No Man's Sky: The NEXT Update
July 23, 2018 4:01 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow, just shy of two years since the game was released, the No Man's Sky NEXT update will launch. This fourth major update will bring the game to the XBox One, and represents the biggest addition to the game's functionality since its launch in 2016, including long-awaited multiplayer functionality:
Resource gathering no longer feels quite so much of a chore when you've up to three other friends in a party; creative collaboration on building projects and the likes is a joy, and simply exploring the galaxy with friends in tow makes for a much less lonely place. And there are plenty of well-considered touches too, such as being able to mark points of interest for others to see, and easily dropping resources straight into friends' inventories.

The game takes place in a persistent, mappable galaxy, so even without concurrent multiplayer, communities like the Galactic Hub and the Alliance of Galactic Travellers have sprung up to document (and photograph) the game's world. (Those communities are pretty excited about the update.) The NEXT Update will include a web-based galactic atlas to catalog players' discoveries.

The game launched in 2016 to deliriously high expectations, and despite bemusedly positive reviews, it was pilloried by disappointed gamers who felt they'd been deliberately misled by Hello Games in general and Sean Murray in particular:
He is reluctant to relive the particulars of what happened in the weeks and months following No Man’s Sky’s release in August 2016 (“I find it really personal, and I don’t have any advice for dealing with it,” he says), but it involved death threats, bomb threats sent to the studio and harassment of people who worked at Hello Games on a frightening scale. They were in regular contact with Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan police. “We didn’t talk about it, but it was as bad as things can get, basically,” Murray says. “There’s a smorgasbord of things that the angry mob can do. It is a crowdsourced thing of how bad you can make someone’s life.
Murray is candid about the factors that lead to the out-of-control hype:
"But if I look back on the interviews that we did and one, why did we do those so early? Well, you know, we were a small, scrappy studio, and people seemed really excited about our game, and we were really excited about it! People that we really admired wanted to talk to us about the game. We were like "Great! We like talking about our game!” Looking back, that was naive, and it was naive to talk so excitedly about the game, and it was naive to think that we could talk about features that were in development [...] the moment we just showed at VGX [the Spike Video Game Awards] and got the kind of reaction that we did, and a whole bunch of stuff was set in motion, I think. It's easy to look back on it now and go—it was almost inevitable about how things would play out. The moment you got that excited about the game and the spotlight that we were under and how far out we were from release, there was just a whole load of factors that came into play.""
The game development community, meanwhile, was more receptive. At the 2017 Game Developer's Conference, Murray gave a talk on building worlds with noise generation in which he discussed the upsides of writing your own graphics engine and the challenges of dealing with gameplay code in an environment about which you cannot make many assumptions [pardon the lengthy excerpt, but this is a good section of an hour-long video]:
Nothing can be pre-baked, nothing can be precalculated, every solution to even the smallest problem is really unique. [...] A really simple example: If you're in any normal game, and you want to put a little marker over the top of a building, then that's really simple. You just get the building, get the position, and put the marker there. ... In No Man's Sky, you go to get the building, and let's say the building is on the same planet as you—you have to account for the curvature of that planet. That building might be directly underneath you, or it might be on the other side of the planet, so now you're going to have to cast that mark up to the horizon of where you're standing. So to do that you remember that your Y[-axis] isn't "up" anymore, so you're gonna have to calculate the tangent and bitangent, you're gonna have to think about how close you are to the pole, and you're gonna have to bring that marker up. But maybe it's on another planet. And maybe it's on the back of that planet. [...] And there could be another planet between you and that planet. [...] Then both those planets might be underneath you, so you've got to take that marker, bring it round, bring it round the horizon, and then as you fly towards it, it's gotta move to the right place.

And that's not too bad, except none of those buildings exist right now, because they're all being generated, and they're quite [computationally] expensive to generate. So now you're gonna say "find me the nearest building of this type," and to do that you're going to have to start generating where buildings are, and that's really expensive, so you've gotta multithread it and run it over a longer period, and start generating the actual terrain of planets and working out where buildings are, and that's too expensive to do, so you need a bunch of heuristics to do that.

And now you've got the building, but you have to take into account [whether] it's unable to exist there because it's underwater, because it's on too steep a slope, something like that, so there are these really complex, expensive things to work out. And then even then when you finally get the position of that building, it's not in floating-point accuracy, so you're gonna have to move between multiple different spaces in order to get it, then you can place the marker, and then the player can fly towards it. And I love that. That is fun.
Lead programmer Innes McKendrick also gave a GDC talk about the techniques used to develop a continuously-traversable universe where everything about the environment is generated seconds or factions of seconds before the player encounters it, and he concluded the talk by making the case for why this would be desirable:
I hope that the way we're making this game is interesting. I hope people will consider it for games in the future. I hope they'll think about the fact that we can make interesting spaces in games. We don't have to work on a flat plane—we can work in spheres or on a torus. We can have procedurally-based games where artists remain in control of the content that's coming out. We don't have to look at procedural generation as a way to replace our artists, but as way to augment them. And finally, we can create generative worlds, and we can create them in real time, as the game is running, and we can do that today, on current hardware. If we can do that and ship a game with our tiny team, there are so many more options for people with more resources out there.
For their technical accomplishments with No Man's Sky, Hello Games won the innovation award at the 2017 Game Developer's Conference, but they weren't present to accept the award—because they were at dinner talking about how they weren't going to win anything.

[Metafilter discussed the game previously before launch, at launch, and one year on. Thanks to Fizz for the assist on this post!]
posted by Sokka shot first (63 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I picked up NMS as part of a bundle thing about, I don't know, six or seven months ago and fell in love. I've reached the age/career/volunteerism point of my life where I struggle to find time for games that aren't sessionable in 15-20 minute segments, but I think it's a magnificent achievement as is.

