No Man’s Sky: A Year On

I’ve played No Man’s Sky pretty much every day since its release. This is, for me anyway, something rather exceptional.

It’s not the first game to get it’s hooks into me in such a manner but it’s definitely the first single player game that I’ve spent this much time in.

Essentially, I wasn’t kidding when I said that this was a videogame I always longed to exist. Now it’s here, now I’m *there*, out there, I’m quite content.

My relationship with the game has certainly not been a smooth one – for two whole major updates (that’s about six months, give or take) I let the game itself take a backseat.

It became too difficult to progress in, less a meander and more like work. I knew it wouldn’t be a permanent situation as I make games, the machinery of getting a thing you’ve created to where you want it to be has its ups and downs, I know this.

Here was a game that felt like it was moving forward, improving, just that’s never straightforward for the simplest of games. For a game with as many masters to please as No Man’s Sky would have, I can scarcely begin to imagine how difficult balancing the bloody thing would be.

Sure, there’s always that slight nagging feeling with any videogame that’s under constant (re)development that it may drift away. At 400 or so hours sunk in prior to the first major update, I’d have been content to walk away regardless and I’d have been happy with that.

I’d managed to accumulate a huge stash of screenshots and so at some point I figured I’d make use of them. Initially for my own amusement and to ease the load on my main Twitter feed a tad, I set up a Twitter account to post pictures from the game there – this way folks who might want to see them could and those that cared little wouldn’t have so many clogging up their feeds.

(It also helped with a rule I’d set myself whilst between updates – never leave a planet without at least three pictures I was content with).

Anyway, that got a little out of hand and now I spend an hour or so a day retweeting pictures other folks have taken from the game as well as posting my own. It maybe sounds absurd but that account is the best thing I’ve done for myself on the internet in a long time.

I get a real enjoyment from an account that is nothing but things I enjoy seeing. It’s nice and these days I figure I need all the nice I can get.

So here we are a year on or so from the game’s launch and I’m back playing it again as enthused as I was when the game first dropped. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it feels fresh now, it is very much still the No Man’s Sky I fell in love with first time, I would however say that it feels a heck of a lot more whole now. And so much more beautiful. So very much more beautiful.

Sure, it’s not without its flaws. The first fifteen minutes to an hour (depending on how long it takes you to fix your ship up at the start) are achingly bad, it still sometimes feels like there’s holes where things should be and I would definitely argue it hasn’t found itself with anywhere near the amount of props it needs to really shine. Just once again, it feels held together by magic, not crushing grind and fetch quests.

Even though, you know, the game is sort of a series of fetch quests. There is that, definitely.

But I enjoy the rhythm of the game again. I won’t call it a loop because it’s more an amble. I’m tootling across planets, rummaging around for stuff of no real consequence to me, I’m scanning and naming planets because leaving a small piece of me in this universe is very much the whole point as far as I’m concerned. It’s important that nothing out there matters, that I am just somewhere, that this is a place I can be.

I know plenty of folk who find this in maybe World Of Warcraft or Destiny or Minecraft or somewhere. I figure if you’re patient and willing to wait long enough, maybe videogames will eventually turn up a world you’re happy to get lost in, yeah?

Of course it stands in stark contrast to my life these days. I have pain that exists with me all hours of the day, I have duties to look after other people and if I’m honest, I’m rarely happier than when doing small things to make days brighter and easier for folks.

The past twelve months have been a hell of a rollercoaster ride and with so much still to deal with, the near future is looking quite busy too. And yeah, maybe now more than ever, with my daily life and what’s happening in that big old world outside, I no longer just want, I need the escape that No Man’s Sky provides me.

It helps, also, that it’s a game that works around my life. I can put the controller down and go and wrangle the kids from whatever mischief they’ve found themselves in- remove a water pistol from someone’s nose or whatever. I can put things to one side and go and tend to whatever whoever needs at any one time, come back and everything is still fine.

(Well, unless my PS4 does that thing where it decides I’ve left it alone and switches itself off just to annoy me. That happens a fair bit if I’m honest).

No Man’s Sky is a game that becomes background noise.

It is, I suppose, a true ambient videogame. It exists in spaces most other videogames have no interest in occupying, demanding as they so often do your full and complete attention. It is a game that I listen to podcasts to, queue up playlists to listen to whilst exploring, a game that I abandon to go and serve tea.

In so many ways it is nothing and everything. None of this stuff is especially unique to No Man’s Sky but few embrace it quite so wholeheartedly and more to the point, in a way that’s so very to my taste.

It is calm in times that are so far from calm. It is respite. It is the videogame as escapism that I never considered would exist, having long given up that particular dream to a hobby fixated with anything but pastoral, meandering, ambient vibes.

It’s perhaps fitting that the first time I felt the videogame as world, oh so many decades ago now, it was due to the work of Sandy White in making the city of Antescher exist in 48k. Now, it’s with No Man’s Sky – a game Sandy White lent his enormous talents to.

And like with 3d Ant Attack, No Man’s Sky feels like it’s opened up the doors to some more, pleasing, possible futures in games. Whether that be from what folks perceive as the game getting wrong or from its exquisite use of procedural generation that whilst nothing new, is certainly something at this sort of scale.

That’ll always be the best kind of game for me. The sort that seems to offer a smaller sly wink to one of our many futures. I’m glad that all these years on, games have this effect on me still too.

Long may it continue.