Through a Screen, Dully
January 14, 2021 1:46 AM   Subscribe

Oma Keeling deems No Man’s Sky the most boring and inconsequential piece of sci-fi media I’ve ever interacted with … it lives in its own state of self-splitting, believing it is a continuation of the works of authors like Dick, while constantly telling on itself by providing the same types of addictive, capitalist, colonialist play those self-same authors warned of, with a cheeky wink to their corpses.” (Glitchout). Previously. [Link removed upon OP's request. - loup ]
posted by adrianhon (73 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Okay, here's the thing. Except for a totally meaningless nod to A Scanner Darkly, which the author here rightly calls out as feeble, No Man's Sky does not explicitly center itself in any relation to heady science-fiction narratives (in comparison to like... Cyberpunk 2077). I would put it in the Flash Gordon/space opera genre.

As well, it's not like No Man's Sky isn't a little bit self-aware of its tensions. The thin narrative of the game, if you choose to follow it for the 30 or so hours it requires to unspool, ends by questioning entirely the value of all the time you spent collecting and empire-building. It's almost a critique of capitalism, though it's amorphous, and it certainly doesn't give you any ideological alternatives. It asks: if you do it all again, will you end up with a better result, while hinting that within the confines of the capitalist-collector game mechanic, the answer is no, absolutely not.

Nevertheless, totally worth the 60 hours I put into it as lockdown entertainment and a salve against the fear of death. No worse than Netflix.
posted by sixohsix at 2:14 AM on January 14 [29 favorites]


ah, No Man's Sky. A brief review:

* plus one for being a gorgeous paen to the way that sci-fi looked and sounded in the seventies.
* plus one for the ambitious procedural generation
* Minus several billion for the dull-as-shit twentyteens crafting game underneath all that glorious paint. I want to revel in the beauty of your world, not pixelbitch it for the last wad of strontium I need to refuckulate the porkulator.

I need fewer to-do lists in my life and so NMS didn't make it past three hours for me.

This article is similarly thin. Yeah, NMS is just real pretty More Of That, and yeah Hello Games are definitely not the heirs to PKD and Alfred Bester and Thomas Pynchon, but that is not a revelation really.
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:29 AM on January 14 [69 favorites]


space opera genre

Currently completely out of fashion (q.v.: Andrew Stanton's film adaptation of John Carter)
posted by fairmettle at 2:42 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: Almost a critique of capitalism, though it's amorphous, and certainly doesn't give you any ideological alternatives.
posted by belarius at 2:58 AM on January 14 [82 favorites]


I want to revel in the beauty of your world, not pixelbitch it for the last wad of strontium I need to refuckulate the porkulator.

There's a creative mode now.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:43 AM on January 14 [16 favorites]


The same could have been written about Eve Online and a handful of other games.
posted by parmanparman at 4:36 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I mean, who or what would be the heirs to PKD, if his stories are still being mined for movies and TV shows decades after his death? A passing reference used to name an in-game achievement is a very slender reed to balance this piece on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:42 AM on January 14 [10 favorites]


I played a lot of it early on, and have come back to it a few times. But similar thoughts struck me about the game. It's probably due to the game being so heavily procedural that it feels like once you know the limits of what you can do, and how the rules play out for each toy in the sandbox, the game becomes a chore. I mean, the universe may be near-infinite, but you get the feeling that you're actually just exploring a set of rules, whether those be the rules of the different activities, or the rules that generate the world.

I wonder if it's because I grew up with story-driven games; my kids still love Minecraft, but I find myself at a loss playing something that I know has no real end no real purpose. I find I really prefer a game with a strong narrative and some emotional depth. No Man's Sky seems like a game should have a narrative, but really only has rules.
posted by pipeski at 4:43 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


The people I know who love NMS like to build things with it. Because it is damn gorgeous. A limited sandbox doesn't bother these folks. They see the simple rules as tools with which they can create their own fantasies. It is like an SF Lego with the VFX turned up to 11.

The people I know who rapidly wind up finding NMS dull, bordering on tedious, which sadly includes me, like to explore, see new things, and experience a story being told to them in an engaging fashion, respectful of the time of the player.

Neither of these sets of people are wrong. The only problem I see lies expectations.

NMS has the trappings of a deeply interesting story that desperately wants to be told, but in truth it's not a very good story, and not very complex, and if you don't play in creative mode, it's dripped out to you very ... very ... slowly as you madly turn the crank of resource management. (And if you do play in creative mode, you don't get the whole story anyway, which is the biggest strike against the game I have.)

I don't hate the game, and I still fire it up occasionally and warp to a few new systems to see if I'll stumble across some corner of the RNG that I haven't seen before in the context of a just-chilling-out mood.

