We spoke with Hello Games' managing director Sean Murray for hours about his team’s difficult-to-grasp game. One subject that’s spurred confusion since No Man’s Sky was announced is the incorporation of multiplayer. Even though players can name their discoveries, affect the galaxy for others connected to the cloud, and encounter other player characters, friends planning to meet up and explore together might want to temper those ambitions.

To settle exactly what No Man’s Sky’s multiplayer is and isn’t, we’ve provided an excerpt from our conversation with Murray to nail this subject down once and for all. It also plants the seed for fans to speculate what the player character is. It’s easy to assume that you’d simply be a human in a space suit, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case at all. Read on for all of this and more as part of our ongoing month of coverage of No Man’s Sky. 

Game Informer: Will your friends show up on the map? 
Sean Murray: Yeah, but they will be a long way away. People keep asking us about multiplayer and I think when people see this they are going to fully realize what it means to be that far away from somebody else who's playing. And I know that that's a bit weird for people, but it's what's different about our game. And we want to embrace that. We don't want people just scouting off beside their friends. I actually want people to boot up the game and just think, “Isn't the universe huge? Who are we? What are we all doing here?”

People keep saying to us, “Yeah, but what if I knew where they were? Would I go there?” And it's like, yeah, but they are going to have to stay there for quite a while while you get over there. And then once you get over there you might land on the same planet and then you will say, “I'm on a planet the size of Earth and I am on a mountain. Where are you?” Which is, I know, a weird thing and it's a daunting thing.

It seems like it's a lot of work to incorporate multiplayer with a high chance that it won't even happen.
The only answer that I can think of for this is a really technical one. If we were to make a game where we synchronized every player, what they were doing with every other player, then that would be impossible and no one has ever done that. What we can do is, like many games that you have at the moment, where you are flying around with an open lobby. People are coming into that lobby and leaving it – like if you play Watch Dogs or something like that. Effectively, we have players joining your discrete space. We're not trying to make an MMO where you can play with literally 60,000 people on screen. We handle the case like where other people can fly past in your game or that you can bump into other players in the game.

But that's okay for us because it will never happen. I guess the whole of the entire community could organize to go to one specific spot and then they would find that they weren't all there at the same time. That would be ridiculous. 

How many people could be there theoretically?
The lobby that you carry around with you now can, it's almost like I don't wanna say because people will just test it, it can carry a few people. More than what you will see during the normal course of the game. 

Will your friends take priority?
No. Just to be really clear, the reason that I'm saying this is we just want to be really clear with people that it is not an MMO. All of those questions are leading toward that. There are loads of MMOs out there. People can play those. We want people to be able to get a sense of playing with other people and to see other people and feel like this is a real, live universe. 

If you're thinking, “Okay, okay, I understand all of that, Sean, but let's say all my friends want to go and play together.” That's not what this is about. You've seen the galactic map. I don't want to disappoint people. I don't want to answer your question and then they will think, “Yeah, yeah, he's saying it's difficult, but I'll do it. And then we will play Destiny together, effectively. We will all run around the planets.” 

No. If you want to play a first-person-shooter-sci-fi-run-around-on-a-planet game, play Destiny. It’s a really good game. Go play that. We're not trying to do that.

Like Journey multiplayer, that was a huge part of the game for me, but they did a good job in not describing it as a multiplayer game. Journey would have been really disappointing if you entered into it thinking it was a multiplayer game. It's not. Dark Souls I think of as a single-player experience, but I'm really glad of the elements that they have in there. 

If another human player flies past you, will their username pop up or will you not even know that it was another player?
At the moment it doesn't, and I would like to keep it that way. 

So would you think it was just an A.I. for the most part?
Yeah. Because we don't want to focus people on it. 

It will be so surreal to see another person walking around on a planet.
We keep talking about Jack's dad from Lost, basically just to see them in the distance. Like, “Did I? What?”

The player characters look different than anything else you'll see?
Yeah. 

Will that be the first time you have any idea what you'd look like?
Yeah. 

Do you have that model built out?
Yes. Grant [Duncan, Hello Games' art director] did a concept ages ago. I actually talked with Grant about using something like that on the cover because that would set the cat amongst the pigeons. That would scare people. But I don't think it's like a cheap thing. I don't want to do it. We don't need to do something like that to get people talking about whether or not they like the character or whatever. 

Because of the look of the character?
No. I think people really haven't thought about that yet. And I think we will probably surprise people in terms of how they look. You effectively see their suit actually. So you won't know what's inside. It still won't answer for people whether you are an alien or whether you are a human or what you look like.

And you don't ever want to answer that question?
Yeah. But I think the design we have would be really interesting for people who are into the game, but I don't think we should do that. Let the game come out and then let that be a thing that people talk about.

Even if players can’t run into each other on purpose essentially, can they communicate across the galaxy?
We are going to have a way for players to communicate with each other. Maybe leave messages and things like that on planets. I don't know if it will represent that. Let's not get into loads of detail, but you can say that we're going to have a way for players to communicate with each other and leave little messages and things like that. 

Written messages?
That's the plan at the moment. Have you played Terraria? When you die, you leave a gravestone. It says a Quake-style thing like, “Sean got hit with an ax. Sean fell down a big hole.” That kind of thing. That's what they say. But when they bring that up when you die, the cursor is there and you can actually just delete it and write in whatever text you want. It sounds like a small thing, but it's so amazing. You walk around this world and then you've got all of these like silly stories that people have left. 

The reality is the messages are always too late because it's the gravestone. So it's always like, “I fell down here, too.” They are really funny. People can't resist. It's like Twitter. You can't resist making that joke. 

Is it any message at any time or just on death?
For us, we are going to just have a place where you can leave messages. I would like those places to be connected. So, effectively, you would go up and you would see things from other places as well. 

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Throughout the month we’ll have a deep dive on the galactic map, video interviews with the team, insight on the generated soundtrack, a special-edition podcast, and more. Click on the banner below to visit our No Man's Sky hub and see everything collected in one place.