Funny To A Point – Getting Lost In No Man's Sky

by Jeff Marchiafava on Aug 26, 2016 at 11:20 AM

Hype. Controversy. Rocks shaped like dongs. This week's Funny To A Point takes a look at everything orbiting No Man's Sky.

For a game steeped in hyperbole since its announcement, it's not hyperbolic to say that No Man's Sky has been one of the most talked-about games of this generation. Hello Games' soaring ambition for its procedurally generated space romp was impossible to ignore, and I got excited by the possibilities just like everyone else – it's hard not to when you've got 18-quintillion, planet-sized planets to explore. Forget the old "See that mountain? You can actually go there!" routine; for No Man's Sky, "open world" is a criminal understatement. If you're the type of gamer who still judges a game's worth by its length or the size of its world, the sheer scope of No Man's Sky is enough to make your head explode like that dude from Scanners.*

Another ingredient in No Man's Sky's magical allure was that it was coming from a small indie team. After all, as anyone who's ever perused a gaming forum can tell you, it's the triple-A corporate overlords who take brilliant game ideas, focus-test them to death, and then desecrate their corpses with microtransactions and annual sequels for their own dastardly amusement. No Man's Sky would be free from such compromises, because indie developers aren't interested in things like profits. Or sleep. Or food.

If you're giggling at this guy right now, you're forgiven.

I've never bought into the triple-A-studios-are-evil argument (side note: If you do and found yourself nodding in agreement to the previous paragraph, it's time to take a break from the Internet). A lot of my favorite games come from giant developers that work tirelessly to make the coolest experiences possible. But there was something refreshing about how open and enthusiastic Hello Games was to discuss their game without a PR person butting in to sanitize every statement (something the studio probably regrets right about now). Hello Games shared a ton with us during our month of No Man's Sky coverage, taking us on an extended tour of the game and answering our barrage of ridiculous questions. They even discussed coping with the game's insane hype and tried to right the false expectations some gamers had regarding multiplayer (foreshadowing!).

Yet despite all the previews, videos, interviews, and ever-increasing hysteria, intrigued gamers still had one monolith-sized question: What do you actually do in the game? As far as warning signs go, that ranks up there with finding a wristwatch in your daily serving of Soylent Green. The question trailed No Man's Sky right up until launch day thanks to Sony's decision to forgo early review copies – another potential warning sign. I was utterly fascinated by the situation; No Man's Sky remained one of my most anticipated games, but I still wasn't convinced it would actually be fun.

Even with the ever-present ship icon on my HUD, I'm remarkably good at losing the damn thing.

I was on my annual summer purge when No Man's Sky came out, but I broke my own rules to look up what people were saying. The results were mixed: Some were loving the game, while others were dusting off their pitchforks. More than any other game, No Man's Sky seemed to require managed expectations – kind of like a DC Comics movie, if you're still paying to go see those things. I decided to approach the game the same way I do Minecraft – sure, I can't build a castle into the side of a mountain (or build half of one and then get bored and wander off), but at least the worlds I'd be exploring wouldn't look like the pixelated junk of a streaker on the nightly news.

As usual, my first hours in No Man's Sky were a reminder of my own eccentricities/idiocies when playing games. My exosuit's teensy inventory immediately clashed with my obsessive need to hoard everything I come across. Within a few minutes, my space pants were dragging on the ground, loaded with stacks of commonplace elements I didn't really need – I'm surprised my jet pack was able to get my bloated butt into the air.

I'm doing this right...right?

My starting planet was a pleasant world teeming with strange creatures and animals, so I set to work scanning and naming everything in sight: crabsquid, eel blossom, eye cactus, ABOMINATION (trust me, that thing deserved it). Coming up with interesting names was a lot harder than I expected – whoever thought of "zebra" or "kangaroo" deserves an award. Hell, No Man's Sky has even given me a newfound appreciation for whoever named all those dumb Pokémon (still not the guy who created Klefki, though...).

I hung around on my starting world for far too long, buying upgrades and even managing to catalogue every type of life form for a hefty cash bonus. Coming up with a worthy name for the planet also proved difficult; I eventually settled on Homeworld Alpha, and came up with a few more (debatably) interesting names for my subsequent stops, including the highly lucrative Golden Valley, and the desolate Despara. Since then I've just been desperately trying to work "anus" into the name of every planet.

The one exception? The frigid snow planet with constant blizzards and -100° temperatures. I named it Minnesota, naturally.

But it was on that third planet, Despara, where No Man's Sky got much more interesting. After being pampered on my first two planets with mountains made of gold and plutonium as far as the eye could see, Despara offered only a radioactive atmosphere and endless oceans of poisonous water. The few rocky landmasses that sprinkled the planet's surface had no resources – just predatory monsters that ambushed me as soon as I stepped out of the cockpit. After a few minutes I was more than ready to leave, only to realize my launch thrusters were empty – in my infinite wisdom, I left Golden Valley with a backpack full of Fascination Beads, but no fuel.

The ensuing search can only be described as a comedy of errors. I rocketed around the craggy plateaus looking for plutonium, ricocheting off of rocks into the poisonous waters. I was chased mercilessly, first by creepy crab monsters, then by the angry sentinels guarding what few valuable deposits the godforsaken planet had. But by the time I made orbit, I realized how entertaining the struggle to overcome the elements had been. Kind of like Matt Damon growing potatoes out his own poop in The Martian, only less gross.

This jerk kept attacking me, but if I was just a koala head sticking out of a deer's ass, I'd be cranky too.

