No Man’s Sky One Year Later: The More Things Change…

By Shamus
on Sep 12, 2017
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After a year of major content updates and gameplay changes, the original sins of No Man’s Sky still permeate the design. There are a lot of little problems, but if you trace the problems back to their roots you’ll see they basically all stem from a couple of really bad ideas: The Inventory System, and Polo.

Polo is certainly the less harmful of the two, but let’s discuss him first.

Seriously, Screw This Guy

I feel the need to point out that there are no windows anywhere on this space station.

I feel the need to point out that there are no windows anywhere on this space station.

Polo is one of the very few named characters in the game. He and his partner Nada appear randomly along your journey. Sometimes you’ll warp to a system and there will be an “Anomaly”, which is what the game calls Nada and Polo’s brutalist styled doom sphere / space station.

In a forum, some internet rando claimed the anomaly is scripted to appear about every two hours. I have no way to confirm that, but it feels about right.

Polo has a series of 16 challenges for you to complete. Although in typical No Man’s Sky style, the game doesn’t tell you what the challenges are, what the rewards will be, or what order they come in. You just show up and talk to Polo. He’ll comment on your journey, and if you’ve completed the latest challenge he’ll give you a reward.

This would be fine if Polo was just dispensing bonus items, but one of the things he gives out is the final tier of Warp reactor. There are four different colors of star systems in the game. In order these are Yellow, Green, Red, Blue. Each tier has new exotic resources to harvest, and each tier requires a warp drive upgrade.

The final warp drive is Polo’s very last reward for his very last challenge. The game has three different overarching goals: The Atlas Quest, the journey to the center of the galaxy, and the (newly added) Artemis storyline. I don’t know about the last one, but to finish either of the first two you will need this warp reactor. Which means Polo is effectively part of the “main quest”.

Thanks dipshit. You know my journey would have been about five thousand percent easier if you`d given this to me forty hours ago.

Thanks dipshit. You know my journey would have been about five thousand percent easier if you`d given this to me forty hours ago.

Each time you randomly encounter Polo, he’ll require you to have reached some milestone on your journey. Kill X spaceships, destroy X robots, save up X galactic space-bucks, survive an accumulated X hours in extreme weather conditions, scan X alien animals, learn X alien vocabulary words, etc. He presents these milestones to you, in order, whenever you stumble onto one of his outposts. You don’t know what his next challenge will be, so you can’t prepare for your next encounter. If you run into him and discover you need to invest a bunch more time to meet the next goal, then you need to continue on your journey, grind out the requisite tasks, and then wait for him to show up againOr you can backtrack, depending on how your travels go. I’m a bit iffy on when his space station disappears and it’s not documented in the wiki..

As icing on the cake, his entire design is really goofy and dissonant. He’s written like he’s this peace and love idealist who hates violence, but literally half of his 16 rewards are weapons. The story is written in this unconventional first person as narrated by the player character, and tells how the player and Polo become fast friends. It feels so disconnected from everything else and the friendship feels so unearned I found it off-putting. The game keeps telling me I’m dear friends with this unhelpful little pain in the ass. I realize that the problems with this game are so profound that complaining about ludonarrative dissonance is really petty, but it really did stand out.

So what’s wrong with Polo?

Polo is wrong.

Polo is wrong.

If this was part of some labor-of-love indie project with a shoestring budget I might call Polo an “interesting experiment” and a “worthy try”. But this is a $60 AAA gameAs of this writing, NMS is STILL $60. For contrast, Doom 2016 came out the same year and was better reviewed, and it’s come down to $30. But NMS is still asking launch-day prices. and this is one of the main characters. I’m less eager to hand-wave shortcomings like this with the excuse of, “It’s an indie effort.” I’ll forgive wonky audio or amateurish lighting if I’m watching a student film on YouTube, but if I just paid $60 to take my family to the movie theater then I expect a certain level of professionalism for my money. Even ignoring the issue of presentation and production values, Polo suffers from a terminal case of needing to, “Show, don’t tell.”

This is a bizarre way of doling out rewards in an open-universe sandbox. “Go anywhere! Do anything! Find things that are fun for you! But in order to make progress you have to jump through these specific hoops, in this specific order.” Just… what? This is the antithesis of everything else the game is trying to do! It’s basically engineered to create frustration and bottleneck your progress on other tasks.

Polo only recognizes one achievement per visit, even if you’ve completed a bunch of them. If I’ve completed challenges 4, 5, 6, and 7 but got stuck on #3, then once I complete #3 I can’t turn in #3 through #7 all at once. I have to turn in #3, then wait a couple of hours for Polo to show up so I can turn in #4, then wait a couple more until another random encounter lets me turn in #5, and so on. And remember, you don’t know have any way of knowing what’s coming (unless you read the wiki) so you’re more likely to “waste” one of these rare visits just figuring out what you need to do.

Right: Polo. Left: Nada. Nada is just as useless, but Nada isn`t tangled up in the late-game bottleneck. Nada and I are basically cool.

Right: Polo. Left: Nada. Nada is just as useless, but Nada isn`t tangled up in the late-game bottleneck. Nada and I are basically cool.

Many of his early gifts are a waste. He’s hard to find, the story doesn’t tell you he’s important, his challenges are often daunting, and his early rewards are often useless or underwhelming. It’s like the game is teaching you that this guy isn’t important and he’s not worth your time.

His reward doesn’t even make sense! The final warp reactor is obviously not a rare secret super-technology in this universe. Why can’t I just go into the parts shop and buy this warp reactor like all the other technologies in this game? It’s clear there are literally billions of people living in these blue star systems. They come and go as they please. Apparently everyone has this warp reactor but me. So why do I have to jump through all of these hoops for this strange little taskmaster?

His milestones are dissonant. Like I said, he’s written as this lifeform that cherishes life, but he rewards you with guns and his tasks require you go out of your way to shoot down other ships. Alone this is a minor problem, but with everything else it sort of adds to the sensation that the whole thing was slapped together without any thought. For example, he could have given away shields instead of guns, and his ship combat milestones could have been swapped out for any of the other non-murder ones.

Here are the various milestones in the game. Polo eventually requires you to get most of these to high level.

Here are the various milestones in the game. Polo eventually requires you to get most of these to high level.

So the game inadvertently teaches you that Polo is a waste or that his rewards are optional and not very good, which means you might not spend time doing them. Which means you’ll run into a wall later when the game casually gives you a goal that can only be completed with a maxed-out hyperdrive. Maybe you’ll shop around for hours before giving up and looking at the wiki, only to discover you’ve got dozens of hours of Polo-grinding before you can return to the task at hand.

Polo is a microcosm of everything wrong with the overall design of No Man’s Sky. An undocumented linear progression of arbitrary tasks that bottleneck progress, glazed in a layer of earnest but sophomoric writing.

As bad as all of this is, you can deal with Polo by just keeping the Wiki open in the background and making sure you plan your activities so you don’t get stuck on any of his tasks for too long. That’s annoying, but it’s not enough to ruin the game. The task of ruining the game falls to…

The Stupid Inventory System (Again.)

This is your starting inventory. The three items in the upper-left are devices that can`t be moved. The rest of the slots are for storing stuff.

This is your starting inventory. The three items in the upper-left are devices that can`t be moved. The rest of the slots are for storing stuff.

You might remember my long tirades last year about the No Man’s Sky inventory system. The inventory wasn’t just annoying, it actively inhibited the one good thing the game had going for it. But in case you missed it, here’s a quickBy the overly verbose standards of this site, anyway. overview…

Imagine you’re playing Skyrim or Fallout 4. You leave town, hike across an empty wilderness, and plunge into a dungeon. Halfway through looting the first room, your inventory is already full. Your first instinct is, “I’ll take what’s valuable.” Except, it’s all valuable. Every dungeon has a couple of rare resources that are hard to find. You know you’ll need them later. You can ignore them now, but ten hours from now you’ll be able to forge yourself a sweet new weapon except you’ll need the thousand units of the Unobtainium that’s currently right in front of you. You won’t be able to find this particular dungeon again. You’ll have to voyage around for three hours to find the next batch of it, and the whole time you’ll be thinking back to the thousands of units you left on the floor of this dungeon because you couldn’t carry it.

Your inability to plan for the future aside, you also really need money. Which means you need to take some of this other loot with you. But your gear (and the materials to keep you going) take up 90% of your carry capacity. So what do you do? Excavate this dungeon a spoonful at a time, running between here and town to make some trivial amount each trip? If you do that, you will spend a vast majority of your time hiking back and forth (boring) and not exploring the dungeons, which is the one thing this game does right.

