Undeniably the launch for No Man's Sky has been divisive. No getting around that. In this article I will outline what happened, what went wrong, what evidence exists to support critics claims and what can be done going forward to fix the game and gain the communities trust back. Minor spoilers ahead about the premise, but nothing story related or major.
I've never heard of this game before
For those of you who don't know, No Man's Sky is a survival sandbox exploration game, created by Hello Games and published by Sony. It has been the brainchild (and life) of Sean Murray for a few years. The main pull being a procedurally generated and unexplored universe for players to thrive in. The game was touted to have multiplayer elements that allow players to meet by accident (although rare, given the size of the setting).
So, let's get some things out of the way first:
- No Man's Sky has been my most anticipated game since it's announcement in 2013.
- I preordered the game in the beggining of 2016 on PC.
- I am genuinely enjoying it so far, it's so relaxing and really my thing.
- Information and sources have been linked and listed at the bottom of this article.
- There are genuine issues with the game both technically and conceptually.
To be quite frank, the launch of this game has been shoddy. It's initial release date of June 21st (approx) was pushed back to the 9 th of August (approx) due to developer Hello Games requiring more time to finish the game, declining to attend E3 to give themselves more time stating “we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up”. This showed us early on that the game may release with issues, unfortunately for me this was all announced the week after my pre-order was paid for.
PS4 review copies were handed out by the devs but no PC codes were given out according to Total Biscuit. This is detailed in his excellent videos on the topic, found here and here (he also briefly discusses how the game could never have lived up to the hype). This was not a good sign for the PC version, any lack of review copies given out for a specific platform can indicate problems for said platform early on.
Towards the release in August early copies were leaked to PS4 owners and the game was supposedly completed in 30ish hours by one gamer. This led to Hello Games applying a day one patch for both PS4 and PC copies to address this issue and various others. Adding new features such as the three paths system and tinkering with the universe generation algorithm, detailed in a blog post by Hello Games here.
Quickly after the official release on PS4 a pair of streamers tested the multiplayer functionality and could not see each other whilst in the same location. One player even packet captured their game and reported that no location data was sent to the server. This caused a rift in the community, between fans and detractors. One side defending the game, the other demanding apologies and a refund.
However, as stated in an interview with Sean Murray by Game Informer “What we can do is, like many games that you have at the moment, where you are flying around with an open lobby. People are coming into that lobby and leaving it, I guess the whole of the entire community could organize to go to one specific spot and then they would find that they weren't all there at the same time.”.
Both of these experiences and quotes match up to a general server/lobby issue, as the game would not send location data unless it was absolutely neccescary (I.e you are not in a lobby with someone nearby) and the two streamers may not have been in the same lobby. Until this issue is directly commented upon by Sony, Sean or Hello Games the controversy will not be setelled and their collective reputation will continue to suffer.
Other issues faced include performance issues on both PS4 and PC, a bug has surfaced where users who activate their preorder bonus early on can't progress in the game (becoming stranded due to lack of hyperdrive related blueprints, solved by luck or resetting your game). Lastly, some PC users couldn't alt-tab without the game crashing.
The performance issue has been partially addressed by Hello Games in a blog post, which includes common ways to fix most issues (including launch crashes) followed up by an experimental build that helps to stabilise framerate for PC players and fix the alt-tab issue. I've tried the experimental build myself and it is a HUGE improvement, stabilising my framerate and allowing me to alt-tab.
This Man's Sky
I love this game, conceptually. Bar all the issues on PC I've still been having a lot of fun with the game. The art style is fantastic, aided by the general concept into accidentally creating amazing scenes that could easily be sci-fi posters. The soundtrack reminds me of John Carpenter, Blade Runner and synthwave artists such as Gunship, Kavinsky and HOME. For me, this is perfect, it all blends together to create something that I find quite relaxing and satisfying.
It's very good at making you realise how small you are in comparison to the universe.
Nothing else quite recreates that feeling for me.
It's been a long time since I've thought “ooo that sounds like fun let's do that” about an unscripted event whilst playing a game. I've caught myself thinking this several times during my time with the game. Most recently when receiving a signal about a crashed ship I could loot or even take for my own.
But (and this is a big one), this game really is the best example I can point to (bar Skyrim) of “Size of an ocean with the depth of a puddle”. As amazing as the spectacle is there really isn't much else to do if you don't know how to create your own fun. The large majority of the fun that you will have in the game is exploring planets and seeing what the procedural algorithm throws out. Bar a few minor storylines and the lore of each race, there isn't really a lot going for it. If you're fascinated by the tech behind it and dig the art style, you'll love this game.
