This Dumb Industry: The Sky isn’t Worth Fighting For

By Shamus
on Sep 13, 2016
Filed under:
Column

I know that dumping on No Man’s Sky was all the rage a few weeks ago, and the only thing worse than showing up for a pointless dogpile is showing up late for a pointless dogpile. So I want to make it clear that nothing I’m saying here should be taken as a personal attack and I don’t have anything against the developers. Hello Games made a game that was hotly anticipated by their fans and then ended up disappointing a lot of them after release. I can’t hate them for that. I did the same thing earlier this year.

In fact, I’m hoping they made enough on this game that they can give it another try. I really do think that they have something special here. Imagine if the first iteration of Minecraft had been really awkward, frustrating, had a terrible building interface, and was constantly limiting and undermining your creative abilities because the developer thought the game should be focused on combat. I wouldn’t want the idea of a cube world to die on the vine. I’d want it to get another chance to become the creative, engaging, meme-spawning classic that was embraced as a hobby by millions worldwide.

So I think there’s some value in picking apart the mechanics of No Man’s Sky and understanding why they don’t work. Lots of people (including me) have said that the space combat in this game sucks, but I think it might be more useful to dig into the details of why it sucks. Space combat isn’t just the victim of a couple of unfortunate design choices. It’s a chain of conflicting goals and bad decisions that comes up with new ways to annoy you as you play.

Overview

How does my computer know what pirates consider to be valuable?

How does my computer know what pirates consider to be valuable?

Space combat is pretty shallow. If you have something “valuable” on your ship – and there’s no clear indication of what that threshold is – then at some point you’ll get a warning message that pirates are scanning you. There’s a pause, and then the computer informs you that the pirates found valuable cargo. (The computer knows this HOW? Does the ship computer somehow know the exact threshold of booty that will provoke an attack?) Then another pause and a message informs you that an attack is imminent. Then about seven ships will materialize and pull you out of warp and engage you.

Note that it always happens this way. In all my 100+ hours with the game, I never had an instance where pirates scanned me and then left me alone. So they only scan you when they already know they’re going to find something. This reveals the artifice of the system to the player. As soon as you hear the first announcement from the computer, you know a fight is inevitable. Also, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like an announcement that you’re going to get a random encounter in 30 seconds.

A better system:

  1. The computer occasionally warns you that you’re being scanned for valuables, regardless of what you’ve got in the hold.
  2. Eliminate the second message stating that they plan to attack you based on what they found. It’s not needed and it makes no sense anyway.
  3. Sometimes they will leave you alone, based on a dice roll. The more treasure you’re hauling around, the more likely the attack will be, but there should always be a bit of random noise to the system to keep the player guessing.

Of course, this fix would only work if space combat was a fun addition to the game, which it isn’t, because…

The Fighting Doesn’t Work

The message in the lower right is a leftover from some earlier version of the game. Your photon cannon doesn`t ever need to be recharged.

The message in the lower right is a leftover from some earlier version of the game. Your photon cannon doesn`t ever need to be recharged.

In a proper space-fighter game, you can weave around to avoid enemy fire. A good pilot can win an engagement while barely taking a hit to their shields. Fights are sometimes a game of brinkmanship where you decide how much temporary shield damage you’re willing to absorb to get your hits in.

In this game, I never found any way to avoid enemy fire. You’re slow, your hitbox is big, enemy fire is fast-moving, and you’re vastly outnumbered. I’d weave all over the place, constantly changing my heading and velocity the way I’ve done in countless other space combat games, but it never seemed to make any difference. I was constantly pelted by enemy fire, to the point where it felt like the best strategy was to just tank the incoming damage while I lined up the shot.

In a space combat sim, having your shields go down means it’s time to re-route power from weapons to shields and take evasive maneuvers until you recover. In No Man’s Sky, it means you need to OPEN UP THE SODDING INVENTORY SCREEN and click on the shield generator, then choose a resource from the little pop-up to use for repair / recharge. And no, the game doesn’t pause when you do this. This is the worst of all possible designs. It breaks the flow of the action, it requires frantic menu-clicking and making complex decisions about resource expenditures while you’re getting pelted with laser fire, and it forces you to stop flying your ship in the middle of a fight.

Here is what it looks like to replenish your shields in combat. You stop flying your ship and you can`t even see outside. You need to do this multiple times in a fight.

Here is what it looks like to replenish your shields in combat. You stop flying your ship and you can`t even see outside. You need to do this multiple times in a fight.

“I’d better repair my shields before they go down! Hmm. Titanium is easy to collect and I’ve got tons of it, but I’ve got just a tiny sliver of zinc left. So if I use the zinc I’ll free up an inventory slot. Er, is this zinc coming from my personal inventory or from the cargo hold, because the stack sizes differ and OH MY GOSH I AM OVERCOME BY THE WHITE-KNUCKLE EXCITEMENT OF COMBAT.”

Also, how am I repairing a SHIELD with METAL? What’s the metaphor at work here? Am I supposedly taking this raw ore and smearing it on the outside of my ship like sunblock? Apologists will defend nonsensical features by claiming realism was compromised for “fun”, and they’ll defend miserable mechanics by saying it “makes more sense this way”. But this fails no matter which excuse you go for. This is both eye-crossing nonsense and a total chore.

Is this supposed to be exciting? Frustrating? You can’t really claim this is a challenge for the player to overcome, since…

The AI Doesn’t Work

Every space battle looks like this, except with a different colored sky in the background.