I do love the idea of what they made, I just wish they had as many writers on staff as programmers and used the beautiful tools to make something truly engaging for everyone, both story tellers AND story readers.

I guess that's my suggestion for Hello Games: hey, folks, let people build games within your game. Not just theme parks. Integrate a decent interactive fiction engine with a few hooks to resources and whatnot, and have people create fictions that you can really sink your teeth into.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:12 AM on January 14 [17 favorites]


Metafilter: Refuckulate the porkulator.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:19 AM on January 14 [42 favorites]


I mean, the universe may be near-infinite, but you get the feeling that you're actually just exploring a set of rules, whether those be the rules of the different activities, or the rules that generate the world.


Best definition of studying real-world physics that I've read in a long time.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 5:34 AM on January 14 [17 favorites]


I mean, who or what would be the heirs to PKD, if his stories are still being mined for movies and TV shows decades after his death? A passing reference used to name an in-game achievement is a very slender reed to balance this piece on.

The recently FPP’d Metal Gear Solid 2 really does the ‘putting you inside the head of a person having a psychotic break as increasingly goofy conspiracies layer on until you question whether even your self is real’ thing like no other. The fact that it all ends up kind of dumb in the end helps too.
posted by rodlymight at 5:48 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


Consulting satan's goracle: "Your search - refuckulate the porkulator - did not match any documents."

If we could give MeFi gold (a la reddit) to a comment, I would!
posted by lalochezia at 5:58 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


The Expanse is a space opera that meaningfully explores real-world themes of capitalism, cold war, colonialism, terrorism, etc.

Computer games always run up against the wall that they can only be programmed to do so much. Play it enough, and you find the edges. That's why I look forward to my tabletop RPGs every week. No edges. Infinite possibilities. Human companionship (at least over Discord).
posted by rikschell at 5:59 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


seanmpuckett

"The people I know who love NMS like to build things with it. Because it is damn gorgeous. A limited sandbox doesn't bother these folks. They see the simple rules as tools with which they can create their own fantasies. It is like an SF Lego with the VFX turned up to 11."

Turn NMS into Minecraft, but ever so much more so?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:04 AM on January 14


I guess that's my suggestion for Hello Games: hey, folks, let people build games within your game

That was my impression as well; NMS is an OK game that really needs to become a platform.
posted by mhoye at 6:11 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


I sunk so much time into NMS after it came out. Long after I'd climbed to the top of its various tech trees I was still happily spending evenings bopping around its gorgeous, kinda-samey planets. Cold, low-energy, depressed Seattle winter evenings.

Spring came around and I stopped having the urge to sink into my beanbag chair and not move very much. I quit playing it.

Eventually an update dropped. My old save, with the battered but loved Rasamama S13 that I'd stuck with by accident (I just never found any other crashed ships until I'd kinda bonded with it) was kinda broken by the changes, and new saves saw me standing at the very bottom of both the tech trees I'd already climbed up, *and* the new ones added by the update. I did not stick around very long.

I think I looked in on one other update. Same feel. I haven't bothered looking at later updates. It may have a vibrant community full of people happily building stuff with their tools, but the combination of "a simulator of hiking through sixties sci-fi paperback covers" and "Total Perspective Vortex" that I enjoyed is long gone.
posted by egypturnash at 7:02 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


space opera genre

Currently completely out of fashion (q.v.: Andrew Stanton's film adaptation of John Carter)


Or at least evolved beyond Flash Gordon and Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Memory Called Empire read as space opera to me, for example, and that won the most recent Hugo.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:21 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


How far No Man's Sky has come! Originally it was criticized for being a buggy, shallow, pointless incomplete game that fell far short of all the promises the team made for it. Then they spent literally years improving and adding content and have become the poster child for developers fixing and supporting a game after release. So now instead NMS gets criticized with pseudo-high-brow crap, as if reading a couple of PK Dick novels makes you an expert on sci-fi themed games. Which is a total non-sequitur in this case, as NMS really isn't trying to be that kind of game. (Although there is a kind of fun story buried in there about living in a simulation).

As the article says, "I guess it looks pretty though." That is the primary purpose of NMS; it is a screenshot generator for 1950s pulp sci-fi novels. It is extraordinarily good at that. And it's gotten a lot prettier over the four years since release, taking advantage of faster hardware, 4K displays, etc. It's also a relaxing and chill game based around a really simplistic and boring gameplay loop. It is Klondike solitaire with amazing procedural graphics. Don't ask too much of it.
posted by Nelson at 7:44 AM on January 14 [31 favorites]


Yeah, same here, egypturnash - I never quite topped out the first time through, I found some of the "wait, I gotta get this thing from this planet and that thing from that planet" grind a bit annoying with the smallish inventory at the time, so the update that increased inventory sizes brought me back until I discovered that they added another dozen dang things to fill your inventory, so it was _even more_ ingredient management heavy.

