This Dumb Industry: Fixing No Man’s Sky

By Shamus
on Sep 20, 2016
Filed under:
Column

Brace yourself, because this entry is going to be a bit self-indulgent. I know the world has moved on and everyone has long since stopped caring about No Man’s Sky, but I can’t let go. This game is a mixture of the very good with very bad, and that’s a mix that I always find captivating.

This is what I said about No Man’s Sky last week:

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.

I really do think that’s true. I think this is a game with the wrong set of mechanics. This is a game where the gameplay undermines the very features that attracted people to the game in the first place. Which leads to the question: Okay Shamus. If these mechanics don’t work, then what would?

So let’s try to answer that question.

Disclaimer

Aside from all the other problems, I was obliged to turn the graphics WAY down to get a playable experience, which is why my screenshots are so bland. The serious performance issues were fixed in a patch, but I`d already taken my screenshots by then.

Aside from all the other problems, I was obliged to turn the graphics WAY down to get a playable experience, which is why my screenshots are so bland. The serious performance issues were fixed in a patch, but I`d already taken my screenshots by then.

I’ll admit I’ve already failed at coming up with gameplay systems. I am not pretending to be an expert here. I’m just another frustrated player trying to figure out where it all went wrong. The suggestions I make might not sound fun to you. I am not trying to make the One True Game that would appeal to all players. If you wanted Freespace, or Freelancer, or “Borderlands, But on Infinite Worlds”, then this isn’t going to close the gap for you.

My goal is to devise a game that would appeal to the people who just wanted an “exploration game”. A lot of people imagined all sort of games during the pre-release hype storm, but many of us just wanted some light gameplay to accompany exploration and discovery. This design is aiming to deliver on that expectation.

I encourage you to join in. Whether you agree with my approach or not, I’d like to hear your thoughts and what would have made No Man’s Sky work for you.

Some Ground Rules

  1. For the purposes of the exercise, let’s assume we’ve got the base engine of planet exploration and the same limitations with regard to budget and release date. It’s no fair to claim I’d fix the game by turning it into a big-budget story-based shooter with famous voice actors, since that’s not a route that was ever open to Hello Games.
  2. Whatever we come up with needs to work with the existing engine and server architecture. So, having the game remember harvested minerals for all players across all worlds at all times wouldn’t work, because that would require Google-scale server farms. Same goes for stuff like building Minecraft-style structures for other players to visit. That might be fun, but you can’t do that with this engine.
  3. The goal is still to make a game that would sell. Catering to some obscure audience or turning the game into an education-focused endeavor might be nice to think about, but it doesn’t really solve the problem at hand.
  4. The game still needs to be focused on the PS4. Any changes we come up with need to play well using a controller while viewing the game from the couch. This means we can’t have huge lists of text or complex controls that require a keyboard. No, I’m not happy about this either. But this is the reality that Hello Games had to live with.

To put it another way: If you could send a design doc back in time to ~18 months ago, what would that design entail?

Here is how I’d approach the problem…

Let’s Start With What Works

A fantastic new world to explore! Sadly, my pockets are full and there`s no reason to look for monuments, so I might as well get back in my spaceship and leave.

A fantastic new world to explore! Sadly, my pockets are full and there`s no reason to look for monuments, so I might as well get back in my spaceship and leave.

The exploration is great. The planets are fun, gorgeous, and interesting. For a lot of us, we were happy with this part of the game and just wanted the rest of the mechanics to facilitate this experience instead of frustrating it. We want to focus the game on exploring the surface of worlds.

The safari gameplay and the alien vocabulary mechanic are popular and dovetail nicely with this. Both of those can stay the same. Likewise, the sentinels add a modest element of danger and mystery to the game, so they won’t need to be changed.

Now we just need to get the core gameplay working:

  1. We need to give the player a reason to get out of the ship and explore on foot for some distance, other than the desire to look at the pretty scenery.
  2. We want to give them a reason to visit multiple areas on the same planet.
  3. We want to give them reasons to change planets after a while instead of hopping around the same planet forever.
  4. We want to give them a reason to change star systems.
  5. We want to give them a system of gradual progression and tangible rewards.
  6. We want to give them a long-term goal. For the purposes of this article, let’s just say that the existing goals of visiting Atlas shrines and heading for the center of the galaxy are “good enough”. Yes, they’re a little shallow. But fixing them would require a big involved document and I’m more interested in fixing the base mechanics. We can speculate on the end game all we like once the core gameplay loop is working.

We need a gameplay loop that pushes you to engage with the strongest parts of the game. It should offer both long and short-term goals. It should push you to see planets, spend some time with them, and move on

Let’s Get Rid of What Doesn’t Work

In the existing game, crafting bypass chips is both the most expedient and the least interesting way of making money.

In the existing game, crafting bypass chips is both the most expedient and the least interesting way of making money.

Obviously the first thing we do is throw away the current inventory system. It undermines everything we want the player to do. You can’t explore and gather resources if your pockets are full.

We also want to get rid of the various “busywork” based resources. In the existing game, taking off requires a bunch of plutonium, which means every planet needs to have an even coating of plutonium mining nodes so the player doesn’t ever become trapped. Space itself needs to be filled with an even distribution of asteroids so the player can get ingredients for warp fuel. Zinc and iron are used in warp fuel as well, so those also need to be ubiquitous. The player’s pockets are always filled with elements that only exist to enable them to keep moving. All of this busywork needs to be replaced with stuff that creates a sense of longer-term progression. This will also allow planets to be more unique, since all planets don’t need to have the same four elements uniformly distributed over their surface.

Without these elements, travel is effectively “free”. The player can land, take off, fly around, and otherwise explore without needing to gather anything. Perhaps they still need to somehow pay for warp fuel. I’ll leave that question open for now, since it’s complicated and might make for an interesting debate in the comments.

Don`t bother playing No Man`s Sky, because the greatest planet has already be found. No matter how far you travel or how much you explore, you will never find anything better than the planet of giant donuts.

Don`t bother playing No Man`s Sky, because the greatest planet has already be found. No matter how far you travel or how much you explore, you will never find anything better than the planet of giant donuts.

As a matter of personal taste, I’d also get rid of the real-world element names. The game mixes fictional elements (Chrysonite, Emeril, Murrine, Omegon) with real ones (Copper, Iron, Gold, Carbon) and this makes a mess of things. It’s irritating to people who know their science, and counter-educational to those who don’t. It’s like having a military shooter that uses the name of real armies, weapons, locations, and historical conflicts, but then the ranks are all confused so the army is led by a corporal who is in charge of a general who leads a “battalion” of eight sergeants and two ensigns. People are going to feel like the designer is going out of their way to annoy them. Using all fictional names would free us from the expectations of those pesky science nerds and allow us to have elements that can do whatever we like without confusing people or creating unintended expectations of science-y stuff in our pulpy videogame.

The Gameplay Loop

Very few planets have loot, such as these red cubes. But when you DO find one, the stuff is EVERYWHERE and you feel obliged to farm them for much longer than is fun.

Very few planets have loot, such as these red cubes. But when you DO find one, the stuff is EVERYWHERE and you feel obliged to farm them for much longer than is fun.

The problem with the original design of NMS is that you’d visit ten planets with no “loot”, and then you’d step out of the ship on planet #11 and find loot items scattered around like dandelions. Both cases deprive you of a reason to explore. There’s no reason to hike around the 10 “empty” planets except to gather busywork resources. On planet #11, your pockets are full of loot before you’re a hundred meters from your ship, and at that point you might as well hike back and start looking for a shop. The optimal thing to do is to fly to a trading outpost, then explore the small area around it, gathering up loot and selling it until boredom drives you away.

Let’s divide our tangible rewards into two tiers:

  1. Elements. These are raw materials that can be gathered with the mining beam.
  2. Loot. These are high-value artifacts that can be sold for money.

All planets have elements. But the nodes to mine them are rare. When you activate the scanner, instead of a vast sea of hundreds of mining node icons, you’ll rarely see more than one. They will be generally far apart. You can carry as much as you likeYes programmers, I’m sure you’d need some sanity limit on stack sizes. A stack size of just 65,535 is large enough that it won’t impact most players and won’t hurt the gameplay.. Now we have a reason for the player to climb out of the ship and walk a few kilometers. They can hike around and gather resources while scanning wildlife and looking for monuments.

Each planet has two or three different elements to gather. If the player wants other elements, they need to visit another planet. Some elements will be clustered around the shore, some in the plains, and some in the hills. This means you’ll have a reason to see different locations on the same planet, either by doing short hops in the ship, or just walking longer distances.

Monuments

This is a monumental location.

