A Gaming Experience | No Man's Sky

Hello Games announced this week that No Man’s Sky went gold. That’s developer lingo meaning its ready for delivery to end users. Multiple press outlets have reported the release date to be August 9th for PlayStation and PC

I would have to admit that when it comes to my geek creditability I may be slightly lacking in one significant area. That area would be video games. This isn’t to say I am oblivious or even uninformed; I am just not as rabid of a fan of the medium as most who fall into the uber-tribe of humans who worship at the idols of the keyboard and controller. I keep a pulse on the happenings in the gaming world and when something catches my attention I will swim towards it, and if tasty, I’ll become hooked. Most of that swimming has happened in limited bodies of water. But, it happens. It happened with Mass Effect. Mass Effect is a subject for a whole other article. I am an absolute Mass Effect junkie. I have played all three installments, including the DLC, five times through. I am about to start my sixth.

I have a respectful list of go-to games (currently Star Wars Battlefront). I was never a big PC gamer even though at one time I had an Alienware laptop (this is before Dell became their parent company). I’ve kept up with at least one current generation gaming console. In full disclosure since 2003 they have been of the Xbox family with occasional toe dipping into Nintendo territory. And its within this disclosure that we find the heart of this article.

You see there is something very shiny, but its in the lake next-door which I don’t swim in, and underneath its sheen is a potential hook that could cause me to do something I had been resistant to. If this bait turns out to more than eye-candy then I may be buying my first PlayStation since my ownership of the first PlayStation upon which countless hours were spent playing Twisted Metal.

This shiny thing I see floating before me is No Man’s Sky.

This is a significant. Yet, I feel I have to qualify and quantify my resistance to my having avoided entry into the PlayStation platform universe. It’s also going to date me a bit. I did indeed own the original PlayStation. I actually have two of those classic consoles currently in storage. But, my avoidance of the PlayStation platform is in an indirect way the Sega Dreamcast’s fault. Before my PlayStation days I was a bit of a Sega fanatic having both my Genesis and Saturn always at the ready. I also held onto my Super Nintendo long after its mainstream twilight years.

Now, this is the mid-nineties and I am now in college. I am working in the live entertainment industry on a regular basis (which generates some of the most bizarre working hours you could possibly imagine) while holding down a full time schedule of classes…all of which are being paid for by me. So, economically, buying into a new console isn’t feasible nor a priority; also my time to indulge in video game antics had been greatly reduced resulting in the time I would play being precious. I did not want to squander my time on unknowns. So, I opted out of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation as they hit the scene for the reasons I’ve stated above. This changed when the buzz about the Dreamcast began brewing. Now, I have to admit, like a little worker bee drone, brand loyalty had been instilled into me at this point in my timeline. If I was going to invest a significant amount of money and time into a new console I decided Sega would be my way forward.

If you are even a causal video game historian, you know how this part of the story ends. My Dreamcast experience ended up becoming a PlayStation experience. I actually sold all of my Dreamcast components and games off and used the funds to purchase a PlayStation. It was a cathartic move that felt like a correction in the timeline. It was a time in which the PlayStation 2 was about to be released, but having been burned by the Dreamcast and other contributing factors I’d reveled in the safe confines of the booming secondary market of used games and licked my wounds playing an established product with a good reputation, rather insistent I would never jump on a console bandwagon ever again. This is a promise I have kept and has resulted in me delaying, by at least a calendar year, the purchase of next generation consoles. Specifically, the Xbox line of consoles.

In all honesty and fairness, I had sincerely good times with my Dreamcast, but if would crash so often it was difficult for those good times to be consistent. I think the platform had a lot of potential and if Sega had taken some of the paths its competitors were looking into it may have been more of a success than it was.

But, my experiences were ultimately setting a baseline in how I would function in the world of consoles for the next couple of decades. I was overly cautious and very particular about my gaming experiences, and because my time, finances, and life-goals evolved as did my daily responsibilities and career I was only going to focus my interests in mainly one area. That area became Xbox, not because of deep reflective research, but through the insistence of friends who encouraged me to finally upgrade and upon their strong recommendations that the Xbox had titles that they knew I would like. I pulled the money trigger and ever since 2003 I’ve been an Xbox loyalist. The Xbox brand became a known commodity, their proprietary titles were things I were interested in, and therefore it became a place in which I felt secure. The PlayStation consoles became alien products and I didn’t interact with them. I have many friends who have been fans of the PlayStation, but a lot of these friends are bigger gamers than I and also have Xbox consoles. I never experienced a concerted effort to convince me that my Xbox love was anything other than legitimate and genuine so I went about my gaming business happily playing in Microsoft’s playground.

I’ve done my best to translate the thought processes that would bring me to this strange intersection in my console experiences. And it’s taken the possibilities of a new game to open that which has been closed off for so long.

The thing is… I am having these conversations with myself about a game for which I have only seen limited footage, and while there has been enough press to satiate the potential of the game’s experience (and corresponding development drama), it still doesn’t feel like I have enough information from a logical perspective that would induce me to buy an entire new gaming platform (PS4) to play a single game.