I kindasorta liked the story, as far as I got through it, and I enjoyed the little tickle of learning new words and having aliens on stations become ever more comprehensible, but eventually it just got kinda grindy.

I appreciate what they're doing though, and every now and then I wonder if I shouldn't just start a new save just to see where it takes me this time. But then I look at the stack of never-played games from the prior generation that are begging to be played instead and...
posted by Kyol at 7:49 AM on January 14


space opera genre

Currently completely out of fashion (q.v.: Andrew Stanton's film adaptation of John Carter)


John Carter is not space opera under any definition I'm familiar with--planetary romance is the usual classification. While planetary romance and space opera both fall under the broader "science fantasy" category, they're fairly distinct--space opera is more like Star Wars.

Flash Gordon straddles the line--sometimes it's more planetary romance, sometimes it gets closer to space opera.
posted by Four Ds at 7:59 AM on January 14 [10 favorites]


For me playing NMS was about the meditative quality of it as a zoomy walking simulator. Zapping out craters of shiny space ore is boring, yes, but oh so soothing to a particular state of mind.

I put it down for a while but came back when I discovered The Hub, which is a player-run community that pre-dated the multiplayer update. Chart your jump path to the Hub cluster, and instead of algorithmic permutations you'll get actual human creativity. Explore other users' nifty bases; build your own, perhaps a fellow traveller will drop by for tea.
posted by cosmologinaut at 8:17 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


space opera genre

Currently completely out of fashion


(coughs discreetly)
posted by jscalzi at 8:41 AM on January 14 [77 favorites]


NMS eventually evolved to feeling like walking through a mostly boring empty park. I had *such* high hopes for it, and while it did get better, it still fell so far short. I do hope someone with an equal amount of chutzpah decides to give a game like it another go, and they can gather the skills together to work out the procedural processing (both world and civilization) to a far deeper degree.

I still can cackle with laughter at the promise vs reality meme.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:44 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]


> my kids still love Minecraft, but I find myself at a loss playing something that I know has no real end no real purpose.

It has, though! You gotta kill the Ender Dragon.

Does NMS have an endopoint of some sort?
posted by Tom-B at 8:50 AM on January 14


If you want a video game that can sit proudly on the shelf with a Philip K. Dick novel (although closer in tone and theme to something like Arthur C. Clarke), that tells a definite and worthwhile story, you want Outer Wilds (not "The Outer Worlds" another sci-fi game released the same year).

If you can go into it without watching any trailers or reading anything about it, you'll be grateful for every surprise that was saved for you. But read this caveat:

It's an exploration-story-puzzle game not a shooter, but I think someone with zero skill controlling a first-person shooter might have a hard time with the game. You have to be able to accurately jetpack around in a spacesuit and pilot a spacecraft. But I think it would be worth struggling with, as failure is usually interesting and almost never disrupts the story.
posted by straight at 9:06 AM on January 14 [10 favorites]


my kids still love Minecraft, but I find myself at a loss playing something that I know has no real end no real purpose.

My scale model of the Canadian Library of Parliament begs to differ
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:06 AM on January 14 [17 favorites]


I find myself at a loss playing something that I know has no real end and no real purpose

This is like a New Yorker cartoon caption below a drawing of a kid staring at a pile of Legos.
posted by oulipian at 9:12 AM on January 14 [44 favorites]


I tried playing this game when I had an Xbox subscription and it just dropped me on some planet and then started yelling at me that I would die if I didn't find some random element and I just wandered around until I died. I've rarely had a game be less inviting as a new player; I never bothered to try to play it again and I don't have the subscription now that they doubled the monthly price.
posted by octothorpe at 9:12 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


If you want an exploration game (with a few puzzles and a little bit of story) that really feels like the best parts of an Arthur C. Clark book like Rendezvous with Rama, I'd recommend Kairo. It doesn't merit the same shelf as Outer Wilds and Subnautica (which I'd put next to each other in quality), but it I'd still put it there because the shelf would be too empty otherwise.
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I use to play Elite in the dark just to fell like I was a pirate in a near-infinite void with no end or purpose in sight.
posted by bdc34 at 9:16 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


Does NMS have an endopoint of some sort?

Three, sort of, and they're intertwined in a complex way.

There's the original story, The Atlas Path, which was in the game in some form from the beginning. The gameplay was tedious; you had to collect 10 Atlas Stones (aka Atlas Seeds now) which basically had you running around gathering various materials and then finding rare space stations. It was a terrible set of missions, IMHO, but there was a kind of neat narrative storyline you got as your reward.

