LONDON (PressFire.no): Sean Murray is a charismatic chap, and sweeter than sugar, standing in front of a handful of journalists in London.
What a journey he's been through.
A couple of years ago he and his team made "Joe Dangerous" to alright reviews and golf claps all around - a few weeks ago he was on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert to showcase "No Man's Sky".
This time around, he's showing the game for games journalists in Europe, and for once we're able to actually play the game.
There are four words to keep in mind when playing the game, says Murray:
- «Exploring», «Trading», «Surviving» og «Fighting».
Master these things, and you've mastered the game. I'm sure most people have gotten a grip on the scale the guys and gals at Hello Games are working on - a universe filled with literally trillions of planets.
Murray shows off a few examples on how they use mathematics to generate the different planets. First off is an entirely flat planet, then a planet based on sine waves, then one with the calculations randomized a bit (now it's starting to look like an actual planet) - and then finally one where we get a look at the finished thing.
Not all planets will be lush and filled with life, and some will be downright boring lumps of rock. As in real life, in other words.
You can scan the planets before landing, though, to find out if they're worth visiting. But even the most boring of planets can contain minerals and stuff to collect. It's just a matter of taking the time to visit them.
This time around, Murray is more tense than usual. The game is really shaping up now, and new gameplay mechanics are to be shown for the first time. He's whipped out a custom star system (with a much denser pool of planets in the skies) to show off these new elements.
Aliens, languages to learn, trading, buying and selling, customization, caves, settlements - there aren't many people that would keep asking that damn "But what do you DO in the game?" question after this, Murray hopes.
With gameplay programmer Sam Lucas from Hello Games at my side, I've traveled to and from four-five planets in "No Man's Sky". Spoilers: It's pretty good.
Often, when I get my grubby hands on a much wanted game that tries to be as open as possible, I immediately try to push the limits. And like the destructive bastard I am, I start "digging" straight down.
- This was the first thing I tried doing when I joined Hello Games too. But we had to put in a limit one place or another, he says as I hit bedrock.
It's not unlike "Minecraft", which also employs similar limits.
The bedrock comes a bit too quickly, I feel, but Lucas reassures me and says it's up the planet seed. Some planets has way more malleable soil over the bedrock, which means you can dig much further down. Mountains and hills can all be digged straight through, if you wish.
On one of the planets, the mountains are pretty strange. They look like upright eggs. I pull out my "grenade" launcher - I'm going to dig through this one too. But to my surprise, instead of finding more rock, I end up in a large cave system inside the mountain.
- Inside caves like this you'll often find minerals you won't find on the surface, and they're sometimes a bit more exotic, Lucas explains.
The caves also provide good cover from the extreme weather some planets experience. This one's got a surface temperature pushing 700 degrees celsius, and my space suit is giving up. Inside the cave it's a comfy 20 degrees, and by staying "inside" a but, you'll quickly be able to go outside again.
The planets are, as promised, huge, and most seem pretty unique visually. You can at any moment squeeze a button to scan your surroundings to find out what stuff around you is made of (for mining), or points of interests.
Your ship, for example.
- What happens if I, in a fit of stupidity, just keeps going in one direction and get myself stranded on the other side of the planet without my ship?, I ask.
- It'll probably take you a week to wander there, but if you're lucky the planet is inhabited by friendlies. You might find a building with a landing pad, and you can summon your ship there. If not, you're just going to have to trek back.
- Or you could kill yourself, I guess. Hopefully you'll respawn closer to your ship.
But even that isn't necessarily true, because you can find places to save on - like settlements or downed escape pods - littered around. I can imagine some unlucky person doing this, and then get angry because he's saved over a previous save.
Talking about settlements: The biggest news, which we haven't seen before, is the introduction of aliens and races in the game. These are the game's factions, and you can get on their good or bad side depending on what you do around them.
I helped out a Korvax scientist, for example, by fixing a reactor that wasn't working. I even had to shoot through an armored door at the neighboring building to get to it. This made him pretty happy, and I was rewarded with a new laser rifle.
These aliens - we saw three different species - each talk in their own tongue. You're going to have to learn their languages the hard way throughout the game. You can do this by being helpful like I did, and then try to ask them if they can teach you their language back.
But that brings up a the classic chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: The first time you talk to these guys you have no idea if they're telling you to get the hell out of their house, or if they're desperately asking for help.
That's where the monoliths come into play. These huge rocks with carvings on them contains words and letters from the different languages, which will auto translate some words when talking to the aliens. It helps out tremendously if you can see someone mention "HELP" and "NEARBY" when making your choice of response.
If you help out a fraction and get on their good side, this can mean better discounts on items and more money when selling stuff. And my god, you're going to need to sell things.
The only way of getting to the center of the galaxy, which is the main "goal" of the game, is to buy new ships, and they cost a lot. Making enough money is paramount, and selling minerals and loot is where the money's at.
If you find blueprints for items, you can build upgrades yourself (among other things), which will fetch even more than just the parts themselves.
I tried asking several Hello Games staffers if we can expect to find more awesome things on our travels towards the center, but they would only answer me with secretive smirks.
They wouldn't answer questions about finding more exotic space phenomenons like black holes, neutron stars, wormholes or other crazy things either. They did however hint about something being different than what we've already seen as you near the center.
