As a lifelong gamer, I'm always on the lookout for where the industry is heading. The technology powering games as improved exponentially over the past 20 years, but for much of that time the kinds of games we play have stayed more or less the same. A person who played Doom back in the day can watch someone play Call of Duty and see the spinal structure of the first person shooter that they played as a kid. You can say the same for games in almost every modern genre.
It's rare that a game comes along and reshapes the way I think about what a video game can be. A couple of years ago Minecraft came along and became a platform for people to get together and experience infinite creation together. It was an experience unlike any other in gaming, and it has become a billion dollar franchise. As much as I respect Minecraft from afar, and am truly dazzled by some of the insane creations it users come up with -
- I just don't like I have the time or creative energy to experience the game in the way that I appreciate it as a casual observer.
When Hello Games took the stage at Sony's E3 press conference two years ago, they showed off a game with a premise so mind boggling large in scope that it didn't seem real. The development team is only a handful of people, but with No Man's Sky they were promising a game that contained millions of planets that you can explore at your leisure. Everything about the game, from it's visuals to the sound, to the incredible sense of exploration looks like something that should have taken a team of hundreds of people many, many years to make.
Sean Murray, the Managing Director of Hello games and the lead developer for No Mans Sky says that the secret sauce for the game is math. The worlds in the game are completely procedurally generated - which means you are never going to see the same kind of planet twice because everything about them is randomized by the code in the game. It's this code that allows this game to be what even it's most ambitious contemporaries (see: Witcher 3, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, any Rockstar game) can not.
So how does one play a game of infinite scope. A game in which you can play your entire life and still not see all of. Well, the people at Hello Games are not letting the cat out of the bag in that regard. Their answers have tended to be on the coy side. No Man's Sky is clearly a game about exploration, and there seems to be something at the center of the games galaxy that seems to be worth the players time to explore. But beyond a few small tidbits the developers want players to find their own way when it comes to playing the game.
One of the things that makes video games such a promising medium for art is that it allows the player to experience the infinite in ways that they will never be able to in real life. For so many years games have constrained themselves into narrowly scripted thrill rides, that force the player to feel like they are part of a ride at an amusement park. No Man's Sky is an attempt to break that cycle, and open our eyes to what the future of the medium can be. It looks pretty brilliant from where I'm sitting.