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The Path To No Man's Sky's 'End Game'

by Jeff Cork on Dec 15, 2014 at 08:00 AM

When I talk about No Man’s Sky, either on the site or with friends, I typically get one of two reactions. It’s either, “That sounds cool,” or “That sounds cool, but what’s the point?” I get it; a lot of people like to play games with a greater purpose in mind. They want to rescue a princess or kill the bad guy or save the universe – possibly even all three at once. Hello Games’ spacefaring adventure isn’t easily explained, and the fact that the studio doesn’t want to reveal all of its secrets doesn’t make it any easier. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a goal in the game, for people who want more than simply idling through space, scanning planets, and gathering minerals. There’s a central mystery at the center of the game’s galaxy, and we’re sharing all we currently know about it.

Hello Games’ co-founder Sean Murray doesn’t enjoy talking about things like goals and objectives when it comes to No Man’s Sky, but he gets it. People have been trained to play games with certain expectations. As he points out, however, you don’t often hear people talking about beating Minecraft when they’re discussing the game. Sure, you can acquire the materials required to go to that game’s ending area, The End, and slay the Ender Dragon, but that’s not why most people are addicted to the game. Similarly, Murray loves the idea of exploring space, dogfighting enemy ships, and discovering things that nobody has seen – and may never see again. And you can do that indefinitely in No Man’s Sky. If you absolutely need closure, though, it’s in the game. Here’s a broad look at the basic loop of No Man’s Sky, for people who are determined to see the end credits. In other words, here’s “The Point” of the game, for those of you who need it.

1. The Outer Ring
You begin the game on a planet, one of hundreds of millions that circle the outer edges of the galaxy. It’s assigned to you randomly, and the odds that you’ll be someplace that another player has set foot on is infinitesimal. If you take a short walk from your starting position, you’ll come upon your first spaceship. It’s slow and weak, but it’ll allow you to get off the planet’s surface and into orbit, where you’ll chart your next move.

Pulling up the galaxy map will provide a better view of your relative position in the galaxy. Your starting planet is one of several in a solar system. Each procedurally generated planet is home to one of several resources, which have their own value depending on its scarcity. When you’re on a planet’s surface, you can scan your surroundings. Valuable commodities are highlighted by a grid-like overlay. Blasting the resources with your multitool harvests them. You can sell your finds at space stations – every solar system has one – or deposit them at trading posts that dot some planets’ surfaces. When you have enough money, you can buy additional fuel for your ship. You’ll need that for the next step in your journey.

2. Building Your Strength
You don’t upgrade your ship in No Man’s Sky. Instead, you purchase new ships. Better ships will have better attributes, including more powerful shields, the ability to withstand harsher environments, and more storage capacity. The last component will be of particular interest for goal-oriented players. Storage capacity refers to both the amount of resources you can carry, as well as fuel. You’ll naturally burn fuel to travel to other solar systems, and your starting ship won’t allow you to travel far.

When you pull up the galaxy map, you’re free to explore beyond your ship’s capabilities. If you zoom all the way out, you’ll notice something interesting in the center of the galaxy. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your goal. The game won’t explicitly state this to the player; you don’t come upon mission logs or distress beacons that guide you in that direction. Instead, players will start to figure out that working your way from the outside in increases your chances of finding better resources. And it’s hard not to notice that strange, fiery-looking object in the middle of the galaxy. It’s up to players to find that out for themselves.

“If you play Minecraft there is no prompt to do anything,” Murray says. “The things I would say is that there are better ships, better weapons, better suit upgrades towards the center of the galaxy. And you’ll go out looking for those and you will find that they are towards the center of the galaxy, but we never say ‘go to the center of the galaxy.’”

3. Voyage to the Center
“That journey will take like a long time,” Murray says. “If you know what you’re doing and all of that kind of thing, some speed runner will prove me wrong, but [it’s] like 40 to 100 hours. A good length of time. But that is doing absolutely nothing else but traveling forward and that is min-maxing it, knowing exactly what you're doing. I hope that's not what the majority of players do. I hope they get really distracted and end up actually on the outer edge of the galaxy in a trade route that they really enjoy and not doing anything else. For some players they end up trying to see how long it would take them to walk around a planet or become the galaxy’s botanist or whatever. But for some players they will only want to make that journey, and that's cool.”

Murray says he understands the drive to find a goal, but he adds that he doesn’t think that it’s why so many people seem to be inspired by No Man’s Sky’s potential. “If you look at the people who are interested in our game, they don’t talk about, ‘I can’t wait to be the first person to go to the center of the galaxy.’ They often just talk about wanting to explore the worlds and fly around and do their own things. And I don’t want to tell them, ‘No, that means you’re not a good player at No Man’s Sky.’”

What’s in the center? Murray is understandably cagey about that, but he did share a few details with us. First, don’t expect something along the lines of what people found in the center of the Curiosity Cube. “Just to be clear, it's not just going to run a video of me saying, ‘Hi, welcome to the center of the galaxy.’  I can confirm it's not going to be a link to a YouTube video. Inside a box.”

Murray says that players will want to share the experience with their friends, even though the team is trying to temper players’ multiplayer expectations. “Are you gonna want your friends to join you there? Yeah, without giving too much away, yes.”

Stripped to its most ludicrously basic level, here’s The Point of No Man’s Sky: Harvest resources (or fight A.I.-controlled ships) to acquire wealth. Purchase and refuel a new ship. Head deeper into the galaxy, toward the center. Repeat. Of course, reducing it to that degree eliminates everything that makes the game so incredible, including the wondrous sense of exploration and discovery, but that’s the core of its gameplay loop.


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