I don't know I'd be able to sustain any kind of regular group play, but if multiplayer supports some sort of super-casual drop-in drop-out approach, I'd love to be part of a MeFi squad.
posted by Shepherd at 4:22 AM on July 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

I appreciate how dedicated this team has been in following up with various patches, updates, fixes. They're following through on a lot of the promises they hinted would be in the original game. I think they bungled the marketing for that game and they ate some crow. But they've come out on the other side and I'm very happy with the game and how they've interacted with the gaming community since then.

I was never as upset as some people seem to have been with this game. I sort of went into it with the idea that it was going o be a kind of space exploration walking simulator. And that's what it was. I love how chill and zen the game is. It's something I throw on every few months when I want to just mindless jump in outer space and find some weird looking plants/animals to interact with.
posted by Fizz at 4:49 AM on July 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

Like the last updates, I look forward to firing this up, trying to remember the controls, and eventually finding myself rich and bored and mining and not sure what to do.
posted by pompomtom at 5:15 AM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

This game seemed like the perfect sleeper hit, all ready to replace minecraft as my go-to leisurely exploration game, but it turns out my graphics card couldn't handle it, and it's just been sitting on my steam account for like a year. But they still haven't stopped updating the dang thing! By the time I get a new graphics card, this game is going to beat all comers.
posted by Berreggnog at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a GTX 970 and it runs reasonably well on low-middle settings. That being said, it does run hot and my fans put in a fair amount of work for this specific game. It's odd, games, like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War or Dishonored 2 don't run as hot as this specific one does. I think it's just because of the procedural generation and rendering involved. Sure something more technical I do not understand is happening but yeah, it can be a drain on your GPU for sure.
posted by Fizz at 6:20 AM on July 23, 2018

I have one question that I don't think I've seen addressed about this game yet. On a scale from The Long Dark (wolves act like zombies because reasons) to Subnautica (obviously scripted, but the scripts are varied enough to be interesting), how good is the animal AI?
posted by tobascodagama at 6:37 AM on July 23, 2018

I don't understand your scale, but basically the animals just sort of hang about in a herd. Even when predators are there killing them, so I suppose "not great".
posted by pompomtom at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some editorial: The "pretty excited" link is of the live streaming of the trailer to the game's Discord community, and is delightful in a "roomful of people hootin' and hollerin' about the new cloud algorithm" kind of way.

I've played the game fairly steadily by my gaming standards, and have about 90 hours on my save (even over 2 years, that's a lot for me). It's not a game for everyone, but it sure is a game for me. The introduction of the photo mode was, literally, a game-changer—I play the game to scratch my bar-filling itch and to enable good screenshot opportunities.

I couldn't find a central screenshot gallery site (seems like an obvious thing for someone to make, dang) but the NoMansPics twitter account is good.

Things I know exist but didn't take the time to dig up links for:
  • There have now been two ARGs for the game, one for the Atlas Rises update last year, and one for this year's.
  • There was a big war/schism within the organized community, that played out in the form of players aggressively discovering/naming planets as a way to "claim" space in the galaxy. Discovering (i.e., being the first to land on) a planet lets you name it. That's all it does—you can't stop anybody else from landing on it. But naming rights were evidently enough of a conflict mechanic to provide a way for two factions to draw lines. I swear to god I remember a Polygon post about the conflict, but I couldn't find it.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:52 AM on July 23, 2018

I'm excited for NEXT. I liked the game at launch enough to 100% it, even as I recognized it wasn't very good and definitely did not deliver on its promises. But Hello Games has stuck with it, with amazing tenacity, through what must have been a very dark and difficult time. Atlas Rises improved the game significantly. I'm less personally interested in multiplayer but I think it could make the game a lot more fun for many players.

The Galactic Hub is the kind of multiplayer that works for me. Fully asynchronous (pre-NEXT), all it is is a group of nerds who agreed to explore the same part of space and name planets a certain way. But my initial trip gave me a purpose, somewhere to go that would be different from the rest of space. And it's a comfortable place to live. Very handy being able to harvest someone else's nice money-making farm, or go find a rare item / ship that someone else documented. I'm curious how NEXT will change the community. It was clearly designed with them in mind.
posted by Nelson at 6:55 AM on July 23, 2018

I've really been loving this game from day one; I've put an unreasonable number of hours into it, and I'm honestly kind of dreading multiplayer.

They absolutely nailed the sense of scale; the universe feels big but at the same time navigable without long periods of just trucking through space with nothing to do; the planets are varied and interesting enough that it's satisfying to just wander and explore and play interplanetary zoologist. (Tobascodegama, I'd say the animal AI is adequate but not particularly complex: behaviors boil down to "ignore the player", "stalk and/or attack the player", and "run away from the player". It doesn't feel obviously scripted but it's also not complex enough behavior that you're going to get attached to any individual creature.)

With each major update they've improved the graphics, added more "game-y" features (quests and missions), added complexity to the crafting and resources system, and made the such-as-it-is storyline more explicit and less interesting. The graphics improvements are welcome, things were a bit rough there on release day; the rest, eh, I can see why they added it -- aimless exploration isn't for everyone, and it isn't what they promised the game would be -- but none of it really improves on the feeling of wandering through my own private universe that I've enjoyed so much.

(Possibly part of my reluctance towards multiplayer is because the one and only time I've run across a planet that had been visited by another player, they'd given it some stupid immersion-breaking meme-based name. Ick. Nothing like my carefully-thought out and inventive contributions, like the planet Steve in the Steve system on which every rock, plant, and creature is named Steve. Much better)
posted by ook at 6:57 AM on July 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

how good is the animal AI?