This is a monumental location.

Next are the monuments / shrines scattered around the world. These deliver exposition and teach the player new vocabulary. These also dispense our high-tier loot that can be sold for money. While element nodes are our steady reward drip, these monuments are rarer. To translate in Bethesda language: The stuff gathered off the surface is analogous to looting the corpse of a Skyrim bandit, while activating a monument is more like the treasure chest at the end of a dungeon.

However!

You’ll need a few units of two different elements to activate the monument and get your reward, and those elements are chosen at random. So maybe this monument wants 10 units of Fakeium and 15 units of Fictionite, but this planet only has nodes of Dreamix and Unrealstuffs.

So the game is less about building a massive stockpile of the most valuable elements, and more about building and maintaining a large collection of different elements. Early in the game you’ll have a hard time finding monuments you can activate because your collection will be so limited. But as the number of elements in your collection grows, more and more monuments will be open to you. This means the player will experience a sense of progression, even in our random galaxy. It doesn’t matter where you start or which way you go, the more places you visit, the easier it will be to get loot from monuments.

Now the player has a reason to pursue the “nomad” gameplay that seems to work so well with the No Man’s Sky planet generation. But let’s give them one more little nudge so they don’t get hung up for too long in the same star system: All monuments in the same star system will dispense the same type of loot artifact. Maybe all the monuments in System A will dispense MacGuffin Cubes, and all the monuments in System B will dispense Xeno Pearls. But selling an item will decrease its value in the given system. So the more Xeno Pearls you sell in System B, the less each one is worth because you’re flooding the market. Now you have a reason to move on as opposed to farming for money in a single system.

Upgrades

There`s a feature to disable the HUD, but it`s useless because you can`t bind it to a hotkey. So all of the screenshots have the HUD elements in them. Sigh.

There`s a feature to disable the HUD, but it`s useless because you can`t bind it to a hotkey. So all of the screenshots have the HUD elements in them. Sigh.

The money won’t be very interesting to the player unless we give them something to spend it on. So I suggest having them buy upgrades at space stations. Stuff like the current mining beam upgrades won’t be useful when our game has so little mining, so these upgrades should aid their mobility and survivability as they explore:

  1. Upgrade their space suit to protect against various hazards: Cold, heat, toxins, radiation. This is a lot like the existing upgrades in the game, except now they cost money instead of inventory space.
  2. Upgrade the jetpack.
  3. Give the player the ability to summon their ship while exploring on foot. As they upgrade this, it will allow them to summon the ship from farther away.
  4. Upgrade their personal shield and weapon to fend off those pesky sentinels.
  5. Upgrade their scanner to help them track down elements, monuments, and wildlife over larger distances.
  6. Give the player a scanner on their spaceship, which will allow them to see the features of a planet before they land: Number of lifeforms, what elements are present, what the weather is like, how the sentinels behave, what environmental hazards there are, and what the terrain is like. The more they upgrade this, the more information the scanner will provide. Also, upgrading will increase the scanner range, thus reducing how much flying around they need to do.
  7. While I don’t think the space combat in this game works, I suppose if we’re going to keep it then we need to allow the player to upgrade their ship’s shields and zap guns.

If we had some development time left at the end, I’d add an additional money-sink where the player could make cosmetic changes to the design of their ship, like swapping out modular parts and giving it a new paint job.

Wrapping Up

This is a surprisingly festive little ruin.

This is a surprisingly festive little ruin.

Is this a deep and interesting game? Not really. There’s not a lot of synergy or depth here. Needing two random elements to activate a monument is arbitraty and nonsensical. But the important thing is that this design is within the same basic scope as what No Man’s Sky gave us, and it fulfills the primary goal of having mechanics that encourage and reward nomadic exploration rather than frustrate it.

This game was a huge frustration, and not just because the gameplay didn’t work. The hype, the technology problems, and the indie vs. corporate politics made the whole game a sad circus of angry disappointment. And on top of that are stories like this:


Link (YouTube)

It looks like Sony was all too happy to let this indie developer run around making promises they knew he couldn’t keep. I wouldn’t blame the distributor for the sins of the developer, except they did step in when it suited them. They shut him up when it served their business interestsSuch as when he discussed the possibility of an Xbox One port. and let him run his mouth when he was over-promising the game. Sure, the developer was making outrageous promises, but Sony put his ass on prime-time television. They were happy to soak up their cut of the sales and let him take the blame for the hype storm they created. And now that fans are angry, Sony is trying to play it off like they had NO IDEA what the developer had said or what was in the game they were distributing. It was a slimy corporate move, and a sad end to an already sad story.

I was going to dedicate a column to this, but I think it’s time to move on. Next week we’ll talk about something else.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Yes programmers, I’m sure you’d need some sanity limit on stack sizes. A stack size of just 65,535 is large enough that it won’t impact most players and won’t hurt the gameplay.

[2] Such as when he discussed the possibility of an Xbox One port.



A Hundred!14114 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!

From the Archives:

  1. MichaelG says:

    WoW is still the most popular MMO around. So clearly NMS needed aliens giving out quests, like “kill 10 brontosaurus things”, in exchange for fuel.

  2. Demo says:

    The problem with making take-off free is that then there is no reason for the player to ever walk any distance, rather than simply jumping in their space ship and flying. Indeed, the more you want to incentivise the player to walk, rather than fly, the more expensive flying needs to be.

    A solution might be to have fuel spawn on every planet, but make it significantly rarer and/or out of the way. For example, if it always spawned in fairly large pockets deep in caves the player would have to make a somewhat dangerous journey through terrain that is visually distinct from the wandering over the surface that occupies the rest of the game.

    On the other hand, there really isn’t any need for the pulse engines to use fuel and making running out of fuel in the middle of space not waste an hour of your time holding forward necessitates the uniform distribution of fuel asteroids which make space look butt ugly.

    • Daimbert says:

      If you can only land in relatively open areas, and the resources are often in areas that aren’t as open, then that would be a big disincentive to just fly everywhere. Even if starting from the standard landing zone would require you to walk for just a short distance until the next open area, it would generally be easier to keep going than it would be to return to the ship, fly over, and then walk into the next tighter area. And once people get used to walking around, they’ll likely just keep doing it.

      • Syal says:

        That’s how Final Fantasy does it, and while they aren’t procedural I think it would still work. You just need to make sure there are enough unlandable surfaces for it to come up regularly.

        Then you make a bunch of upgrades for the ship so it can land in more complex environments; buoyancy lets you land in bogs or water, heat resistance in lava, grappling hooks for jagged surfaces, antifreeze so you can land on glaciers without your ship getting stuck to the surface like you’re licking a lamppost.

    • AR+ says:

      That got me thinking, why not just run with it and facilitate that style of movement by just never having the ship fully land. Instead, you just step off and it takes off to start to circling in the airspace above you on its own. (The first self-driving cars are starting to be deployed and commercial airliners are already mostly self-flying, which means we are approaching the point in history where having a futuristic sci-fi ship that can’t do that means making it less capable than real-world analogs.)

      Then, when you want to leave, tell it to land. But then I realized that this would actually have the opposite effect of making the player fly around more. Instead, I think it would make them walk even greater distances, because it effectively cuts the time cost of walking in half: you never have to walk back to your ship through terrain you have already explored.

      This would also let the ship weapons be used outside of the terrible space combat, if you have upgrades that let if provide close air support.

      • Lanthanide says:

        “Instead, I think it would make them walk even greater distances, because it effectively cuts the time cost of walking in half: you never have to walk back to your ship through terrain you have already explored.”

        Yeah, that’s probably the penalty in NMS that prevents me from going very far from my ship most of the time. Having to spend all that time going back, when I’ve already seen everything interesting and gotten all the loot.

        If you could call your ship down, I think I’d be much more likely to go on long walks in random directions.

      • I Majikkani_Hand says:

        I haven’t played the game, but I know from my experience with other games that I would love this “call down the ship” solution. Part of the annoyance of any exploration game (or any game where I’ve decided to explore) is the “shit, now how do I find my way back” and I’d love being able to head off in any direction I please, knowing I could walk for two hours and still leave whenever I wanted. It would definitely incentivize walking for me, especially if I had a jet-pack as well!

        • mechaninja says:

          In this latest expansion, WoW let’s you pick up a whistle early on. The whistle calls a mount that takes you back to the nearest fast travel point.

          Suddenly the fact they don’t want us to fly ourselves (not yet, anyway) is less offensive. Especially once you get to the level cap again, running deep into enemy territory and then having to run back out is nightmarishly annoying, for exactly the reason you said. They have also experimented with e.g. having the quest giver come with you (and they still do that sometimes), but this seems like a much better solution.