A new story was introduced in the big 2017 patch Atlas Rises, the same one that added multiplayer. The Artemis Path has a much more varied set of mission goals and requires a lot more exploration. I also really love the writing for this storyline. It got updated somewhat in 2018 as well.

The third endpoint is to get your ship to the center of the galaxy and warp through... to a new galaxy almost exactly like the one you left behind. It's not really an endpoint but it's a sort of broad goal of "keep moving inward". Although that became trivial with a recent patch that allows unfettered Portal transport; now you can go pretty much anywhere in any galaxy and stay permanently in about 3 minutes.

There's also a slow trickle of content in the form of missions and new rewards added to the game. Mostly cosmetics. At some point you get enough money and material that acquisition is no longer a big goal, but exploring and building continues to be rewarding. In that way it's much like Minecraft.

I've only ever played one game save, 300 hours now since the game launched. I did the original Atlas Path, then the Artemis Path. I made it to the Galactic Hub in the old old days when you had to navigate by your angle to the galactic core and warp 100 times to get there. All along I've also had a secondary goal of slowly warping myself to the core. But mostly I just fire up the game every few months when there's new content to see. I'm getting a PS5 soon and can't wait to play again with the updated graphics and object density.
posted by Nelson at 9:37 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I like to shoot things, but I sometimes worry that shooter games are desensitizing me. So I play NMS and kill trees and flowers instead!

No problems there.

I kid. I enjoy shooting trees.
posted by Mogur at 9:38 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


This comment has spoilers.

For me, NMS is about two things: "let me show you what my algorithms can make," and a meditation on being stuck in patterns and hoping something different will happen. There's game there, but I'd argue that it's more art project than anything else.

The issue with same-y planets, flora and fauna is a problem with all procedurally generated games. After a couple of weeks you will likely have seen the broad strokes of what a particular game has to offer. There are sometimes interesting quirks, but for the most part you know what you'll be seeing. And you'll realize all the ways it fails to meet up to what you want. NMS is building planets, but you'll only have somewhere around 8-10 animals, there're no ice caps, no rivers, weather generally affects everywhere on the planet at once, you'll never see a planet with 20 moons (solar systems have 6 bodies max, and a planet can't have more than 2 moons), etc etc etc.

But that's... kind of not the point, I think, for procgen. Or at least not the most rewarding way to interact with it? All these games have their limitations, but it's interesting to see what the creators managed to do with their palette, and how it serves whatever creative vision they have.

Which leads us to NMS!

NMS just dives right into this, using the limitations of its medium as fundamental pillars of its narrative. What does an infinite expanse mean if you can't ever connect to anyone else? If you do manage to, is that a real connection for being distant and virtual? The universe keeps repeating its patterns, and hoping for something else -- why, knowing this, do you decide to move on to the next galaxy? When do you decide to stop - you, the player - and go look for something else? ARE you going to look for something else, something really different? Is that even what you want?

I think there's probably also a really interesting article to be written about the game from the angle of "this is what it's like to live with chronic mental health issues when you don't have mental healthcare".

I've logged 200+ hours into NMS over several playthroughs, mostly solo. Done a little bit of base building. Mostly cruised around the universe and contemplated the being trapped in patterns and loops while looking for cool things/views to take screenshots of. I'm not often glad I spent so many hours on a game, but in this case I am.
posted by curious nu at 9:42 AM on January 14 [10 favorites]


who or what would be the heirs to PKD

terry gilliam, denis villanueve
posted by j_curiouser at 9:43 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


A Scanner Darkly‘s title appears in the novel’s text as the main character, an undercover narc, realises that his mind has been split into two hemispheres, each independently processing and reacting to the world. This is the result of a combination of drugs and the trauma of being so deep undercover that the target he was surveilling, via home installed scanning devices, was himself. While earlier in the book he was aware of the bureaucratically warped situation of becoming the target of his own scanning, the state of ‘seeing through a scanner, darkly,’ comes at the ultimate separation of awareness of the distinctly different lives he lives. In a passage that lays bare pretty clearly the modern parable, and even how the phrase is adapted from the Biblical quote ‘through a glass (mirror), darkly’, he becomes two people unaware of each other, an obsessive cop and a well-meaning addict.

Is the reviewer trapped in an alternate KR-3 universe where Disco Elysium doesn't exist?
posted by justkevin at 9:55 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


"100 hours of bland resource mining later… I do like to build those bases though."
Perhaps this critic should have built bases, then, instead of trying to bolt on an odd litcrit writeup onto a sandbox game about pretty landscapes based on the name of one single optional achievement.

