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Thirty Minutes With No Man's Sky

A hands-on report with Hello Games' enormous sci-fi galaxy or Jared Leto's next musical side project? You decide.

No Man's Sky is a survival game. There, now you know. The public conversation around Hello Games' unthinkably sprawling, procedurally generated sci-fi whatsit seems to have shifted from "holy crap that's a lot of different planets" to "OK, but what do you actually do?" during the last year, so it's time someone outside of Hello at least attempted to answer that nagging question (so people will finally stop asking it). I recently played around half an hour of No Man's Sky, which turns out to be exactly enough time to just start feeling like you maybe kind of have almost begun to get a handle on the sorts of things that will be occupying your attention in the game, but my initial impression is that your first and most pressing order of business will be to collect a hell of a lot of stuff, and use it to keep yourself alive in a cold, uncaring universe.

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Crafting things and installing upgrades is the name of the game, and there's a three-pronged upgrade system split between your weapons, ship, and spacesuit. Those categories ought to be self-explanatory, but for the sake of exhaustive detail, here goes. On the weapons side, you have both a mining beam, which is mostly used for breaking down resources, and a rapid-fire projectile weapon, which is more suited for fightin'. I also crafted something akin to an energy grenade that you can use to blow giant holes in the landscape (and potentially access subterranean areas, if they exist on a given planet), and your upgradable binoculars also fit into this category. Ship upgrades seem to be pretty resource-intensive and I didn't manage to complete any of those in my short demo, but they'll govern your ability to jump between different systems, and presumably other nuts-and-bolts features like fuel capacity, sublight speed, and so on. And the suit will keep you alive and mobile, with components ranging from shields and thermal protection to a jetpack.

From what I played, No Man's Sky's gameplay loop is intensely resource-based. It seems that everything you need to create, recharge, or refuel requires one of numerous types of resources, and that means you'll be turning your mining laser on plants and rock formations to break them down into their component elements, looting abandoned supply crates for other types of elements, hacking or shooting your way into alien factories to claim their stashes, and generally just scrounging everything you can find on your eternal quest to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. The build of the game I saw at E3 last year was using an entirely fake periodic table, but now it's back to using real element names for the more common crafting resources, ones which Hello says already spark some familiarity in most players. So you'll be looking for carbon to turn into rocket fuel, silicon to craft computer chips with, and plutonium to charge up vital suit systems.

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Those resources were absolutely everywhere in the planet Hello had selected for us to play on; red plutonium crystal deposits dotted the landscape, any tree could be lasered down into carbon, and so on. To hear Hello's Sean Murray tell it, that'll be the exception to the rule. In our interview, he mentioned the ideal scenario is to have something like nine relatively barren planets for every one lush world bursting with life and resources, in order to create a feeling of genuine discovery when you actually find a place with things that you can use and that isn't actively trying to kill you. It's here where the necessity of stacking the planetary deck for public demonstrations may be working against the game, or at least what I want out of the game. You can't get a sense of the exploration, loneliness, and struggle inherent in advancing through the galaxy when everything you need is laid out right in front of you. But I'm excited at the prospect of jumping from system to system, scanning the biome of each planet I find (which there's an upgrade for) to see what's valuable, and moving on to keep searching. Murray mentioned things like black holes will also manifest and affect your exploration, although he didn't say how, and other astrophysical oddities like binary star systems will also be present. That gets my heart racing. I'm still holding out hope for this to be the Star Trek game I've always wanted, or at least the closest thing to date.

At any rate, all this isn't to make No Man's Sky sound like a mundane resource-management sim; it's still a first-person action game at heart. As usual for this type of open-ended game, the pacing and action are as fast as you want to make them, and juggling that many different resources made for some tough choices even in the short time I played the game. I turned my attention toward crafting my first hyperdrive--which I had the blueprint for but not the resources to make--so I could try to jump to another star system before my session was over. That turned out to be hard to pull off since I was on a frigid planet with a temperature hovering around -160C, which meant my suit's thermal protection was constantly burning energy. It quickly became apparent that you'll face frequent situations where the resources you're pursuing for some long-term goal--the hyperdrive, in this case--may also be needed for your immediate survival, such as charging up that thermal system or restoring your shields when you're being hammered on by the ubiquitous robotic space police. It seems you'll at least learn some unconventional tricks for dealing with harsh environmental hazards that don't deplete your precious resources so quickly. During his presentation, Murray used that energy grenade to blow a hole in the side of a mountain that revealed a big, Minecraft-style underground complex. He darted in there where the temperature was above freezing, giving his suit a chance to chill out.