Let’s just put this out there now. I have a Mac; I have a PC. Neither of these are gaming machines. A new computer is not an option. My option to play No Man’s Sky rests soley on my willingness to purchase a PlayStation 4 (PS4).

There is something emotive in the press and pundits’ words that have fed me information on this game. It is all speaking to something within me. The concept of such a sandbox that No Man’s Sky is purporting to provide has formed new neuron pathways connecting areas of my logic and emotion centers that didn’t exist before.

The phrase which Hello Games uses, “A Science-Fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy” has to be the catalyst for this “awakening”.  Why am I having a challenge with this? Why am I experiencing this “awakening?”

I am not a fan of games that don’t have rails. I don’t mind moderate sandbox adventuring and exploration in a game, but I need punch lists and clearly stated objectives. I think this is one of the challenges I had with Fall Out 3. Once I left the Vault I was kind of screwed. I am not an idiot, but I don’t have infinite time to decipher the information necessary that sets my goals. If the world is too big than I am going to wander too much and that is going to waste too much time and I am going to get off task too quickly. This is what has made me abandon games in the past. My love of Mass Effect comes about because its just big enough of a sandbox to let me explore and have a sense of emancipation from directives while pulling me back on the rails enough to keep the longer term goals in sight.

If I have an affinity to rails, why than does a game that’s marketing itself on the very idea of not being on rails so appealing to me. Appealing enough to invest a part of my income for a PS4 which in theory would only be used to play this game.

Hello Games states the following about No Man’s Sky:

“A truly open universe if you can see it, you can go there. You can fly seamlessly from the surface of a planet to another, and every star in the sky is a sun that you can visit.”

This is the very antithesis of being on rails.

They also state:

“Exploration is seeing things that no-one else has ever seen before. Every creature, geological formation, plant and spaceship is unique. Survive on a dangerous frontier you are alone and vulnerable, and will face threat everywhere, from deep space to thick forests, barren deserts to dark oceans. Build for an epic journey collect precious materials and trade them for better spacecraft and upgrades for your suit and equipment and prepare for your journey to the center of the galaxy. Your ship and suit are fragile, and every encounter can test your skills to the limit. From dogfighting in space to first-person combat on a planet’s surface, you will face foes ready to overwhelm you. And one mistake could see you lose everything. In No Man’s Sky, every victory and every defeat has lasting consequences.

Every player’s experience is going to be unique. PC Gamer (and many other outlets) are reporting the game will have 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets to explore. My liberal arts centered mind can’t even begin to comprehend the algorithms that will be used to randomly generate the worlds, flora, and fauna a player could encounter.

Hello Games is potentially producing something that may be revolutionary but I am not smart enough to speculate on such a large scale. My internal struggle is why have I’ve been drawn to this game that is both nonlinear and narrative-less. A place where the concepts of side quests have been passed over for pure exploration for its own sake. Sure, the game has self-serving goals and the ultimate goal is to make it to the center of the galaxy, but I get the sense you don’t have a clock running to meet that goal.

I think its very rare that things with an entertainment or artistic value can cause paradigm shifts in individuals. I have to believe the themes and qualities of the content, whether it be music, theatre, literature, books, paintings, video games, etc… connects with us on a subconscious level. A level that forsakes the melodramatic machinery of surface emotions and quick thrills. A level that dismisses the social media real-time narcissism prevalent in society. A level that forces us to stop what we are doing and live, for a few moments, in an acute awareness that something may be transcendent.

The year I bought my first Xbox, 2003. I drove, alone, from San Francisco to Washington DC. The trip would take three days, but I had fourteen. I had no other responsibilities or obligations other than to feed myself, keep the car fueled, and make forward progress that would eventually allow me to land on the east coast. I spent a lot of time in the southwest. I took no direct routes. There were enormous times I was alone, on rarely driven highways, that stretched through the boundless deserts and endless grasslands. I was separated from the warm blanket of urban convenience and cell phone service. It was at once one of the scariest times in my life while also being one of the most rewarding. I got to go where I wanted; I got to see what I wanted. I was in land that had been practically untouched by the hand of humanity. I got to know myself. I was not on rails.

Thirteen years later and I still have waking dreams of that time and with these lucid visions there is an embracing emotional response I have yet to feel in any other circumstance. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the connection I am feeling to No Man’s Sky. Perhaps the experience of playing the game could be joyful or it could be unrewarding. Perhaps it could be thrilling or it could be monotonous. But, Hello Games has tapped into something that may be in each of us. A desire to wander, alone, in a place of exploration…that extends beyond a planet or a galaxy and diverts into ourselves. I know what its like to be truly alone and I wouldn’t mind revisiting, even on an exterior level, that feeling, for it was never was actual loneliness, but a connection between me, the earth, the water, and the sky, that was singular.

Perhaps its this promise I have inferred from No Man's Sky that brings me to the series of choices I'd have to make in order to experience the game.

Until next time I bid thee love and merriment.


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