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As a long time gamer I've learned to temper my excitement for the big press conferences that fill the pre-E3 show floor fervor. Too many times it feels like a group of businessmen who see game boxes as tiny little ATMs put together the presentations. Sony did some of that, but it was understandable—they have a lot to talk about. But, even with tempered excitement, I watched all the press conferences from "Day 0" with my girlfriend. We ordered pizza, hangout in our pajamas, and generally take the day off from life. Last year, even with the big new hardware reveals we generally just kind of shrugged at a lot of what we saw. This year was different, this year reminds me that maybe I've been too jaded about the industry, because at the end of yesterday, I was excited about the next year and a half of gaming.
"So... do you think they'll show a game with lots of guns and explosions this year?"
I was going to list all the things that excited me but no one has time for that long list. And I really don't like the idea of saying any one company "won" E3 because that's just silly. In a market as tech-dependent and competitive as gaming, the people who won E3 this year are, please excuse the cliche, gamers. We did. Gamers won. Sony, Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft started the show off on a high note and over the next year and a half, there are probably two dozen games coming out that I consider "must play, day one purchases," and the show hasn't even really kicked off yet.
"So... tell me about these exciting new games."
Sony showed a lot of intriguing games, I mean does anyone not want to play Uncharted or Bloodborne? The Order: 1886 is a gorgeous piece of work and I squealed at the Grim Fandango remake. But with all the grand pomp of big presentations and press conference promises with their tried and true first party titles, AAA third party reveals, and indie game montages, Sony, at least for me, dropped the mic with No Man's Sky. After VGX 2013 I wrote a blog (you can read it here) claiming that it was the most impressive showing on Spike TV's "awards" ceremony. But what you couldn't have known was that the original title of that blog post was "Why No Man's Sky will Change the Face of Gaming." I decided against the title because I figured it was, perhaps, a bit too grandiose of a statement considering the one minute of footage I had seen. I'm beginning to think I should have stuck to my original title and have digital proof that I am a video game seer after No Man's Sky releases.
By introducing No Man's Sky as a console game, what Sony did was a coup. Which is odd because it's not a console exclusive and to be honest, I'm getting it on PC. But it shows something about the gaming arm of Sony and their vision of the future of console gaming. I'm not saying Microsoft's press conference was bad, because I'm excited for many of the games they announced, but it didn't show a gaming future all that different from the gaming present, and for the most part, neither did Sony. But then there was No Man's Sky. No Many's Sky isn't some technological powerhouse using advanced lighting techniques, facial animations, water physics, or the untapped potential of some game engine. It's the opposite of all that, it's smart game engineering and the passion of 7 (yes, just 7) developers working on a dream project.
No Many's Sky isn't driven by the "power of Playstation" or "the cloud."
This is exactly how "the cloud" works.
This is going to sound pretty lame, but it's powered by the imaginations of the developers and players. An entire universe is open to players. Think about that...a whole eff-ing universe. It's hard to soak in because gamers hear the term so often, but the vastness of a universe is incomprehensible to most of us. But from what I've been able to gather, it's really big. This has always been the hope of gamers—that the digital world's we visit are infinite, perpetual, fantastical, seamless, and able to take us far beyond our imaginations, or even the imaginations of the developers themselves.
Pictured: Aneurism caused by mind being blown.
Not all developers will go the procedurally generated route or work on a scale as large as a universe, and they don't need to. But developers, triple-A especially, should take note of No Man's Sky's ambition and vision because it has the potential to change the medium for the better. The mind reels at the possibilities that big budgets and high tech graphics/physics engines can bring to projects as ambitions as those of Hello Games. Developers love to tout that "no two playthroughs are the same!" But that's usually hype that sells gamers a false sense of replayability. Imagine an Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, or Red Dead sequel that is, literally, different every time you play. What about a Fallout game that could encompass a constantly changing post-apocalyptic United States, where trees grow and gas lines rupture, where mutation is not an already pre-determined aspect of the game but is ever evolving? I imagine it could make multiplayer much more exciting as well. Both the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises have incorporated maps that change throughout the match, but what if the maps contained the same visual assets and destructibility but were literally different every single round? No more spawn camping, no more familiar sniper spots, and no way for early adopters to completely demolish new comers.
All this, of course, is predicated on the idea that No Man's Sky is critically and commercially successful. But few games in recent memory have generated the kind of awe as Hello Games' upcoming project. Sure Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Uncharted and other big franchises always get gamers excited, and rightfully so. But does it awe us? Does it make gamers think about the future of the medium as a whole? In my experience, not really. And maybe I'm the only person who will play No Man's Sky and lay claim to hundreds of planets all by myself. But this seems unlikely. Amongst my gaming friends No Man's Sky is becoming a creative benchmark of sorts. As we delve deep into our gaming fantasies, something that admittedly takes up too much of our time, we find ourselves wondering how the ideas that inspired No Man's Sky would play out in new and exciting ways across different genres and narrative plots. And sometimes that's all an industry needs, not hype that always touts how some game is revolutionizing how we play, but for a game to actually reimagine the capabilities of the medium.