          I should probably add that I play rogue, so running out is way less annoying for me than it is for other classes.

        • Mephane says:

          I mentioned Elite Dangerous already below, but it fits here, too:

          When you exit your ship (you just drive a buggy instead of walking) and move too far away from it, it automatically launches into orbit to wait for when it is needed again (you can also manually send it back immediately if you fancy). You can recall it at any time, it just takes a moment to return, you may have to drive a bit depending on where the computer finds a landing spot, but overall we are talking of a process of maybe 2 minutes from the moment you decide you want to fly off the planet and when you are back in the ship.

          So there is really no penalty for just driving off into the distance. Plus, unlike NMS, you don’t have to enter+exit the ship to save your progress, it happens on-fly. When you take a break, you just exit the game whereever you are and continue from there when you come back.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Destiny is really great for letting your “I want to leave and fly back to outer space right now” button ALWAYS work. In a cave three levels below the surface? That’s fine. In the middle of a Raid? Also fine. You just landed but forgot to go to the bathroom before you left? It’s all good dude.

    • Andrew Blank says:

      I think the solution to the issue of people just flying 100 feet is to simply make it less palatable.

      The first thing to do is make overland travel better, make your character faster, maybe even add a vehicle like a rover that they can drive around. Make these systems as easy and fast to use as possible. The ship should take a few seconds to get into and a few more to start up and a few more to take off so that just hopping in your buggy seems more appealing.

      Make it easier to explore on the ground than in a ship. I think the best way to go about this is make certain areas accessible by foot but not by ship. You mention caves which is good but what about forests or mountains? You shouldn’t really be able to land your ship on a forest or a steep hill side anyway.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I agree, if you’re going to increase walking distances, you can’t make takeoff free unless you invent some other limit for the ship’s intraplanetary travel. I’m not sure how to fix that problem, because fuel everywhere is silly and should go away, but it’s really hard to limit an infinite fuel ship without being unsatisfying.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        So make both kinds (maneuvering and jump) of fuel buyable, and make sure the ship tanks are big enough to hold plenty, but not a lot-lot. At least not until players have a chance to spend money on upgrading tanks. Then we can add “progression” by having “learn how to make your own [jump,maneuvering] fuel” as a discoverable or trainable skill (as I believe it is now) but maybe it comes LATER, and is mostly useful for helping someone dig out of a cash-poor situation

      • Munkki says:

        Well, you could always pull the trick sci-fi writers starting about half a century ago did when they were trying to recall the age of sail in space and make the infinite-fuel space ship work really well at orbiting and de-orbiting, but not at all well for overland travel.

    • Mephane says:

      Elite Dangerous solves this very problem by making it so you must leave the ship (you drive a buggy instead of walking, but it is essentially the same thing) to find things like meteorites, only the buggy’s scanner picks them up. The rarer artificial objects – salvage, mining stations, crash sites etc. can be seen only as huge circle on the ship radar (the buggy’s scanner can home into them just the way it does for natural objects), but you can actually fly around at low height and try to eyeball the things and land right next to them. Thus depending on what you are looking forward, both approaches – driving around and flying around, can be a viable approach.

    • nobb says:

      What about some time limit before you can take off again? something not too annoying but long enough so you don’t bunny hop? being able to call the ship would also add a lot to walking.

      • Rack says:

        That was my idea too. Maybe have a system where the ship needs to stop moving to recharge its magicium batteries before it can do any more interplanetary flight.

    • Disc says:

      Make it so you can only fuel at a proper station and/or that you can only process mats for fuel at special refineries for a money cost. Additionally you could make fuel something you can just order in a pitch. Like you pay cash, then a drone ship with fuel appears in the orbit of the planet you’re at and then you can refuel. The cost would be whatever makes sense. Let’s say it comes from the nearest space station, there’s a flat fee and it calculates an additional cost depending on your distance from the station.

      The cheapest way to get fuel would be at space or specific fuel stations. Ship upgrades would make your ship more fuel efficient and maybe mid-to-late game even give you the ability to process your own fuel (massive money investment obviously).

      Ideally I’d see it implemented in a way that wouldn’t limit the exploration too much but make it so that it’ll make you think what choices to make in regards to fuel and your economy.

      • Richard says:

        Making fuel have a “cost” and being able to (even theoretically) run out encourages some types of player to avoid ever using any in case they run out and get stuck somewhere.

        In an infinite-exploration game, having any genuine risk of becoming stuck – no fuel and no money, perhaps despite having huge amounts of everything else – means that quite a few players will get stuck and have to start over, and – perhaps worse – a lot of players will be extremely conservative and stockpile way more fuel and money than is “fun” to make sure that it never happens to them.

        Perhaps a better approach might be that your ship slowly refuels itself over time when ‘parked’, and you can buy/make fuel to instantly fill it if you don’t want to wait.

        Though you could still end up stuck somewhere dangerous for longer than you can survive there.

        • Lanthanide says:

          “Perhaps a better approach might be that your ship slowly refuels itself over time when ‘parked’, and you can buy/make fuel to instantly fill it if you don’t want to wait.”

          Overheating would seem to be a sensible mechanic here. Park your ship and it will cool down. Some locations could make it cool down faster perhaps. If you don’t want to wait for it to cool, you can spend your magical cooling resource.

          You could extend the concept further, by making longer trips produce more heat, and hence a longer cooldown. Not sure if that’s desirable or not; it might encourage bunny-hopping (unless you tune it so there’s a fairly high minimum heat, and an exponential increase in heat for very long trips, so that the optimal flying duration is on the order of 1 minute).

        • Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

          How about if you got stuck, with no way to pay for fuel at all, then you get debt to whatever faction gave you the fuel.

          Then if you don’t pay it back, they become more hostile with you until they don’t help you again and then shoot on sight. Or instead they begin to send the Sentinals to fight you, or to try and arrest you or something.

          If you still don’t have any money, then maybe you have to go to a jail type thing and serve out a sentence or something until you are free, and maybe have your awesome upgraded ship confiscated and a slightly worse ship given to you instead, or a ship of whatever value debt you owe them.

      • Philadelphus says:

        Yeah, have it something like FTL (except a bit less random) where when you run out of fuel something shows up to offer some for sale, either with money (a better deal, but a bit more expensive than buying it at a station) or in exchange for some of the resources this particular planet has in abundance (slightly worse deal). Then the player is never truly trapped, they just might need to invest some time harvesting resources if they’re out of money.

    • Daniel says:

      This has a really simple answer: Unskippable cut scenes for takeoff and landing.

      Make them long enough to discourage hopping in and out of the ship. Easy to implement, and sure to annoy your fan base!

      • Syal says:

        Ooh, you could have an elaborate checklist the ship goes through before takeoff, to roughly the same pace as Space Oddity! Make taking off a really big deal.

        I don’t know how much combat we’ve got here, but it could be a way to stop people from just fleeing ground fights too; you’ve got like a minute of charge-up so you’d better have the durability for it.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      I haven’t played the game, but I’ll take a stab at a solution:

      This is a science fiction setting, so let’s equip the ship with an electrically-powered propulsion mechanism that can be used to break free from a planet’s gravity (such as a focused electromagnetic field, or go full hand-wave with “antigrav”, etc.). Now, instead of needing traditional rocket fuel, the ship can use a renewable source of electric power, such as a solar array. The catch is that after making planetfall, the ship has to sit for a period of time to collect enough energy for liftoff. It doesn’t have to be an incredibly long time, just sufficiently long enough to prevent “hopping” to explore the planet. Now you have a motivation to explore on foot, without the possibility of truly stranding the player.

      This electrical lift doesn’t even have to be a primary system, but could be a backup to a more traditional fuel-based engine. That way, if a player has enough fuel, they don’t have to wait for the “solar timer” before taking off, or they can choose to conserve fuel and just wait for the backup system to charge up.

      If you do include a traditional fuel engine though, let’s try to avoid Shamus’ problem of having the same fuel resource on every planet. First, that’s not completely necessary in this case, because if the player didn’t bring down enough fuel, and can’t find any on the planet, there is always the electric drive to fall back on. But still you would expect there to be fuel available on a significant number of worlds, which can still get repetitive. So what we do is make an engine that rather than being dependent upon one type of fuel, is capable of processing a wide range of substances (sort of a “Mr. Fusion” from Back to the Future). That way, if a planet has any one of a broad category of materials, it can support a fueled liftoff.