Every space battle looks like this, except with a different colored sky in the background.

Even ignoring the shield repair problem, the combat feels awful. I’ve flown a lot of ships and tried a lot of different approaches, and I’ve never been in a proper dogfight where I could maneuver behind an enemy and stay there. They’re faster than you and they have a tighter turning radius. Which means most fights come down to you chasing after them until they’re a speck in the distance, then they loop around and the two of you charge at each other head-on. If you juke around, it will throw off your aim without impeding your foe’s ability to hit you with their giant laser blobs. So again, it comes down to a mindless fight where you tank damage rather than avoid it. This isn’t dogfighting, it’s jousting.

So winning the fight comes down to having enough repair resources in the hold to get you through the fight. It’s a battle of attrition. And there’s no reason to participate in it because…

The Reward System Doesn’t Work

Six units of Emeril is an insult. It`s not enough to DO anything with. It`s WORTH almost nothing. But it will take up one of your precious inventory slots if you didn`t already have some emeril. On a planet, you can mine this stuff by the hundreds.

Six units of Emeril is an insult. It`s not enough to DO anything with. It`s WORTH almost nothing. But it will take up one of your precious inventory slots if you didn`t already have some emeril. On a planet, you can mine this stuff by the hundreds.

When you destroy a ship, the bad guys drop some loot. But unlike every single fight on a planet, your spoils don’t automatically rush towards you after the fight. Instead the foe drops a colorful little packet that you must physically fly over to pick up. I’m sure you can appreciate how unreasonable it is to ask the player to look for a glowing speck while moving at high speeds through a hail of laser fire against a backdrop of stars. This is made more difficult by the fact that the loot is dropped not when you deliver the killing blow to the foe in front of you, but after their ship is done exploding. By this point the loot is behind you and finding it amidst the chaos is unlikely.

But wait, it’s worse!

But even if you’re That Good that you can pick up these parcels in the middle of a fight, they aren’t terribly rewarding. You’ll get a couple of units of some mineral that you could easily have grabbed off the surface of the planet for only minimal effort and basically no risk. Even if you’re an ace pilot with a maximum-upgraded ship that kills every single foe in a single pass and grabs every single dropped packet, you’d still be gathering resources far more slowly than you would by simply wandering around on a planet and firing your handheld mining beam at random. And that’s before you add in the expense of repairing your shield due to all of the non-avoidable damage.

But wait, it’s worse!

Uh, if it was NOTHING, then what did I pick up? Why was there a floating little package in space if it was nothing?

Uh, if it was NOTHING, then what did I pick up? Why was there a floating little package in space if it was nothing?

Sometimes you’ll weave around and successfully grab a packet, only to have the game tell you there was nothing in it. I should point out that ALL fights on the planet yield resources that are instantly beamed into your inventory whether you want them or not. But here in space, not only do you sometimes get nothing, but you have to manually fly around to pick up your packet of nothing while people are trying to kill you.

The Interface Doesn’t Work

NMS tries to prove you CAN polish a turd. Space is FILLED with a uniform distribution of rocks like you see here, meaning space ought to be opaque. These are just here so you can mine them for one ingredient of warp fuel. They have to be everywhere so you can`t become trapped. It`s absurd.

NMS tries to prove you CAN polish a turd. Space is FILLED with a uniform distribution of rocks like you see here, meaning space ought to be opaque. These are just here so you can mine them for one ingredient of warp fuel. They have to be everywhere so you can`t become trapped. It`s absurd.

Most of No Man’s Sky has a horrible interface. But when it comes to space combat, the interface simply doesn’t exist. In a proper space combat game, you have buttons to select your next (usually closest) target. You can see what faction the enemy ships belong to. You can see what kind of ships you’re up against. You can see what kinds of damage you’ve done to them. You can see the state of their shields and their hull. You can see how far away they are and how fast they’re moving.

There’s nothing like that in No Man’s Sky. You’re fighting dots in the distance, and the only thing you know about them is the health bar that appears over the ship in the hud. Most fights will end without you having any idea who you’re fighting against or what their ships looked like. Are these ships different from the ships I was fighting in a different system an hour ago? Are there different classes of ships like bombers, fighters, and interceptors? Do some systems have more powerful ships than others? Based on how the fights feel I’d say no, but there’s no way to prove it because the interface has nothing to say to you.

You might be looking at these screenshots and thinking, “Hang on Shamus, I can see there’s some kind of ship display on the right side of the cockpit!” Okay, it’s true that the right-hand screen is a ship display. But I hasten to add that it’s a display for your own spaceship, and that it contains no useful information. I guess you can use it to remind yourself the shape of the ship you’re flying, since the game doesn’t have any external camera views.

Sometimes you’ll find a bunch of fighters attacking a freighter that’s issuing a distress call. There’s nothing in the interface to tell you who either side is. Who owns the freighter? The Gek? Korvax? Vy’KeenYou CAN find out by parking at the nearby space station, jumping out of your ship, and walking inside the trading post to see species of the alien who seems to be running the place all by their lonesome. That will tell you what race inhabits this system, and thus who owns the freighters. I think.? Who owns the attacking ships? One of the other alien factions? The “space pirates”? You don’t know.

The Freighter Engagements Don’t Work

I wonder who owns this freighter? What sort of ship is it? Does it have cargo? What would happen if I attacked it? Too bad I have no ability to select, inspect, or scan it. The only scanner I have is my ability to look out the window.