Games are what you make of them.
posted by mmcg at 10:13 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


Funny thing about the "samey" planets: There are a lot that are samey, a lot that are only samey if you can't see detail, and a small number that are truly spectacular and, if not unique, quite rare.

After the first few hours, NMS is almost entirely more about what you choose to put into the game and how you choose to play it than it is the game itself. After the first few hours, it's all up to you. The only thing it won't do past the initial getting started phase is tell you what you have to do. You like trading? Trade. You like exploring, explore. You like building? Build. You want to struggle for survival? Struggle. You want to passively earn income? That's an option, too. Between the procedural generation and the regular updates, there's always something out there.

If you're looking for a story driven game, it's not that, but there are other games to scratch that itch.

All that said, it is a game that requires a certain mindset to enjoy. I haven't been in that headspace for a while now, so I haven't played at all in a couple of months now. It's not the first time I've taken a break and it won't be the last, but I'm pretty confident I'll be back again soon.
posted by wierdo at 10:13 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I remember the first flight simulators and how people were willing to stare for hours at a couple of slowly moving lines, so I bet this is way more fun.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:35 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I basically have done no building in NMS, but I love the game, even if there's really not much there.

Yes it's miles wide but inches shallow. It's also gorgeous and relaxing to just fly across planets and watch the land shoot by, or gaze at the sky. It's and infinite 70s scifi book cover generator and a great thing to play for a half hour or so just to wind down and enjoy.
posted by aspo at 11:09 AM on January 14


This essay has inspired me to write my own about how the narrative within the game of chess fails to rise to that of Shakespeare's Henry V. Worst board game of all time, I wouldn't bother if I were you.
posted by good in a vacuum at 11:29 AM on January 14 [8 favorites]


...has no real end no real purpose...
My scale model of the Canadian Library of Parliament begs to differ...


.... sooooooo, just like the real thing then, eh?
posted by rozcakj at 11:36 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I would honestly rather read No Man’s Sky’s procedurally-generated review of Oma Keeling, than yet another hot take from someone who either doesn’t get it or wants it to be something it was never intended to be. [/grumpydesigner]
posted by Ryvar at 11:53 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Fantastic comment, curious nu. I just wanted to add that if flying down to a planet to feed giant flying toucan teddy bears so that you can collect their enormous poops is wrong then I don't want to be right.
posted by gamera at 12:03 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I had never even heard of this before today, but I've since enjoyed having some yt videos of runthroughs playing on my second monitor as I slog through spreadsheets.

"Consequential" can measured on lots of scales. Impact on me, as a user. Impact on other users. Impact on genre. Etc.

Anyways.

Tangential 1 - I love wandering empty-ish, semi-abandoned spaces, e.g. college campuses between terms. A large public university, at dusk, during a snowfall, on December 28 or so, is one variation on heaven, to me. Somewhere nearby is a pub with a good stout.

Tangential 2 - virtual experiences I would pay cash money to wander about in:
+ Borges - The City of the Immortals, from "The Immortal"
+ Borges - The Library of Babel, from "The Library of Babel," with points of for books you can pull off the shelf and browse
+ CS Lewis - The abandoned city in Charn, from The Magician's Nephew
+ Tolkien - Lothlorien
+ LeGuin - All of Earthsea plz
posted by Caxton1476 at 12:10 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


space opera genre
Currently completely out of fashion


I don't think anyone's mentioned the Mass Effect games yet.
posted by doctornemo at 12:21 PM on January 14


NMS has the trappings of a deeply interesting story that desperately wants to be told, but in truth it's not a very good story, and not very complex, and if you don't play in creative mode, it's dripped out to you very ... very ... slowly as you madly turn the crank of resource management.

Analogous problem with Cultist Simulator, where the story and the atmosphere are interesting but the mechanics required to milk them from the game are not only slow and dull, but require constant attention.
posted by praemunire at 12:24 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


space opera genre
Currently completely out of fashion


I knew my enjoyment of Brian K. Vaughan's Saga was suspect. How does one get into fashion again? I need help.
posted by elkevelvet at 12:28 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


First off, Space Opera is nowhere even close to out of fashion, not if Disney and billions of dollars have anything to say about it. Stuff that looks like Flash Gordon or Barbarella or whatever may be out of fashion, but the underpinnings of Space Opera are still a big deal.

Secondly, as others have pointed out, procedural generation is both No Man's Sky's biggest strength and biggest flaw. You could play it for a thousand hours and never land on the same planet twice, but at the same time each planet has the same handful of things to do with nothing but cosmetic variation. Different colors, different flora and fauna, different weather and hazards, but the same basic gameplay loop of explore, collect, build, repeat.