      I think this combined solution should address the issues presented. Having either a fuel cost or a wait timer would encourage using other means of transportation to explore a planet’s surface; having both provides options. Fueled liftoff gives the flexibility to plan ahead and avoid a wait timer, while the timed liftoff gives an option to conserve fuel, and a way to get off the planet if no fuel is available. The timer option also means that not every planet needs an abundance of fuel, and being able to process multiple materials as fuel also allows for greater variety in materials to be found, and so can also contribute to Shamus’ idea of collecting different materials (“I can use up the last of my Gasium to fuel this trip, but I may need that later, so I’ll use a bit of the Dieselex instead”).

      I don’t know if it’s possible in the game’s engine and existing framework, but different materials could even be given different properties when used as fuel: some may be more efficient in terms of distance per unit of volume, some may be more abundant and easier to find but overall less desirable, some might offer greatly increased speed but would be used up at a faster rate, etc. This would give more meaning to any choices regarding which material to use as fuel, or when to conserve the fuel and just rely on the secondary lift system.

      Anyway, that’s my $0.02 (if it’s worth even that).

      • Richard says:

        I like this idea, but I think we could easily do away with the “traditional fuel system” altogether. The traditional fuel goes back to the root problem of needing system resources to fuel your ship. As you mentioned, there are a number of workarounds and ways of making this more palatable, but it feels like you’re just treating the symptom, not the problem.

        Instead, give the ship a battery system, and make sure the take-off cost is only a portion of that battery capacity. For example, if take-off costs 10% of your battery, and the solar cells recharge 1% of your battery every 6 minutes, then you need to spend an average of 60 minutes on each planet. The joy of this system, however, is that you get to decide which planets are the ones worth spending more time on. If the average player found every 5th planet enticing enough to spend 4 hours on, then they would only need to spend 15 minutes on the other 4 planets.

        These numbers obviously need some serious play-testing and tweaking, but I think it could play very well to the game philosophy of “spend more time exploring planets” while avoiding the pitfall of a spaceship taxi service. It also means that not all planets need to have fuel resources, without forcing the player to wait long periods of time before they can escape. Thanks for the $0.01, by the way. Hopefully, my thoughts were worth it.

      • Urthman says:

        Actually solar power could really fix the resource problem. If your ship has a “backup” solar array, then running out of resources has a penalty — you have to wait a while for your ship to recharge the solar-powered battery — but you could never get completely stuck.

        I also like the idea of being able to call for help and buy resources from aliens, possibly going into debt if necessary.

        With one or both of those mechanics, you could let the player cope with more random distributions of resources.

        • WJS says:

          Some kind of exotic sci-fi reactor would probably be better than solar for the same reason we’re going to fictional elements – if you call your emergency backup “Solar”, there will be some people who will ask how it can provide enough power to attain orbit in minutes rather than centuries.

    • Zaxares says:

      I haven’t played NMS, but what if the best/rarest materials were only ever located in places your ship couldn’t reach? (i.e. at the bottom of lakes/oceans, inside cramped caverns, and other places that necessitated foot exploration). That would make it more or less compulsory to exit your ship if you wanted the best loot.

  3. MichaelGC says:

    Brace yourself, because this entry is going to be a bit self-indulgent.

    Right, but I suspect in general we’re here because we’re interested in Stuff You Reckon. So that’s going to be a win-win! (Personally I’m glad this game has continued to engage despite the disappointments. I’ve not played it and likely won’t, but it’s been fascinating stuff.)

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Don`t bother playing No Man`s Sky, because the greatest planet has already be found. No matter how far you travel or how much you explore, you will never find anything better than the planet of giant donuts.

    How about a planet that IS a giant donut?

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Give the player the ability to summon their ship while exploring on foot. As they upgrade this, it will allow them to summon the ship from farther away.

    A better solution is that instead of distance,its speed that needs upgrading.So you can call your ship from anywhere on the planet,but it will fly at normal speed initially,and almost instantly appear where you call it once you max out the perk/skill/whatever.

  6. Erik says:

    I dont know. Running into a shrine, and not being able to activate it because I would lack the randomly selected elements just sounds incredibly frustrating to me.

    Even if you’d be able to get a wide selection of elements later, i’d still be fighting the urge to backtrack and get the shrines I couldn’t activate before.

    • Warclam says:

      I agree there. Maybe there are different levels of activation? If you feed it a little of just anything you get your basic reward, but if you feed it what it wants you get better loot?

    • MrG says:

      A possible riff on this – rather than “lootz,” have the shrines contain “artifacts,” which are tech from “teh aincentz.” You can scan the artifact, learn how it works, and obtain a recipe for creating the upgrade. The recipe would require many different random elements.

      Now, instead of “find elements to activate shrines to get loot to buy upgrade,” we have “find shrines to get recipes, then find elements so you can make use of them.”

      Possible riff on this is have crafting skill be “a thing” – for each raw element, you need to learn to refine it into progressively purer forms, learn how to shape it, learn how to crystalize it, learn how to cut it, etc. While you’re learning, you’ll waste a lot of the base element, so if your recipe calls for precisely machined parts made of 100% pure adamantium, you might need to find a LOT of adamantium to practice on.

      If upgrades have to be crafted, make crafting a “thing.” Heck, make crafting equipment itself craftable.

      The nice thing with the “recipe” thing is you can see what you’re investing towards. “OK, I have a recipe that makes it possible to fly my jetpack into orbit around small planets and asteroids. Hell yeah! But I need a lot of mysterium, and to get it to 100% pure I’m going to have to invest in a Class III refining station….

      • Chauzuvoy says:

        I think this works a lot better. It means you’re always rewarded for your exploration with something, even if you can’t use it right now. Shamus’ idea of activating the shrines with randomite and fictonium means that especially early on when you’re trying to sell new players a lot of their wandering around (and wandering around is going to be less systemically-engaging without having lots of resources everywhere to look at and harvest or choose not to harvest), a lot of the rewards for exploring are going to be “Here’s some nothing, go explore more and maybe you’ll get something later on. Which if you’ve spent a half-hour wandering a planet in search of the place could be really disheartening.

        I think that’s where the crafting system is supposed to come into play, actually. It simultaneously rewards you for exploring with new recipes and the promise of cool stuff while encouraging you to keep exploring in order to get the rare resources you need to actually take advantage of the cool stuff. If the crafting and upgrades weren’t tied to the broken and frustrating inventory, it’d be a really great mechanic for encouraging exploration.

      • Tektotherriggen says:

        Depending on how many shrines you expect a player to visit in total, the list of recipes may need to be bulked out a bit. Easily done:

        1) Some recipes come in parts, and you need all parts of the recipe (from different shrines, perhaps on the same planet?) to make it.

        2) Some/many recipes are only cosmetic, or for trading. Perhaps crafting your own paint is a bit dumb in this game, but perhaps the procedural generation system could randomly cough up a pretty geometric sculpture. You can craft them, and then keep them in a display cabinet in your ship.

        3) Have many different kinds of machine you can craft. E.g. perhaps each device is a scanner upgrade that finds just one or two elements; or a transmutation reactor that converts one particular element into another particular one. At first these would be barely useful; but over time the player would build a web of paths for turning elements into other ones, and they’d be very likely to have a special scanner for at least one of their feedstock elements. Late-game crafting then becomes a bit less dependent on finding one particular type of planet.

      • WJS says:

        I dunno. Is it really that bad to have to backtrack a little? We note paths that are blocked to us at present all the time in Metroidvania games, and coming back and opening them is always pretty rewarding.

        Also, Shamus specifically called against “collecting a lot of a super-rare material” as a goal, although that was for the unlocking idea rather than the blueprint idea. This certainly doesn’t feel like a game where you are going to be backtracking right up to the endgame, like the aforementioned Metroidvania games. That would get old. Saving up for a high-end craft, on the other hand, could be acceptable if you don’t push it too far.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ive mentioned this already,but the easiest way to fix most of no mans sky is:Unlimited* inventory.Then you can simply remove the uniformity of the planets by simply spreading all the resources randomly.If the player gets stuck,it will be usually their fault for not planning in advance.Of course,youd have to seed the starting planet with the necessary resources,and maybe some shops,but everything else couldve been random as hell.

    The second way would be to translate starbound into 3d(so put the starbound mechanics into minecraft).It wouldnt be as pretty,but it would definitely be more enjoyable.

    Third way would be to keep the promise for the multiplayer.Make it so that you can enter a seed(or coordinates,or something like that)so that two players can start on the same world and work together(or against each other if they wish).Because even the shittiest game is thousand times more fun when playing it with friends.Just ask battlespire.

    *Not really unlimited,but a really big number.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    They shut him up when it served their business interests[2] and let him run his mouth when he was over-promising the game.