This was a game about exploring and collecting resources on vast worlds where your pockets were full two minutes after leaving your spaceship.

“No problem for me! I don’t have the reflexive hoarding instinct. I’ll just ignore the loot and do the dungeon anyway. I’ll still level up.”

That might work in a Bethesda game, except in No Man’s Sky building upgrades is how you level up. Imagine doing the dungeon, except all the “loot” you’re leaving behind is actually piles of XP.

This is what made the game so maddening at launch. Almost every single system of the game tied into the inventory: Materials to build upgrades, items to sell for money, items to grind reputation with factions, quest items for the main storyline, and the half dozen or so materials needed just to fuel your suit, your tools, and your ship. They all took inventory space. It was the one thing everyone hated about the game at launch, and the one thing that needed to be fixed.

Well the designer addressed this problem, and the result is perfectly indicative of the weird-ass approach No Man’s Sky has always used with regards to game mechanics. The solution is awkward, convoluted, frustrating, and doesn’t actually solve the problem.

Originally you had two and a half inventories: Your exosuitYour pockets., your starship, and your multi-toolWhich held upgrades, but not items.. My original complaint was that all of your upgrades used inventory slots. So if I wanted to upgrade my exosuit with a radiation shield so I can explore an irradiated world, then I need to give up one of my too-few inventory slots to do it. The same thing applied to the spaceship. To solve this, Hello Games didn’t just give us more inventory. Instead they gave us more kinds of inventory.

Now, I’m going to suggest that you NOT read this next bit. This is long and it’s not totally required to understand what’s wrong. But I’m leaving it here for the curious. If you find yourself thinking, “It can’t be as silly as Shamus is making it sound”, then come back and read this. If you’re willing to take my word for it, then just jump down to the section titled What a Mess.

An Explanation of the Five Different Kinds of Inventory, Their Sub-Inventories, How They Differ, How They’re Connected, and Holy Shit This is Already So Stupid.

When people demanded “more inventory space!” I think Hello Games misunderstood. HG seems to think that what we really wanted was more different kinds of inventory. The updates have added new inventory groups and sub-screens. Here is what they are and how they workOr don’t, in a few cases..

Exosuit

This is your inventory near the end of the game. I would say this is basically playable and would make a good STARTING inventory, and should get bigger from here.

This is your inventory near the end of the game. I would say this is basically playable and would make a good STARTING inventory, and should get bigger from here.

As before, this is your general storage. It can hold technology (shields, jetpack, life support, etc.) or inventory. You “build” technology into the grid, so it can’t be moved without disassembling to and re-assembling it elsewhere, which wastes resources. There’s a system where you can get bonuses by building related components next to each other. So building a toxin shield next to your life support system will make both of them work better. At launch, I complained that the jetpack technology was trapped in the corner by other non-moveable items, which means you can’t get the jetpack bonuses. After a year of updates, this small annoyance has still not been fixed, even though it should be trivial and people have actually done so in third-party mods. Which means the jetpack is trapped there on purpose, for some unfathomable reason.

Single items still don’t stack. Materials are stored in stacks of 250. You can transfer items from here to your starship from anywhere in the game, but if you’re far away from your starship you can’t transfer them the other way.

In the wilderness you’ll sometimes find a single-use upgrade station that will let you buy one additional slot of space. The cost to do this increases every time.

Exosuit Cargo

This is an expansion to your personal inventory, but it gets its own screen. Here items can be stacked in groups of 5 and materials can be stacked in groups of 500. You can’t install technology upgrades here at all. As far as I can tell, stuff in this container doesn’t show up when selling stuff in a shop, but it does show up when choosing materials for crafting.

You start off the game with no cargo slots. Then, thanks to a known bug, it stays that way. You walk up to an inventory upgrade machine, pay a huge pile of money, and then nothing happens. According to the forums, most people do this twice. The first time they assume they clicked on something wrong or selected the wrong kind of upgrade. The second time they realize they’ve been ripped off.

Like the exosuit, you can add one additional slot to this for an ever-increasing fee. (Assuming you’re not suffering from the ripoff bug.)

Exosuit Technology

This is for tech upgrades only. You can’t use this grid to store items. Here you can put shields for heat, cold, toxins, and radiation. You can put upgrades for your combat shield and jetpack. They won’t give the adjacency bonusesOr maybe they do? I’m not sure how to interpret these vague numbers. but they won’t eat up cargo space.

Like the exosuit, you can add new slots to this, one at a time, for an ever-increasing fee.

Multi-Tool

This LOOKS like an inventory screen, but you don`t keep items here. Instead this is where you install upgrades to make your gun / mining beam do more murder / mining.

This LOOKS like an inventory screen, but you don`t keep items here. Instead this is where you install upgrades to make your gun / mining beam do more murder / mining.

This is the grid for your weapon / mining tool / tricorder. It holds upgrades for the tool but no items. This grid is upgraded by finding new tools at random in the wild and “trading up” when you can afford it.

Starship Cargo

This is the default inventory for your starter ship. It is MUCH too small to facilitate exploration and gathering style gameplay, which is what I ASSUMED the game is supposed to be?!?

This is the default inventory for your starter ship. It is MUCH too small to facilitate exploration and gathering style gameplay, which is what I ASSUMED the game is supposed to be?!?

Items store in groups of 5 and materials in groups of 500. This grid holds a mix of technology and inventory. The grid itself is different for every ship. Some ships have annoying blocks missing from the grids and others have the technology placed in annoying spots where you can’t get the adjacency bonuses you might want.

You can’t upgrade or change this inventory except to get a different ship.

Starship Technology

Like the Exosuit Technology, this is for upgrades only. You can’t store items here. This space comes with the ship and can’t be changed or upgraded except to get a new ship.

Exocraft Inventory

You can get three different ground vehicles in the game: A rover, a tank, and a hovercraft. Each of them has a slightly different (although very small) inventory grid, which is used for both storage and upgrades. This space can never be changed or upgraded.

In all other cases, the player’s main inventory is considered the “hub” of all inventories. If you hit “transfer items” in any other inventory, then the items move to the player’s pockets. However, the Exocraft deviates from this. If you transfer away from the craft, it goes to the ship.

Storage Containers

At your base, you can built these things that look like massive storage vaults. Despite their size, they can only hold a measly five items. However, the stack sizes are larger than other containers. Single items stack 10, and materials can stack to 1,000.

There’s an odd bug with these where you can’t transfer an entire stack of 1,000 items into your main inventory, even if you’ve got enough room for the resulting four stacks. You have to manually transfer it in groups of 250.

This space can’t be upgraded, but you can build more vaults. (Up to 10.)

What a Mess

This is the grid where you install upgrades to your suit. On the right, the three options are how you switch between the KINDS of personal inventory.

This is the grid where you install upgrades to your suit. On the right, the three options are how you switch between the KINDS of personal inventory.

Suit, multi-tool, ship, exocraft, vault. That’s five different kinds of inventoryThere’s also a freighter you can buy, but as of this writing I haven’t messed with it., three different stack sizes, multiple different ways of managing upgrades, several different behaviors when transferring items, and a couple of interface bugs. Some inventories you can’t sell from, some you can only access when you’re close to the container, some you can access at limited range in one direction and unlimited range in the other, some can’t stack items, and some share space with upgrades. You can move between the four main inventory types with the top menu but then move through the sub-inventories with a control on the side.

Let me tell you a story about this new inventory system…

The game now has quests. Some quests give you trade items as a reward. Typically you get either 3 or 5 items. These are automatically dumped into your main inventory, where they cannot stack, instead of going into your starship where they would stack nicely in groups of 5. If you don’t have enough free slotsBECAUSE YOU NEVER HAVE ENOUGH FREE SLOTS. then the “extra” items vanish forever. If you’re turning in several quests at once then you need to talk to the agent by holding the interact button for 2 seconds, then click through his useless three dialog boxes of blather, then click on the completed mission, then click to get your reward. Then you have to exit the entire dialog, open your inventory, and shift all of those single items over to your starship where they will take just 1 slot instead of 5. Then you can talk to the agent again, skip his dialog again, and turn in the next quest, and so on, until all your quests are accounted for and everything is packed in your starship.

This is a preposterous amount of hassle and clicking for what should be a completely trivial transaction. I assumed these trade goods were important, because otherwise why would the developer make them such a pain? If you’re supposed to sell them for money, then why not just pay the player in money? Indeed, some quests do exactly this.