Compare that to a game like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which has a limited map, but one where virtually every inch is filled with things to do, things to find, little puzzles to complete, and little rewards for poking at the edges. If I see a place I've never been to in Zelda, I can go there expecting to find something interesting, even if it's just a nice vista or one of the ~900 korok seeds in the game. In No Man's Sky, if I go to a new location I will find... more or less the same things as the last location. This isn't just a No Man's Sky thing either, Minecraft has a theoretical size larger than the surface of the earth, but beyond the handful of different biomes there's no reason to explore beyond finding a spot that suits your desires. Every game with procedural generation suffers from one form of this or another.

Adding the ability for people to curate and populate the world is a good thought. I can put something interesting there for the next person to find. I can add locations of interest that tell a little story. I could also make some gross Nazi shrine for the next person to find, which is then the downside of opening the floodgates to that sort of thing.

I look at stuff like GPT-3, which can make quasi-coherent text, and wonder if that sort of AI could be used to generate not just nooks and crannies, but INTERESTING nooks and crannies, that explicitly reward players for poking into them. Generate not just NPC vendors, but characters with desires and motivations as compelling as those in human-made games like World of Warcraft or Skyrim. I think those kind of procedurally generated stories are the future of games.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:48 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


The issue with same-y planets, flora and fauna is a problem with all procedurally generated games.

I remember starting my first game of NMS on a snowy planet covered in what looked like some kind of pine trees, and it looked really impressive. I'd read the marketing material claiming that this stuff was all generated algorithmically ("every leaf procedural" etc), and the trees looked good enough to have been designed by hand. It was amazing!

Before too long I realised that they had, in fact, been designed by hand. Every plant in the game was just a pre-made model stamped across the landscape in a very simple randomised way. Every other procedural part of the game was the same: a limited number of pre-made pieces arranged randomly, with no underlying order or structure beyond a few simple rules (I think every snowy planet in the game's vast galaxies was covered in exactly the same pine tree). None of the procedural systems interacted meaningfully with each other so there was no scope for interesting emergent behaviour, and the parts of the game that you could interact with, like the robots and aliens, weren't procedural at all. NMS wasn't too procedural, it just wasn't procedural enough.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:28 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


I found NMS to be fascinating when I played it. Partially because there was no obvious plot and everything was random, you felt really small as a human wandering through bizarre worlds, never meeting another person, but plenty of aliens who didn't care about you at all. It reminded me of early George R R Martin science fiction - Second Kind of Loneliness/Song for Lya stuff. Elegiac and strange.

I actually lost interest when I found the plot.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:40 PM on January 14


NMS isn't so much a game as a writing prompt. Show it to people and they immediately start describing the game they wish it was.
posted by zompist at 1:49 PM on January 14 [18 favorites]


+ CS Lewis - The abandoned city in Charn, from The Magician's Nephew

Twilight Anor Londo in Dark Souls is very Charny. Also Cainhurst in Bloodborne (less emptiness, more imprisoned queens, and I don't think it's a coincidence that "Cainhurst" contains "Charn").
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:50 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


I was curious about it when I first heard abou tit and held off. I don't know where I fall on the "narrative fed to you" vs "self-made narrative" axis. I do love games with story, but all too often I find it's either too much trying to feed you all the details of the world through either spoken word cutscenes or random bits scattered in dialog/tapes/memos without a clear direct narrative.

WoW has the quests, and reading this I kept thinking about WoW. how I used to love it and am so over it.

So I'm curious. I know the updates added a lot. I'm not a huge "crafter" person but nor am I 100% narrative.

I do like the idea of exploring a world, but some motive to drive me beyond "see pretty things" might be nice (especially since it seems the world eventually runs out of new things once you understand how the engine workd?).

So will I actually like this game?
posted by symbioid at 2:18 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Er... where's the essay?
posted by whir at 2:29 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


[Link removed upon OP's request. - loup ]

That's an interesting way to protest people just expounding their thoughts on the game rather than reading the article.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:31 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, it wasn't me who requested the link be removed, but the author of the article. If you are particularly keen on reading it, it's still online.
posted by adrianhon at 2:34 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]


lol. I’ve clocked like 600+ hours playing NMS since it was released. AMA.

I lovingly refer to this game as boring: If you’re into exploring, I think it’s one of the best options out there. Base building is fun I will say the game has been much more fleshed out and the worlds far more varied in the last patch or two. Giant sandworms! Volcanoes! Giiiiiiiant underground cavern systems.

I’m currently 15 hours into circumnavigating a small moon on foot. It’s a very pretty moon.