    To me,this isnt a problem.The publisher doesnt need to know everything about the game as the developer.Where they plan to distribute it,sure the publisher should know that,because its mostly their decision.But whether feature XYZ will be in the game,depending on the contract,the developer can be as open about it as they wish.

    The problem is in that contract however.If sony made a deal to handle PR,and then say “they had no PR”,that means they did not hold up their end of the bargain.I mean yes,the developer couldve given false info to the PR people,but it still shouldve been them that handled the press.The least they couldve done is coach the developers not to say stupid things.Or to lie better.

  9. Kelhim says:

    The need for two different minerals to activate a monument could be easily explained if, additionally, these minerals weren’t present in the current star system, but had to be obtained in another star system – clearly, one of the alien races or some ancient race wanted to seal the monument and only grant access to those who are developed and civilised enough to travel through space.

    This could also tie in with an overarching story.

    • Mephane says:

      This makes a lot of sense actually. Maybe some smaller, low-tier monuments would merely require two elements found on a different planet in the same systems, the big ones require you to actually go interstellar.

    • Rodyle says:

      Maybe some monuments require other (lower tier) artifacts to be unlocked. For example: maybe it’s power core is broken, so it requires a new one, which can be obtained from other monuments.

  10. I’m not sure if I would lose the inventory entirely. It’s clearly way too small, and upgrades should not take space, and more things should stack, but some inventory pressure can be good (it works for minecraft to encourage you to come back to base every so often).

    Perhaps the ship would have unlimited inventory (or easily and greatly expandable inventory) but the player does not. Or has some reason to send things back to the ship. Maybe the ship is where you can process some resources into better ones. It could happen automatically over time as you are walking around.

  11. nobb says:

    Shamus, did you try playing around with mods ? I think a lot of your proposition could or have already been implemented.

  12. Rodyle says:

    What I think also would’ve helped: allowing you to do multiple things. I mean, we have this huge sandbox world type thingy. Why would we want to give our players only one goal? Like, what’s the use of a sandbox when you have a pretty linear “story” quest?

    Maybe it’d be fun to create marketplaces, which are linked to the server stuff. They could create artificial needs and wants, allowing players to play the market. On the other hand, since we have all these planets as well, perhaps it’d be possible to create stuff from the huge amounts of resources people can mine. These could be placed on the market too. At least in that way, you’re using the existing server, as well as create interplay between different systems: people could do cargo runs (perhaps with increasingly large ships), transferring cargo created by other players from one system to another.

    EDIT: While I’m at it: screw back the amount of planets, systems etc. Yeah, it’s very nice, but it’s too much. Either that, or make people start out at certain locations, so that they’re liable to run into stuff by others unless they really try and explore deeply into the unknown.

    EDIT 2: Also: don’t make every system have stations around them. In fact: make them scarce outside of a number of habited adjacent systems and stuff. That way, players either need to be self-reliant when attempting to make headway into the unknown systems, or prepare for a journey back and forth, hoping to find a way-station somewhere in the middle of no-where from where to continue their exploration.

  13. Pax says:

    I would just make the fuel and warp fuel something you buy on stations or planet-side bases. Or maybe warp fuel would only be available on stations. It would serve as a money sink and an incentive to eventually leave the planet.

    The question is, what do you do when you’re out somewhere and you run out of gas? Well, maybe you have a reserve that only has enough fuel to get back the station. Add in some mumbo jumbo about having your ship’s computer automatically calculate how much you need and keeps some set aside. Or maybe you have a specific reserve tank that if you have to use, costs extra to refill. Or perhaps you have to call Space AAA (Astronaut’s AtomicRocket Association?) and they send out a ship to refuel you, again for more $$$ (or resources gathered from the planet if you’re broke. Either of those last two’s cost could serve as a penalty if you don’t plan ahead in regards to your fuel needs.

  14. Neil D says:

    Some aspects of what I read about this game reminds me of the old game Starflight. It’s been ages since I’ve played that, but I remember finding it thoroughly enjoyable. Do you think there are any lessons they could have picked up from there?

    • Veylon says:

      The most obvious one would be the inventory system. Starflight measured things in cubic meters. You had so many cubic meters of crap that you could cram into your cargo pods. So if you were full up but came across some artifact that you wanted that took up 0.2 m3, you could dump 0.2 m3 from one of your stacks of minerals to make room for it instead of the whole stack. Similarly, if you found twenty different artifacts of this same size, they would only take up 4.0 m3 rather than half your inventory slots.

      If they were really set on having inventory slots, they could’ve bundled up the smaller items into a separate inventory that gradually ate up the main inventory. Like, for every thirty small items (keys, gemstones, computer chips, quest items) this secondary inventory takes up a slot on the primary inventory. That puts some pressure on the player to avoid clutter without being ridiculous.

  15. Loonyyy says:

    What I kind of wish had happened was that the aliens had more depth. I think having decent trade, and some depth to the interactions would make the language system far more worthwhile. It’d also add in some reason to make a choice between moving on and staying in the same place-where you’ve explored thoroughly, you know the language, and the people.

    Also, I really wish the restrictions were less arbitrary. If you could use your ship for mining on planets, or the system was designed to work together. If you can blast rocks in space, you should be able to do it on planets, in the same way.

    I think the big question is still “What do you do?”. Obviously, you explore, you do shallow mining and crafting like a million dime a dozen survival games that have filled your steam library and egregiously wasted your time. But that’s not a goal, or something you can direct yourself over.

    • Rodyle says:

      > I think the big question is still “What do you do?”. Obviously, you explore, you do shallow mining and crafting like a million dime a dozen survival games that have filled your steam library and egregiously wasted your time. But that’s not a goal, or something you can direct yourself over.

      To be fair: not all games need a direct goal. Minecraft was just as good a game when the Ender Dragon wasn’t there, perhaps even better, since it has no place in the game at all. These sandbox survivalist exploration-type games are more about giving you a huge world and to allow you to set challenges or goals for yourself.

      • Geebs says:

        The one aspect of NMS’ gameplay that really works is the Nomad Simulator thing. I actually thought it did really well as casting the player as somebody who is never really attached to one place and always blasting off to see the next thing.

        I still think there’s a lot of potential in this sort of game. If they’d not made the mistake of having bases and pods show up all over the place, I’d take a nice dose of virtual loneliness over any amount Space Trucking.

  16. Rodyle says:

    Shamus, you’ve missed one, by the by: a proper map screen. You need to be able to see where you’ve been at the very least, and add some notes to a planet on what you’ve found where or what you still need to do there.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Yeah, the game does make you feel like the universes worst explorer.

      I found a thing!

      Where?

      Who cares I found another thing!

      Um….

    • Echo Tango says:

      I’d want maps and notes per planet, but also per star system. Plus, an ability to quickly set up a route from planet A to planet B. Right now, you just wander aimlessly, without the tools to go back where you’ve been. :S

      • MrG says:

        I’d also like the ability to catalog and search through my list of planets. You know, like an explorer would.

        Hey, I just realized I need some unobtanium. Have I encountered that anywhere before? If I have, how far away is it? Give me some incentive to think through “do I want to circle back to where I know it is? Or keep moving on and hope I get lucky?

    • Tektotherriggen says:

      I haven’t played the game, so this may be rubbish but: allow players the choice between being in the full MMO version of the world (where you can see all the planets that other people have named after their intimate organs); and a friends-only network. The latter lets you share maps and planet/species names with friends, and maybe trade resources. I suppose that “full” real-time multiplayer is out of the question, but asynchronous trading could still be fun – I send you money wirelessly, and you drop the goods off at the nearest space station for me to pick up.

      And, of course, there would be offline-only single player.

    • Mark says:

      Going back to any planet you’ve been to before seems against the spirit of the game, though. You’re not really a nomad if you keep going back between Lave and Eta Cassiopeia selling spices on one planet to buy computer parts and selling computer parts to the other planet to buy spices. You weren’t able to open the monolith? In the rear view mirror and gone, baby. There’ll be another one.

  17. vdeogmer says:

    I like seeing the HUD in screenshots, am I the only one?

  18. Jack V says:

    Yeah, I’d like that version.

    Focus developer and player time and attention on the bits that are fun! Skim over everything else fairly quickly.

    I don’t mind stupid which is incidental and passing. I hate it when I have to plow head-on through it

  19. Decius says:

    I wouldn’t eliminate finite inventory.

    I’d make each element, artifact, and trade good have its own maximum capacity. Start is at 100 suit inventory and 1k ship inventory for each element, and have suit inventory capacity be upgraded with cash while ship inventory is upgraded with an upgrade slot (of which more expensive ships have more), and crafting. Bam: the incentive is to get everything on a planet you can hold, then go find a planet that has stuff that you aren’t full of already.

