You come stumbling out of a cave on another planet. The sky is yellow, and the flora comes in shades of orange and crimson. Dinosaur-like creatures walk along the shore of a lake, and an antlered herbivore makes a run for it when it sees you coming. Suddenly, you find your spaceship. You climb in, blast off, and fly away in search of the next planet to explore.
This is No Man’s Sky … and it’s right about here where most people say the following: “It looks amazing, and the technology is impressive. But what are you supposed to do?”
Developer Hello Games spent all of last week demonstrating No Man’s Sky to journalists during the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow in Los Angeles. Hello Games founder Sean Murray faced that question a lot — the one about what players do in No Man’s sky — and I think the simplest answer is how he put it to me when he called it a “Han Solo simulator,” although it’s probably more like Han Solo’s early career before the Star Wars movies. Murray also confirmed that his team started out development on No Man’s Sky with the idea, objectives, and experience in mind. The technology that makes it all possible came afterward only to service that. No Man’s Sky is still in development, and Hello Games hasn’t confirmed a release date or finalized the platforms — although it is definitely coming to PlayStation 4.
“What we wanted was to make a science-fiction game,” said Murray. “Sci-fi, to me, it’s about going on adventures in a universe that is unknown. It’s landing on a planet and realizing that no one has ever been here before. That was entirely the idea. That emotion you would get from exploring, and there’s kinda no other way to create that, so the technology came second.”
Hello Games didn’t come up with some kind of tech demo to enable players to fly into space and then build a game on top of that. In fact, as impressive as the technology is, that’s not really what Murray and his team care about.
“We don’t really get excited about the tech, and I didn’t even really want to show it,” he said. “I don’t want people to be excited about this tech — I want them to be excited about the emotion they will get from this Han Solo simulator experience where they get to live out their fantasy.”
So, what is the experience? Well, that depends.
“You choose what to do,” Murray told GamesBeat. “If you see some fighters attacking a freighter, that isn’t a mission or quest. The universe is just kinda working in its own way, and you can choose to interact with it however you want. If you attack people, then you’ll have to deal with the consequences of that.
“It’s not a game with a narrative.”
No Man’s Sky is actually a bit more like Minecraft or the open-world zombie-survival game Day Z than anything else. You’ll collect things, you’ll upgrade your ship, and you’ll explore — and, in the end, the stories you tell are your own.
Do you want to explore or get into combat all of the time? You can do that. Into hunting bounties? Murray said that is possible in No Man’s Sky. Are you more of a pacifist? Maybe you could act as a zoologist who travels from planet to planet naming the creatures.
“Whatever you want that makes sense within this universe you can go and do,” said Murray. “It’s a sandbox.
At the same time, No Man’s Sky will have “objectives” for players, but it doesn’t have quest lines that guide you neatly through a story with three acts.
Just as in life, everything is up to you.
“No Man’s Sky is about going on adventures,” said Murray. “And hopefully, when you describe your adventures to your friends, they will sound like stories from a sci-fi novel. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”