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At one point, I managed to piss off those space cops by trying to shoot my way into an alien installation that I didn't have the tools to breach more quietly. (It's worth pointing out that things like illegal hacking chips and drug-smuggling will also draw their ire, so charging in guns ablaze isn't the only way you'll get into trouble.) You've got a five-point wanted level here similar to the one in Grand Theft Auto: the more you violate space law, the more menacing the robots who show up, from little flying drones to dog-like quadrupeds to mean, towering bipedal walkers. It seems the more you fight the robots, the worse the robots who show up to fight, so you'll probably want to avoid doing anything that raises the authorities' attention as you explore unless you want to hightail it back to your ship and get yourself offworld till your wanted level ticks back down. Since the game intends to be so gigantic and populated by different alien factions, I asked if there's some kind of story justification for why these same-looking robotic police are ubiquitous across the galaxy, and the answer is yes. Hello says it's working with a writer to flesh out a backstory that contextualizes that sort of thing.

Speaking of alien races, the big new feature on the marketing roadmap being shown at the event I went to was interaction with AI characters. Murray's presentation included a quick chat with a space-suited representative of the Korvax, one of the game's races. Interacting with these characters is pretty straightforward: zoom in the camera, pop up a dialogue tree. They may want to trade with you, dispense some information, or just give you a shiny new weapon. The catch is, you initially won't have any idea what that alien is trying to say to you, since learning alien languages is a core mechanic in the game. I only saw one obvious way to learn, by approaching an inscribed stone monolith (though I hope there are others), and it seems you'll generally only learn one word at a time. But that one word might be enough to intuit what a given NPC is trying to ask you, if it's the right word. In another example, when I blew open the doors of an alien factory to raid it for resources, I set off an alarm that brought the robo-cops running. There was a terminal inside I could interact with, and if I'd been able to read what it said, I could have easily shut down the alarm and gotten back to raiding. But since I couldn't read it, I picked the wrong answer and locked the alarm in the "on" position, which made for a rough time.

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NPCs will enable trade in the game, in the form of a little robotic market vendor I found on the planet I was exploring, other vendors who hang out on space stations, and so on. Every player will start on a uniquely random planet with no resources to their name, so your first few hours will be spent extracting materials from the environment to build your first hyperdrive and get out into the galaxy (and this will take some players longer than others, depending on the richness of the planet they start on). But Hello says that once you've got your basic gear in place, it would be viable to largely focus on working the markets, buying low and selling high to get the resources you need, rather than scrounging them planet to planet. Only time--and hours with the final game--will tell exactly how much you'll be able to focus on one play style to the exclusion of others, but the potential for player expression here seems significant.

Murray's presentation included an impressive developer-mode demo of warping instantly from an utterly bare, spherical planet to one where the hills followed the uniform curvature of sine waves, on through mathematically more complex worlds until finally reaching a truly naturalistic planet teeming with life. For one, this served as a nice peek behind the curtain at the way the game generates each planet algorithmically from a small amount of data as you approach it. That is, there are no load times in the game not because the engine is streaming in level design as you move around, like in most games, but because the game is amplifying the tiny seed data into more complex structures on the fly with the mystical power of math. Beyond the impressive tech, though, this gave an impression of some of the more exotic things that might be possible in the game. I heard word going around the event there may be things like stargates that link different worlds directly together, though where you'll find something like that or how you might access it, I have no idea.

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Although playing No Man's Sky for 30 minutes was just enough time to figure out that I wanted to play a lot more No Man's Sky, it's at least nice to know at this point how the game is designed with respect to recognizable video game genres. Hearing Murray mention The Long Dark, Stranded Deep and Terraria as personal favorites and inspirations made it clear that giving the player the freedom to explore, gather, craft, buy, sell, fight, flee, learn, and survive in this endless galaxy is what the game is all about. Previously, I haven't found a game of this type that's gotten me personally invested, but No Man's Sky is the first one with the breadth and the setting to make me very, very anxious to spend a much longer amount of time with it.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+

170 Comments

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DougCL

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okay...okay!

this seems like it'll be good.

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thelastgunslinger

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I was really worried when this lead off with "No Man's Sky is a survival game," a genre I have very little interest in. The rest of the article piqued my interest though, so I'm still on-board. Let's fight some space cops!

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Nbz

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Great write up Brad. You've got me far more interested in this now!

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hassun

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This is one of those games I am making no assumptions about at all until it's completely finished and out in the wild. I just hope it will be great just like I do about all video games.

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singing_pigs

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I'm buzzing with excitement right now.

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deactivated-5dac8b1b10957

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I am disappointed that this turned out to be just another survival game, but I also knew it was going to go this way. It's the only type of gameplay that makes sense with the scope they were aiming for. Don't get me wrong, I've played quite a few survival games and enjoyed them, I was just hoping for something more unique.

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Bernard_Bernoulli

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I think people keep asking what you do in this game because there seems to be so little to do. You collect resources to upgrade three things, and sometimes space drones show up. And the planets are procedurally generated using a computer program.