    Differentiate multi tools, so that there’s a reason to look at something besides “does this one have more slots or an upgrade that I can’t make myself”? Ideally, do that with ships as well.

    Make /landing/ outside of landing pads cost fuel, and make fuel available in every space station. Eliminate jump fuel and t9, make asteroid fields their own area than needs to be travelled to (and appears on system scans).

  20. Darren says:

    Here’s an idea: why not give the player a robotic drone “pet” to help out like in Torchlight? It can carry extra stuff for the player and be sent off to sell stuff at shops and pick up essentials while the player goes about their business. The drone could be upgraded over time, providing an extra avenue of goals to pursue. Robotic drones are already in the game, so it’s really just a matter of reskinning a sentinel and changing its AI.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,I dont know if you are aware,but you have a new spambot on the forum:

    Great news everybody!

    New updated XRumer 12 recognize and break ReCaptcha again,
    during automatic registering and posting:

    Interested? :)

    Just Google for the latest subversion of XRumer 12! ;)

  22. Greg says:

    My thoughts:

    – Planets should become MUCH more varied and resources should be rarer and not found on every planet scattered uniformly across the surface.

    – Inventories dramatically increased in size but not unlimited. Objects should stack as well as resources. Suit inventory should be fairly small but ship inventory could be large.

    – Take off from a planet should be free or very cheap BUT leaving a planets atmosphere should come at a cost. This means once you have fixed your crashed ship on the first planet you must first travel further than you would want to walk over the planet in search of the rarer resources which you can then use to leave the atmosphere.

    – Once you have left the first planets atmosphere you are then free to travel anywhere in that system for free, but once you land on another planet you must pay the toll to leave again. (I’m almost tempted to suggest the toll would be a percentage of ALL your lower tier resources)

    – Once in space you would come across the remains of your MOTHERSHIP which has been attacked by pirates after you crash landed. You must now travel to the other planets in the system to put together enough medium or rare resources to fix the mothership enough so it is capable of travel between star systems.

    – Travel between systems is only possible by docking with the mothership and paying some sort of toll (maybe a percentage of your medium and common resources). The mothership acts as a permanent upgradable and customisable base in all systems and has an unlimited inventory.

    – The game then becomes about upgrading your suit, ship and mothership to all become more capable. Upgrades should be made with money and or resources. It is required to upgrade things to be able to visit more hostile worlds and to collect rarer resources. Eventually you could add extra docking bays to the mothership so you could have multiple ships (when you are not using them they could “collect” resources for you. There could even be a further level of vessel which can be loaded into your normal ship and used for easier terrain based travel.

    • evilmrhenry says:

      I like this. Having a mothership allows for Minecraft-eque base building mechanics without having the same ties to a planet that regular base building would, so you can have a base while being a nomad.

      • WJS says:

        But for god’s sake lose the idea of travel costing all your resources! Make initially repairing the thing require a range of stuff, sure, but not the simple act of traveling!

  23. MadTinkerer says:

    “I’ll admit I’ve already failed at coming up with gameplay systems. I am not pretending to be an expert here”

    But that does make you an expert. You don’t learn from success, you learn from failure. It’s best to try to learn from other peoples’ failures, but you learn much more from your own.

    • Phantos says:

      I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say you don’t learn from success. I don’t even think it’s necessarily easier to take away the wrong lessons from success. Because(and this is especially true in the video games industry) we’ve all seen people and corporations that fail constantly, and yet never seem to learn their lesson. Making a bad game doesn’t always lead to making a good game later. Sometimes it just leads to more bad games.

      Just think of how many, erm… “learning opportunities” companies like Sega or EA have had. Sometimes failure follows someone* like it’s their shadow.

      *-Gettin’ a little autobiographical here…

  24. Ok, not actually played NMS, but here are my stab-in-the-dark suggestions for how perhaps it could have been a better game:

    1) Start off in space. Have the ship’s computer give a short list of locations that are within current range (3-4 planets, stations, etc.) with a little info on each, and allow the player to choose which they want to visit first. The notional up-side would be that it would be less likely for the player to be “stuck” at this early stage unless they’re truly staggeringly unlucky and/or silly. Also, I suspect the first planet-fall experience would be pretty special. Don’t be afraid to let players get stuck, but do allow players to understand that it was their choices that caused it, not just the game screwing them because lol!random. I really like the idea of a Space-AAA that’ll come and rescue you – for a price, mind.

    2) More diversity in ship types, including a clear difference between space-only and space-and-atmos capable craft. Regarding inventory, I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable for a nippy Scimitar-class fighter (yes, shamelessly making the names up) to not hold as much Stuffs as the Gigantihuge Freight Hauler, but inventories do sound like they need to be *much* larger than presently. Also, have the option of parking smaller craft inside larger ones. Maybe I park my space-only Gigantihuge Freighter in orbit around the planet PerlinNoise Beta, then drop down to the surface in a space/atmos-capable Skimmer to do some mining, collecting and cataloging. Let’s also say the freighter has a transport beam that can hoover up Stuffs I’ve found, but maybe it can’t cope with organics, or it needs to be upgraded to do so or to accept more Stuffs in one go.

    3) As someone else has already said, improve mapping/path-finding/route selection/etc. If you’re flying a space ship (or pretty much anything, really), navigation is one of the first things you’d want to sort out. The current lack of mapping sounds horrid.

    4) More depth/sense regarding the alien species – the language-learning thing sounds great in theory but pretty rubbish in practise. Let players guess at words and have a more logical progression from simple to more complex concepts if possible. I really like the suggestion further up that monuments provide blueprints for Cool Stuff – might be interesting if said Cool Stuff could be tied in to the alien races somehow – maybe one race is predominantly associated with weaponry and speed upgrades, another tends to offer mining/exploration aids, the third is best known for ship capacity upgrades and defensive items? Perhaps a certain level in each species’ language is also needed to decipher the blueprint? Proficiency in their language and perhaps a fondness for their tech should grant bonuses/discounts when dealing with a particular race.

    5) Some reason for the Sentinels to be there other than For Players To Shoot.

    Other things I agree with – Dial back the ridiculous number of planets. Elite learned this lesson years ago: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=2ZVngOztijMC&pg=PA150&lpg=PA150#v=onepage&q&f=false If the engine allows, use any extra elbow room granted by having fewer planets to make more types of planet. Right now, sounds like you can land on anything and find broadly the same terrain, critters, vegetation, etc., pretty much? Are there any completely inhospitable planets (ie nothing but lava and volcanoes, or gas giants, or barren balls of ice), or planets that have extensive ruins? And maybe tweak the critter AIs to be more interesting.

  25. Ben Deutsch says:

    I haven’t played No Man’s Sky, but here’s my take on space combat:

    Make space combat much less reliant on player skill. Your ship has shields and lasers (which travel in a straight line at the speed of light, as they do) which automatically target and hit pirates in a large cone, i.e. if you can see it on screen, your ship will hit it for you if you wish. It’s an exploration game, all that should be required is the decision whether to fight, and whom. Your ship’s combat strength (damage, shields, speed) depends on ship upgrades.

    When you fly through space, you have a random chance to be attacked by space pirates. This chance can be different per system, or just a flat 25%, or whatever. The pirate’s combat strength (damage, shields, speed, and number of enemies) depends solely on the value of cargo that you’re carrying. This adds a player decision mechanic: do I try to fly with a full hold, and risk a strong pirate encounter, or do I sell most of it (cash on hand does not influence pirate strength) for less risk?

    Once you encounter pirates, you have three options: you can fight, try to flee, or you can jettison cargo. Since the combat is fairly automatic, this is largely an educated decision if you are familiar with these particular pirates. Fleeing happens by returning to the planet, or simply outrunning the pirates if you are faster than them, but they will fire on and damage you until you have escaped.

    You can pick what cargo is jettisoned, and how much, whenever you want. If you lower the value of your cargo beneath a certain threshold (see above “pirate strength”), the pirates will be satisfied, and break off the attack. This is effectively bribing your way out, or paying a toll. Additionally, if pirates slow down to pick up what you jettisoned, you may be able to flee even if you’re slower than them.

    If you do fight, the pirates first burn down your shields. After that, pirate shots will damage your systems (gradually disabling upgrades, but not destroying them!) or your hold, causing cargo to be jettisoned automatically, except this time you don’t get to pick what you lose. Again, once your remaining cargo is worth little enough, the pirates break off the attack; you don’t die from space combat, but repairs will cost you. This could tie in nicely with planetary exploration, finding repair shops that can repair your ship.