The flight model is basic and kind of holds your hand. For example, you can't fly right down to the ground, so swooping through canyons is not an option and crashing into space stations deals no damage whereas asteroids and trading ships do. I honestly wish there was an option to turn this off as an advanced flight model similar to Elite would increase fun for me tenfold.
The combat is also a little dull at my level, the sentinels pose no real challenge in their current state and I've only ever encountered the walkers once in my entire playthrough. You also aren't allowed to fire your gun in buildings, which makes sense when you are in a building with another entity (so as to not ruin the games internal logic) but when dealing with abandoned buildings or breaking into a manufacturing plant it can be unimerssive to have the sentinels just stop pursuing you as soon as you walk into them. Having some form of stand-off where I plink at sentinels whilst looting said locations would be amazing fun.
The game at current likes to separate out each experience into little scenes, which prevents it from becoming a seamless and dynamic experience in some areas. Due to the reasons I've just outlined, this is particularly noticeable when engaging in combat around buildings or flying over the planets surface.
But complex combat and flight mechanics are not the focus, this game is primarily about exploration. It absolutely nails mystery and makes me want to discover the lore behind everything, but it drip-feeds it to you by limiting what you can do via a resource-gathering-crafting system, extending the gameplay at the cost of players getting bored before it gets juicy.
It's taken me about 10 hours to really get into No Man's Sky and due to the random nature of things may take longer for other players, which is a shame really as there is a fantastic concept there, but it seems for a lot of people it doesn't live up to expectations.
Last gripe - A minor annoyance is everytime you hit a milestone this pseudo unskippable cutscene interrupts your view and stops you from doing anything bar walking while telling you how many ships you've destroyed, how far you've walked and other facts I don't really care about. This is incredibly frustrating if one activates when you are trying to enter your ship or interact with an object. The game seems to try it's best to only throw these at you when nothing important is happening, but it sometimes activates these in-between doing actions instead of when you have extended downtime.
Honestly, the missing features, certain half-backed ideas and the buggy release can be attributed to a phenomenon found in several industries known as “Crunch”.
This is a phenomenon where the closer a project gets to it's release date the more money and/or man-hours are required to finish it. Partially caused by poor planning, lack of experiences and/or lack of funding. There are horror stories of staff members being virtually forced to work unpaid overtime or in the worst cases nearly living at work for a few months.
Just looking at Sean's appearance over the development cycle shows the stresses of this. Fresh-faced to ragged and worn-out:
Up until the release of the game there were interviews galore where features and ideas were announced long before release. This reddit post is worth a read on this topic, it goes into detail about everything announced in interviews and what capacity it exists in the game. Admittedly a few things are wrong or over-exaggerated, but most is worringly accurate.
For those who would rather have an audio version, Youtuber MundaneMatt goes over this thread and talks about his experience here.
I largely get the feeling most of these features were pipe-dreams and talked about in interviews before the reality of developing these features had been explored. As Sean Murray/Hello Games had only developed two games prior to this, their inexperience as media personalities is largely the cause here. A general rule of all products is to only announce features when you are ready to and 100% sure it can be achieved.
Multiplayer could very well be missing in the game but the current experiments and the quote by Sean leave this up in the air, so for now I would stop assumnig what's happening with this bit until we get an official statement. If considering buying the game, hold off until we know for sure. That is if you care about multiplayer.
Going forward the team needs to do three things, in my opinion:
Now this has been partially addressed with the recent patch and experimental build. However that experimental build needs to be finished and released on the main branch for PC and PS4 ASAP. This is already underway, so well done Hello Games and Sony for being ahead.
As this issue is kind of up in the air and not looking good for Hello Games we really need an official statement on this. Has it been developed and implemented? Were those players victims of the lobby system? Have you ran out of time due to a short development cycle? I really would like to know this myself to be honest. It won't reduce my current enjoyment of the game but knowing that could happen would add a cool feature to an already amazing game.
Support the game and the community
This is an obvious one and already underway, with future updates planned that include base building and other niceties. But if the multiplayer features were cut there needs to be an apology and at least some form of reward for those who preordered, as we preordered fully expecting this feature to be there. Any missing or cut-back features that were announced also need to be addressed in some way too. Be it through a game update or an official statement. Customer service should be a priority for any business, as they keep your lights on. There needs to be a respectful relationship from both parties, you run into issues as a consumer and a business when either side of this breaks down.
End of flight
TL;DR I'm enjoying No Man's Sky, but Hello Games and Sony need to; fix game, release statement on multiplayer lobby issue and missing/cut-back features, apologise and reward consumers that preodered if features are missing.
Thanks for the amazing experience Hello Games, it is a lovely work of art and I only hope to see the project get better from here.
Cheers and happy exploring,