I wonder who owns this freighter? What sort of ship is it? Does it have cargo? What would happen if I attacked it? Too bad I have no ability to select, inspect, or scan it. The only scanner I have is my ability to look out the window.

If you help out the freighter you’ll improve your standing with whatever faction owns this system, but the game doesn’t tell you how much reputation you earn for doing this. Which I guess is fine, since there’s no way to see your current standing anyway. And it doesn’t seem to make any difference what they think of you. It certainly doesn’t impact barter prices. And even if you’re just super-interested in making them like you for some reason, there are far easier ways of gaining reputation that don’t require several minutes of tedious ship-jousting.

So when you see a freighter giving a distress call what it means is that the game is offering you a chance to wade in and burn a bunch of resources in a prolonged fight between two unknown parties for a reward you don’t need. And even if you’re interested in the reward for (say) roleplaying purposes, the game doesn’t tell you how much of a reward you get and there’s no way to prove you’re getting anything at all.

The enemy uses the same brain-dead AI for attacking freighters as attacking the player. Once I sat back and watched a freighter attack in progress. The pirates (or whoever they were) charged directly at the freighter until they bumped into it. Then they would pivot in place until they were turned around, and flew directly away to prepare for the next pass. Sometimes they would get stuck in the ridges of the structure and bump around like a trapped housefly until they broke free. Other players have reported ships flying through the freighters.

Sometimes they wander away from the battle for no particular reason. This sucks because being “under attack” by pirates prevents you from warping away, and you’re “under attack” until they’re all dead. And if you’re defending a freighter, you don’t get your meaningless little reputation boost / pat on the head until all the enemy ships are destroyed, even if one of them got lost and quit the battlefield.

MANDATORY FUN

I guess it LOOKS pretty.

I guess it LOOKS pretty.

The final thing to just ruin the space combat is that it’s mandatory. Once the pirates scan you, your choice is to either fight and kill them all, or quit the gameOr, I suppose, warp to another system. But then you’re just delaying the inevitable. They’ll gank you again as soon as you try to go anywhere.. You can’t flee the fight, and in fact running away is the fastest way to get yourself killed because your foes are faster than you and they don’t miss. You can’t invest in stealth upgrades to slip by them undetected. You can’t upgrade your ship speed or pulse drive to outrun them. You can’t cut a deal, or win faction approval, or pay the locals to defend you, or anything else to tie this part of the game to any of the others.

I know I’ve been dumping on poor No Man’s Sky for a few weeks now, but I did all this to make a point. The fact that space combat doesn’t work isn’t a single flaw with the game. This isn’t something that could be addressed with a conventional patch. This is a whole chain of decisions, mistakes, bugs, and cut corners that all exacerbate each other. This type of complex design flaw isn’t just part of space combat – it permeates the entire game.

To me it looks like they finished their planet-exploring technology and then figured out what the gameplay would be like. A bunch of popular systems from other games were tossed into this one, but the systems either don’t work together and sometimes they even undermine each other.

I imagine all of this happened towards the end of the development cycle, and the ship date arrived before they finished designing the “game” part of the videogame. You’ve got mining-style resource gathering, which is undone by the Destiny-style interface, which doesn’t work with the half-baked Freelancer combat, which has no connective tissue with the Spore-style creature showcase, and none of these systems interact with the “learning alien languages” gameplay or the quest to reach the center of the galaxy. It’s just random systems dumped into a single game, most of which work against the one thing the game does well.

Hello Games has been diligently patching the game, fixing bugs, fixing performance issues, and otherwise polishing what they shipped. But the core problems will remain, because the really serious issues go right to the heart of the design.

Breaks my heart.

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Footnotes:

[1] You CAN find out by parking at the nearby space station, jumping out of your ship, and walking inside the trading post to see species of the alien who seems to be running the place all by their lonesome. That will tell you what race inhabits this system, and thus who owns the freighters. I think.

[2] Or, I suppose, warp to another system. But then you’re just delaying the inevitable. They’ll gank you again as soon as you try to go anywhere.



A Hundred!2016There are 136 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. The Rocketeer says:

    No Man’s Sky is the alpha of the largest game ever made.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Noting after the fact that I read this as if it were Mike chipperly introducing a bad movie on Half in the Bag. To wit, something else no asked for:

      Mike: “Jay, would you recommend No Man’s Sky?”
      Jay: “No, I thought it sucked. Mike, would you recommend No Man’s Sky?”
      Mike: *thinks for 47 seconds* I would recommend… No Man’s Sky… to… people who really, really like vividly colored, topographically same-y heightmaps and goofy creatures… and… who don’t mind any level of tedium, and don’t really care about any kind of engagement, or a purpose, or any kind of progression, or simulation, or depth, or any kind of a setting or context, or any kind of emotional core or message. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who wanted a space sim. I would recommend it to Grandma.”
      Jay: *laughing*
      Mike: “Grandma will look at the pretty skybox. She’ll say, ‘Oh, my goodness! What is- this is like some kind of a spaceman world! I remember hearing Buck Rogers on the radio when I was a teenager!’ Grandma will be amazed by this shit.”
      Jay: “But Grandma won’t understand the controls. She won’t know how to start the ship.”
      Mike: “No, I guess not.”
      Jay: “Grandma’ll run around on one planet until little robots kill her.”
      Mike: “Yeah.”
      Jay: *beat* “So you recommend this game to no one.”
      Mike: “Yeah, I guess not.” *smacks armrest twice, looks directly to camera* In a showman’s voice: “‘Hello Games?’ More like… Hell No! Would I play your game! Anymore!”
      Jay: *shaking head and groaning* “Ooohh, gosh.”

