Exploring A Little Of No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky is a marvel, a true work of genius, but Sean Murray makes the construction of the billions of worlds in the game seem simple as he begins his demonstration of the game. He shows a planet devoid of any terrain, to which he then adds a simple sine wave, creating thousands of sets of identical hills and valleys. Adding a second sine wave to the pattern intersects and creates larger peaks and troughs, in a procedure known as a Fourier transform. Keep going, adding more and more waves, all of which are mathematical formulas, and bingo, you have a totally unique planet from a string of numbers.

“If you imagine, with a simple sine wave, for any given input you know the output, and that’s how No Man’s Sky works,” explains Sean. “The input is where you are standing, the formula is all our maths, and the output is what you see on screen.”

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More variables, such as the sea level and atmosphere are now added, along with plant life and animals (all of which are generated using mathematical formula) and within seconds there is a living, breathing world to explore, complete with a day and night cycle as it orbits a sun and spins on it’s axis. “It’s an approximation of a sci-fi book cover,” notes Sean, “That’s what we were really aiming for.”

“If I had to boil it down, then the kind of things you do in the game are exploring, trading, fighting and surviving,” he adds. “The reality is you do a mixture of all of those, and exploring feeds them all. It helps you find new resources to trade, trading gets you more money to buy better ships so you can explore more.”

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If you have the right attachments to your weapon, you can even modify the terrain, tunnelling down in to the planet to escape the deadly temperatures as night falls. “Pretty much everything is destructable,” Sean said.

Pressing down on the D-pad scans the local area and highlights resources, whilst using the binoculars allows you to tag points of interest in the distance and use them as way points. As well as harvesting resources from the planet, which are are a mixture of elements from our own periodic table and fictional elements created for the game, you can also discover discarded pods or crash ships, and these are used to upgrade your suit, ship and weapons.

“A big part of the game is the RPG element,” Sean explained. “As you explore you will find tech blueprints, maybe from a crashed ship, and when you do you can install them in your gun, suit or ship. This allows you to completely customize your weapon. If you were playing more as a trader you could customise your gun towards mining, if you were a Survivor you would use a different set of upgrades.”

Alien structures including factories and trading posts are dotted round the landscape, as are monoliths that help you learn the languages of the alien races. “There are a bunch of different races in the game and they speak to you in their own dialect and you can learn words from those dialects,” explains Sean. “This helps you understand what the aliens are saying and how to interact with them. The more you interact with them, the more happy they will be, you have a ‘standing’ with each of the races. The races represent factions and each faction has interactions with the others; some might like each other so might not, and in some cases some are very focussed to certain areas of the game.”

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As you have entire planets to explore – and they are truly huge – you can wander a very long way from your ship, so Hello Games have thoughtfully added buildings where, for a small deposit of tech, you can call you ship in to land rather than spend an hour hiking back to where you left it. I’m happy to report that that take off and landing sequences are not automated, you won’t get blasted off in to space unless you point the ship in that direction, and you can just fly around the planet taking in the vistas if you so wish.

“I might land on this planet and be the first person who has been here, and probably no one else will ever be here. So I can’t look up a YouTube video, I can’t look up online to ask where things are or where a good place is to find shelter from cold. That’s a cool thing; you are really, genuinely exploring,” enthuses Sean.

Much like Grand Theft Auto V, each player has a ‘wanted’ level, “There are little drones flying around which are keeping track of you, making sure you don’t mine too heavily or do things to upset the balance,” says Sean. Attacking a building will increase your level, and “The more I fight, the more of a response you will get” he adds.

Sean continues the presentation by zooming off into space, “Those are trade routes between planets,” he notes as we fly up to some freighters and begin to attack them. When the pods on the freighters are destroyed, they release resources which are automatically scooped, but the freighters respond with deadly forces, and Sean respawns inside a space station. “Something we haven’t shown before,” he notes.

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Inside the space stations, which can be quite complex, you can trade, save your game and more. Grinning as he shows it off, Sean opens up a portal and looks out at the planet below. “My favourite part of the game,” he says. “That whole area we were exploring, the buildings, the animals, the terrain, is now represented by just a couple of pixels on screen.”

Unfortunately, it’s a game of such a scope that, even though I did have thirty minutes hands on time with the game, I simply can’t give an honest opinion of the game. I know that many of you will be eager to know what the game is like to play, but thirty minutes is barely enough time to get across London, let alone explore the complexities of a title in which you can venture forth and explore 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets.

