities with greater accuracy than any survey could. Games can unlock the creativity centers of the brain and stimulate the need to invent and change the world. If you limit these games, you placed a can of soda in the freezer ( spoiler alert, it explodes). Eventually the community pushes back and makes modifications to the games, but that mostly only works in single player games. No Man's Sky is a MMORPG designed to be played as a single player game. It is an oxymoronic game that, assuming Hello Games keeps the mind set they have now for years to come, about to shoot itself in the foot.

Almost every gamer I know has Minecraft installed on their computer. I have not played it recently, but if I were to jump on a server at any given time, a player can see that Minecraft is absolutely still relevant. Youtuber Captainsparklez started with Call of Duty, but is very relevant because of is constant posting of Minecraft custom maps. The fact that he has almost ten million subscribers to his youtube channel, added with his main medium, proves that Minecraft is definitely relevant.

Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is similar in that most people own a copy. It is a single player RPG with stellar storytelling and excellent exploration mechanics. A player can play through a story only so many times, just as a reader can only read a book so many times. Since this is offline single player, the player can alter the game all they want. That’s what they did. The fact the the Skyrim community is four years old and still strong, is because the modification community is keeping it afloat. This also can be said about the rest of Bethesda’s, the developer of Skyrim, creations.

No Man's Sky is a single lobby game. Any modifications or custom creations will be on the developer side. Any changes is solely up to what Sean says so. They have set themselves up with a platform which greatly limits the connection between players which allows them to let players play how they want to play, except if you want to play with friends because that would take away from the idea of the solitude of space.

When I need a change of pace inside of video games, then something is wrong.

Those who crave an exploration game will love it. By no means will their release be unsuccessful, but player like those who play on the thousands of Minecraft servers with forget this game within a year. I would forget this game in a year. My roommate would forget about this game. I do not want this game to fall into a niche audience. This game has the opportunity to define how games are made from here on out, and if it falls away from a broad audience, gamers might lose future mass procedurally generated games. A new sub-genre of MMO’s might appear and disappear. This style of game is what us gamers have been craving for and it is not until now that we get it.