      Jack Packard and Rich Evans burst through the door and shoot those fuckers Mike and Jay to death for muscling in on Pre-REC. Credits roll.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I did the same thing earlier this year.

    I dont remember you ever lied that therell be multiplayer.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I feel bad saying more bad things about Shamus’ project, but since you brought it up, Good Robot was promoted with those pretty bullet hell gifs that didn’t at all represent (unintentionally, I’m sure) how to play the game well. “Optimal play is boring” was one of the big complaints, right alongside “I’m playing it like a bullet hell and I keep dying“.

      There’s a pretty strong comparison between those gifs and a lot of NMS’s misleading promo materials that people are angry about.

      • Kylroy says:

        Shamus promised one type of gameplay and delivered another.

        Hello promised *several* types of gameplay and delivered a single so-so one and several really awful ones.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Imagine if the first iteration of Minecraft had been really awkward, frustrating, had a terrible building interface, and was constantly limiting and undermining your creative abilities because the developer thought the game should be focused on combat.

    There were plenty of bad decisions in minecraft.Some were removed,some remained.But this is the most important thing:While in early stages,it was not sold as a full game for $60 and during all stages of its development,Notch was completely open and honest with everything that was going on with it.

    • Mersadeon says:

      Yeah, this. As much as some people twist explanations and sentences in interviews around to “prove” Hello Games was totally honest and fair, the simple fact that they have to do that, that they have to desperately dig through material to find some figleaf of justification already shows they are wrong, and Minecraft and the like are the counterpoint. I played Minecraft since the really early days, and while I really don’t like some of the choices made, Notch and his team were open and honest about all of it. When they didn’t know if something would be in the game, *they said they didn’t know if they would put it in* – whereas Hello Games really liked to lure and tease us with implied features.

      • Lanthanide says:

        I think Sean Murray is a more naive version of Molyneux.

        What sticks out for me, is the promises of ships being uniquely fliable, and there being faction battles in space. These are fairly achievable goals, they just need the time put in to be realised. I think when he said those things, he honestly believed they’d be delivered and they had done some planning for what they’d be like. Evidently they were forced to release the game before everything was finished to the standard he wanted, and we got what we got.

        Molyneux on the other hand would routinely make things up off the top of his head, say they would be in the game, and then force the team to (try to) do it.

    • Philadelphus says:

      Plus, Minecraft is almost infinitely malleable with mods. (To be honest, I don’t know if you can mod NMS, but it’s online component suggests not.)

    • Sartharina says:

      I think Shamus missed the mark here with his comment on Minecraft. He should have said “What if the first attempt at Minecraft had hints of a massive, open-world building sandbox, but the design was limited in construction and crafting, with instead an over-emphasis on competitively trying to mine ‘rare’ materials for score.”

      I hear that there actually is an incredible game hidden in No Man’s Sky – not as an action or crafting/harvesting game, but simply as an exploration and sightseeing game.

  4. Da Mage says:

    I didn’t feel let down by Good Robot, it was exactly the game I was expecting. You are too hard on yourself Shamus.

  5. MichaelGC says:

    Speck-with-a-k for little blobby thing. I’m only partway through the article as I keep losing it over the sunbloc gag.

  6. Mephane says:

    These images look like not just did they paint the entire skybox in vibrant colors, but actually stuck you inside a colored fog.

    Oh and the inventory juggling to refill the shields – there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this. It’s not just dumb, it’s insulting. It defeats the entire point of shields (just call it armor if it doesn’t regenerate on its own and requires you to spend metal to restore it) and is such an obvious hassle that it boggles the mind how this design would ever get beyond the very earliest moments of brainstorming.

    It seems like every time I read more about NMS, the bar gets lower and lower. I started with “I’ll wait for the first reviews to see whether it is good”, went to “I’ll buy it in the inevitable 2017 Steam Summer Sale”, then to “5 bucks, no more”. Now I feel like maybe trying it out if I ever get it for free…

    • Syal says:

      I’m assuming the shield restores on its own when combat finishes but you have to restore it manually if the fight’s still ongoing.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Shields do regenerate on their own, but too slowly to make a difference in combat.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      The skyboxes are another disappointment. I mean, I suppose I didn’t expect them to do Homeworld style skyboxes, but would it have killed them to put some fractal nebulae out there or something to break up the monotony?

    • 4ier says:

      There is the seed of an interesting idea with having shields require metal to regenerate. Instead of having sci-fi “shields”, you could have emitters that fire grains of sand or metal shavings to diffuse laser beams before they damage your ship. Like anti-laser point-defense guns, basically.
      Even so, it’s probably a needless hassle to require the player to shovel more stuff into the reservoir. A super-simple fix would be to copy Mass Effect’s guns, and have the emitters overheat when they are stressed, and need time to cool down. (AND NO COOLANT MAGAZINES, DAMMIT!)
      Of course, then you probably need to specify different shield facings, so you don’t have the situation of taking fire on one side removing ALL your shields.
      …Actually, do other spacefighter games do shield facings? IIRC Wing Commander 1 has Front and Back Shields, but I may be wrong. X3 and Freelancer just have generic Shields…
      I guess it is simpler to just give the player a number for their shields, instead of calculating where damage is coming from in three dimensions. Adding more tactical complexity could be cool, but it could also over-complicate things, especially in a game that’s not a dedicated combat sim.
      …Anyway, they had the seed of something that could be cool, but they turned it into busywork instead. :/

      • Mephane says:

        The problem with shield facings for small fighters is that in a dogfight, you usually can’t strategically position yourself to show the enemy the side of your shields that are still strong. Your #1 objective is to get the enemy in your sights in order to shoot them, your #2 objective is to get out of your enemy’s sights so they can’t shoot you. A single monolithic shields fits this kind of gameplay much better.