They didn't want to say if the Sentinels has anything to do with the story either - these guys are the robotic race that are looking over the planets in the game.
Lucas admits we won't be seeing huge cities or lots of people on the planets though.
The closest things we'll find, he says, are the space stations.
So I jumped into my ship, powered through the atmosphere (without any loading) and docked at a huge pyramid like structure between two planets. Here you'll be able to shop stuff from the station's store, and once in awhile some NPCs will also dock with the station. You'll be able to buy these ships when they do.
So I bought a science vessel from the same Korvax race I met earlier. The ship was notably different in appearance, both outside and in, than my old ship.
Unfortunately the different specs of the ship wasn't viewable in this build of the game, so I can't tell you what the science vessel does different. Maybe it's got a better scanner?
I did however find upgradeable spots in the menus for boosters, weapons and the hyperdrive.
I also took notice how all the instruments inside the ship showed the correct information about what was going on, even those barely visible to the sides of my vision.
- A year or so back, you guys tweeted a picture of a dev kit for PSVR. Have you guys been experimenting with VR in this game?
- I wasn't at Hello Games at that time, so I don't know much about that.
Lucas is evading the question, especially when I tell him about the live instruments on the ship dashboards. I want to look around on them, I say, but you can't do that with the right control stick.
- Hm. They didn't work the last time I played the game, he answers with a chuckle.
- But really, I haven't seen the VR goggles at the office.
I land on an ice filled world so cold my suit is going crazy again.
The suit can also be upgraded in many ways - including your jetpack, weather tolerance and armor.
- You can find many planet you basically can't stay on on if you don't have the right gear, says Lucas.
In the menus I find TONS of parameters for almost everything you can think about. Hello Games has added an entire periodic table in the game, including everything from carbon to their own substances - and these can be combined to make new elements or upgrades.
Weapons, too, will have tons of variables you can affect, and you upgrade them via a grid that's connected to each weapon. You add upgrades and special features you make, buy or trade from aliens.
However, not all of the grids are usable. A bad weapon will only have a few open cells in the grid, which limits the amount of upgrades you can use. Better ones will have many open ones, and preferably lumped together.
Upgrades you add will be boosted even more if they're "attached" to other upgrades in the grid, so you have to be clever about how you lay things out.
For example: Four upgrades arranged in a 2x2 pattern (which means every upgrade is attached to two other upgrades) is better than four upgrades in a 1x4 pattern, where only two of them are.
Planet of the Dickbutts
I ended up playing the game an hour more than the allocated time, and visited a planet almost entirely covered in water, one in eternal darkness thanks to a huge dark storm (where I couldn't see more than a few meters in front of me), a desert like planet and a more lush tropical jungle planet.
Lucas tells me there will be some variations on the planets, so that they aren't locked to only one biome. The planets also rotate at different speeds, which the lighting engine is taking into account along with the placements of the system's star and the other planets.
I experienced a solar eclipse when one of the other planets passed in front of the central star, a pretty cool sight!
On all the planets I found different kinds of beasts wandering about, some more aggressive than other - and you could discover them all, which also means you can name them. I found some wookie-like teddy bear cuties, and now they're named "Wookies".
Murray made a joke earlier in the day about how they haven't implemented the word filters yet, and that this would be the only chance we'd have to really go crazy naming things - although I'm pretty sure my Dickbutt Prime planet won't make the cut before the game ships.
To be honest, the creatures aren't that special. Sure, sometimes they look really good, but looking is all you can do. If you attack them, the galaxy police - The Sentinels - gets grumpy, and you don't actually get anything for killing them.
They should have SOME reason to exist in the game other than looking cool, no?
The game also screams for a photo mode, or that you can find/buy a camera in it. It's not often I see games with THIS many insane vistas.
Lucas scratches his chin when I suggest this, and I'm not entirely satisfied when he says the PlayStation controller's "Share" button should do the trick. Come on, man. Add it!
(since the event, which was in february, a photo mode HAS indeed been added)
And of course, when buying a new ship without checking how much gas there is on it, the inevitable happens. I run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.
When this happens, you're locked into the standard impulse speed. What would be a 30 second trek to the nearest planet is now 19 minutes. And I'm close to it.
Lucas laughs and says a typical travel between planets in a system at impulse would take a few months. Something tells me Sony hasn't rented the venue we're in for that kind of play session, so I hatch out a plan.
Because I'm actually stranded in a pretty good place, a trade route between two systems, and large freighters are zipping by me.
So I have to make a choice, do I try blasting off a few of the large external storage tanks on one of their ships and steal some resources I can convert to fuel, or do I spend the next five minutes mining random meteors nearby?
The latter sounds boring, and I want to test out the space combat. Suckers, here comes Captain FuckYouUp, space pirate numbero uno!
But hold on... I'm in that damn science vessel now. My lasers are ineffective, and the freighters have me pinned down with their more powerful guns. And here comes a couple of smaller vessels to join the fight.
I die as they tear my ship to pieces. A sarcastic quote pops up on the screen to mock me. Oh well.
A tiny demo in a noisy venue isn't optimal for making up my mind about these kind of games, but the tiny bit I saw left me longing for more. Even though everything isn't quite there yet (I saw quite a bit of bugs), I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be an ugly amount of hours spent on this game when it comes out in June.