No Man's Sky is one of those rarities that captivates millions of people the second they lay their eyes on it. And why wouldn't it? It's visually breathtaking, and the mere idea of 18 quintillion worlds existing in a single game is absolutely mind-blowing!
Sean Murray (lead developer) has said that even if you were to visit each planet for only one second, it would take 585 billion years. This makes No Man's Sky's gameplay virtually infinite, which has been a staple in all of their marketing campaigns. It's this very thing that we've been silly enough to consume and praise - so much so that we've failed to see that it's this very thing that will crush our hopes and dreams.
Below is one of many examples of how they've handled marketing.
Before I continue any further, I know it sounds like I'm sitting here bashing No Man's Sky. I want to say that I'm just as excited to play this game as the rest of you! I can't wait until it's released so that I can fly around the different worlds while listening to the Interstellar soundtrack. I am not upset with the game, the developers, or even the sales pitches. If I'm being quite honest, it's incredibly smart of them, and we've all soaked it up like the sponges that we are. Rather, I'm exploring the sales pitch that we've heard in most procedurally generated games in recent years, and how it's taking its toll on us each time.
Did we forget the saying "less is more"?
Saying that the game contains 18 quintillion worlds doesn't have as much impact as writing down the exact amount: 18,446,744,073,709,551,616. Even when that number is in front of you, it's impossible to imagine. I mean, have we seen anything else like it in gaming yet? The gaming medium is so young anyway, so the fact that this was achieved in such little time is unfathomable!
It is undoubtedly an achievement, and one to be celebrated in the history of gaming. That said, perhaps it doesn't deserve quite as much recognition as we're giving it. Before you grab your torches and pitchforks, hear me out! I adore the idea of an endless game that is so enjoyable that it makes us want to play endlessly. But from a technology standpoint, I don't think we're there yet. I don't think we're ready for these promises to be made - promises that will surely set us up for disappointment.
I have seen more than one fan discuss what price they would pay for No Man's Sky, and I find the answers to be shocking. While I agree that it's a beefy game by the standards of most indie games (usually priced at $20), it still isn't quite what I'd expect from a AAA game (usually priced at $60). A fair bet would be to put it in the middle, at $40. However, I've seen people say that they would easily pay $80, or even $100 because it's "basically infinite". Guess what! They played you.
Infinite playability doesn't mean you'll play infinitely.
Many of those 18 quintillion worlds will be largely the same with only minor changes. It's like how every time you start a new Minecraft game, you swear you've been to a place eerily similar before - just perhaps the flowers are growing in different locations.
Do we have the technology to create 18 quintillion worlds? Yes! But do we have the technology to make those 18 quintillion worlds vastly different? Are we going to discover worlds that have different gravitational pulls? Create new lifeforms of our own via the existing ones? Are we going to be able to do specific tasks dedicated to that world's surroundings, that we would not be able to do on another? No, not yet. It's these kinds of expectations by fans that will hurt themselves, and potentially, the game's reputation.
We run into similar situations with interactive story games, such as Beyond: Two Souls or Telltale's The Walking Dead. We're told that our actions have meaning, and they do! We see the outcome happen before our eyes, whether it's what we wanted to happen or just the opposite. However, due to either technological or budgeting limitations (or both), we cannot receive an interactive story that is 100% different each time. Though I do feel that the recent Until Dawn took a step in the right direction and is the best I've seen so far, it is still fairly limited. And I believe that it is going to be the same with games that contain procedurally generated universes for quite some time.
In the end, using how many hours we can pour into a game is a silly measurement of worth. What good is it if a game is infinite, when our time isn't? What good is it if we only enjoy the game for a full day before we get bored and move onto the next one? Would it be worth that $60-100 price tag then? Not in my eyes. I'm not informing you to dismiss No Man's Sky - but it would be wise for us to control our expectations.
The only other thing we can do is wait and see what No Man's Sky brings us. Who knows? Perhaps they'll surprise us and make another monumental leap in gaming. I cautiously hope that they do.