I can tell you that I went and mined a little bit and I scanned some of the creatures on the planet in order to name them. So there is now a six-legged Aptosaurus/Tiger/Bat thing of the genus “Gerald”, and a rather ferocious raccoon like creature that kept on attacking me, now of the species “Tuffcubicus”.

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I explored a little more, spoke to an alien and blew the doors off a factory, before heading into the heavens to find a new planet. This second planet had a thick atmosphere and large archipelagos to explore. Heading down I found a network of caves the head into, but all too soon my time was up.

Technically the game is impressive, but as for how it plays, I am still as much in the dark as you are. Despite that, I am still optimistic that behind the complex maths there is a decent game.

“Cool, life-like environments, crazy dinosaurs, this isn’t necessarily what the game is,” says Sean, and I hope he is right.

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19 Comments

  1. Excellent write up Tuffcub, been dying for this since you mentioned it yesterday. The game sounds amazing I can’t wait for it.

    Pity you only had 30mins playtime. How where the graphics as in pop in, was prevalent from early videos or have they decreased the amount of pop in?

    • There were a couple of glitches but they are still hard at work on the game, certainly nothing jarring in the way of pop ups. Looked pretty polished to me.

  2. If you have any specific questions tweet them to @TSAPodcast as I’ll be recording that tonight.

    Also I really am sorry I can’t give you much of an idea how it plays, I’m just annoyed as you are. Very sorry.

  3. Still not convinced it’s worth the full price tag it seems to have acquired.

  4. What subtext am I missing here then Pitchforkdisney??

  5. It strikes me as the sort of game that would take at least few hours to get a proper feel for it so it’s a shame you couldn’t get longer playtime with it.
    Still looking and sounding great though, can’t wait to try it.

  6. And people complain it’s a full price game! You’ll certainly get your moneys worth from it, by the time you’ve explored half the planets Sony will be on developing PlayStation 456677…..00000.

    • I couldn’t really give a damn about price either way, but I’m now not the least surprised it’s full price given the variety of things to do and apparent depth. Given the info provided, I’m quite excited by the game and it’ll be something I’ll definitely want to get alongside a PS4 in the future.

      However, the number of planets don’t impress me much in terms content value. It looks to be a marvelous technical achievement, but I still stand by my original question of why would anyone want to explore billions of planets? Unless all the planets have a depth and purpose to them, I can’t see myself (a big sci-fi fan) motivated to keep playing for decade. I think I’m still left wondering as to just how far No Man’s Sky goes in meaningful content.

    • Agree with Avenger here, 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 times nothing much of interest is still… nothing much of interest.
      But, of course, we don’t know that yet, so let’s wait and see. But they did hype the number of worlds so much it just had to raise suspicion.

      • Ye’s want to start reading a few previews that are floating about because there is a lot that you can do.

  7. I’m very much on the fence with this, not because I don’t think it’ll be good, I do think it’ll be great in fact. I can see it being a massive time sink though and with the division on its way and destiny always on the back burner I just don’t think I have time for it.

  8. Nice preview! There’s definitely been a marmite response to the game here on TSA, I suppose it’s all being sold on potential but to me it has bucket loads and I’m very excited and impressed, mostly by the maths and very big numbers like eighteen and a half quintillion. Phwoaar!

    • The numbers are mildly annoying me. It’s supposed to be a single galaxy isn’t it? You start at the edge and try and make your way into the centre (which really isn’t a good place to be)

      But that 18 quintillion is far too big for a single galaxy. Make some assumptions that every galaxy is like our real one, and every star in that galaxy is just like the sun with that many planets, and the No Man’s Sky galaxy is somewhere around 1 to 10 million times too big.

      So bigger than a real galaxy. But still less than a universe (around 0.1 to 1% of the stars)

      I guess it’s because they used a 64 bit number. A 32 bit number would have only given 4,294,967,296 planets.

      Still all very impressive though. And absolutely zero chance of ever finding something anyone else has found. Even if every single PS4 owner played it until they died of old age. And were checking millions of planets every single day.

      • MrYd, you missed a decimal place in your calculations.

  9. It’s all very intriguing isn’t it? Coming out a few weeks after Uncharted with the height of the summer, so might be a bit busy for it at launch, hmmmmm…

  10. Any word on the multiplayer? If there are all these things to explore, but only on my own, I can imagine it will all start to feel rather empty fairly quickly.

    • There is no multiplayer in the true sense, you can play it online or offline, when online you can apparently see your psn friends on the galaxy/universe map but its more just an info box on what they are up to and it would take you months to reach them.

      • Yeah, that was the last I’d heard of what they were doing with it. Guess it’ll tide me over until Elite: Dangerous sees a PS4 release.

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