Today is September 16th, 2016. In the news which I read today there are numerous reports about an executive in Sony's gaming division being critical of the marketing for No Man's Sky by indie developer Hello Games.
I've played about 30 hours of No Man's Sky, not nearly enough for an E2 writeup on the topic, but enough to know that I really liked it.
My memories of computer gaming go back to before I could read or write. My family had an Atari 2600 with about half a dozen games, but my dad also had a CP/M personal computer manufactured by a company called Dynabyte. 8-inch floppy drives, mechanical keyboard and integrated monitor, printer, the whole works. Apparently he paid more for that computer than most families were paying for a car. And he had a couple of games for it, and even more games for the luggable Compaq PC which came after.
The first game I remember as being a truly big, impressive game rather than just a kind of digital gadget was a game from an Electronic Arts publisher called Binary Systems. The game was called Starflight; it came on two five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks. I later learned that it was implemented in Forth. It was also my first introduction to the idea of procedurally generated games. Starflight was not procedurally generated in the randomized manner which Roguelike games or things like the initial state of Minecraft servers are procedurally generated. Those games build everything from a random seed which changes per iteration of the game; Starflight came pre-built, pre-seeded, and what you got to explore on those two floppy disks was an immense galaxy with planets to explore, life-forms to discover, ruins to search, minerals to mine, space battles to fight, and every possibility you would run out of fuel and cripple yourself in the process. Starting over meant making two fresh copies of those two original disks (you weren't playing directly on the originals, were you?) and launching the game from those copies. Backing up your saved game involved copying your two copies to still two further disks.
I played the shit out of that game for years on end, and after that era of PC gaming came to a close I searched constantly for successors which would scratch the same itch. No Man's Sky does, and it's the first game which does. It's not just about the bits which were included--that is, almost everything from Starflight which interested me--it's about the bits which were left out. No multiplayer, no space battle, no identifiable personalities, no sequential, helpful, omnipresent quest objectives. You're just dropped out in the middle of the unknown with the equipment to bootstrap yourself up into interstellar space explanation and little idea of how to do it or what you'll find--and then the universe you get to explore is just genuinely, witheringly immense.
This is exactly what I wanted from the game. The eerily environmental soundtrack; the beautiful, saturated color palettes; the lack of clear direction about what to do or where to go; the mysterious aliens who will often help you but are never especially friendly; the economy where that next upgrade is just forever slightly out of reach; the promise of deep and surprising secrets in far corners of each world, and even the way that promise is often broken. I love it all. I think I'll be playing this game as a break between other titles for a really, really long time to come.
The rage in the news today, which the Sony suit was attempting to defuse? That's not about the game I played. It's about the hype which surrounded that game. Trailers which were just a little too pretty. Press releases which promised just a few too many features. The unfulfilled hint of a multiplayer experience, social aspects to play. The idea that in all of these sprawling galaxies there would be more to do than just leave and see what the next one looks like.
I was largely immune to the hype because I remembered Starflight, and so I'm also largely immune to the disappointment. I hope that someday soon I find the time to play more of it.