Since then I've amassed a long list of emergent (and often embarrassing) stories like these, most thanks to my Memento-like ability to become instantaneously lost in my surroundings. Like the time I blasted myself down into a cave, then couldn't find the miniscule opening after running out of plutonium. Or the time I got chased (and shot) down by a gang of pirates in a ramshackle ship I salvaged because I didn't bother repairing the shield deflectors – I mean, I'm just making a quick trip to the space station. What could possibly go wrong? (The answer, as it turns out, is always SPACE PIRATES.)

My inability to skip over a single star system (just think of what I could be missing!) has made my progress in No Man's Sky slow but rewarding. Exploring planets that no one has ever seen – or probably ever will see – is something I've waited a long time to experience in a video game, and for the most part No Man's Sky hasn't disappointed me. Even as the planets have started to blur together, the little moments of discovery, hardship, and humor haven't.

Not to mention the beautiful vistas...

It wasn't until I headed online with a list of upgrade questions that I was pulled out of No Man's Sky's dreamy cosmos and brought back down to earth. It seems the Internet was furious over the game and working tirelessly to uncover designer Sean "mustache-twirling" Murray's trail of broken promises and lies.

Take the comments on a recent patch announcement on Steam. The post went up last Saturday – because the small studio has been working seven days a week on the game since launch – and contains a long list of the fixes they've released across three separate patches. Hello Games says the patches have addressed 70 percent of the problems players have run into, and that they're now working on the other 30 percent. The note thanks players for their patience and understanding, and invites them to email any other problems they have. How did players respond?

"Filthy liar and criminal. Should be sued for all your clear lies to everyone who bought your game clown. This is how you appear as a human being because you aren't transparent, and perhaps, you lied to thousands or millions of people intentionally. F--- your gold status, your game sold on LIES!"

And another:

"You people are a robbers and liars. Sad but true. Empty promises, false advertisement and straight up lies. On top of that an insulting and disappointing end of the game. You sold us Alpha version for the full retail price. I call this straight up ROBBERY."

And many, many others.

Now I know that complaining about comments on the Internet is like sticking my head into a woodchipper and then arguing with the results. What did I really expect? But the question I can't shake is what did they expect? That games never change during development? That features aren't reworked or yanked out completely? That every word a developer says is gospel and will forever be infallible? If you've ever rolled your eyes at a developer giving a bland interview full of PR clichés that don't actually mean anything, you can roll them right back down, because the backlash over No Man's Sky is why they do it.

That's not to say that Hello Games is entirely blameless. The studio did discuss and show off features that didn't make it into the game, and never made any mention of their removal. The studio's biggest blunder came on launch day, when two players won the cosmic lottery, ending up in the same galaxy, on the same planet, at the same location, at the same time! What should have been a remarkable reveal of No Man's Sky's nebulous multiplayer component instead played out like a sad Missed Connections encounter on Craigslist: "To the guy/girl/alien cosmonaut sharing my solar system. I waited for you at our meeting location but you never showed up. I don't know what happened – maybe we're invisible? Anyhoo, I'd still love to meet up and get to you know, so drop me a line. I'll wait for you at the space station next to the portly gecko in the funny hat."

Perhaps nothing highlights some of No Man's Sky's disparities better than this widely circulated YouTube clip, which splices together pre- and post-release footage of the game to hilarious results.

I laughed chunks of my lunch all over my keyboard when I saw that video, but if you consider it Exhibit A in The Gamers v Lying Fraudsters Of Hello Games, don't forget that there was no shortage of impressions, livestreams, and real gameplay video all over the Internet on launch day – including that strutting mess of a dinosaur. If you were too impatient to wait for reviews and ignored all the day-one footage and feedback to buy the game anyway, the only one who "pulled the wool over your eyes" is you.

But not everyone feels ripped off by their purchase. After wading through countless angry forum posts as I searched for actual gameplay advice, I stumbled upon the subreddit No Man's High. The forum was originally founded as a place for fans of both the game and botany...of a certain sort. But after all the other NMS forums became flooded with constant negativity and conspiracy theories, No Man's High opened its doors to any player who simply wants a rant-free place to chill and discuss their enjoyment of the game (potheads are cool like that).

I've got no context for it, but when I promise rock dongs, I deliver rock dongs!

Granted, some No Man's High members are still living up to the forum's name, like whoever created the mind-expanding post, "What if the Sentinels were actually cameras giving a livefeed back to Hello Games, and they're spying on us in the game." But a shared sentiment has been cropping up among non-midnight-toker fans across the Internet as well: That once you forget the hype and trailers and what you thought the game was "supposed" to be, you might just enjoy what's actually there.

To the haters, however, enjoying No Man's Sky remains inconceivable. "It's so sad to see How People are trying so hard to like this game after so much hype around it," one YouTube commenter (again, I know) offered in response to our No Man's Sky discussion on the G.I. Show. Because clearly the people who say they're having fun are lying to themselves. The haters know the truth – kind of like that Twilight Zone episode where all the pig people pity the one normal-looking woman because they're convinced she's the ugly one.**

However, whenever I start to get bogged down in an angry comments section, I'm reminded that just like every toxic hellhole I've visited in No Man's Sky, I'm free to blast off again and let it be swallowed up by the cosmos. My enjoyment of No Man's Sky – or any game – isn't dependent on the validation or approval of others, and while it's fun to share your discoveries with other like-minded fans, sometimes striking out on your own yields the best adventures. Even if you're lost most of the time.

See you space cowboy...

*No, I'm not going to link to a GIF of his head exploding – a kid could see it! Sheesh.
**Yes, I understand that beauty is relative and the pig people were actually the "normal" ones...I got the point of the episode, okay?!