I had a vault where’ I’d stored a bunch of these trade goods, anticipating the moment in the game where they would become useful or important. Then I looked on the wiki and saw they were basically just vendor trash.

So I had a vault with five stacks of ten items. All I needed to do was get them out of storage, walk downstairs, and sell them on the galactic trade network. Here is what I had to do:

The Interface Shuffle

I`m tired of posting pictures on inventory grids, so here`s a picture of a planet I named "Willy Wonka".

I`m tired of posting pictures on inventory grids, so here`s a picture of a planet I named "Willy Wonka".

Because they don’t stack in my main inventory, I couldn’t hold all 50 items from the vault at the same time. And I couldn’t just dump a single stack of 10 into my main inventory. No, I had to click on a single free space in my personal inventory, request a single item from the vault, then move to another free slot and repeat, again and again, until my inventory was full. Then I closed the vault, opened my inventory, and sent all the trade goods over to my starship so they would stack. Then I closed that and re-opened the vault (opening the vault requires you to hold the interact button for two seconds) and filled my inventory again. I did this several times, until I’d fully vacated the contents of the vault into my starship.

Then I walked downstairs to the trade interface and discovered that this trade kiosk – unlike all the other trade kiosks in the game – wouldn’t let me sell directly from my starship. So then I had to open the inventory, move a handful of items from my starship to my backpack, then open the trade interface (opening the kiosk requires you to hold the interact button for two seconds) then click through the splash text, then select “sell”, then sell those items. Then exit out of the trade interface, re-open the inventory, and transfer the next batch. I had to do that over and over again, until I’d successfully cleaned out my starship.

All told, it took me several minutes and easily over a hundred mouse clicks. I probably spent over a minute just holding down the “interact” button and waiting for the stupid interface animations to complete. All of this hassle, just to sell five stacks of items!

In a Bethesda game, you would simply take in the excess inventory and then slow-walk to the shop. It’s silly, but at least it wouldn’t require several minutes of interface shuffle. And let’s be clear, if your interface is being compared unfavorably to a Bethesda game you have made a mistake of epic proportions.

What is any of this for? What does any of this senseless bullshit and hassle add to the game? The developer heard the fanbase cry for “more inventory space” and they “obliged” them in the most insane, wrong-headed, sadistic way possible. They gave you more total space to store stuff, but then also multiplied the number of items you had to carry and made a byzantine set of rules and behaviors for dealing with it all. People wanted more inventory space because they wanted to spend less time shuffling items around and more time playing the game. So Hello Games granted their request in a literal sense while making the actual problem much worse. This is griefing disguised as game design.

Let’s go back to that first E3 reveal trailer that set the world on fire:


Link (YouTube)

Did anyone watch that trailer and think it was going to be a game about sorting items, managing stack sizes, and juggling items between different storage containers? Why was inventory management given such focus? Why, after a year of updates, has it been expanded into the most complex system in the game?

The crazy thing is that the fix for the inventory problem is pretty simple. There was no need to mess around with cargo screens. All they had to do was make the inventory bigger.

Since the update I’ve played through in regular mode, and then I played in survival difficulty. After two days of slamming my head against the inventory screen in survival mode I downloaded a save editor and cheated myself the largest ship possible. The result was I was suddenly playing a completely different game. I could adventure around on a planet for more than five minutes without feeling like I was wasting my time because my inventory was full. I could gather loot, fill up, and then go back to “town” and unload. The interface was still an abomination, but at least the lack of inventory was no longer preventing me from engaging with the best parts of the game.

It wasn’t like this trivialized the game, either. Even with this massive cheat in place, NMS is still a long, long game. This didn’t let me take any major shortcuts or skip large parts of the game. All it did was cut down on the hours I spent opening my inventory to fuss with things so I could focus on the exploration.

Despite my egregious cheating, inventory space was still a bit too tight! I think what I gave myself would make for a pretty good starting inventory, with more space being added as the game progressed. But still, this massive improvement didn’t require doubling the number of inventory systems and making them all operate under slightly different rules.

It really is shocking how hard Hello Games worked to do things the wrongest and least satisfying way possible.

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Footnotes:

[1] Or you can backtrack, depending on how your travels go. I’m a bit iffy on when his space station disappears and it’s not documented in the wiki.

[2] As of this writing, NMS is STILL $60. For contrast, Doom 2016 came out the same year and was better reviewed, and it’s come down to $30. But NMS is still asking launch-day prices.

[3] By the overly verbose standards of this site, anyway.

[4] Your pockets.

[5] Which held upgrades, but not items.

[6] Or don’t, in a few cases.

[7] Or maybe they do? I’m not sure how to interpret these vague numbers.

[8] There’s also a freighter you can buy, but as of this writing I haven’t messed with it.

[9] BECAUSE YOU NEVER HAVE ENOUGH FREE SLOTS.


A Hundred!2010There are 130 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. methermeneus says:

    I… wait, what? How did they even come up with that inventory system? Who would ever think that was a good solution to the complaint that the inventory is too small? Why didn’t the creator of NMS just play Inventory Simulator? Find out next time, same bat Time, same bat channel.

    Oh, I get it; Hello Games is run by the Joker. It all makes sense now.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Halfway through that list of inventories they all started to blur into each other.
      Exocraft-suit-vault?
      Muiti-suit-exo-tool upgrade slots?
      I think I have a headache now. Well, Shamus warned me.

      I have to second the words HOW!? and WHY!?
      It sounds like Hello Games went out of their way to:

      a) Technically solve the problem without actually solving it/adding more out of spite. (AKA the mean-spirited bureaucrat’s approach to handling complaints by people you don’t like.)

      b) Just, annoy those who complained about the inventory system.

      c) Make more work for themselves in the process. Surely all these different, not-quite interactive inventories were more work to code than expanding what was already there? Right?

      This is the most baffling bit. Say what you want about companies like EA Games, they do what they do out of short-sighted greed, laziness, and not caring about their customers once they’ve got your money.
      Hello Games seem to have gone above and beyond this, by putting in extra time just to not-really-fix a complaint.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        So I didn’t play the game before or after the changes, but from the description Shamus provided* it seems like they’re adding new inventory systems on top of the old ones rather than modify old ones? This is purely conjecture but I can come up with two reasons: first, they may be afraid of fiddling with the old inventories fearing they may do something like corrupt the existing saves, second it may be some misguided fear of annoying the players who have already upgraded their inventories. Like they’re worried that if they give everybody the maximized backpack the players who worked for hours (days?) to get it upgraded will be pissed off.

        Again, this is just speculation and I’m by no means trying to justify this mess, the execution as described definitely screams of, at best, sloppy design.

        *Admittedly I only read it once and I think I’d need to a paper and pencil to actually draw a diagram of how the inventories interact with each other to understand it.

    • Inwoods says:

      If I had to guess, “they made the game they always wanted to make.”

      He had no intention of addressing “inventory space” concerns. He just ran out of time to put in these systems the first time.

      That or he’s a raving lunatic. Or both, maybe.

    • Hector says:

      It sounds like they took every bad thing out of Fallout 4 and amplified it, then distilled it into a perfect inverse of what people want in a Bethesda game.

      Inventory Management? Yeah, shalt though manage inventory! Inventories of inventories! Manage thy inventory to they death for no purpose!

      Exploration? Explore ALL THE THINGS! We made sure that none of them matter whatsoever!

      Combat? Here’s your combat! Engage in pointless combat everywhere just because!

      Quests? Sure we got quests, and we made them as pointless as could possibly be and filled with characters who are as annoying as humanly possible!

  2. Sydney says:

    It almost sounds like the inventory retool was based entirely on the complaint about upgrades taking up carry space.

    • Michael says:

      Which is kind of a shame, because the concept is kinda interesting.

      If you had a game with a diablo style grid inventory, and you were constantly offered choices like, “I can replace this pouch on my arm with an armor plate, but then it can’t hold stuff, or I can keep the pouch and store extra ammo. That’s a functional concept.

      The problem is that with NMS there’s way too much stuff that you need for crafting, and collecting lots of different crap is the core gameplay loop.

      NMS has an inventory system that would work really well in a survival horror game (assuming you only had one or maybe two crafting material types, or your crafting materials didn’t chew up inventory space), where you’re constantly having to decide, “do I want healing items, or more ammo?”

      Ironically, Fallout 4 would have, probably, been a better game with an inventory like NMS. With all that random crap we hoovered up being categorized as generic, “scrap,” “high-tech scrap,” and “basic building materials.” Putting you in a situation where, “hey, you’ve got 10 stimpacks, and 120 rounds of 10mm. Do you want more stimpacks or more ammo for your pistol? Or do you want neither, and grab a new armor upgrade for that leather chest piece you’re wearing?”