Honestly, it's not amazing. The game's much better at generating interesting-looking creatures than giving them much to do other than walk around and hoot. From a gameplay perspective, all that matters is "are they attacking me" and "are they holding still long enough for me to scan them and get the upload bounty."

Improved creature AI and aesthetics are part of tomorrow's update—how improved is anyone's guess. Apparently this includes improved animal sounds, which will be an extremely welcome change.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I bought my PS4 in 2016 specifically to play No Man's Sky. It completely failed to live up to expectations. It was pretty and sort of lonely and random. I'm glad that what's his name kept building it. I haven't really returned, but maybe I will try it again, now that it'll be so changed.

In intervening time, I've explored and enjoyed other PS4 exclusive titles like Horizon Zero Dawn (which, be warned, is rather problematic from a coopting Native culture standpoint, even though its positives are that you play as a (white) girl/woman, and many powerful people in your original tribe are women and women of color, and some powerful people in the rest of the tribes are also women). It's also realistically gorgeous and the combat can be tuned from casual to brutal. I'm still playing that.

And Nier: Automata (first a PS4 and PC release that did finally make it to the XBox One), which I'm also still working through.
posted by kalessin at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2018

Really, you kind of lucked out there, the PS4 has a ton of great exclusives this generation.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

The big problem I had with the last update I logged in for was all the stuff I'd been fiddling around with from either Foundation or Pathfinder was suddenly "hey here's a story and a dude and we totally changed a lot of the game but all the tutorials are like 6 galaxies back good luck!", and on the one hand I sorta felt like the best approach was a clean slate, on the other hand I'd spent a day or two running mat arbitrage to get a totally boss gun and ship and man I dunno about going back to the starter gear again.

On the other hand, that initial upgrade cycle when every last storage upgrade is so worth it and you're constantly on the edge of having enough iron or uranium was a lot of fun. On the other other hand, the midgame when the list of mats you need for upgrades balloons, ech.
posted by Kyol at 8:07 AM on July 23, 2018

I haven't gone back to it after playing for a few weeks (and enjoying it) after launch, and I'm also wondering if it's best to start from scratch or continue with my existing upgraded suit and ship.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2018

I've never once started over. I was able to do most or all of the story and new content in the updates; the patches definitely planned for that. IIRC there were some bugs that interrupted progression for returning players but those were fixed within a few weeks.

This game is the grindiest grind that ever grinded. No way am I doing all that again!
posted by Nelson at 8:41 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dear Hello,

Get your biggest sack of cash and take it to whoever makes Everspace. Then, glue Everspace combat onto NMS.

Yours cordially,

posted by adept256 at 8:46 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm in the midgame mire where I'm basically twiddling my thumbs waiting for my time-gated unit-making farm to make units.

The upside is that I've realized that I'm making enough units right now that it's more worth my time to buy Plutonium and Thamium9 instead of constantly hunting for it, so that's one grind somewhat sorted. Post-NEXT, I expect to build out my freighter-housed unit farm a little bit, then make with the exploring while it produces. I haven't gotten the better warp drive blueprints yet, and I only just bought my first Class A ship (she is the Space Van Mk. II and she is magnificent), so there'd be plenty of game left for me even absent this update.

I built a base for the purpose of completing the base-building quests, but I haven't yet dipped my toe into making an aesthetically-pleasing one on a planet I actually like, so that's another thing I'm looking forward to.

My NMS to-do list at this point is:
  • Find a garden world to build a proper home on.
  • Build a swanky Space House.
  • Buy one of those cool-ass Exotic ships
  • And a Class A or S Fighter, while I'm at it.
  • Take a shitload of space Instagram pictures.
  • Party up with some friends and see if that's any fun.
  • Maybe write some fanfiction.
That all sounds pretty mundane and shopping-list-y, so I should say I definitely still stand by the effusive comment I made in the thread a year ago. I love hanging out in the world the game depicts; the mild, relatively optional gear grind is really just an excuse to keep hanging out in it.

I think the addition of a third-person camera will hugely change how the game feels, for the better—and it's entirely possible that the character customization options will inspire some new entries on my to-do list. I'm also seriously intrigued by the frigate system, but we'll have to see how much grinding it will ask for, and whether it'll be the kind of grinding I find fun.

One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is the extent to which the Artemis Path story that came with the last update seems to be commenting none-too-obliquely on the conversation surrounding the game itself. There is a lot of musing on themes like "It is impossible to see the entire universe, so what is the point?" and "Life is just an iteration of performing the same tasks over and over—what could be the meaning of this?" There's even a character who's fixated on becoming wealthy via farming and trade, and they're set up as a sort of comic, short-sighted character.

It felt to me like the story had something to say about the idea of games-as-simulation-of-life, in particular how it seemed to set up pretty much every character who had a strong opinion about the teleology of such to be stymied in one way or another. Feels like there might be an essay in sussing out the corners of that argument's space.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I liked the Artemis Path writing a lot. Yes, it's absolutely a reflection on the game itself, the philosophical implications of procedural generation and gamers creating worlds only they can see. I don't think the story comes to any profound inclusion or anything but it was a clever musing on games themselves.

I also want to build a comfortable space home. That's what I'm most excited about in the NEXT patch, that homes can be bigger (20,000 pieces!) and built anywhere you want on a planet. I'm most curious whether multiple people can build on the same planet. I think the answer's yes, but then there's some protection of "your base" that prevents other people building on top of your stuff unless you're in a party with them or something. Guess we'll see. First thing for me is to see what the Galactic Hub decides to do and follow them.

