Published on September 9th, 2016 | by Cactus
No Man’s Sky: A New Breed of Science Fiction
Since it’s release a few weeks ago, No Man’s Sky has been quite the polarising game. For what many considered to be the most anticipated game of 2016, opinions on the game have split communities. Some love the game for it’s quirky, unconventional approach to the space genre. Other deeply detest it for not living up to its own hype.
Hype is a curious thing, and preconceived notions about a game more often than not lead to disappointment. Hype can be rather dangerous to a game; post-launch and during development. Consumer desires can lead to developers having to rework systems into a form that will better align with the public impression. To an extent, I believe No Man’s Sky has suffered from issues like this, but underneath all of the extraneous bells and whistles lies an intriguing idea.
If No Man’s Sky is correct, space will be fairly empty, except for loads of discarded, identical equipment on every planet.
Quite early in the development of No Man’s Sky, Sean Murray (Director of the game) was routinely asked ‘What do you do in No Man’s Sky?’, a question who’s answer is still as vacant now as it was back in 2013. In a genre so full of ‘things to do’, from Lightsaber fights, colonisation, and even some alien romance, the apparent lack of ‘things’ left many players feeling directionless. When a company like Sony advertises a nearly infinite universe, players anticipate unlimited possibilities. When No Man’s Sky failed to deliver on those presumed possibilities, it left a lot of people very angry. What many fail to recognise is that almost the express point of No Man’s Sky is that there is nothing to do.
‘Wait, what!? How you can you have a game without things, Cactus?’ Well, hold your horses GameBug reader because first, we need to actually talk about what Sci-Fi is. Everyone ‘knows’ what Science Fiction is, obviously. It’s a genre which is based on a future in which mankind has explored the outer reaches of the cosmos. The universes we interact with in Sci-Fi media depict the human race as a thriving species, who on many occasions interact with alien species and strange mysteries out in space. By this point, the idea seems ridiculous to try to explain. However, an overlooked aspect of Sci-Fi is that the genre is entirely consistent of fictional facsimiles. Sci-Fi stories are less stories about space, but more stories that happen to be told in space. Space and the future are used as a framing device in these stories. Star Wars is a World War 2 facsimile told in space, Star Trek is a more realistic look at space, but with ships operating closer to submarines than actual space ships. All Science Fiction has this element to it, and for good reason; space is just too damn big.
In reality, I took that Star Destroyer 20 years just to catch up with that ship.
In reality, things like hyperspace and warp-speed don’t exist, and all research shows that travelling faster than the speed of light is impossible. The closest star to us is the Sun, and its light takes 8 minutes to reach us. The second closest is a star four light-years away. Travelling at the fastest possible speed, it would take anything four years to reach us if we were to travel there. Everything we view in space is a distant remnant of something that existed in the past. If we consider these speeds into something like Star Wars, it seems ludicrous that the Empire would even be able to rise to power, let alone control the galaxy. How could Emperor Palpatine command Darth Vader to build a Death Star if it takes ten thousand years for his message to arrive? Even this skips how time changes depending on how quickly you travel, meaning that travelling four light-years would feel like a lot less time to anyone aboard the ship. To put it briefly, space is just too big, and far too complex for comprehensive story-telling.
What is brilliant about No Man’s Sky is that it takes this concept to the nth degree. In No Man’s Sky it takes ages to get anywhere! Even once you upgrade your ships hyperdrive to travel further distances, those seem minuscule in comparison to the size of the galaxy. Furthermore, the way in which the multiplayer exists builds upon this concept; all you see of other players are the places they discovered as they slowly wonder a vast and desolate universe. Your only interaction is knowing that in the past, someone may have been where you now are. Just as we see space as the distant memories of suns, stars, and galaxies, so too in No Man’s Sky do you see the brief glimpses of where someone’s path crossed long ago.
No Man’s Sky, where you never see the same thing twice. Well, except for these 2 weirdos all the time.
No Man’s Sky isn’t about ‘things to do’, rather it examines the concept of space in a new light. In a universe where simply travelling from one place to another could be your entire life, No Man’s Sky attempts to examine this. In the game, your only express goal is to reach the centre of the galaxy, but the journey there is the more important aspect. On the way, you may encounter strange life forms, or planets made entirely of gold, but these aren’t your goal. No Man’s Sky simply tries to replicate the slow, lonely life one in space would entail.
No Man’s Sky is not a typically Sci-Fi game. It doesn’t try to imagine a thriving universe, where the great coalition of humanity has stretched amongst the stars. No Man’s Sky sees a universe of dark emptiness. Space is a lonely place. So sit down, land on that planet, see what can be seen, because maybe you’ll be the only person ever to see it.
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