    I think this would create a nice progression system, where you get stronger ships and more upgrades in order to carry more safely, at the level of risk you choose, with plenty of options and decisions per encounter.

  26. vale says:

    My thoughts are a bit different than yours. I’m not convinced the game is salvageable in its current state so trying to “preserve” certain aspects feels like a pointless exercise. The entire premise of the game seems to be “annoy the player into doing what we think they should do.” I’m not sure how you fix that without redesigning almost the entire game.

    I think they should throw out the combat (on foot and in space) altogether, redesign the trading aspects starting with removing the currency, and remove most NPCs and most space stations. It’s clear to me that when Hello Games got Sony’s support and started getting all this attention that they suffered a major crisis of confidence about making a true exploration game, and felt they had to introduce all these “traditional” mechanics whether they made sense or not.

    The player should be an explorer and a scientist. Not a warrior or a trader.

    Imagine if they’d focused on putting planetary generation in a more meaningful context, so that, for example, planets a certain distance from the star had different qualities, and each solar system had a unique chemical makeup affecting the way each planet’s environments, weather, etc turned out? And then on top of that, an evolutionary simulation that takes place after planetary generation informing what kind of creatures you’ll encounter there? And then give the players the tools to uncover all of this as they explore? To allow them to trace back the reason, say, this planet has roiling hydrocarbon seas meanwhile this other planet is a volcanic wasteland? Or why this creature on this planet has fin-like appendages despite being a land animal?

    Let the player upgrade their tools by making discoveries in order to make deeper discoveries and explore more extreme and dangerous environments. Give them a reason to take beautiful screenshots with an in-game camera. The player should be making a solitary journey to the center of a mostly-empty galaxy. When a player encounters an NPC or space station it should be a rare and exciting experience. Upgrading or replacing your ship should be done, using upgradeable scanning technology, by detecting crashed or abandoned derelicts and using the few resources you’ve gathered so far to repair them.

    Imagine warping into a system where the sun has gone supernova and turned into a black hole, and exploring the planets to see what effect that has had on each of them, and having those discoveries make sense?

    Instead of doing that (even though they hinted that they were doing things like that, see earlier trailers that have the elemental makeup of a planet’s atmosphere displayed to the user and comments by Sean Murray that hint at a deeper generation system), HG stripped all that out in favor of insultingly simple, mutually exclusive planetary classifications like “Type: Lush, Weather: Toxic Rain” that have no meaning whatsoever, they’re just fucking random (or if they aren’t, it’s not communicated to the player or made discoverable so it might as well be), and then added a bunch of poorly-planned and poorly-designed combat and trade mechanics that just get in the way of what we all wanted to do: explore.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Knowing what can happen to research projects, I’d say that much of the stuff which was promised but is not in the game still had some kinks which the developer thought should be fixable in the given time, but turned out to be more complicated than that, so they had to make some hurtful and pragmatic decisions very shortly before release. That sort of thing always happens if you’re doing something new. On top of that, Hello games was all over the media even before Sony got on board, and that sort of attention can quickly affect ones’ judgement…

      I can also understand why Sean Murray is keeping quiet lately. This is his opus, and saying something into this storm of negative feedback is just not everybody’s thing, especially if one of his the pre-release mistakes saying too much …
      In retrospect, I think it would have been good if Sony had contributed some amount of consultation on game systems, or established some contacts to people who could have gotten on board to help design and/or test those systems in good time before launch. Not that I would have thought of that had I been in their shoes.

      Here’s hoping that the devs listen to the right voices out of the many many on the net who know exactly what’s wrong with the game, and that their fixes are not some hot-fix but something that actually works. It seems to me that there is way more than one game in this engine, and they went in several directions at once. I’d say that for now, just one will be enough, but it needs to be done well.

      • natureguy85 says:

        I hope you’re right about them having lofty goals and simply not understanding what it would take to achieve them. I haven’t played the game but based on what I’ve read and watched about it, I am disgusted by Murray’s interviews. I hate seeing him smiling and giggling as he says “yes” to almost every question about if something is in the game or will be possible for the player. To me, he just comes off as a big, fat, liar.

    • Draklaw says:

      I totally agree with the fact that Hello games felt obligated to add “traditional” game mechanics. I’m not sure of the reason why however. Is it because they believed it’s what people expected ? Because it’s what they wanted to do, thinking it would make a good game ? Or maybe because it’s what would sell the game ? A bit of everything I guess.

      What you suggest, however, is technically impossible. They have to be able to generate any voxel or creature in the game while ignoring everything else around. It mean no erosion simulation, evolution of species, etc. The reason is simply that you don’t have the time or the memory to perform such simulations. When you are on the surface of a planet, only the area around you is generated with a high resolution. The rest is not, and if you didn’t modify a chunk of the terrain it it won’t be saved because it can easily be regenerated.

      You might try to procedurally generate the history of the planets or the species, but it is really tricky. It has to be coherent and you have to make sure the player won’t find something that contradict something he already found or it will break the illusion.

      You can take a look at this video if you want more details about how they do their generation and what are their constraints: https://archives.nucl.ai/recording/building-a-galaxy-procedural-generation-in-no-mans-sky/ (Note for Shamus: if you missed it you should check it out. I’m sure you will find it interesting, even if there is nothing really unexpected and they don’t really talk about the most interesting details.)

      • WJS says:

        I don’t see why giving the creatures on a planet a family tree of shared ancestry should be all that hard. Shouldn’t you be able to make them speciate in a very literal way, i.e. starting with just one species instance for a planet, then cloning it and developing the copies along different lines? I don’t know how their creature generation code work, but I assume it’s a linear process. The end result would be that creatures on a planet would naturally be similar to each other, with no artificial constraints to go wrong and expose anything to the player.

  27. morpork says:

    Star Control 2 evoked a lot of sense of wonder and exploration.

    In the first system you go to after our own Sol, you encounter an alien trader who will sell you lore, upgrades and fuel for SECONDARY_CURRENCY. You earn this by: selling them samples of new biological species. You earn 1000 pts for selling locations of discovered Rainbow Planets. (Feels positively cathartic to find one)

    I think NMS planetary exploration can be improved if there was no on foot action. Do it from a lander like SC2. Better yet, the player commands THE_FLAGSHIP. (Of hunams, to be relatable) They need PRIMARY_CURRENCY to create fuel from ANY_ELEMENT_RESOURCE.

    You explore to get resources, so your fleet expands, you can explore previously dangerous areas, so you can find discoveries that you can sell, so you can explore more dangerous areas, so your fleet eventually is large enough for END_GAME_PURPOSE.

    There are a lot more ideas from SC2 that may work well for NMS. Finding the aliens home worlds/territory; Find leads to go to giant space derelicts; trick aliens into fighting each other; race against time against some universal threat; con aliens into paying for worthless artifacts. Choose dangerous routes or safe routes for your fleet, etc.

    • Philadelphus says:

      Yes! Despite playing through it only once, and shamelessly reading the wiki as I did so, Star Control 2 still managed to evoke a sense of wonder and…I dunno, scale in a way I’ve never had another game do.

      Though it’d be hard to separate its mechanics from its phenomenal story and writing…it’d be an amazing subject for a season of Spoiler Warning.

    • Charnel Mouse says:

      I haven’t played it myself, but I think Starflight had a similar mechanism where you could flag colonisable planets.

      As much as I love Star Control 2, though, a lot of these ideas would make for a completely different game to either NMS, or the game people wanted NMS to be. Building up a fleet for an end-game task especially so, because the late game would be about things happening out in space rather than on the planets.

  28. SyrusRayne says:

    Rather than the Ship Recall letting you call the ship from a longer distance, I think it’d be better if it brought it closer to you. The base-level Ship Recall should be something everyone has, but can only home in and auto-land within a range of a few kilometers – or larger, dependent on balance and testing. This would allow the player to explore for ages, cross the literal planet and not be truly stuck. Then you invest in the fancier homing beacons, and maybe the top-tier will land the ship practically on top of you.

    You could also work in some auxiliary features that have some play with environmental hazards. Maybe in a sandstorm or heavy radiation environment the ship doesn’t home in as accurately, or can’t get a lock at all, forcing you to find shelter. There’s the potential for a trade-off – do you take the more accurate, less robust Tracker and risk getting stranded by hazards, or do you instead take the robust tracker than can broadcast through anything at the cost of having to walk a bit to get there?

    • WJS says:

      I don’t know if that would be strictly better, or just different. One thing that a number of games with an exploration element have is the progression of venturing further and further away from base, as your equipment improves. Only being able to call your ship from a certain (upgradable) distance seems similar to that, but it might be different because it’s a mobile ship rather than a static base. I think you’re clearly in the area where you’d need playtesting to tell which works better for you.