(BTW if you really can't stand waiting, there's a few folks who got copies ahead of the embargo and have been posting massive spoilers. Mostly centered on a Discord but some of it has spilled out into Reddit too. Although the one obvious thread seems to have been deleted.)
posted by Nelson at 9:02 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also bought my PS4 just for this and... was not disappointed. I think the disappointment was overblown (and the harassment is something that should never happen), and I had a great time just wandering around looking at cool stuff. It was very relaxing. I haven't played in a while, but this will probably get me back into it.

My only complaint with the game, really, has been the pseudo-roguelike aspects of it (any mention of "roguelike" or even "pseudo-roguelike" makes me shut right off; it's the least interesting set of mechanics in gaming, imo, and there were a handful of years where contemporary developers seemed *obsessed* with them). I'm fine with resource farming and crafting, but I always felt on the edge of starvation even in Normal mode, or like one poor decision would destroy hours or even weeks of progress. That never really felt relaxing or even fun. I know there is Creative Mode, but I think that went too far the other direction. There is a balance to be struck, but I don't think NMS finds it.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Were you playing in Permadeath mode? The death penalty in Normal mode is pretty mild and I think you always have the option of reloading your last save. Saves happen automatically when you exit your ship or various other points.
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2018

No, it was just Normal mode. But I did several times have to fight my way through pirates in an essentially non-functioning ship to get back to where I was annihilated in space, followed by several hours of harvesting for repair work to get back to my previous state. In one notable instance it took like three days of farming to get my hyperdrive working again because all the planets in the system were so toxic/full of hostile sentinels that I was spending huge amounts of resources just to be out of my ship for five minutes at a time.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:23 AM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's definitely possible to get screwed over by bad procedural luck, especially early in the game when resources are scarce and gear is bad. I'm wondering if the multiplayer stuff will alleviate this in any way, ala the Fuel Rats in Elite: Dangerous.

I'd definitely jump into a stranded MeFite's system to drop off some oxides & isotopes, is what I'm saying. :)
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

This all sounds good! I'll have to fire NMS back up, it was the reveal of the shaggy-dog endgame that made me put it down hard the first time. Meaningful multiplayer and creative communal exploration is a good way to deal with that.

The original drama, in case anyone needs a chuckle.

I want to get back into ED too but I broke a knob on my throttle, and am having trouble gluing it back onto its post.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Their take on the fans' negative reactions is fascinating: "it was naive to talk so excitedly about the game, and it was naive to think that we could talk about features that were in development...."

No, it was deceptive and avaricious to refuse to answer questions like "will there be multiplayer" with "no" instead of "well, it's a big universe and you probably won't run into anyone else," and to avoid admitting, "here's a list of things in the preview/demo shots that didn't make it into the final release."

A whole lot of the rage and threats would've been avoided by just admitting what features the game did and didn't have, especially once the release was finalized. Of course, they wouldn't have made as many sales if they'd said so, and they figured they could cope with "a few angry fans."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:34 AM on July 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

It's been a while since I have explored around in NMS, but I did enjoy my wanderings with my ship, the Grace Hopper.

I got the game on sale around the first big content update, It's been nice to get new content, better UI, and joyride around the planets in the vehicles.

I'm looking forward to this update, will absolutely log in and try it out but not entirely sure I'll ever find an away team to play with. I haven't made it out to where things might be more populated, so perhaps I'll feel differently if I do.
posted by dreamling at 10:37 AM on July 23, 2018

ErisLordFreedom: "No, it was deceptive and avaricious to refuse to answer questions like "will there be multiplayer" with "no" instead of "well, it's a big universe and you probably won't run into anyone else," and to avoid admitting, "here's a list of things in the preview/demo shots that didn't make it into the final release.""

Very much this. As wonderful as it is to have the Hello team working on this to make it more of a game than it was on release, it's worth remembering that all the anger originated at the intense deception Murray perpetrated in the lead-up to the release so that he could sell more preorders. Fan reaction was intensely negative not just because fandom is a nightmare, but because Hello Games did something very wrong.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

[Folks, we had the discussion about the initial release a while back - it'd be nice if we could talk about the new things instead of rehashing that. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2018

One of the critical comments from the thread a year ago has really stuck with me:
NMS demonstrates that noise-based procedural generation is a dead end for exploration games. The core problem is that noise has no history. When you find a trench in a noise terrain it is meaningless to ask whether it used to be a river, because noise is not a temporal process. When you find settlements, they have no history, no why-- they sprang up fully formed according to the meaningless rise and fall of Perlin noise. Nothing in noise has a cause that can be discovered. It is a superficial mimicry with neither past nor future.
I actually agree with this entirely. As much as I have seen some really incredible planets, there's a distinct "off" quality to their terrain that I think boils down to this. The game is very clever with generation and manipulation of various types of noise, but it doesn't appear to be even naively modeling any natural processes like atmospheric or hydrological erosion, etc. The wind doesn't affect the rocks, and every body of water is still.

I expect that that's because doing so is computationally non-trivial, and everything has to happen really quickly. They don't get to generate very much ahead of time. I can only assume that the team would love to be doing stuff like this, they just have to figure out how to teach five-year-old a computer to do it with a fraction of its available processing power within a few hundred milliseconds.

In the meantime, "off"-ness aside, I still do enjoy the game's landscapes, and once in a while they do something really special.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

The original drama, in case anyone needs a chuckle.

Ahahaaa, the term "lovingly roasted" springs to mind. This is…not an unfair skewering. Some of the creatures the game comes up with are truly silly.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Compare to Elite: Dangerous, where they run an actual simulation of geological processes to develop the surfaces of planets.