Wing Commander: Privateer this ain't. At least from what they show, and there doesn't seem to be any kind of hidden depth.

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Milkman

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Edited By Milkman

This gives me a lot more optimism than the video that went up. Not that I think it looked bad from the video but getting a better idea of the upgrades and progression dispels a lot of concerns I had about the game, mostly that you would be wandering around doing nothing.

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two_socks

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Man, hearing that there's so much resource gathering has really sapped my interest. I'll wait for more videos I guess.

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MusiM

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Definitely waiting for the reviews on this one. I have never liked the resource survival games.

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DFL017

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I just hope there is no chopping down trees with an axe to start off.

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veektarius

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Looks like I can cross this one off the list.

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Based

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Great write up Brad!

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CornRPeople2

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Great write-up Brad! I think I now have more questions than answers, which is exactly what I want before I buy this game. Love the exploration that this game seems thrive on!

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MeAuntieNora

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@dfl017 said:

I just hope there is no chopping down trees with an axe to start off.

Please let me punch them down instead.

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Kalor

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I was already going to get the game but there is a lot more to it than I thought there was.

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Mento

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Mento  Moderator

Not quite what I was expecting, but it still sounds like something I'd be into. I'll keep an eye out for it this Summer.

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Baal_Sagoth

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@veektarius said:

Looks like I can cross this one off the list.

I intended to post exactly this. Very good to know this ahead of time. The one thing that might suit my interests is the nice sounding language acquisition mechanic. Provided new words are more than pick-ups. But that's still not likely to do enough for me in the hundredth ressource gathering game.

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DurMan667

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Game still looks amazing. Survival games aren't my thing, but this one doesn't have hunger and thirst meters, so I'm cool with it.

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cLoudForest

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I'm liking the sound of this now. Despite some negative comments about it being "just a survival game", to me it looks like they've married the resource gathering and trading of a survival game with the exploration aspect so that they'll be an additional motivation above and beyond just seeing how long you can survive for. I mean, I enjoyed what I played of "The Long Dark" but until the narrative mode they've been promising turns up, the current sandbox mode is just "how many days can you survive". At least with NMS the resource-gathering is a means toward being able to see more of what's out there. That there are alien complexes and languages to decipher is making me hopeful that there will be stuff out there worth seeing.

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Brad

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@milkman said:

This gives me a lot more optimism than the video that went up. Not that I think it looked bad from the video but getting a better idea of the upgrades and progression dispels a lot of concerns I had about the game, mostly that you would be wandering around doing nothing.

Yeah, I really wish the b-roll they gave us had shown more of the mechanics I was messing with (crafting, NPCs) rather than just environmental footage. They're still working on the UI for those systems though so I understand why they're reluctant to show them.

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johnnymcginley

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There is absolutely no evidence this is "just another survival game", in fact Brad went to lengths to lay out why that is not the case, so I have no idea where people are getting that impression.

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SomberOwl

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Edited By SomberOwl

I don't know. It sounds like a lot of busy work. Like Far Cry Primal taken EVEN further. But with no narrative drive. I suppose it depends on how long gathering and upgrading can hold your attention before becoming boring.

I still don't see a goal to work towards besides getting more upgrades. It might hold my attention for a while but with nothing to ultimately try and achieve it seems like it might become stale after a while.

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Nmckee503

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There is absolutely no evidence this is "just another survival game", in fact Brad went to lengths to lay out why that is not the case, so I have no idea where people are getting that impression.

I think it's because of how little we've seen (not saying that's a bad thing, it's good to have some mystery around an upcoming game). I am definitely one of those people who has had the fear of it being just another survival game, I can't really articulate why, wish I could. Either way, I'm super excited to play this game.

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Miacosa

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Sounds great, Brad if you can verify it was there PSVR support? There were some rumors that this was the case. Nice write up.

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DarkbeatDK

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Survival game?

More like No Thanks Sky for me then, but I was never really into it to begin with.

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veektarius

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Whether it is "just" a survival game is kind of irrelevant, since I tend to not engage with crafting mechanics in games with time-intensive resource gathering elements.

There is absolutely no evidence this is "just another survival game", in fact Brad went to lengths to lay out why that is not the case, so I have no idea where people are getting that impression.

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johnnymcginley

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Edited By johnnymcginley
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spidoman

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"the more you violate space law, the more menacing the robots who show up" this is a good sentence.

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blacklab

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Brang it

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cloudymusic

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Edited By cloudymusic

"What isFirewatch No Man's Sky?"

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AtomicEdge

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I'm excited!

I usually get games like this on PC, but for some reason I'm tempted to get this on the PS4.

Not sure why.

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Efesell

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But now that it's outed as a survival game it can never actually be released.

Some questions aren't meant to be answered.

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Throat

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Edited By Throat

First I was intrigued, then nervous. Now reassured.

Looks like it will be good.