      Not, you know, exactly like NMS’s because it is inconsistent as hell, when you jump between containers and inventory, and all five or six inventories, but the basic idea? That could have worked.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I can replace this pouch on my arm with an armor plate, but then it can’t hold stuff, or I can keep the pouch and store extra ammo.

        Thats basically belts in diablo 2.There was usually a transition period between getting the belts that have more space for potions but less armor than the magical belt giving you already owned.

        • Michael says:

          It’s been nearly 20 years, but my recollection of D2 was the belts were for consumables only. Though, yeah, that kind of a concept, still. Or classic X-Com’s broken inventory slots.

          • FelBlood says:

            Yeah, classic X-com was what I was think of.

            Though, unless you were evaccing because you hit a chryssalid nest before you had laser weapons, you rarely wanted to carry as much weight as you had pockets for.

            Well, there is the old, Suicidal Rookie Gambit, with a backpack, and every bandoleer pocket full of impact detonated grenades… Send him into a crashed saucer and rest assured that nothing is coming back out.

            • guy says:

              I don’t think I’ve ever run out of slots in x-com. I mean, you have enough for two heavy weapons, a pistol, a medkit, about 10 grenades or standard clips, and a rocket and still leave a hand empty so you don’t take aim penalties. And unless you’re using a skyranger with two tanks (or maybe a lightning, I forget what their carrying capacity is because I never use them) you’ve got at least ten soldiers and no more than 80 items because of memory constraints.

              The only problem I’ve run into with the inventory is that you can’t scroll to an empty page of the ground grid, so at the start of the mission you might have to play tetris for a bit to clear enough space to put down a rocket launcher if you’ve got almost but not quite enough items to spill over to the next segment of the grid.

  3. Wolverine says:

    Someone (Campster? Supperbunnyhop?) posited that the game was about nomadic experience, about just passing through places without really having home anywhere, about having to leave potential treasure just because it doesn’t fit into the inventory.
    I once found a great ship, spent a bunch of money fixing its inventory slots and only then noticed I did not have enough materials on me to fix its engines. I tried looking around, but nothing was within sight and having no way of marking the location, I had to leave the ship there, with all my money sunk in it. I did not find the ship again after I found the material I needed. It sucked, but maybe this moment was exactly what Hello Games were going for?

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Trying to defend a game’s faulty design with the “It was meant to be played this way” excuse only works if such thing was ever hinted at, otherwise that excuse is nothing but fanfiction. At no point during this game’s development and promotional campaign such a thing was ever mentioned even in passing, so I don’t believe it was the intention. This is simply poor design.

      • Hal says:

        If the truth is, “It’s meant to be played that way,” I think the easiest response is simply to say:

        “But it’s not fun or enjoyable.”

        Maybe it scratches an itch for someone, somewhere. It sounds like more than enough people disagree (and who can blame them?)

        • Rack says:

          As an afficianado of games design but no professional I’ve still heard it said dozens of times that you should never wed to original concepts. If your original idea is based on making hard choices as to what to take with you and what to leave behind, but when you create the system it just isn’t fun then don’t whatever you do try to make it fun. Take it out and focus on what is fun.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Games dont have to be fun and enjoyable however.But they need to be compelling.This tedium that Shamus describes,it actually can be made into a compelling game.Papers,please proves that.However,the whole point of papers,please is to present bureaucracy in such a light,where nms was meant to do something utterly different.Thats why papers,please is a brilliant game while nms is utter trash.

    • Lachlan the Sane says:

      If that moment was exactly what Hello Games was going for, then someone needs to invent a time machine and obliterate this game’s existence.

      • BlueHorus says:

        Or send Hello Games a boxing-glove-on-a-spring in a box via the mail. Possibly replacing the boxing glove with a hand giving the finger to whomever opens it.

    • Rutskarn says:

      I don’t know what the original author of this idea meant, but if for example it was Chris, I don’t think “No Man’s Sky is about being a nomad” should be read anywhere near the same as “this was a deliberate, informed design choice.”

      For a particular school of criticism, saying “This game is about [X]” is a reflection of what the game IS, not what it’s intended to be.

      • Nimrandir says:

        That idea did come up in the Errant Signal episode on No Man’s Sky, but I definitely didn’t get the impression that Campster saw the nomadism as authorial intent.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      That was Chris. I mean…at launch it was as good a theory as any I guess? The game is so disjointed I’m not sure I could come up with a better theme than that.

    • Michael says:

      I think Noah Caldwell-Gervais made the authorial intent argument. Though, I might be thinking of someone else like Folding Ideas.

    • Miguk says:

      If that’s what they were going for, they should have made the player a homeless person living on the streets, not an explorer flying through space.

    • AReasonWhy says:

      I mean I agree with superbunny hop that its a way of looking at the game.
      But hellogames first update was to add… basebuilding. That was their priority.
      I really don’t have words, its just baffles me.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        Was it their priority? Everything they have changed so far feels like they are trying to morph their game into what “everyone” was expecting ie. Mincraft In Space rather than the game they wanted to make.

    • wswordsmen says:

      You are thinking of Dan ??? (Folding Ideas). He makes a good point, but that only excuses about half the crap they do.

  4. Raion says:

    Brilliant, they designed their new inventory the same way Gamefreak did for the bag in the Pokemon games. Except, back then, they had to separate your inventory by category due to having hundreds of new items and the Gameboy’s cramped interface displaying only a handful of them at a time.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Also, even back then the Pokemon inventory system wasn’t such a hassle.

      • Viktor says:

        AND they had the justification that the inventory system was mostly developed in Gen 2, which was back on the Game Boy Color, meaning that it’s reasonable to have max stack sizes, a lot of inventory “pages”, and a limit to the number of items per page. Cartridge memory is a pain and they were working around that. NMS is just sadism.

        • Supah Ewok says:

          I don’t think Pokemon implemented multiple inventory screens until Gen 3 on the GBA. I distinctly remember Gen 1 only having a single list that all items were on, and I’m pretty sure Gen 2 was the same. Gen 3 was when the current system was basically implemented, although they sometimes do a slight shuffling between games since.

          • G-Mon says:

            First-time commenter, been lurking for some months.

            No, the “multiple inventory screens” system goes back to Gen. 2 (specifically, separate pockets for generic items, various Poke balls, key items, and TMs/HMs), with later games expanding on it. I haven’t played anything past Gen. 3, but I do remember the extra pockets being a thing all the way back in Gen. 2.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      You can also have every item in every category in your bag at the same time without problems (unless playing the very first games), so if they can do that on a Gameboy, I imagine it should be doable on a PC.

    • Supah Ewok says:

      Nah, in Pokemon, different items went into specific different bags, all those bags were always accessible, they all remained accessible while selling items, there was no juggling items between bags, stack sizes for items are so large you are highly unlikely to ever need multiple entries for items, and there’s no item limit in any bag. The system being discussed is much, much worse (I don’t even know why Pokemon is being brought up, Pokemon would be my example of doing an inventory right, within the limitations presented by the small screens).

      • wswordsmen says:

        Pretty sure NMS would have avoided having the inventory being more than a minor complaint if they used the Pokemon method. Have separate screens for different types. Upgrades, crafting material ext. Always look for all of them so you never need to do a shuffle to sell or craft things. And autostack everything no matter what.

  5. Galad says:

    Back when this game was a few days until launch and the hype was at its peak, I’d have probably bought it based on the hype alone. I even had a friend that was also very interested in it. What saved me was that, at launch day, I would be in a different country, experiencing a metal festival. Thanks to that, I did not waste 60 euros, and that would not even have been the real price, the real price would be the tainting of game enjoyment in general, that I would get from dealing with all this crap.

    Hell, I can’t even properly manage my inventory in 60 hours of playing the Long Dark, and that game is way more forgiving. 37 kgs? Eh, good enough. Meanwhile the really good players seem to be cruising along at 25 max (in this game, at 30 kgs you become encumbered and cannot run as much, and above 40 you cannot run at all, and I am routinely above 40)

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      The hype for the game was so intense I was seriously considering grabbing it on day one (did it have presale on the PC?). I still think I’d probably enjoy it for a little bit (I love exploration and there are some games that *allow it* but few that really focus on it) but it’s very clear it wouldn’t be worth the 60$ pricetag for me. Which only made me more entrenched in my “preorders are the devil” stance.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    To think that while playing Fallout 4 the very first thing I spent my resources and perk points was in expanding the inventory just to be able to avoid the small hassle of backtracking a bit. And that’s a game with fast travel, places that can be easily found in your map and items that don’t dissapear. I think if I had purchased this game I would have burned a hole in my monitor from pure rage heat .