Really my only complaint is the lack of surveying tools, and a decent compass.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:53 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


symbioid: if you go through it expecting a very light experience - skipping across the galaxy dropping in on new planets to check them out, uploading some catalogue data to the Galactic codex and just continuing on...you’ll be pleasantly satisfied. Don’t get me wrong: there’s some real depth there in the building/crafting/harvesting mechanics if you go all-in: not quite as much as ARK but more than Fallout 4, say. Enough to fill 150 hours. But No Man’s Sky is primarily a meditative vibe piece put together by a small team that has gradually expanded with said team. It has a lot of wonderful if you don’t push too hard in any one direction and it’s reportedly the ultimate Stoned Gaming(tm) experience...but if you go in expecting it to be something meaty and solid and profound you’ll wind up like the other 5,000 reviewers mashing their keyboards about it not being the very specific kind of wonderful they want.

[For myself, about 300-400 hours mostly spent building massive bases both underground and on my superfreighter after I broke out of the freighter bounding box]
posted by Ryvar at 3:06 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Breath of the Wild's beautifully designed map is an excellent contrast to No Man's Sky. I love that game, the joy of knowing I'll find something interesting in any corner of the world. Often something site-appropriate, the game has a very Japanese sense of the spirit of places. Red Dead Redemption 2 is another game with a rich map like this although it's a bit sparser and less gamey. Ghosts of Tsushima, too, or really any modern open world game. Often these games will make use of procedural tools to help place things, although the way the marketing always says "every tree placed by hand" makes me wonder.

One of the updates to NMS a few years ago added exotic worlds. Truly strange places full of bubbles, or giant shells, or hexagonal crystals. The first time you encounter one of these is total magic because it's so exotic and beautiful. The third time though isn't just deja vu, it's outright annoyance, because it makes it so obvious how cookie cutter the worlds are.

Folks excited about all this criticism should go back and read all the complaints about Spore, the procedural game punching bag of a decade ago. It really is a wonder, or at least the more successful parts of it are. It's also very limited and not a very good game, much like NMS. What's interesting is we have The Sims 4 to compare it to, a different kind of story telling game with procedural elements (the AI) that's still going strong 10+ years later.

Also worth noting procedural generation goes way, way back in gaming. Wouldn't be a roguelike without a procedural dungeon.
posted by Nelson at 3:54 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]


I tend to agree. Played it for a week and then realized I was underground digging to get to places to get some carbon to go build something that .....well that's just Minecraft.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:36 PM on January 14


I’m curious about the process of someone who wrote an article that’s still up on the internet requesting it be pulled from someone else’s post! Feels odd that you would publish something but then not want people to talk about it in depth... Is that something that has happened before, or is there a specific reason behind it we could know? Not objecting, just wondering!
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 4:49 PM on January 14 [9 favorites]


NMS is a game I've wanted to play for a long time. I remember seeing the initial hype about it and thinking it would be really neat. Then getting disappointed with everyone else when it was first released. And then happy to see the dev team still plugging away at it making the game they set out to all those years ago. NMS and the new Flight Simulator game are the only games that make me regret only having a Switch.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:53 PM on January 14


It's very odd and frustrating that the article that this discussion is supposed to focus on has been removed by a moderator at the request of the person who wrote this post (or was it the author of the article?). If there has been a mistake then this post needs to be removed altogether otherwise we're all just guessing what the topic of discussion is supposed to be.
posted by ElKevbo at 5:50 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]


ElKevbo, it wasn't the person who wrote the post, it's the person who wrote the article that wanted the link removed.

The author, Oma Keeling, has this to say at the top of the article:

"Lots of people reading this today so hey, disclaimer: It's okay to like a game. This piece is flawed, roughly edited, and kind of sensationalist. I wrote it to get some ideas off my head about why the game I've spend the most time with never truly satisfied me. So cool your jets, hotshots."

Apparently the author is getting a lot of guff over the essay, which has now gone viral. It's interesting that they have opted to try and get links taken down rather than unpublish the post, and also that they requested it be removed here, where the discussion has largely not been about the specific merits of the article.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:01 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I suspect what's happened, based on this information and their Twitter, that they're not entirely willing to stand by the piece, and that getting linked by MetaFilter is driving far more traffic than they normally get. I cannot blame someone for being concerned that one of their least favourites pieces of the year might become, to the wider internet, the representative for their work.
posted by Merus at 6:07 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I found a creature on an ice planet that reminded me of owlbears from Dungeons and Dragons. I named it a "snowlbear" and now I think naming stuff is an underrated game mechanic.
posted by straight at 6:40 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