On the other hand, all you can do on those planets is shoot lasers at rocks, or ice rocks. So it's a tradeoff.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

That's not true about E:D and planetary interactions. You can also switch between the different multiplayer modes to force the game to respawn the resources you're farming for. >.>
posted by tobascodagama at 12:26 PM on July 23, 2018

The most important thing I had to get straight in my head in order to enjoy NMS was that it's not a galaxy simulator or even a star-system simulator. It's a Weird Alien Planet simulator (and by "Alien Planet" I mean planets that have a history of alien inhabitants.)

The Weird Alien Planets and the (stuff in near orbit around them) are varied and beautiful and fun to explore and find all the critters and name them, but you can't go in thinking that you're going to get the experience of exploring random star systems in a galaxy that could contain gas giants or untouched barren moons or even nothing at all, or that the galaxy map is anything more than a fancy menu for selecting the next group of proceedurally-generated Weird Alien Planets that are all right next to each other like moons of a single planet and all guaranteed to be littered with signs of previous Alien inhabitants.

It's not Noctis or Elite with better planet generation. It's just an endless supply of Weird Alien Planets.

Also, naming stuff is in an underrated game mechanic. I don't really want multiplayer in a game like this (and I hope there are no mechanics that make it easy for people to find you or to increase the fantastically unlikely odds of running into someone), but it would be great if there were some way for you to get rewarded by other players recognizing that you had come up with a really great name for something. (I like picking a real-life country for each system and naming all the planets and locations after cities and towns in that country. But I try to get creative with creature and plant names.)

I really liked the idea I saw somewhere that it would be wonderful if the galactic hub had a museum where every player was allowed to submit exactly one picture of a creature they had discovered with it's name (and maybe directions to go see it).
posted by straight at 12:29 PM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

To jump off from Sokka's comment...

The core problem is that noise has no history.

This right here is a big part of why a game like Dwarf Fortress is very different from a game like NMS or Minecraft, but even in the DF case, where history is explicitly (and time-consumingly) simulated, the resulting history often feels devoid of agency. There is a coherence to the narratives that humans enjoy that is devilishly difficult to generate procedurally, because (a) agents need coherent motivations for their emergent behaviors to feel justified, and (b) large-scale history (e.g. "Why is there a city here?") need to be further storyfied by humans because trying to summarize the local motivations of thousands of individuals over decades of time into a narrative zeitgeist is something computers haven't demonstrated much aptitude at.

But maybe one day Ultima Ratio Regum will come out and change everything... ;-)
posted by belarius at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

CKII kind of does this. Of course, it leverages real geography and history up to the starting point of a game. (Or made-up geography and history if you're playing the GoT/ASOIAF mod.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:58 PM on July 23, 2018

I'm so glad I discovered this game the week before it was released, I think from a comment on the blue actually. I knew nothing about the pre-release hype and what was promised, just that it was a procedurally generated space simulation with quintillions of worlds and the screenshots were pretty. Sounded up my alley, and it totally is. Missions and stories are good, but mostly I like wandering around and exploring.

But the other thing that I love is just the overall aesthetic. Previously - I had all the TTA handbooks and loved that late 70s airbrushed sci fi bookcover type stuff, Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Jim Burns, etc. This game is sort of like entering one of those paintings and being able to explore that world. Plus relaxing ambient music. Also, it really helped me through the election and aftermath when I needed a break from the mega threads. Video game therapy, I suppose.
posted by Billy Rubin at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's not Noctis or Elite with better planet generation. It's just an endless supply of Weird Alien Planets.

I sort of wish Elite would spend half as much time as NMS on story macguffins, though. It's fun in a way to go flying around as a space trucker or a mercenary or whatever, but at the end of the day there's almost no requirement or heck even ability to get drawn into the Thargoid conflict or ancient civilization stories without actively seeking it out on forums. I think Ram Tah might drop breadcrumbs for the ancient civ stuff if you go to the right stations, but it's not something you'll discover hanging out in the bubble. I guess once you start top-end engineering you might run into thargs in unidentified signal sources, but that's at least a hundred hours into the game. I mean, OK, the game is what you make of it, but after a while it's hard to know what to make of it....

On the other hand, NMS keeps trickling out little bits of story and advancement at you. Here's a new word so you can understand more of the historical monuments! Here's more of the Atlas storyline! Here's something creepy that happened to the civilization here! etc. But it's hard to stay focused in the storyline and not end up getting distracted by the crafting and survival and everything else that you stop following the story. But on the other hand, all the in-space stuff is soooo borrrrring. Or was, anyway. I mean it's super thin and there didn't seem like much of a point to it other than as a loading screen to the next random set of planets, each deadlier than the last!

Different strokes for different folks, I know, but I just sorta wish there was more of a middle ground.
posted by Kyol at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Long ago, I bought a solo game/exercise called "How to Host a Dungeon" by Tony Dowler. It's a procedural/role playing/solo exercise for bringing a side-view dungeon to life as part of a chronological semi-randomized, semi-story-told evolution. Going through the exercise book, you create a "procedurally generated" dungeon based on a coherent history of the place you are creating.

This talk about noise-generated features versus more curated/create features makes me think of this, and how it would be awesome to have us come up with place-generation code that can run dynamically in our created, virtual world.
posted by kalessin at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

I picked a secondhand copy of this up a couple of weekends ago in preparation for the update. I had heard all the hype, but waited until release to decide if I wanted to buy it, and the reviews were atrocious and the devs handled themselves atrociously.

But since then I've been keeping abreast of all the iterative improvements and it's starting to feel like something that's right up my alley (I wanted to like Elite Dangerous but it was just too fiddly)...hopefully this weekend I'll get to find out!

