Everybody’s talking about No Man’s Sky, the space exploration, trading, fighting and survival game.
They’re talking about its explorable planets (some of them beautiful, others deadly), the thousands of spaceships (some of them weird), the infinite synth soundtrack (by electro-rockers 65daysofstatic) and the fact that one guy paid $1,300 (£995) for a leaked copy of the game, so he could be the first to play it.
In terms of anticipation and hype, No Man’s Sky is arguably the biggest game of the year.
In one sense, it is the biggest game of the year. We’ve seen some vast game worlds recently. Fallout 4’s nuke-devastated Boston map, for example, is reportedly around 43 square miles. While the joyfully explosive Just Cause 3 sprawls across a fictional island chain that covers 400 square miles.
The old Codemasters driving sandbox, Fuel, sounds impressive when you hear it had a playable game world measuring 5,560 square miles. That is until you compare it to old gaming favourite The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, which had a map that was a whopping 62,394 square miles, peppered with cities, towns and dungeons.
Simulating an entire planet would be an impressive step up. Our Earth has a surface area of 196.9 million miles squared. But No Man’s Sky simulates over 18 quintillion planets — humid jungle worlds with purple grass and carnivorous plants; dark moons illuminated by bioluminescent mushrooms; alien steppes forever pelted with spacesuit-melting toxic rain.
Consider that these planets exist in a string of galaxies estimated to be some 80,000 light years across. (To put that in perspective, one light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles). The game is so big that No Man’s Sky developer Hello Games has suggested that, even if you visited one planet every second, it would take you five billion years to see them all.
How does a small indie game studio create an entire universe? Not by hand, certainly. Instead, Hello Games uses a series of algorithms to create every mountain and ocean, every cloud, tree, cave and rock, and every bird, lizard, mammal and gargantuan space dinosaur. The ‘procedural’ systems can create almost infinite planetary variations for players.
Not even the game’s creator knows what you’ll find when you play.
As such, No Man’s Sky offers an enticing proposition. Such mind-boggling vastness ensures that every player will see interstellar sights that nobody else will ever see. Every player starts on a different planet and faces different challenges to survive. You might start on an ice-cold moon. I might awake on a lime green hellhole world bathed in radioactivity. There’s no walkthrough you can follow. The adventure is yours alone.
It’s a welcome departure from the often tightly scripted, limited game worlds we’ve seen up until now, where players all experience the same core gaming moments. Of course, this sandbox freedom demands a PC with at least a Core i3 processor and you’ll gain better planetary performance with an i5 or a Core i7. The game’s planet-building algorithms will push your processor to the limit.
Of course, size isn’t everything. A vastly bigger game map doesn’t necessarily make for a bigger, better game. Fallout 4 might only be 43 miles squared, but Bethesda fills those irradiated miles with all manner of memorable moments. But No Man’s Sky could prove to be a milestone in gaming, one that apes Minecraft’s appeal with an open-world, open-ended design that’s not bound by levels, invisible map boundaries or linear missions.
What do you do in No Man’s Sky? Ultimately, your journey to the stars is what you make it. For some explorers, that will be the most exciting part of playing.