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jakob187

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You want to know what the biggest surprise with No Man's Sky is for me?

The PC version will be DRM-free.

That is fucking astonishing. The fact that Sony is even allowing that to be a thing is impressive as hell to me!

Also, I cannot wait to play this shit.

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Skald

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Sandbox games (especially of late) can go either way for me. I hope this game has its share of emergent "oh shit" moments.

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Grimdaddy

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Great article, Brad - thanks for the preview into this intriguing game. Its nice to finally know what Firewa... er, No Mans Sky really is. Sounds neat as hell and I cannot wait to try it out.

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RalphMoustaccio

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Everything I'm reading about this today makes me feel like NMS is shaping up nicely, provided you're into the survival/crafting sub-genre. That said, the following concerns me. "Every player will start on a uniquely random planet with no resources to their name, so your first few hours will be spent extracting materials from the environment to build your first hyperdrive and get out into the galaxy (and this will take some players longer than others, depending on the richness of the planet they start on)."

If the start is truly random and unique, how can there be any guarantee that you ever get off the starting planet? How many times will you need to restart just to get a workable seed that allows reasonable progression? I don't want to be subject to the RNG to the point to the point where I have to restart dozens of times just to find the materials needed to progress beyond the opening area. I mean I'll do it if I have to because I've already decided that I want to see what this game is, and to support what I feel is actual risk-taking and potential innovation in game design, but I hope it's not a deterrent to ever getting further into the game.

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two_socks

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Edited By two_socks

@ralphmoustaccio: My understanding is there is no individual seed per player, but rather the same seed for all players. I am also assuming here at this point, that a hyperdrive is more for going very long distances, and that you'll be able to jump to close planets without one, otherwise you could truly get an awful spawn and be stuck. That, or they bias spawns to be on planets that have the materials needed, it might just be that some planets have scarcer resources so you have to farm a little bit more than other players. Tough to really say at this point.

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JamesFargoth

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I guess I'm in the minority that actual enjoys a good survival experience if it's done well. I'd love for this game to be that, but it looks like temperature and resource gathering/crafting are the only big survival elements here. Nothing overly involving for those that dislike the genre, but enough to enable a natural progression that feels rewarding.

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Marv89

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I'll wait for reviews to hit before buying it. Seems like a game that could be truly great for weeks or months, or something that gets very boring very fast

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RalphMoustaccio

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@two_socks: I hope you're right, because I see it effectively turning off a lot of players if there is no way to meaningfully progress in a reasonable time frame.

@brad: Can you clarify how the initial spawn functions any further, from what you've seen? Is it possible to start out on a completely desolate planet?

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silentsandman

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It is disheartening to see so many comments completely dismissing this game based on Brad's off the bat mention of survival games and saying things like "well guess it's just another one of those with nothing new, I'm done."

From what we've already seen it's far more than "just a survival game". What do you do in games like Day Z and Rust, gather things to survive on one map and generally don't see any variety after a while. The fact that No Man's Sky is a near infinite universe that you can find entire planets to explore and quickly change scenery to another is a huge difference that makes me excited compared to my aversion to those others. Plus we know there will be discovering new plant and animal life, trading with NPCs, finding ongoing battles between alien races and factions, avoiding the robo-cops because you're smuggling space cocaine, making a hacking chip to sneak in an alien base to steal valuable resources (like more space cocaine!), learning alien language, and more.

This is why I'm excited about No Man's Sky, the possibilities and exploration. Striking out into the unknown to discover what's out there on different worlds and solar systems, making myself and my ship better for exploring instead of gathering resources into a fort I built in the corner of a map, and maybe taking some space cocaine along the way.

End of rant. Great write up Brad, may we cross paths among the stars!

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cheapLEY

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@thelastgunslinger: I'm in the same boat. Hopefully it takes the Starbound direction and focuses more on exploration than survival. I could get into what is basically 3D Starbound.

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Zeik

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Edited By Zeik

This is probably the first time I've been legitimately excited to get my hands on this game since it was revealed. It always looked neat, but I never fell into the hype over the vague generalities and unsubstantiated speculation of what it might be.

I'm not generally into survival type games or Minecraft, but this is sounding like it could be the exception.

@ralphmoustaccio: That would be a pretty huge design oversight if that was a common issue. There's no way they haven't tested that out that part of the game on a variety of different locations. I have to imagine the basic resources you need to get off the planet are always going to be available, it just might take more work for some than others to gather it all.

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Dussck

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Thanks Brad, fantastic write up and the game looks great. I was always looking forward to playing this, but had doubts about some of the (gameplay) systems. But what Murray is telling us right now is just perfect!

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wlleiotl

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haha, i wonder how many sales that brad has cost them with that opening line

the rest sounds very good, especially alongside gamespots very straight forward preview

looking forward to this, although being in the uk, i get three days to see what everyone says before buying anyway