(I also hope I can play as a compassionate and environmentally responsible character and not have to kill creatures or decimate their habitats just to progress. This is why I've steered clear of Monster Hunter World, even though everything else about it appeals to me greatly.)
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:05 PM on July 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

This talk about noise-generated features versus more curated/create features makes me think of this, and how it would be awesome to have us come up with place-generation code that can run dynamically in our created, virtual world.

I think the biggest problem with procedural generation right now is it can make a ridiculous variety of places but it doesn't populate those places with things to DO. Like, my experience with No Man's Sky is an endless parade of planets, but each planet has the same basic points of interest so why bother going anywhere? I ended up hopping quickly from planet to planet, trying to find an "ideal" one and got burned out quickly.

I think of Minecraft, where you end up wandering around until you find a village or a nice place to build a base. To their credit they've added interesting structures dotted around but they're easy to miss. I'd like a game where you walk into the procedurally-generated town and meet the procedural villagers, who each have some "quest" about the nearby area, even if it's basic facts like "I heard there's a dungeon over there" or "Those hills have a lot of iron in them." Just hints as to what interesting things have been sprinkled around the area by the code.

Dwarf Fortress of all things seems like one of the few games that wields procedural generation well, since it not only makes a world, it also populates that world with a history and artifacts that reflect on that history. Basically code that not only makes a world, but populates it with Places that players will find interesting. Also, ruins. I would play a game endlessly if it featured ruins and gave you the ability to rebuild the ruins into a functional base. I'd just go around personally rebuilding the world like a endless version of Dragon Quest Builders.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:28 PM on July 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

There are lifeless planets / moons in the game. They're some of my favorite places. There's no plants, no animals. Usually no clouds. And no music. They're silent, somber places. Even though you're just looking at rocks, it feels more like real exploration of alien lands than the lush planets full of purple trees and 3-eyed monsters. And with a slight risk because the life support systems degrade quickly on such barren worlds.

I'd agree with all the complaints above about there really not being a "there" in the game. I too am hoping for better geology, hydrology, and meteorology in future updates. I've also heard they hired someone good at procedural cities, and looking forward to occasional Trantor's in the future.

Though if you have something to do, a sense of place can be generated on its own. Back when survival mode was new, I was thrown onto a very hot planet. The entry level life support systems didn't hold up well in the heat of the day. But nighttime was cool enough to walk around. Resources were scarce, so I spent several hours walking around my ship. Learning the landscape for where there were caves to hide during the brutal daylight. Where deposits were. Where packs of the insectoid cave predators were likely to be. The rest of the planets I've visited are all a blur, but that map is burned into my imagination as much as, say, Liberty City. Felt so amazing to get the ship running after that ordeal, but sad to leave that planet behind forever.

Some spoilerific stuff follows.

They have done one good thing in terms of establishing place on a few planets / moons. There are worlds devoid of flora & fauna, but covered in strange metal relics, and occasional towers. There are links which tell a story at some of the towers. Feels like something horrible has happened. Waste from an old civilization-destroying war which ruined a formerly lush world. Feels very memorable and haunting. Until you run across it again on a different planet. Same relics, same towers, same story. Slightly different landscape. The ups and downs of procedural generation.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 6:20 PM on July 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’m really happy I picked up this game a few months ago instead of at launch. Hello Games is doing what I hope become the norm among developers, which is fixing and expanding what they made.

I hope no one finds my corner of the galaxy though my planet names are very silly. There’s Lollipop Junction, That Weird Part of Skyrim, Most of Skyrim(bf’s name)’s Farts, Zoobalee Zoo, whiny baby planet, etc.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 6:36 PM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm happy that I held off a little while before diving in. I started playing with Atlas Rises, the update before NEXT, and it's been a great experience. I've really enjoyed exploring planets, playing through the story line, building a base, trading up for better (looking) ships, and finally acquiring a freighter. I absolutely love the tranquil feel of being alone in the game universe, exploring at my own pace, listening to the fitting soundtrack, and seeing what's beyond the next hill.

I agree with the comments above about in game balance, especially the sentinels and pirates. I found the ship controls and ground combat to be too clunky, and the constant sentinel buzzing stressful. About halfway through, I installed a mod to turn off space pirates and sentinels for a more peaceful experience. I recommend it.

Preparing for the update, I just packed up my base and took a lap around Fair Haven, my home planet, and I was moved unlike any other game I've played. I lazily flew past the the strange, floating hemispheres one last time, and then off to my freighter, ready for what comes.
posted by Otherwise at 7:05 PM on July 23, 2018

There are lifeless planets / moons in the game. They're some of my favorite places. There's no plants, no animals. Usually no clouds. And no music. They're silent, somber places.

Are there any that are completely untouched by the other galactic aliens / civilizations? Planets where you can think you might be the first traveler to ever set foot on them?
posted by straight at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2018

The Official NEXT Patch Notes are online. Nice set of visuals to explain the changes.

The XBOne release seems to have been at 6am. PS4 patch just released about 8:15am, at 9.2GB. PC/Steam release seems to not quite be out yet.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

AAAH those patch notes—"patch notes" seems like a silly name for such a huge list of changes.

Character customizer! Teleport networks! Those ship model details!!!

Having just passed the hundred-hour mark in my game, this stuff is EASILY gonna see me through to two.

I paid full retail price for this game on day one, and it seems completely crazy that I'm getting this for free.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:51 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

(reference, my last save was honestly a year ago and that was only maybe an hour? So it's been a while. Some of this might've been in intervening updates.)