        For such gameplay to properly work, combat needs to be more tactical, usually with capital ships, turrets etc., designed so that the goal is not really to evade the damage, but to tactically soak it up with your strong shield facings while letting a weakened shield recover.

        • 4ier says:

          Okay, sure.
          I realized as I was writing it that it would probably work better zoomed-out as a strategy game than as a first-person spacefighter, but it supported what I still think is an interesting take on “shields”, so I left it in. :)

          • Mephane says:

            It’s actually the most common way shields work in the more strategical types of space combat. A recent example which I also can recommend you try out: Rebel Galaxy.

            • Crespyl says:

              Freespace I/II also have shields divided into four quadrants, and gameplay that makes it useful to reroute power between them.

              It’s particularly useful when you’re diving into or out of bombing range of a capital ship.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          You can make shield facings work in real time by having it automated.So the shields would rotate around your ship to face oncoming fire,but they would do so at a relatively slow speed,so that fire coming from two opposite directions would still have your hull being hit from one side.This way,you would always want to keep all the enemies at one side of your ship.

      • The interesting thing is that Citadel had a weapon like something from ME1 with ME3’s mechanics, and it worked exactly like it should have.

        You also started with a silenced pistol that could OHK anything short of a Geth Prime with a headshot.

    • pdk1359 says:

      “the bar gets lower”

      Yeah, gotta agree. When I first heard about the game, it sounded cool; it came out I waited for the response (the only AAA game’s i buy immediately are fallout-ish & elder-scrolls-y, cause even if they’ve got bug, lets see… 1844 hours in fallout 4. YEAH).

      The response wasn’t good. And it got worse. EVERY TIME I HEARD ABOUT IT. And not just here. Sigh.

      On good robot; I liked it; 16 hours worth. I really only play anymore by cheating myself to crazy levels and blowing everything away, but, I still have fun and I saw the end; I lol’d. definitely worth my money

  7. MichaelGC says:

    the computer informs you that the pirates found valuable cargo … [it] knows this how?

    Have we ruled out the possibility that the computer is in league with the pirates?

    Once I sat back and watched a freighter attack in progress.

    You monster! The computer must have gotten to you, now!

    Once the pirates scan you, your choice is to either fight and kill them all, or quit the game

    Oh. Even the brainwashing doesn’t work.

    • Humanoid says:

      And yet 25 years ago:

      “Maintain speed and course for contraband search”

      *hits X to jettison cargo*

      “No contraband detected, you may proceed”

      *picks cargo back up with tractor beam*

      EDIT: Though to be honest, I just ignored that and fired up the afterburners immediately.

      • Decius says:

        Except that if you were on a smuggling mission the militia would start hostile and remain so even if you jettisoned.

        And running (your own) cargo was never worth the time.

        • Echo Tango says:

          Cargo running was worth it, if you made a note of a couple planets that had good prices on several items. I think it was possible to do a three-system run, where you’d go from A to B to C, and repeat, buying/selling stuff at each stop. I have vague memories of this working reasonably well with…sex robots, drugs, and…water resources? Basically, you had to find some resources that were consistently high/low at each planet, and the planets were close enough together in safe-ish space, that your laser-equipped freighter could do the runs reliably. It was roughly as expedient (IIRC) as doing fighting/rescue missions, but it was waaaaay less interesting. :)

      • John says:

        I hope you put that tractor beam in your turret like a properly clever space-captain, young man, or we, the League of People Who Insist That All Games Be Played Optimally All The Time, shall be righteously furious with you. Space-captains who waste valuable forward-facing missile launcher slots on silly thing like tractor beams are bad! Just bad, bad, bad! Don’t make us come over there and confiscate your 486.

        More seriously, afterburners are the single best–in that they save you the most aggravation–ship upgrade in Privateer. With a decent ship and power plant, you can run your afterburners indefinitely and–get this–actually run away from most other spacecraft. I love listening to the ineffectual taunts as I leave a bunch of Retros in the dust.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          At a certain point, I was able to outrun missiles. The only danger was the few seconds it took to jump at the jump-points.

          On the main issue, jettisoning and recovering cargo always made me feel like I was getting one over on the militia or the pirates. I don’t see any such benefit in NMS.

        • Humanoid says:

          And this is why the Orion is a terrible ship. Give me a Galaxy over an Orion any day. Actually, give me a Tarsus over an Orion even…

          And yes, even if you couldn’t outrun them (them being Stilettos or Salthi or whatever), afterburning in a straight line is generally enough to prevent them from taking any meaningful shots on you.

          In the interest of fairness, I probably should name my main complaints about the game. One is the auto-landing system which meant having to afterburn away from a planet/station to be able to engage enemies around it without accidentally landing. The other is having to sell one of your main cannons prior to embarking on the Delta Prime mission, or else end up having your Steltek gun mounted on a wingtip hardpoint. As if fighting Gothri in asteroid fields wasn’t pain enough (I was never able to get the asteroid afterburn trick to work reliably).