    This is the problem that occurs when someone tries to be overly-inventive with stuff that doesn’t need to be changed. It’s like having a 5-wheel car, only the 5th wheel can only be used by disabling either the front or rear ones. You’re making a change that’s not only pointless, but counterproductive, and all for the sake of change, because it’s certainly not necessary when a regular 4-wheel system works perfectly.

    They simply should have taken any existent inventory system (Diablo, Fallout, Resident Evil 4) and apply it to their game. There was no need to come up with their own one just to have something new. No one would have faulted them for it.

    • Echo Tango says:

      They could have had the inventory system of Nethack, and it would have been an improvement to the game. (Limited players equipment slots, limited player cargo weight, containers hold infinite.) Plus it would have been about a million times simpler to build into the game. :)

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      What baffles me is the odd shapes some of the inventory take. Just, why? That’s an extra layer of hassle over the rest.

      • Supah Ewok says:

        Well, given the system of “adjacency bonuses”, clearly they were trying to turn their inventory Tetris into a game instead of just being a necessary time sink, and different shaped inventories would play into what you could put next to each other.

        Mind, I don’t think that’s a good idea in the first place, and it certainly clashes horribly with the rest of the game.

        • Fade2Gray says:

          It might have been an interesting idea if moving items around in you inventory didn’t hover somewhere between massive hassle and near impossibility.

          • Supah Ewok says:

            Nah. Ideas to turn the inventory into something more “fun” or “immersive” never, ever work out. Because at the end of the day, the devs are trying to gamify a small database, and the number of people who actually play with databases and get some fun out of it is very, very small. The next best thing you can aim for is “satisfying”, which is a whole lot easier and a whole lot more people are willing to buy into it (for all the possible bugs and hassle that go into it, I very much find satisfaction in Fallout: New Vegas’ inventory system when I get the repair perk, trying to cobble together an item worth more money than its constituent parts). The next best thing after that is to make inventory management as painless, quick, and simple as is possible, which actually is always possible but a surprising amount of devs just brush it aside. It’s actually kind of mind blowing when you step back and see how many game devs there are with all the money and talent in the world within the realm of AAA gaming, and just how many of them fail to pass the low bar of “make resource management painless”. And that’s not mind blowing in a good way.

        • The developer heard the fanbase cry….

          They come for the repetitive “exploration” of samey proc-gen planets, they stay for the Satanic Inventory Tetris! :D

          Seriously, does this game even still *have* a fanbase?

  7. Redrock says:

    “I don’t have the reflexive harding instinct”.

    This is either a typo, or a very sly hoarding fetish joke. I’am kinda hoping for the latter, even though it’s most likely the former.

  8. Nimrandir says:

    To be fair, Fallout 4 has a similar inventory issue, since the crafting system requires you to hoard piles of junk for building/modifying.

    On the other hand, Fallout’s weight system is way less awkward than what’s presented here, and you figure out what you really need isn’t usually too heavy.

  9. Fade2Gray says:

    Don’t forget, each of the three exocraft have their own inventory, but you can only access the inventory of the most recent exocraft you piloted. If you want to access the inventory of a different exocraft you have to go find it, jump in the driver seat, and then jump back out.

    I’ve also lost count of how many times I accidentally sent some mats I needed for my multi-tool or exosuit from my exocraft inventory to my starship (that’s a ten minute drive away) because of the transfer behavior.

    I’ve played all the way through the Artemis quest line, and had no idea how important Polo was. Wow…

    On a side note: Ludonarrative Dissonance The Revival Tour, brought to you by Folding Ideas.

  10. Dev Null says:

    I’m confused by the Exosuit Cargo:

    “You start off the game with no cargo slots. Then, thanks to a known bug, it stays that way.”

    How does anyone actually know how big the cargo slots are and what they’ll hold then?

    • Droid says:

      Mods, I guess. If that bug just blocks the activation of that slot, it’s feasible that you could fix that without having to alter any other properties of the exo suit’s inventory.

    • Taellosse says:

      My impression was that the bug doesn’t affect everyone. It just randomly hits certain people, and the solution is to start over with a new ship, or possibly a whole new game save.

  11. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Polo puts the data to one side and turns to the window. For a time, we watch the stars together, my friend and I. We clasp hands, and then I go to leave. There is more to see.

    Anyone else finds that to be like a very pretentious poem or something? Especially the “watch the stars together, my friend and I” part, it really rubs me the wrong way.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, it’s ugly because of the presumption. It would be a lot more meaningful if you were able to choose that option instead of have it dictated to you.
      There’s probably a whole game in unlocking dialog choices based on where you look, and for how long! When you first walk up, your option is just “Ok. Bye!” but if you stick around and look out the window for five seconds, you can unlock the “… my friend and I” option. To make it complete, it should probably also unlock an option along the lines of “I avert my gaze, attempting to fill the gap in the conversation in contemplation of the dead void of space.”

    • Decius says:

      That was written by someone who describes themself as an author, but who went for “tell, don’t show” because showing all the elements like that would have been murder on the budget.

    • Syal says:

      I think it would be fine as a character-building line, letting the player know the character knew Polo long before the game started. But you’d have to write everything else to back up that characterization, it’s very committal.

  12. MichaelGC says:

    In the milestones screenshot I misread ‘learned 455 words’ as “LEARNED ASS WORDS,” which seemed somehow appropriate.

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    This whole series makes me want to design an actually good exploration game that fulfills the promise of Spore, NMS, Space Engineers, KSP, and Minecraft. Good job Shamus. Now I’ll never be happy.

  14. The quest thing with Polo sounds like they were attempting to avoid the common quest trope of “Gather me 15 Snartblatter dongs and I will give you (something naff)!” but handled in the most cack-handed way possible. I suspect that rewards for previously performed activities only really works if it was an activity you wanted to do in the first place and is thus its own reward, and getting something else on top could then be a nice bonus, except it sounds like quite a few of the tasks are quite grindy and you wouldn’t be doing lots of them unless for a Polo payout of some kind, and the payout is often as not pretty crappy. So the gameplay isn’t rewarding and nor is the reward, if I understand it correctly? And making you eke out turning in completed quests just sounds like a dick move designed to boost the “Hours played” stat. :/

  15. Shen says:

    Let’s be real, the only time your game should ever have a limited inventory is if survival and resource management are core parts of the design. Even in Bethesda games, they’re pointless and fall into that deathly green zone of “too big to worry about” and “just small enough to get annoying.”

    • BlueHorus says:

      Agreed.
      Even in games like Diablo, where sorting through an endless stream of randomly-generated loot and selling the rest is part of the core gameplay, you’re there for the near-instant calculations: Do I want this? Is it for my class? Is it better that what I already have? Etc.
      Going back to town and selling all your vendor trash is just a chore that comes packaged with that game, and they try to make it as short and un-bothersome as possible.

      I remember one of the most popular cheats for Mass Effect 2 was a ‘give infinite crafting resources’ one.
      ‘Cos I’m here to shoot aliens and get involved in the story, not go to the ass end of nowhere and fire space probes at barren planets!
      What were you thinking?

  16. Ander says:

    *shouted from lonely corner toward Minecraft LAN party* Yeah, not so fun having to play with a wiki open, is it?

    (I know we just had this discussion, but the wiki complaining made me feel so affirmed, even if it’s a completely different gameplay system.)

  17. Volvagia says:

    I assume, considering the presumed tone of the game, that none of the x-spacebuck totals are $248 for lunch, gas and tolls?

  18. Adrian Burt says:

    Imagine a Diablo-hack ‘n slash RPG that’s very generous with xp and leveling up but once you hit a new level you stop accumulating xp until you spend all your skill points and finalize all your level up choices. You can still keep killing monsters but the xp will just sit there, you can’t get it. You also can’t level up on the fly you have to go back to town to level up. And the game is too generous so the intervals between levels are very short. You get very few skill points each time you level so it’s not really worth it incrementally, it only really makes a difference once you go up ten levels. But you can’t hold on the levels and do a big level up you need to do each one then go back and grind mobs until you hit the next level in 10 minutes of gameplay.

    This is what No Man’s Sky feels like.