So having played for a chunk this evening, the short review is "oh god, so many mats". On the other hand, it feels less like it used to be that if you were on a rock that just didn't have something vital for low level farming you were just SOL - now there's a justification for scanning everything in sight. Need salt? Maybe it's in that plant over there! Maybe there's some ferrite over that-a-way. Scan, scan, scan!

I'm torn on the refiner. It seems like a nice in-universe way to add recipe complexity without making it bog down _too_ hard? I'm sure the mid to endgame farming situation is just as shitty, so maybe I should reserve judgement. As it is, I was already sort of at my limit for couch-friendly material grinding, now if I need to remember that carbon nanotubes are just from raw carbon, but chromatic (*mumble*) is refined copper? yech.

I sort of like that some of the various space debris isn't just there for you to walk up and pillage, you actually need to provide materials for unlocking. Hopefully that doesn't get too asinine.

The new scanner / target locking seems like it'll help with the random bullshit POI clutter that eventually forced you to leave the system. It gives you another reason to use the analyzer, anyway.

I keep walking up to stuff in 3rd person view, which makes collecting it a little awkward. The collection range is probably larger in 3rd person (seems so, anyway), but I keep walking up and being annoyed that I went from "collect plant" to having to glare at the damn thing. It's nice for a change of pace, but I'm not sure it's transformative.

I still sort of wish the initial stranding set you up with a more static environment. It sort of takes something out of the whole "I'm a lost amnesiac who doesn't remember anything" conceit if there's gotdang wings of spaceships crossing the skies. Even if it just toned all that down until the first liftoff so it felt more like a castaway. "Oh, oh, I'm not alone in this universe, there's a space station fulla dudes up there." And both of my strandings were on fairly inhospitable worlds, one was freezing cold, the other toxic. I could see that feeling like an unpleasant turnoff for new players. I don't know that newbies need to be placed on garden worlds, but probably a couple of ticks above hell worlds? On the other hand it is sort of exhilarating going from "I'm dying oh god I'm dying oh god" to mastering that little bit of the environment.

The storyline doesn't help that, either. "Hey, you need to go over here for your analyzer fixins!" *toxic storm incoming* "Aw shit, where's my spaceship? Uhhhh. Wait, it isn't on the compass? oh what the sam hell...."

And man, so many dudes in the space station now. So much less confining. I guess they got the kinks worked out of their graphics pipeline, huh?

I mean, I dunno, it's still interesting and I still like that initial castaway vibe, but man it feels like it's really angling for the kinds of kids who memorized the 50 US states and their capitals for fun, not for school.

It feels like there's been a bout of inflation at some point? Like I ticked past 150k on my first visit to space wall street and I wasn't trying particularly hard to collect valuables. My inventory was just full of the 50 dang onesy-twosey things that clutter up the inventory. I'm sure they'll be revealed to just be low drop rate items that you need 100 of at some point.

Still, it's NMS. I guess this changes things? It doesn't feel hugely different, but multiplayer sounds about as much fun as a painful UTI. But I don't have a pack of friends to harangue into playing it with me, so I mean I guess I'm not the market for it.
posted by Kyol at 8:09 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the big thing for me is whether they've done ... something ... about the annoying situation where you'd stumble across a totally boss gun in a cache somewhere and you just needed to sell some crap from your inventory to afford it, but if you went to the local space station you'd never ever ever find that gun again because the concept of storing personal waypoints is just so foreign to the developers. Or, alternately, that procedural generation meant that nothing is ever quite the same twice so there was literally no point to it.
posted by Kyol at 8:17 PM on July 24, 2018

I am also positive on playing after the patch! I had a kind of tough start. I loaded my 100+ hour save to find myself in space with all my mods obsoleted, no base, no warp fuel. And no space station. Always a constant in NMS: every single system had a space station. Not this one. And my home system kinda sucked TBH, I picked it because it had a Gamma Planet (good for farming, bad for humans) but it had almost no materials. So I'm frantically trying to figure out how to construct warp fuel (oxygen? where oxygen?), fight off pirates, etc. Fortunately my freighter came when I called and it had some stuff on board and I could finally bootstrap my way up to warp fuel and travel.

And then the nice part, a friend of mine joined my game on PS4. Just sort of dropped in. Got voice chat going, managed to meet up and wave hi to each other after an awkward incident where my freighter blew up his ship. Then we had a nice chat as we both farmed out some materials side by side. It'd been awhile since I'd talked to my friend and it was nice to catch up while we both also went about our knitting.

Perfect space chill hangout experience. Now I'm looking forward to figuring out the whole new crafting system. And re-establish some sort of base, if nothing else than to recover my old materials.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

On the downside Ive had 3 crashes in 3 hours on PS4 which is 3 more than acceptable for a console game. So boo quality control.
posted by Nelson at 8:45 PM on July 24, 2018

Played a bit over lunch and man I'm sort of ambivalent about random dudes just joining my session. Hopefully they aren't saved to whatever planet I dropped 'em on? I sort of like playing in hostile environments, at least when it's just "top off every 6-7 minutes" hostile, right? Sorry you gave up your garden world for this shithole, but I like it orange and slightly radioactive.

At least they didn't join and holler racial epithets, so I guess there's that.
posted by Kyol at 11:27 AM on July 25, 2018

Are there any that are completely untouched by the other galactic aliens / civilizations? Planets where you can think you might be the first traveler to ever set foot on them?

The lifeless worlds are sorta like that. No structures. Unfortunately, you still get buzzed overhead by random spaceships. Just like normal worlds. So you might be the first to ever set foot, but not the first to see it.

The new patch adds abandoned worlds (and abandoned space stations) for the related feeling of being the "first person to visit in a very, very long time."
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 2:51 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I started a new game for the update (because all the stuff from my rich character that no longer works annoyed me).