  29. Zaxares says:

    This might be a dumb suggestion as I didn’t play NMS and thus have no idea what sort of player they were aiming for, but I actually would REALLY like it if the native flora/fauna could be made more unique and occasionally hostile. You might land on one planet where all the local wildlife is meek and inoffensive due to abundant resources and perhaps a planetary trait like “excessively heavy gravity” which means that all life on the platform tends to be small and/or flat, and you might land on another which is a Predator’s paradise, chock full of violent carnivorous fauna that will attack you on sight. To borrow from Mass Effect, imagine walking on a world, minding your own business, when suddenly a gargantuan Thresher Maw bursts up from the ground and tries to devour you. (Obviously, the biggest predators are all but immune to your hand-held weaponry, and you’ll need your ship-based weapons to take them out.)

    Likewise, there could be a market for specimens or trophies taken from these creatures, giving players who like a combination of exploration + hunting an alternative income source.

  30. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Sooo, this comes from someone who didn’t play the game, and I do realise this goes against the “actual game goal is fine” but I’d love to see the generation of lifeforms and biomes explored more so here’s a semi-random idea: a space zoo/nature preserve/lifeform database.

    Have the player explore the ecosystems and collect/catalogue lifeforms, possibly first they’d have to figure out what the lifeform is like, what condition it needs, what it eats and is eaten by (I don’t think the actual NMS ecosystems are very robust? Is it just one animal per planet? I wonder if it could be expanded upon with resources saved on something like ditching space combat). Maybe make a central station where players congregate and can see each other’s discoveries (since it’s procedurally generated I think it would be possible to save the coordinates of a planet and recreate a small biome of it?). Maybe make it that the more complex/demanding the lifeform the higher value it has and as the sum total grows the player attracts new aliens and unlocks new upgrades, maybe keep the language learning mechanics but use it to learn “rumours” about interesting lifeforms that the aliens might have seen themselves?

    The obvious issues I see are the relative repetitiveness and the lack of an endgame goal (though I imagine we could come up with something, like “looking for a message that lifeseeders left in their creations” or “creating an arc to seed life in another galaxy” or something… )… which I think are issues a lot of people take with the actual NMS? So I guess this doesn’t really fix much? I… I’ll be in the corner over there…

  31. Sunshine says:

    “I know the world has moved on and everyone has long since stopped caring about No Man’s Sky, but I can’t let go.”

    I’m still interested for one, and especially in what you might have to say about it, but I might be an outlier. Mind you, the amount of discussion here suggests otherwise.

  32. Sunshine says:

    Some ideas: to avoid running out of fuel and getting stuck on a planet, you could have a distress beacon, answered by a Sentinel who gives enough fuel to the next space station, for some sort of penalty. At least it gives them a non-hostile side.

    Say that rather than simply picking up warp fuel from the ground, you find ingredients for it, but it’s manufactured by the space stations. They have their own supply lines but will buy it from you and sell you fuel. So that means you’re picking up what you can sell for money to keep your ship fuelled and working to take you to the next planet.

  33. Draklaw says:

    I’m late as usual and I didn’t play the game, but here are a few comment:

    I agree with you on the fact that the game should be mainly focused on exploration. It is basically the only reason why you want so many planets. If some developers want to make an other kind of game, it is a much better design choice to spend their resources on making good gameplay mechanics and elements rather than building a complex procedural content generation pipeline. And to be honest, I believe this is why nobody tried to make such a massive procedural game before: it’s pretty much useless to make a good game.

    I disagree with some of the rules though. They could have done a minecraft-like building system. It’s not that complicated compared to what they already do: they only have to store player modifications, not the whole planets. If they feared to not have enough disk space to store it all, they could have ditched the massively multiplayer aspect which is pretty much useless and allowed player to run their own servers like Minecraft.

    I believe allowing the player to build stuff would have been a good idea because it gives a mean of expression to the player as well as a good reason to interact with other players. It also gives a good reason to go hunting for new resources. They could have procedurally generated common materials with varying textures and colors, things like rocks that are basically useless except to build nice looking buildings. Rare materials that are useful for crafting or unlocking shrine or whatever would not be procedurally generated and there would be only a few of them per planet.

    To continue on the idea of building stuff, we could add interesting multiplayer features assuming we still have the massively multiplayer aspect of the game. For instance, players should be able to craft or buy items that allow to claim a planet, and maybe protect it from modifications. That way a player could build something while being sure other players can not break it.

    Player should be able to create and join guild, and to claim planets for their guild. That way you can claim a whole system with your friends. For people that don’t want to see other player, they could build some kind of defense system that just shoot players that are not allowed if they try to enter your system/planet.

    But why build things if people can not see it ? Why not allow players to build beacons that appear on other players map so they know there is something to see here. That way, builders are happy and explorers have something to see.

    Even better, if you can claim a planet that contain procedurally generated resources that looks unique, you can start to trade them to other players. Well, this require some trading posts, but one more time we could let players deal with this. They could install trading terminals somewhere and add beacons so other players come visit it, in exchange they get a small commission per sale. The more you upgrade your beacon, the more people know you exist. Maybe you can even create a brand and have several trading posts.

    Some planets could be “public”, or impossible to claim. Maybe it require a player to craft something to create such a planet. On these planets, people could still claim some areas (maybe by paying the owner of the planet). This could create some capital planets. Imagine, you create such a planet, install a trading post on it and add a few beacons. Soon, some players come to see you and can install a small base just beside your trading post to recruit for their guild, with their own trading post or just to play next to other players. Or maybe to benefit from the beacon so other players come, which in turn might create more beacon to make the planet even easier to discover.

    This in turn might motivate players to explore the galaxy near the capitals, which would create dense populations in some area in space. If moving far away take some time, people will have a good reason to build smaller trading post or even to start engage in trading: buy a resource somewhere and sell it somewhere else at a bigger price to pay for the transport.

    Later, if the developers still have resources at this point (unlikely), they could try to make some space fight that would allow player to engage in piracy, which in turn motivate traders to hire protections. This is tricky to make right though.

    I will stop here because I probably went too far. But at least with this concept I feel like all game mechanics interact in a meaningful way. Even better, this game offer a lot of activities to the players, but they are not forced to play them all: they can focus on what they like to do. Nevertheless, the other mechanics still impact the way they play.

    Another interesting thing is that a developer that would like to make this game could build it progressively. First a simple exploration game. Then add resource gathering. Then a construction game. Then add some multiplayer, see if it works, iterate. Then massive multiplayer. Does it still work ? Yes ? So add all the social stuff: planet claims, beacons, guilds, etc. Then add the trading. Then the fight. At each steps you can take the time to make sure it works before adding more stuff and think about how what you add impact the gameplays that already work. I believe that’s one of the mistakes Hello game did: they put a lot of different mechanics and then tried to find a good mix instead of doing it step by step. And so they failed.

    Of course, there is probably a lot of technical difficulties here. For instance, having crowded planets sounds fun but that’s something that never happens in the actual game, so chances are that the game engine don’t support it very well. There is also a great deal of difficult decisions to make that would completely change the game. For instance, allowing player to lock some area to prevent destruction is a good way to incentive people to build great things, but mean the player won’t have to hire other players for protection.

  34. Paul Spooner says:

    Not as late as me Draklaw.

    Also was really looking forward to No Man’s Sky initially (and Spore before it). Also haven’t played the game due to disillusionment. Here are my suggestions.

    First, ditch the planet-naming mechanic, and use that memory to store a couple of planet-wide variables: Mineral development (MD), and Biological development (BD). They can start at generated levels, but player actions should influence them. Killing animals lowers the BD, and mining lowers the MD. And, of course, scanning animals raises the BD.

    Instead of mining, you should be allowed to report rare minerals to the Sentinels. You can’t power your ship with them, but you also don’t have to haul them around with you. This also raises the MD.

    Then you can build a bunch of interesting gameplay on these two variables. Tie trading post prices to the MD and BD (so you can develop two adjacent planets in opposite directions and run trading routes between them). Give planets hidden threshholds for high or low MD or BD, and let the players find out what they are by finding monoliths. Spawn different densities and types of bases and stations based on MD and BD. This would also allow indirect multiplayer interaction, as everyone’s actions on the planet affect the same variables.

    To keep the storage problems from balooning out of control, MD and BD should slowly decay toward their default levels, and when they reach the default, you can delete the record (since they are generated from the planet’s unique seed anyhow).

    Personally, I would make fuel only available from stations, and then if you run out of fuel you have to call the sentinels to bail you out.

    There you go, that’s my suggestion.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>