  19. The Big Brzezinski says:

    The more I read about NMS, the more is sounds like some cosmo-karmic balance for Starbound. It’s 2D, but its main loop is also based on exploring planets in search of resources to solve a chain of main quests. In current Starbound, however, inventory rarely becomes obstructive, navigation is simple, and quests at least give you solid direction. In fact, the descriptions I’ve read of current NMS resemble how I would describe early-access Starbound.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it would probably fix everything for NMS if it had mech suits, tungsten furniture, and ship pets.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    if your interface is being compared unfavorably to a Bethesda game you have made a mistake of epic proportions.

    I have a theory:
    The devs are actually all uber fans of bethesda and have grown sick of their stupid listventories being constantly mocked.So they decided to make something even worse in order to make people praise bethesda in contrast.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Rutskarn,are battlespires bags inside bags inside bags better or worse than this?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The crazy thing is that the fix for the inventory problem is pretty simple.

    Even crazier is that the fix already existed over 10 years ago.Whenever you talk about this game I keep being reminded of space rangers 2,and how that game does similar things to this one,but much MUCH better.Inventory,for example:You start with very little of it,because you have a small ship and bulky equipment.But you can not only improve the size of your ship immensely,but also reduce the size of your equipment,to the point that you can carry all the contents of another ship with no problem.And there are several ways in which you can do this.

    And of course,theres minecraft,terraria,and all the other similar games,where you can carry practically the whole planet in your backpack.So this game has absolutely zero excuses for doing this thing.

    • Redrock says:

      Goddamn, another person who played Space Rangers 2! That makes me so happy. Also, the inventory system in NMS actually reminds me of Out There. But the thing is, Out There is a survival roguelike thing where inventory management is among the main gameplay mechanics and sources of challenge. But in a 3D FPS exploration thing such as NMS it really shouldn’t one of the challenges.

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        They should make a remake of that game. Never really seen anything quite like it again.
        I mean, it had everything from space combat, Pizza-baking text adventures, an RTS minigame, and all in a giant dynamic open world with a dozen factions and over fifty other players in it.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But this is a $60 AAA game

    Yes,this is the biggest crime of this game.On its release,it was definitely an early access title sold for full price because…Well because so many were gullible enough to pay that price.

    • Adeon says:

      It’s on my list of “games I’ll buy when they hit $10” because for all it’s flaws I’m pretty sure I’ll get $10 worth of fun out of it. So I’ve been keeping an eye on the price and frankly I’m amazed that they are still charging $60 for it, they can’t be getting that many sales.

      I figure they must be doing one of two things. Either they figure keeping it at $60 will make it look less like a failure. Or they want to avoid selling to many copies now and are hoping that they can fix things and then have a deep sale to try and get a bunch of new players once the game is “fixed” and get some good press that way.

  24. Jabrwock says:

    It’s like they have no clue WHY you are exploring… “It can’t possibly be because they’re resource farming… so obviously they don’t need inventory space.”

  25. Rolo says:

    This is what happens when a genre fetishizes micromanagement in such a circular way that it can only be explained by cultural inertia, i.e. it persists only because all the early popular games did it.

    There is a big void in space games: they are either linear mission-based combat-oriented action games (Strike Suit Zero, Rogue Squadron for example) or they are open-world, in which case they default to full-time job (Eve, X, Elite). Imagine if all RPGs were either Dwarf Fortress or Fable 3 with nothing in-between: that’s the market for space flight games, and it hasn’t changed one iota in 30 years.

    Take most open-world games in other genres, be it FPS, racing, RPG, whichever you want: Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, GTA, Gothic 3, Burnout Paradise, Just Cause, Black Flag, Fallout 3, etc. The closest would be the old pirate games like Sea Dogs and even then they just don’t compare in terms of tedium. They go from easy to hard but notice how none assumes you want a big virtual world just so you can be a pizza delivery boy and manage your ten layers of inventory in-between tazing rocks. Even in the harsher open-world action games like Stalker, you dump vendor trash, you upgrade your gear, and that’s all the trade you will ever do. You don’t muse about the economy, supply and demand or whatever.

    You want free-range exploration in your space game? You better enjoy hauling shit from A to B. What a curious mentality, but more than that, what a curious consensus. Because I do get the appeal is these games, and I might even get back to them in the future. But all of them? Is it really how everyone wants their space exploration? Is there really no market for an open-space action/exploration game? No middle-ground between everything-blows-up in a corridor and lasering rocks in the sky? “Look at this beautiful space, all these colours, that superb space station, oh my God I can go anywhere, discover new planets, ominous asteroid fields, alien life, I get cool ships with lasers, pew pew pew! I can’t wait to play that game and fulfill my childhood dream of flying to outer space so I can be a god-damn trucker”.

    Internet communication being what it is, I might come off as hostile to these games. But the truth is, there is no reason to. There is no issue with the fact that these games exist. I would even say that considering the setting, their absence would be ridiculous and the first to make one would strike it rich in pre-order money alone. In fact, the recent influx of survival mechanics in other game genres (and let’s not even talk about Minecraft), the Early Access survival games saturation, all of this shows that the demand did exist even when we didn’t really realise it. There is no problem here, these games exist, and they should.

    No, the problem is that in space, no one can hear you lament that nothing else exists. The open-world space exploration games have become trapped in their own fetishism for micro-management, dull busywork and artificial complexity. You don’t want linear action games? You want Stalker / Skyrim in space, i.e. beautiful exploration, powerful atmosphere, maybe some low-maintenance survival elements to give it depth and meaning, deadly enemy encounters, but otherwise straightforward and easy to pick up? Tough luck.

    • Droid says:

      X3 at least has some mods that counter that. Litcube’s Universe, among a ton of other stuff, gives you an enemy corporation (as in actually hostile) to out-trade and a Xenon invasion to out-fight (but not really, they’re OP af) and at the same time curbs a lot of the menuing to do stuff. The ware search command line alone was what I always missed and never realized I was missing…

      Anyway, you will find that as the end-game of a typical X game would approach (having done all the missions except the horribly slow HUB plot and the plots locked behind it, or the stupid “bail an LX” mission in AP), you instead transition from a space-trucker to the leader of an army of trading vessels and a military force that fights epic battles against one ever-increasing threat to you personally, and another ever-looming one to the universe at large. It reveals how close X3 actually came to become something like an XCOM game, or even something like “The Last Federation”, if you know that one.

      All it needed was a developer who knew enough about the game to rebalance basically every ship in the game both in-sector and out-of-sector, cut off a lot of needless performance losses with a crazy amount of optimization, add a few dozen new commands to trading and fighting vessels alike, improve AI traders to actually provide a bit of competition on their own, add two factions whose whole purpose was an endgame “bossfight”, and actually include an at least hypothetically working economy model.

      See, all it needed was a week of polish or so…

    • BlueHorus says:

      Is it really that hard to just let the player choose for themselves?
      Maybe whenever they’re starting a new game?

      I remember Kerbal Space Program did that, and it was awesome for it.

      You could work really hard for the resources to unlock new tiers of technology or upgrade facilities as part of Career Mode, or you could set it so that everything was already unlocked and upgraded. Or anywhere in between.
      It was great.

    • AReasonWhy says:

      I think the problem with space games lies with how we design videogames. If you want space skyrim you need the resources for the scope and polish, but you will rely on old ways imitating previous “open world” space games. Look at the recent X game and what burning mess that became. Or you focus so much on scope and polish that your game ends up being empty and hollow, where you can travel great distances and got millions of suns and planets to visit, but not really much to do. Both Elite dangerous and NMS have this issue where they have when it comes to gamedesign extremely simple game loops that could have been represented by simple clicker games. This means that what space games of this sort distinguish from regular games is piloting a spacecraft, which atm Elite Dangerous is a great pinnacle of (but ED is a reather tedious only so so fun game). Beyond that, space games need to apply actual game design that is more than fly cargo or kill bad guys, and if you look at the AAA industry they are struggling hard with game design when they don’t have to burden themselves with creating a good space flight simulation. These are hard challenges and they seem to be next to impossible to achieve in our current industry climate.
      The alternative is to scope down, but you get games that as you say focus on just one or two things, like creating a good combat game or a good interactive game. FTL comes to mind in that its an amazing game but essentially it could also have not been space because again you don’t fly a spaceship yourself which is the one characteristic space games set apart from other games. There’s a FTL clone called Convoy which is practically the same game just mad max, and there’s dozen of other clones at this point. So would you really say FTL is a space game? Its a good game that’s set in space and it wouldn’t work as it is atm without it being sci fi in space, but it is not essentially a solution to this issue.
      Fucken hell this is a long post. I just wanted to finish with a jab at star citizen, look at all that money and development time and they will never finish that game, you will never be able to just live in space, and yet so many games and gamers seem to fetishize this idea of alternative life just in space as the ultimate pinnacle of “space” games. I don’t get it.