          • John says:

            Let’s not go crazy. The Orion isn’t as fast as the Centurion, I’ll admit, but it’s still much better than the Tarsus. You can use afterburners in the Orion just as effectively as you can in the Centurion. The trick, as I recall, is to not spring for the final shield upgrade, which is less of a sacrifice than you might think since the Centurion can’t mount the final shield upgrade in the first place.

            Although I last re-played Privateer about a year ago, I haven’t touched a Galaxy since sometime in 1996. You don’t need the extra cargo space for Merchants’ Guild missions and so, to the best of my recollection, the Galaxy has nothing to recommend it over the other ships, except perhaps that it is less likely to explode than the Tarsus.

            • Humanoid says:

              It’s far more expedient to take out the vast majority of enemies with a two-missile salvo, and the Orion is the one ship that can’t do that. Missiles cost money, sure, but the payback time of buying decent guns for the Orion, which is will need, plus the engine to power them, is far greater to the extent that I think the Orion will never catch up in terms of profit.

              Consequently I’m pretty confident that in a Tarsus I can down the average pirate or retro faster than I can in an Orion, which leads to completing missions faster, which leads to earning money faster.

              An Orion might win a one-on-one fight, but as an intermediate ship, the quality I value most would be which one is best for snowballing my power and resources, and I feel the Tarsus is better placed to accomplish that.

              The Galaxy is mainly used as a faster Tarsus, with afterburner speed of 750kps over 600kps. (The Orion does 800kps, close enough) Critically through, it retains the dual launcher setup that allows you to mow through missions very quickly. The extra survivability and cargo space is just a nice bonus. (Populating the extra turret you get with junk equipment is advisable because it takes potential damage away from your more critical systems too)

      • MichaelGC says:

        In my day (30 years ago) the proper procedure was to dogfight infinitely spawning GalCop Vipers until you got a ‘Right On Commander!’, which were only for ultimate badasses. Or until mother called you down for tea, whichever came first.

        At which point you’d smart-bomb the remaining Vipers and hit ‘g’ to warp to a new galaxy – none of this newfangled ‘slowly meander tords the centre’ malarkey.

  8. Rayen says:

    It’s a shame. I was looking to no mans sky to fill that X-wing shaped hole in my heart. If you can’t dogfight I honestly cant see the point of putting space combat in a game.
    I haven’t played nms so do the pirates scale with you? Like they’re faster, so you get all the speed upgrades and they are still the same amount faster than you as they were at the beginning?

  9. MarsLineman says:

    Shamus, I agree with all your points (and I enjoyed the writing/ analysis, as always). But I have to ask: if the game is a failed experiment, why did you play it for so many hours?

    Personally, at 25 hours, I still can’t stop thinking about the next time I’ll be able to play. How do you rate a game that is so compelling and unique, even as it is often tedious and/ or frustrating?

    • The Rocketeer says:

      How do you rate a game that is so compelling and unique, even as it is often tedious and/ or frustrating?

      What, like Fallout 4?

      • MarsLineman says:

        Except that Fallout 4 is hardly unique (Fallout 3, Skyrim, etc). I put my controller down after 10 hours with Fallout 4 and never looked back (loved Fallout 3/ Skyrim, etc).

        What other game is like No Man’s Sky? I was originally hoping for Privateer with world landings. This game is barely even a space sim (as Shamus points out), but I can’t stop wanting to play it.

        • Matt Downie says:

          The experience of rambling around a complex and fairly seamless landscape with persistent NPCs, controlling a hero of your own creation, collecting loot, gaining new abilities, helping or robbing or killing people as you go, isn’t one that’s available in all that many places. There are non-Bethesda games that are similar in some ways, but generally they’re missing one of the important ingredients.

          Because of this, we’re willing to put up with a lot of Bethesda nonsense.

          What would you say keeps you coming back to NMS? Interesting planets? The desire to upgrade things?

          • MarsLineman says:

            I agree about the unique appeal of Bethesda’s role-playing games. I’ve been playing them since Daggerfall. Fallout 4 to me seemed the first step backward in exploration mechanics, and I had zero interest in the settlement-building.

            But it’s interesting that you mention the Bethesda games, because before NMS, the last time I felt this free to explore in a video game was when first exiting the vault in Fallout 3. Daggerfall was a crazy kooky game even when it was released, but it was such a fun world to just poke around with (as were all the games that followed, up until Skyrim(pre-mod)).

            NMS is (to me) a genuinely interesting universe, one able to be explored at will, limited only by collectible resources. Despite its many flaws, the game has genuinely captured my imagination. I haven’t found anything comparable.

            And to be fair, I was one of those guys who spent hours bouncing around in the Mako. I love me some pretty skyboxes

        • The Rocketeer says:

          What other game is like NMS? Countless Steam Early Access survival/crafting cash-ins.

    • Shamus says:

      I REALLY loved exploring planets, and I was basically tolerating all the other mechanics just to keep doing more of that.

      • MarsLineman says:

        Thanks for the reply- that’s pretty much how I feel. And I guess I’m still holding out hope that they’ll rework and/ or massively expand some areas. Especially since (as you pointed out) the majority of development time was likely devoted to the world building algorithms, rather than the gameplay mechanics. Makes me hope they can pull a rabbit out of their sleeve after a few more months

        • Burning says:

          My reactions to this game are so strange. I’m still enjoying playing it. I feel like I actually got my money’s worth. But I will never, ever, EVER, recommend the game to anyone or defend any of the myriad boneheaded decisions the developers made.

