Why No Man’s Sky turned into No Man’s Game

Imagine you and a friend are standing in front of a door. One of you enters and ends up in Asia. The other goes through and ends up in Africa. Apply this logic in game worlds and boom, you get procedural generation of worlds. Same “door” leading each player to different places/experiences.

At its core, the idea of procedural generation of worlds in which players can interact with and traverse in, is a dream come true. One of the biggest releases applying this concept is a game called No Man’s Sky. It promises 18 quintillion planets to explore and unique worlds for each person playing the game. The atmosphere, combinations of flora and fauna are all generated using a special algorithm and supposed to be one of a kind.

But as reviewers and consumers quickly discovered, the 18 quintillion planets were proven to be around 70 similar combinations having more or less the same style. For people that didn’t give in to the hype, this was expected. After all the developers are not magicians. The algorithm chooses from a pool of skies, trees, terrain, creature anatomy etc and generates a planet. It’s impossible to avoid similarities because every piece of the puzzle needs to exist beforehand, coded in the game’s assets by hard working people trying to provide an amazing experience.

Procedural generation is an interesting idea misunderstood by everyone. I can’t help but compare it to how misunderstood the leap of some games from 2D to 3D was. Most gamers thought 2D classics like Castlevania in 3D would add an extra dimension of awesome to the game back in 1999. It didn’t, because the technology was still in its early stages and once the novelty wore off, it exposed a fairly simple, boring polygonal mess. The developers were more focused on making a functional 3D game than an enjoyable one.

Whether you enjoy No Man’s Sky or not, procedural generation is still very clearly in its infancy and it will be a few more years before developers can craft something that meets consumers’ expectations. For now, it’s important to keep our feet on the ground and feel excited about the future. The spark is there and I can’t wait for the fire.

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