      • Droid says:

        There’s also the Stellaris-es and Endless Space-s, but they also suffer from not having anything in particular that couldn’t be done without the space theme (made obvious in that both those games have successors or predecessors with essentially the same game mechanics set on a single planet).

    • IanTheM1 says:

      As someone who has hated basically every big open space game for exactly these reasons (yet is totally fine with something like Euro Truck Sim), I empathize greatly. I think the only game of that type I’ve even slightly enjoyed is Rogue Galaxy, because it delivers those basic gameplay loops in the most direct and friendly fashion, and not obfuscated with unnecessary crap. It also eschews full 3D space to instead basically deliver naval ships in space, which gives it a unique focus.

      Though, while I do think the genre is saddled with a fair bit of cargo culty-ness, I also think any prospective open world space game has its work cut out for it. The actual design space (hahahahaha) for space games is a bit thin, and so far verbs also seem to be limited. So many of the hallmarks of open world game design break down in space.

      Space doesn’t have pedestrians to intentionally run over or avoid, space travel in general doesn’t lend itself to the constantly weaving and swerving around that any car-based game depends upon, and as a result while I’m sure at least some space games have a vague equivalent, I doubt any of them have anything as remotely chaotic and dynamic as a GTA-style police chase.

      Alternately, for something like STALKER or Skyrim, a non-zero amount of those games is based around broad navigation and wayfinding, and stumbling over pockets of interesting goings-on. In basically every space game ever, navigation is handled by pointing your ship in a direction and traveling unerringly on that vector unless by chance you get pulled out of warp by random bandits or are about to crash into a stray asteroid field. The overwhelming majority of space games are obsessed with capturing the vast grandeur of space, to the detriment that space is huge and empty. And frankly if you’re not into the visuals, then it’s even more nothing. Inevitably these games then immediately bypass their own needlessly-large scope by giving you a warp drive to skip past all the boring parts that didn’t actually have to be there to begin with. At its worst, I’m at least willing to give NMS some credit for focusing on something other than “deliver this shipment of goods to the ass end of the galaxy and maybe shoot some guys along the way for the 10,000th time, but hey at least that nebula sure is pretty”. Even if it’s incompetent, at least its different. :p

      If I was going to capture the feel of an open world space game, I’d probably go for a six-degrees-of-freedom shooter and set the game in a small galaxy full of remnants of an epic, inter-galactic war. Smaller scope to make up for the full 3D space, 6DOF to better facilitate actual map design and pitched battles (and frankly to avoid endless dogfights). Though heck, I could even see modulating the gameplay such that open space fighting is possible if tricky, 6DOF is your usual approach, and then sometimes you crack into a vessel that’s still marginally operational or raid an occupied base and it turns into a standard FPS for a little while. Hm. Does anyone happen to have a development team and $250,000 I could borrow?

      • The Rocketeer says:

        I really, REALLY think you meant to type “Rebel Galaxy” or something, and not “Rogue Galaxy,” which was a space pirate JRPG from developer Level 5, creator of Dark Cloud and Ni no Kuni.

  26. MarsLineman says:

    Shamus, I’m fairly certain your info about warp upgrades is outdated. Pre-foundation update, warp reactors upgrades could be found randomly as already-installed upgrades on ships you could purchase. They then changed it post-updates (but pre-Atlas Rises) so that the Polo quest-line was the only way to obtain warp reactor upgrades.

    But now, post-1.3, they’ve apparently changed it so that warp reactor upgrade blueprints are available for purchase via nanites. I just bought a Warp Reactor Theta blueprint for 400 nanites at a space station- unless that was a massive bug (which seems very unlikely), your complaint about the absolute necessity of the Polo quest-line is therefore out-of-date.

    • Shamus says:

      A funny story about that:

      I REALLY wanted that final-tier warp drive. I made over 50 jumps, and NEVER saw it for sale anywhere. Maybe it’s a bug. Maybe it’s just super-rare.

      I also had a problem with Warp Drive Sigma. I installed one on my ship, but the game told me I couldn’t warp anywhere except the base yellow stars. Not green, red, or blue. Just yellow. Then I saw “Freighter Drive Sigma”. Ah! That must be it. My ship is classified as a “shuttle” and that probably needs “freighter” type warp drives for some stupid reason. So I bought the freighter drive and discovered I couldn’t install it. (I hadn’t discovered the “buy a freighter” thing yet, so I had no idea this was a thing.) Wasted all my nanites on this useless thing.

      So yeah. Bugs, obtuse design, and updates that abruptly change major mechanics. When something goes wrong you can never tell if the game is broken or you just need to read the wiki, or the wiki needs to be updated.

      (For the record, I stopped playing about two and a half weeks ago. Not sure when the last round of updates came out.)

      • MarsLineman says:

        That’s really frustrating. I also got the freighter upgrade path confused, and I even own a freighter. It’s also very true about the mechanics constantly changing- including in the most recent update. 1.35, released about a week and a half ago (and the fifth update since Atlas Rises) finally allows multiple items to be crafted at once, and allows items to be crafted on top of an existing stack. They also changed the flight mechanics (again), adding procedurally-generated handling to each ship individually.

        At least they finally seem to have fixed the bug you mentioned about the cargo slots not showing up after purchase. I was experiencing that problem, but since the latest update I’ve added 4 cargo slots with no issues

        • Rock Steel says:

          Speaking of updates the latest expiremental update (that’s currently in beta) makes actually transferring things between the different interfaces much better thanks to better swapping controls.

      • Nimrandir says:

        Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. The warp drive upgrades go from Sigma to Theta? Was the office Internet access out that day?

      • Galad says:

        …The words ‘garbage fire’ come to mind, no idea why :D

  27. Mephane says:

    Until today I thought NMS was just the result of inexperience combined with a strict deadline. But both the business with Polo and the “improved” (lol) inventory system sound more like they are the product of malice.

  28. AReasonWhy says:

    That inventory system makes my head hurt…

  29. Adeon says:

    You know, the more I think about it the more I question why NMS needed an inventory limit in the first place. I can see wanting a limit on number of upgrades but it doesn’t sound like having a limit on loot storage added anything to the game.

    Back a long time ago when I first played the Gothic games (which don’t have any inventory limits) I came to a realization that inventory limits in RPGs only serve to make the game less enjoyable. Being able to just grab everything and move on was much more enjoyable than having to stop after every encounter to figure out what I want to keep and what can be dumped (and I’m a person who actually enjoys organizing inventory space).

    Now there are games where inventory limits are needed but even a lot of those tend to need load out limits more than inventory limits. For the most part letting the player grab everything and decreasing the sell price is the same effect as limiting the inventory. For example if a dungeon drops 50 widgets does it really matter if I carry 2 widgets back to sell for 100 each or take all 50 but they only sell for 4 each?

    Another nice option is to go for more of a dungeon based loot system where rather than having to sort all of your loot when you get it you have to sort and store all of the loot at the end of the dungeon (Steamworld Heist had this although it had relatively limited quantities of loot). In No Man’s Sky this would translate as a system where you can grab as much as you want while on the planet but your ship has a weight limit for takeoff. So you can run around, grab all the loot and then sort it out just before you takeoff.

    • Droid says:

      Since you’re now the second person to mention Gothic, isn’t it really weird how back when they made Gothic 1, it was considered really open-world, just as G2 was on its release? Then G3 got released and while it did set the bar higher in terms of open-ness (trying to copy Oblivion’s success), that’s all the game was for the first year or so after release, while riddled with bugs and not much gameplay at all. So PB went back to “their” kinda-open worlds for Risen, and now with competitors like Skyrim and Witcher 3, their games seem less like Open World RPGs, just by virtue of the bar being set higher and higher over the years.

      • Adeon says:

        I think part of it is that the definition of open world has changed a lot over the years. Comparing Gothic 3 to Skyrim for example, Skyrim has more to do but relatively little of it is actually related to the main plot. Gothic 3 has less content but a larger percentage of it is plot related. The towns/camps give reasonably self contained quest hubs but most of the quests are at least tangentially related to the Orc invasion (either helping or hurting the resistance).

    • Moridin says:

      Now there are games where inventory limits are needed but even a lot of those tend to need load out limits more than inventory limits. For the most part letting the player grab everything and decreasing the sell price is the same effect as limiting the inventory. For example if a dungeon drops 50 widgets does it really matter if I carry 2 widgets back to sell for 100 each or take all 50 but they only sell for 4 each?