FWIW I agree with the basic point:
I got the achievement ‘A Scanner Darkly’ only a couple of weeks after finishing the book of the same name by Dick. ... All of the achievements in the game have a similarly tacked on ‘sci-fi story’ name, yet seeing that one parroted back was weird.
...
The disconnect of the game’s use of the title to designate an award for scanning some animals, and the book’s description of the perceptive nightmare of brain damage caused by addiction and invasive policing, is severe.
I've never liked these kinds of facile, superficial references in any kind of fiction. I'm pretty sure that nothing about the scanning "achievement" has anything to do with the Dick novel other than that they both involve the word "scanner". The reference is a hollow token representing nothing more than "look, I've read[/heard of] this book as well!". To tack it onto just the kind of entertainment product that you can imagine Dick mocking is a little absurd.

Compare it to another reference I mentioned above: ... Cainhurst in Bloodborne (less emptiness, more imprisoned queens, and I don't think it's a coincidence that "Cainhurst" contains "Charn"). Here the reference is more subtle (although there is another fairly large hint in the fact that the path to Cainhurst passes through a "charnel lane"), but it (a) is totally thematically consistent, (b) provides useful context for understanding what's going on in the castle, and (c) suggests that there may be more, perhaps far more obscure, references to C. S. Lewis' other stuff hidden in related parts of the game, and finding them may well grant further insight. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is very rare.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:08 PM on January 14


To tack it onto just the kind of entertainment product that you can imagine Dick mocking is a little absurd.

Achievements are inherently absurd and fourth-wall breaking and widely named using much dumber pointless puns than "scanner darkly."

Area Video Game's Achievement Names Have Low Literary Quality Says Critic
posted by straight at 7:22 PM on January 14 [9 favorites]


I'll also chime in that The Outer Wilds is just as gorgeous but uses plot and character to a much better degree. Think of it as No Man's Sky meets Bioshock.
posted by zardoz at 7:36 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I did find the narrative bits somewhat interesting, if a bit grindy at times. It's a good way to introduce you to the mechanics of the game that you'll be using past the first 30 minutes.

One thing that some can find frustrating is that the difficulty of the very early game is pretty random. You might wake up on a planet that is nearly impossible to survive or you might wake up on one where the hazards are barely an inconvenience. It definitely behooves the player to be ready to act quickly/follow prompts immediately in those first few minutes. After that, you have plenty of options to make your gameplay as relaxing as you'd like. One of the "problems" is that it's very easy to get to a point where literally nothing in the game can hurt you unless you go afk for a while. On the other hand, you are also in control of that. Just like there's nothing stopping you from using up half your inventory on upgrades, there's nothing stopping you from simply not doing that

NMS and the new Flight Simulator game are the only games that make me regret only having a Switch.

GeForce Now and Project xCloud/GamePass Ultimate both allow you to stream NMS, assuming you have a compatible device. In the case of GFN, that's pretty much any desktop, laptop, or smartphone.
posted by wierdo at 7:58 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I'll also chime in that The Outer Wilds is just as gorgeous but uses plot and character to a much better degree. Think of it as No Man's Sky meets Bioshock.

But just in case that puts anybody off, I thought Bioshock was blunt and mean-spirited but that Outer Wilds (no "the"; that's the other one) was smart, subtle, and kind and much more about cool sci-fi ideas rather than using them as a backdrop for something else.
posted by straight at 9:25 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


You might wake up on a planet that is nearly impossible to survive or you might wake up on one where the hazards are barely an inconvenience.

For those who want a challenge, starting the game at "Survival" difficulty will almost guarantee a start on an impossible planet. That created one of my favorite gaming experiences. Started on a desert planet where the heat was extremely hostile during the day. Death would occur quickly. But nights were cold. Cold enough to pose a threat, but less harmful than the daytime broiling. Took me a few hours to get everything I needed to launch the ship. Work at night while dodging the hostile fauna. Hide during the daylight with only occasional forays into the outside when I was too antsy to sit in my cave. Terrain was very rugged so movement at any time of day took some effort.

When I finally launched, it felt like a well-earned victory. Few games have given me the same feeling I had when flying over the same terrain that almost killed me. I loved almost everything else about the game, but the harsh survival start was the best part.

Astroneer can offer similar self-directed challenges. If you play carefully, Astroneer is mostly easy. But if you just hop in your rover and head out into the planet's wilderness, it's easy to get lost and then you have to rely on whatever materials you had on hand while you try to use landmarks and star patterns to find your way back to your ship. Or just give up the search, and try to build a new ship from scratch based on what materials you can find out in the middle of nowhere. I did that once, and it was one of my favorite gaming experiences.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 9:13 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


« Older The do bits society   |   Are You Still Scared of Clowns? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments