When Sean Murray, Managing Director of Hello Games, stepped onto the PlayStation stage at E3 2014, No Man’s Sky rocketed from ambitious indie curiosity to the most talked about game of the year within minutes. Fast forward to gamescom a few months later, and while No Man’s Sky has a more low-key presence, the enigmatic sci-fi exploration game is still one of the hottest properties in gaming.
The promise of No Man’s Sky’s procedurally generated galaxy and its feeling of boldly going where no man has gone before has enchanted gamers. Did they have any idea it would blow up like this? “Not at all!” says Sean. “It’s great that people are so interested, but all I can allow myself to think about at the moment is the game. Right now, all anyone has to go on is potential. We want to realise that potential, but what that comes down to is us tapping away at our keyboards like we always have done.”
Sean recently revealed on PlayStation Blog that to see every planet in No Man’s Sky for just one second would take 585 billion years; but the question that still remains on every would-be explorer’s lips is “why?” – what will make us want to venture into the vastness of space?
“There’s really two answers to that,” Sean explains. “The short answer is ‘you make your own story’. I think it’s nice to play something that frees you from missions and quests. “But there’s a longer answer. There are core concepts that will drive the player on: you’ll start on the edge of space, on a totally unique planet and you’ll make your way towards the centre of the galaxy – there’s a reason to do that, but we’re not ready to talk about it yet. As you get further in to the galaxy, things will get more dangerous… but also more interesting and rewarding.”
Even the most intrepid explorers will have humble beginnings: “You’ll have a basic ship that you’ll need to upgrade if you want to get further than the solar system you’re in,” Sean says. “For example, interstellar travel needs a hyperdrive, so you’ll have to earn money to buy one. Or you can upgrade your weapons or your suit so you can explore in different atmospheres or go underwater.”
How you earn money is entirely up to you. As Sean tells me, there’s going to be no hand-holding: “We’re not going to give you missions. No-one is going to come to you and say ‘I’ve lost five chickens, they’re scattered around this planet somewhere’. We want you to get out and learn about the galaxy to work it out for yourself. There are different roles you could play; you could be an explorer, a trader, a pirate looking for trade routes to plunder – or you could protect other ships from pirates.”
Despite the incredible amount of planets available to visit, there will be a reason to explore each of them. “Something we haven’t shown yet is a mini-map at the bottom of the screen that will have waypoints marked on it for every planet you visit. They’ll show things of interest, which might be resources, or a ship that’s crashed, or some sort of beacon. It could be something to discover like a new species of creature, a mountain range or a vast lake. But you’ll have to go and find out what they are; we’re not going to tell you what’s out there. And that’s a great way to earn money to buy the upgrades for your ship or suit – and in turn that’ll help you explore even more.”
As well as earning money from exploration, Sean says another reward will be putting your mark on the galaxy as the first person to discover planets: “If you’re the very first person to play the game, you’ll open up your galactic map and you can zoom in on every planet or solar system – and every single one will say ‘unexplored’. And they’ll say that until someone discovers them and uploads that information for everyone else to see.”
With so much space to discover, Sean explains that while every player will inhabit the same galaxy, crossing paths will be rare. “I don’t want people to think that it’s an MMO. You’ll see traces of other players and what they’ve discovered, so you won’t feel alone, but if you and I were playing and I said ‘come and meet me on my planet’, I might be days or weeks away from you. Even if we were on the same planet and wanted to meet up… it’s like being at random points on Earth and trying to find each other.”
So as players make their way closer into the centre of the galaxy, will they encounter other players more often – with bigger ships and better guns, all waiting to blast them to space dust? Perhaps, Sean explains: “If other players aren’t doing that, then there are NPCs who will. But even at the centre of the galaxy, everything is still massively spread out. We want to make something that’s vast – we want it to be like the Wild West, where you never know what’s over the horizon.”
Do Sean and the team still find surprises in the game? “Absolutely. The more work we put into it, the more that happens. We each have a different universe running on our computers that we’re constantly changing. Every Friday, we have a review where we all sit down and play from the ‘master’ copy of the game, so we always see something happen that we never expected and had no idea would happen, and it’s a lovely feeling.”
Looking forward to boldly going where no man has gone before? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned to PlayStation Blog for more news and updates on No Man’s Sky. Find out more here.