      Arguably, yes. It obviously doesn’t make a difference if they’re all identical items in a pile, but if they’re scattered around, you still need to GATHER all those items in the first place.

  30. Joe says:

    Shamus, do you know the readers of your website? I bet that we all read that long bit about inventories. Long nitpicky bits are the kind of thing that sets you apart from the other places that write about games.

  31. Rock Steel says:

    Honestly I’m afriad I’m going to have to disagree and say that the inventory system is at the very least better off than before since:

    – Having inventory slots dedicated to technology even if they’re limited in number is way better than having none like the previous system

    – The added stackability of items in the starship means that certain things like warp cells are way less of a hassle to keep around.

    – Not to mention things like the quick select menu means trip to inventory menu are far less often

    Of course it could be better but I still think its too big of stretch to call it worse. Also I have to ask have you tried creative mode it might suit you if you simply want to explore planets without all the hassle.

  32. Vi says:

    I had been seriously considering that after I got the hang of coding inventories, I should maybe give my future players multiple little ones to maintain, such as Quest Items vs. Personal Souvenirs vs. Boosty Charms. I thought it might make them think carefully about if/when/how much they preferred to invest their finite interuniversal transit slots in minerals, vegetables, or sedated feral gummi bears in each unique color.

    Thank you for saving me.

  33. Ronan says:

    It looks like it fully recreates the experience of playing Towers of Hanoi by hand.

  34. Robert says:

    Seriously? HG spend months releasing *free* updates that massively improve the game each time – despite some minor nuisances – and all you can do is continue to whine about the inventory system, which is also far better than it used to be?

    The writer of this hit piece is a clueless, ungrateful hack. The turnaround on Steam reviews from “mostly negative” to “mostly positive” is well-earned, and No Man’s Sky has become easily one of my most played games.

    Keep up this kind of pig-headed whining about developers that actually give a sh** about their players, and we’ll just be left with EA’s business model. “Oh, the game was extremely disappointing? Pay us double and we’ll see what we can do about that.”

    • Droid says:

      It may be massively better than at launch. That still doesn’t mean it’s good. And just because they’re working on a problem doesn’t mean they couldn’t be making it even better with less work and time investment on their part.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      So you’re saying they should be praised for fixing their broken mess for free (aka doing their damn job)?

      Also, far better doesn’t mean good.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      HG spend months releasing *free* updates that massively improve the game each time

      Ill spend months shitting on the plate and giving it to you for *free*,and you will be a clueless ungrateful hack and a pig-headed whiner if you dare to even suggest that there is anything wrong with that.

      • BlueHorus says:

        No, no, no.
        See, Hello Games took a shit on player’s plates – which cost (still does) $60. To be fair, there was a meal included as well, which would be great without the shit…

        But now – for *free* – they’ve cleaned some of the shit off the plate for you! There’s only 3/4 as much shit now! They’ve EVEN put some small, withered vegetables on it as a replacement for the shit that’s gone.

        How DARE Shamus point out that there’s still shit on his plate? Or express confusion as to why they’ve carefully baked some of that shit into a pie and put it back, rather than just remove it entirely?
        What a clueless hack!

  35. DungeonHamster says:

    The last few times I played a Bethesda game, the first thing I did was open the console and type in “player.forceav carryweight 50000”

    So yeah, I’m glad I didn’t buy this game.

  36. Nimrandir says:

    As of this writing, NMS is STILL $60.

    I had some time while proctoring a test, so I went to GameStop’s web site to look up their prices for No Man’s Sky. While the digital downloads are still listed at $60, physical PS4 copies can be purchased for $40 (down to $25 if you buy pre-owned). Target was listing the same price for a disc copy.

    If the PS4 download wasn’t still at original MSRP, I’d say Sony was trying to incentivize a console purchase.

  37. adam says:

    I’ve said this before, but the problem with NMS is that Hello Games doesn’t have enough faith in their own vision to make the game we thought they were making. Having played the new Atlas update for at least 40 hours now this is more evident than ever before.

    I think in recognizing the limits of their procedural technology, plus all the mounting pressure, plus the backing of Sony, they suffered a crisis of faith over making a true exploration game on top of it, so they fell back onto a bunch of other discordant RPG-style tropes like factions and quests and trading and, worst of all, inventory management, in an effort to make the game have more “mainstream appeal.”

    Speaking as someone who has no idea what actually went on over there, I wish they had stuck to the vision of making a true exploration game. Not a game about gathering “elements” to upgrade your inventory to gather more elements to get more inventory space, or doing “quests,” or talking to NPCs, but a game about discovering what’s on that next planet, and the next after that. Instead, the animals, plants and environments you encounter on each planet are little more than background noise to your goal of gathering some shit to get to the next system, and the next after that. Instead of the animals and planets reflecting their environments and the environments reflecting their status in the local planetary system, it’s just comes across as a mishmash of attributes cobbled together at random. Why is this planet “dead”? Random. Why is the sky purple? Random. Why is this animal huge with a tiny head? Random. Why does this plant look like a giant mushroom with testicles? Random. There’s no semblance of a narrative you can construct in your imagination about why things are they way they are that would compel you to see what else is out there. All you get is the promise of even more randomness the further toward the center you get. Great.

    Related: When are game designers going to learn that inventory management only works when it has specific gameplay implications and shouldn’t exist merely as a way to annoy the player? In other words, if your game is easily broken by allowing the player to carry “too much” of something, maybe shift the burden back onto yourself instead of your players. I think Dark Souls handles this problem beautifully with the “equip load” mechanic.

    All that said, the game is actually enjoyable for what it is, much more so now than at launch, but it is not and, I’m now convinced, never will be the game I thought it would be.

  38. Smejki says:

    I guess next time they’ll be adding inventory tetris
    my favorite design hickup from the olden days.

  39. DwarfWarden says:

    This reeks of mental prolems. I am not trying to be insulting, I am stating a very basic fact based entirely off of observation and correlation. Only someone with some form of Autism would look at NMS and determine that the system needed an even slower and clunky tiered inventory that ate hours of play time.

    Old RPGs were notorious for padding play time through required grinding, or filling end-game dungeons with higher level recolors of previous enemies. Open-world games like GTA and its clones and games akin to Mad Max pad their game time with loads of repetitive missions that fall into categories that just get progressively harder but serve no importance or hindrance to the story. Borderlands had repetitive gameplay and repetitive mission-padding but it’s hard to be pissed if you’re sitting in a swimming pool filled with glowing guns.

    The worst part is this was approved by someone. A team worked on this game, so it’s no stretch of the imagination to think a team worked on these updates, right? So an entire team looked at this clunky, unresponsive inventory system they designed as an…..’improvement’…..they presumably bug-tested it at least a little, and decided spending dedicated minutes shuffling inventory every few minutes was a good idea. They looked at this DMV bureaucratic nightmare and said “Yeah, ship it. This’ll put out the high-rise fire that is the Steam forums.”

    I’m an unrepentant hoarder when it comes to games like Fallout – I take everything that isn’t nailed down and use every piece of ammo I can to make sure I have enough for the weapons I want to use end-game but this is outright lunacy.

  40. RCN says:

    They had a very simple fix and they still refused. For WHAT PURPOSE?

    Simply make it so that your ship and vehicles can have an arbitrarily large inventory.

    The car was the favorite part of pretty much everyone who played Fallout 2. Not because it made moving through the world map slightly faster. But because it gave you an arbitrarily large inventory you could fill with knickknacks as you explore the wasteland. Fallout 3 was smart enough to at least give you a house very early on you could fill to the brink with stuff even if they didn’t give you a moving inventory.

    And to what purpose? Make the game more realistic? Because all I’m thinking is how disgustingly unrealistic it is that a land vehicle has about the same inventory as your suit. And how your ship has space for VEHICLES but not to carry as much stuff as 3 guys.

    The only game I can think where inventory was this complicated but didn’t detract from the experience was EVE, where your combat ships could carry very little space, but you could still make a buck. It was your option to spend more time on a mission going into it with a freighter and carry back absolutely everything left behind as salvage. It was engaging and it was a fair trade-off. If you want more reputation, keep doing missions. If you want some easy dough, comb the mission you just did with a salvager and a freighter. Before learning about this I thought mid-tier ships were horrendously expensive for people playing the game PVE, but after that it became more bearable to lose a ship without insurance.

    And even then I’m talking about obscene amounts of storage in those freighters.

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