Is it a coincidence that when I died for the first time, it logged me out of PSN and forgot the stored password?
posted by pompomtom at 11:23 PM on July 25, 2018

Played a bit last night on my old (launch era) save. Had a bit of an issue where I was spawned in a system where all planets were full of angry sentinels, which made harvesting stuff for warp fuel tricky. I then shot a System Authority fighter by accident while fighting pirates so I was constantly hounded by them while in space. A bit of a pain until I eventually managed to warp to the next system and claim my free freighter.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:39 AM on July 26, 2018

Oh, one thing I did have an issue with was getting my ship stuck on buildings/scenery - once you're wedged against something it seems hard to free yourself (although at least it's lenient in not making your ship take damage & explode).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:43 AM on July 26, 2018

multiplayer sounds about as much fun as a painful UTI. But I don't have a pack of friends to harangue into playing it with me, so I mean I guess I'm not the market for it.

False! Come and join the mefightclub, there are a bunch of us playing NMS and probably a few other games you're into. Hop on our discord server and help us search the galaxy for the terrible secret of Rotato*!

*Not actually a secret, just shorthand for an easy-going, hilarious, fun-loving attitude that stands in direct opposition to taking-things-too-seriously, being more concerned about winning or losing than just having fun, and all the other negative, competitive attitudes around gaming that we collectively don't want much part of.
posted by VTX at 6:13 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Rotato didn't work out for me so well at MeFightClub which is why I'm no longer there. But the group was by far the best group I've participated in that I didn't run for myself.
posted by kalessin at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2018

Loaded up the game to be reminded that its multimonitor/widescreen support is bad. There's a cheat engine hack to unlock the FOV but the only HUD/menu mod I can find is from 2016 and abandoned.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2018

Yeah, given the current price on Steam, is there any value in buying the PC version? I've heard about people modding for less aggressive sentinels and various other little quality of life improvements, which naturally isn't an option on the Playstation. But if the modding community has turned into a ghost town, eh, I can save the $30 since I honestly prefer NMS as a couch-based bigscreen game over sitting at a desk for another 4 hours a day.
posted by Kyol at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2018

Price on Steam right now is $30. It's been bouncing between $30 and $60 this week. Lowest it's ever been is $24.

PS4 patch 1.51 dropped and the game is much more stable for me. Played several hours without a crash. Still lots and lots of bugs. The most important is there's a new gizmo called the Blueprint Analyzer that's necessary to access all the new base building items, advanced refiners, etc. There is no way to obtain this item on a pre-NEXT save. (It comes from an early mission in NEXT). Hello Games has acknowledged the bug and said they'll get to it. Let's hope so.

The shield texture on my PS4 is broken, a cloud of randomly colored pixels. Some missions lack descriptive text, just have a localization placeholder like MISSION_WAR_DNT_ATTACK. My spaceship fleet in my freighter appeared once, but mostly seems to have disappeared. Very old bugs from Atlas Rises like the 15/16 glyph problem or the Exocraft missions failing still persist. Hell, people are falling through the freighter geometry and dying in the cold vacuum of space.

It's still a neat game. The NEXT patch is great, the game is better than before. But they continue to push buggy, unfinished stuff. I'd be more sympathetic to the argument about it being a small team if the game hadn't had $100M+ in revenue. Surely you could have hired a testing team with some of that money? You don't even have to staff up, you can outsource that part.
posted by Nelson at 7:22 AM on July 28, 2018

But if the modding community has turned into a ghost town, eh, I can save the $30 since I honestly prefer NMS as a couch-based bigscreen game over sitting at a desk for another 4 hours a day.

The mod scene seems pretty dead. I always played NMS on the couch with a controller via HDMI to the theater receiver, and I do think it makes sense for the game's mood. I had just forgotten that one of the things Hello promised but didn't get around to was proper widescreen support.

There is no way to obtain this item on a pre-NEXT save. (It comes from an early mission in NEXT). Hello Games has acknowledged the bug and said they'll get to it. Let's hope so.

Seriously? Come on, how do you not notice that?
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:58 AM on July 28, 2018

Hello has patched the missing blueprints for saved games in the current Experimental branch on Steam.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2018

Now that I've had a few days to get used to it, I'm mostly enjoying the new update. There's a lot to love about it, and I'm relieved that the multiplayer isn't the PvP free-for-all I feared -- but man does it seem like this release could have used a few more rounds of QA.

Some of this may be because I'm continuing with an original save file and my ship still dates back to the first version, but still. No crashes, but multiple times now I've been using my mining laser and found myself randomly teleported a few hundred feet away (sometimes to deep underwater); on one particular type of frigate I get dumped off the landing pad and onto one of the wings as soon as I exit my ship; once I went to talk to the navigator inside my freighter and suddenly found myself suffocating in deep space. (I don't think it was a mutiny?) Lots of missions and upgrades have placeholder labels instead of real text, or the description doesn't match the actual task; scanner descriptions of planets from space sometimes contradict what's on the surface; my freighter crew now changes species depending on what system I'm in; I have to hop over invisible barriers in front of some frigate doors; installing containers inside my freighter leaves visible gaps into space; clipping issues galore in first-person view; the new clouds look great from land but like blobby shit from space... and that dumb dumb dumb missing blueprint analyzer thing. It's kind of a hot mess, feels like somebody was way more concerned about hitting the release date than about the actual game.

The improved creatures, new biomes, and, um, anomalies I just discovered a system full of, are amazing. It's going to be great once they patch things up to where it should've been before release.
posted by ook at 7:03 AM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

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