  10. Confanity says:

    I can’t comment on the space combat – as a grad student I’m never going to spend $60 on a game – but every time someone mentions the cramped inventory system, I remember Terraria. Terraria started out with a relatively expansive inventory (and chests) capable of holding relatively large stacks of most resources, but even this increased over time with the addition of more inventory slots (and “cosmetic” inventory slots which were intended to allow you to customize your look without compromising “build,” but which can double as carrying capacity for gear and accessories) and the expansion of max stack size, in some cases up to 999 items, and the addition of “piggy bank” and “safe” chest types which essentially give you the ability to carry an entire chest’s worth of stuff in one personal-inventory slot.

    I feel like if resource-gathering is such a big and important part of No Man’s Sky, they might take a lesson from that. It would be okay to leave some space pressure, but from what everyone’s saying, they set it far to close to one end of the spectrum between “realish” and “infinite carry.”

  11. J Greely says:

    My primary annoyance with space combat is that 24 pirates can attack a freighter forever with no consequences, but if you accidentally shoot one, sentinel ships will appear and attack you. They don’t shoot at the pirates, just at you.

    For all the “lore” about how the sentinels supposedly behave, the only thing they ever attack is the player.

    -j

  12. Rich says:

    Wouldn’t whatever money they make from the game be better put towards fixing it instead of making a whole new game?

    • Syal says:

      Probably not, NMS’s reputation is already tanked. A new game is a clean-ish slate.

      • WJS says:

        Is Hello Games’ reputation that much better after NMS? If NMS gets a deep enough discount some day, I might try it out. I’m certainly not going to follow Hello Games’ next project, whatever it may be, since there’s no way to trust anything they say about it. They’ve managed to stand out even by the standards of the hype-laden gaming industry.

    • Shamus says:

      There are a couple of problems with this:

      1) Like I said at the end, the gameplay problems go right to the core. Fixing this game means making sweeping changes to the mechanics. That’s fine in an early access type game where players have already opted in to deal with bugs and occasional save-game wipes. That’s good for an engaged audience of diehard fans who frequent to forums and give lots of feedback, but won’t work for an audience of disengaged people who will only give feedback when something breaks, because they paid for a completed game and that’s still what they’re expecting.

      2) The PS4 is the “primary” platform for NMS, and consoles are not designed for Early Access. Every build needs to go through certification, which is expansive, time consuming, and defeats the purpose of doing Early Access style development in the first place. There’s a contract between Sony and Hello Games, and that contract could constrain them in countless ways. For example: I’d be very surprised if it allowed them to ignore the PS4 and focus on the PC.

      3) While every feature is broken in some way, there’s no public consensus on how the game SHOULD work. So every change will piss off a bunch of people who happened to like something that you changed. Taking a supposedly “done” AAA game and then re-designing it post-release has never been done before, and so this would generate endless controversy.

      4) The game is done selling until the first big price drop, so improving the game now isn’t going to generate much in the way of sales. (Particularly after so much negative press.) You could argue that Hello Games should do this out of the kindness of their hearts, but again, this game is distributed (and was partly funded) by Sony. What could Hello Games possibly say to Sony to get them to go along with this?

      While I’d love to see this game fixed through extensive re-design, I don’t see how it could possibly happen.

      This does make the case that new, experimental games work best as Early Access on the PC, and not flagship AAA titles. NMS and Spore needed more iteration. Minecraft was improved drastically by doing public alpha style development.

      • Kamica says:

        On point 3, wasn’t Star Wars: Galaxies completely re-designed after being released? I read a bunch of things of how it was basically turned into a themepark MMO from a Sandbox one.

        • Felblood says:

          “Teleport them into Space.”

        • matthewhoffman says:

          On the one hand, it’s more expected for MMOs to receive constant patches after launch adding new content. “Improving” the game with content that changes the tone of the game is a lot more reasonable sounding coming from that.

          On the other hand, I’m pretty sure a lot of people weren’t happy about the changes so I don’t think it really refutes the point at hand.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          As big fan of the old Star Wars: Galaxies, I was pretty immersed in the community around the time of the new game enhancements.

          I know of one person on the entire internet who was happy about NGE.

          • Benjamin Hilton says:

            Yeah, I was with Galaxies since launch, and this is exactly what I was about to say. They did in fact make sweeping changes which pretty much resulted in them shooting themselves in the foot to death. So it actually works as a perfect example as to why a post launch re-design would be a bad idea.

      • MarsLineman says:

        They’ve mentioned base-building as a possible post-release addition. If it’s actually well implemented, it could be a game-changer- a place to put your stuff would actually give a lot of this wandering/ crafting a bit more purpose. Especially if you can store different ship types (they’ve also mentioned adding player-controlled freighters).

        I guess I’m not beyond hope.

  13. Decius says:

    I still see everything as a first or second iteration of the mechanic. Planet generation and resources isn’t varied enough to need to communicate to the player what is present, so scanning never got iterated on. Space combat was waiting on ships being different, which never happened, so space combat was never iterated on. Inventory and upgrades were waiting on crafting getting figured out, so they never got iterated on. Language was a placeholder feature waiting for interactions to get figured out, so it shipped.

    NMS is a great example of what Early Access should be. It is pretty, which satisfies the people who judge at a glance based on pretty. It has an implementation of every feature in the design. And all of those features need feedback and iteration in order to be release quality.

  14. WILL says:

    I think Good Robot delivered on its promises – a simple procedural twin stick shooter. So whatever comes after Good Robot I’ll definitely buy. There was no ambiguity as to what I was buying.

    No Man’s Sky is a different matter. I know Shamus does not want to say they lied but that’s definitely what I feel happened. The game that was marketed up to release basically does not exist.

    • Syal says:

      Yeah, Good Robot had some design decisions that made it not cost-effective to play certain ways, but enemy/weapon variety and the basic mechanics were solid. The description of No Man’s Sky sounds like they played a few minutes of Wing Commander Privateer and then decided “We don’t need our system to be that fancy”.

  15. poiumty says:

    Minor correction: you CAN run away. I’ve done it a bunch of times before I got upgrades for my ship. And if you fly in a spiral towards your objective, you can even avoid some of the damage! The enemy ships will give up after two minutes or so, if you hit a planet’s atmosphere, or if you enter a space station.

    • Decius says:

      And since whenever you encounter them, you probably just left a planet or space station, you can just go right back.

    • Dork Angel says:

      Been playing NMS for days. I like just cruising around cataloging creatures and meeting Aliens and learning their language. My first chance at space combat, after several days of playing, was answering a freighter distress call. I hadn’t really set my medium-sized (26 slot) ship up for space combat (only basic shields) but hoped my fully upgraded pulse engines would let me escape if required. It was incredibly difficult and the only ship I shot down was the first one I sneak attacked. I ended up fleeing to the planet I had came from and one of the pirate ships followed me down. I found it much easier to shoot it down in the atmosphere just above the planet’s surface…

  16. Sunshine says:

    I was also hoping that Hello Games can at least use this as a base to iterate a better-playing game that builds on the promise of “there is a great game in here, somewhere”. Maybe NMS could be their Arena and they could still build on it to make their Daggerfall or Morrowind.

  17. Neurasthenic says:

    Agreed with all points. For me the game is enjoyable, but it was clearly underdeveloped.

    Two tiny corrections though:
    You can flee from pirates, but as it is with all the systems in the game, is not that great to do. Just fly away, taking a few hits, aiming for a planet. After a while, they will leave you alone. Of course, you mileage may vary.
    And your standing with the factions are checked once you talk with one of them, again, badly implemented but yeah, it’s there.

  18. Jamas Enright says:

    Have you guys seen Noah Caldwell-Gervais’ analysis of NMS? He basically comes up with ‘a game compromised by decisions’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA21NUasw5A

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Dang, that was good. It also saves me the trouble of writing down my feelings towards the game as I basically agree with his sentiments.

    • Mark says:

      I especially liked his point about how the desire to make each planet have all the resources and activities needed to prevent getting stuck, and not have terrain that was fatal to deal with… ended up smoothing the entire game out and making it less interesting, which is worse than being stranded on a desert moon or whatever. (At least that would make for an interesting story to tell people.)

      It might have been better to approach the game with a perspective of yes, the player is going to die, a lot, and find a different metagame way to preserve progression.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Without much thought,here is the simplest solution to preventing the player from constantly getting stuck on random planets:

        Remove all the inventory limitations.

        BOOM!Problem solved.No need to have everything everywhere,no need to worry about players not having enough resources to progress from any planet they find themselves on.

        • Lanthanide says:

          That doesn’t solve the problem.

          If you gather barely enough resource X to leave planet Z, and arrive on planet Y, which has no resource X whatsoever, your infinite inventory does nothing to help you leave planet Y.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            And the other side of the coin: many a player would feel the need to hoard resources (particularly after finding a deposit of something relatively rare) even to the point where they’d feel the task tedious and boring, the universal availability of resources encourages players to go explore for something more interesting as soon as they get the bare minimum required and get bored of a given location.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Thats your own fault for not planning ahead.A game should not bend over backwards to accommodate people who screw themselves over.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Not sure about the sneering snobbery of calling people’s problems with the marketing ‘myopic’. He’s coming at it from a different angle, and that’s fine, but his view gains no additional strength from the attempt to weaken other views when they’re not in direct contradiction to his own.

  19. Dragmire says:

    I imagine that “packages of nothing” are in the game to prevent players from forever looking for loot that never dropped. Not exactly the best solution to that problem.

    • Mephane says:

      But it’s essentially the worst solution to a non-problem. In most games where enemies can drop loot, it is based on some random chance anway, so it’s not like it would be some surprising novel thing that not all enemies drop any loot. Yet making you chase a container just so the game can tell you you wasted your time is simply the game trolling the player.

  20. Alex says:

    I find it interesting that if you had googled “space jousting” a few years ago, you would find geeks complaining, that George Lucas style WWII dogfighting in space isn’t “realistic” and googleing it now you find players complaining that the realisic alternative isn’t “fun”.

    • Dork Angel says:

      Welcome to the internet… ;)

    • Mephane says:

      There is no contradiction here: It may be entirely different individuals putting forth either complaint. But even if that isn’t the case here, then the point stands that one complaint is about a movie where you watch choreographed action scenes, the other is about a game where you control the ship yourself. A lot of things that work in movies aren’t fun in games and vice versa.

      There should be a name for this kind of logical fallacy…

    • WJS says:

      I haven’t played the game, but I don’t see any support for the position that NMS combat is in any way realistic compared to Star Wars. “Realistic” fighter combat is killing the other guy with a sidewinder from ten miles away, not just another flavour of shooting each other with cannons.

  21. Roger says:

    Pretty sure Noah Gervais said everything there is about the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA21NUasw5A

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