No Man’s Sky devs launching fund for proc gen games

After trapping a galaxy inside a computer using maths, No Man’s Sky developers Hello Games are launching an initiative to fund and support other devs’ wild dreams of procedural worlds. With first-hand experience of risking running out of money while working on something they loved, they’d like to help other folks working with procedural generation and experimental games research. ‘Hello Labs’, as they call it, has already befriended one project and more may follow. For now, it’s all a bit mysterious.

“We would love to help people avoid some of the pain that we went through ourselves,” GamesBeat report Hello co-founder Sean Murray said last week during his Game Developers Conference talk on procedural generation. “That’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Earlier in the talk, GB say, Murray had suggested interested math heads apply to Hello Games then went on to quietly announce Hello Labs for folks with games of their own:

“But let’s say you’re interested in working on that kind of [game], but you also want to start up and do your own thing, then we’re gonna try and help with that as well. We’re starting this thing. It’s super low-key at the moment — it’s Hello Labs. We’re gonna try to fund and support a couple of projects. There’s one already in development. And the focus is going to be on procedural generation, experimental games, games research, that kind of thing. More details will follow.”

Shh! Don’t let him know that we know. That’s about all we know for now, though.

As for No Man’s Sky, a huge update came out this week. The Path Finder update added vehicles to pootle around planets, more base-building options, the ability to visit other players’ bases, a fancy photo mode, and more. Hello have said this update “[hints] at a path ahead for the future” so probably expect more planetside antics in future updates.

[Disclosure: Our own Alec Meer wrote words for No Man’s Sky. Alec Meer, Alec Meer, are you far or are you near? And if you’re going down the shop, could you grab us some beer? Stella will do – nothing dear.]

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33 Comments

  1. Kefren says:

    Some of that pain was self-created. :-)

    I would still like to get NMS one day, but I’d really like:
    – To be able to fly anywhere I want on a planet. Let me crash into the ground when it goes wrong. They could leave in a “ship safety feature” by default, that levels you out, but give the option of turning it off as a ship control.
    – A permanent offline mode in the options. (I think the only current way is to block the game from your firewall).
    – If I’m playing offline single player, then there’s no need for so many planets. How many do people visit and explore and spend any time with? 10? 50? 100? Maybe just have 100 per game, but with much more variety between them, than millions that you’ll never see and which will start to feel the same after a while. This would make it easier to insert “special” planets every so often in a new game. Ones that follow different rules. Not just desert planets and sandworms, but even wilder stuff.

    If those were implemented I’d buy the game in an instant, even though it still wouldn’t match the trailer.

  2. c-Row says:

    Now all we need is a fund to help people adding features they promise in trailers.

  3. greenmurphy says:

    Do we detect a PR exercise? I enjoyed NMS for what it was – one of the few that did, but there is a reason why the player base crashed from 200,000 to a few hundred and stayed there. Its a terrible game and none of the updates have addressed the core lack of reasons to play it. NMS is irredeemable as a game and Hello Games reputation is equally iredeemable. I see this PR gambit as the latest in a long line of thinly veiled insults to my intelligence.

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      modzero says:

      I see it as an attempt to get someone to fix the issues they waltzed into – like having convincing-looking bodies of water other than “puddles, sometimes deep puddles” without absolutely killing load times.

    • mujie says:

      But the updates weren’t PR stunts, HG were still working on the game they loved. How many people would have given up? Also, they’re clearly working on the game still, so they can fix in, what your words, are the main reasons not to play it (though you haven’t said what they are). Which means it is redeemable.

      Here’s what I don’t get. You just said you enjoyed it for what it is, but then you said… You don’t enjoy it?

      • greenmurphy says:

        I never said the updates were PR stunts – they just don’t address the NMS core problem – its an exploration game with very little gameplay and less to explore.

        What goals are there? What puzzles? What new things to be found? Once you have visited a few planets and seen the same few buildings over and over you realise that really is it. You can visit an endless series of variations on a theme – but why?

        That you can now build a base inside this boundless sameness changes nothing, neither does driving around it instead of flying around it. You can now have multiple ships – but why bother? You can visit other people’s bases to erm look at them?

        I enjoyed it as an artform for a good long while. I played it far longer than anyone during the shitstorm of its release because as a piece of art I thought it interesting and beautiful – but as a game its a disaster – you simply can’t have an exploration game with very little to explore.

        The way the game was marketed left a sour taste in my mouth – this PR gimmick reeks of the same arrogance.

  4. janeishly says:

    I was actually happy with the original version (yeah, I know, but I’m not a typical gamer, being female, late 40s, living in the countryside, a freelancer and consequently without much time for gaming). So to me the updates are just fiddling with something that apparently nobody else much liked and beggering it about for those few of us that did. I’ve only just managed to get the Hazmat gauntlet from the last update; that’s how rarely I have time to play.

    Also, I’d really prefer to have the option of sticking to the original version rather than thinking “Oh, now I’ve got some time to go and find some Coryzagen” only to find that, with my terrible internet connection speed, I’ve got to wait for 2.5 hours just for the update (which I don’t want) to download.

    We aren’t all 18-year-old males with brilliant 4G connections. When will software companies learn to cater for that difference?

    • yosoyines says:

      I like your version of the average gamer, though it’s not real. I’ve read somewhere that the average gamer is 30-35 yo, and so that the upgrades are catered to actual adults.

      I don’t know if you bought the game on Steam or GOG but the latter usually allows to opt out of updates.

      And yes, I feel your pain, I don’t have much time to play either to be troubled with big updates, but if they are free, I welcome thee

    • Shuck says:

      Actually, from the demographic research I’ve seen, as a woman in her 40s without a lot of time, you’re more of a “typical” gamer these days than an 18-year-old male tech-head. The game industry as a whole still hasn’t quite figured that out, yet.

  5. aircool says:

    How about spending those resources on fixing your shit game instead?

    • April March says:

      Why throw good money after bad?

      Then again, I didn’t buy this game, so for me personally it’s better for those resources to be spent on new games I might buy than on an existing game I didn’t and won’t buy.

  6. Hoot says:

    No Man’s Sky
    One Man’s Lie
    Please Don’t Buy
    End

    My feelings on No Man’s Sky. Still suffering from buyers remorse after all this time. Shit game. Original credit = random Steam review.

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      modzero says:

      Hey, this is the third time you post this, and that’s twice too many. I mean, I get it, pretty sure everyone and their dog get it by now, you didn’t like it. I’ll put it in my notes, next to “if your poem ends with ‘fin’ and you’re above 2nd grade, maybe you should try prose next time.” You can stop now, your job here is done.

      • DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Hoot just really wants to start a rapper beef between themselves and Sean Murray.

      • Hoot says:

        Hey man, thing is, I wasn’t rude or obnoxious. Just stating how I feel. If there can be multiple posts and threads about the digi-turd that is No Man’s Sky, then I can comment on those threads.

        I’m not harming anyone.

        As for my poetic ability, it’s…well…not mine. I clearly state that in my comment. Maybe if your comprehension ability was higher than that of an 8 year old you wouldn’t make spiteful little comments.

        I pity you, son. I really do.

  7. Iamblichos says:

    I would have more regard for this “Hello Labs” idea if the studio that did it was anyone other than the creators of No Man’s Disappointment, and I would have more regard for this patch if it actually addressed any of the real “god a lot of people complain about this” items instead of new ways to waste time in a broken game.

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      Gnarl says:

      I would go with No Man’s Sigh, the word play amuses me more. At least, I would if I had any problem with the game, but I haven’t played it.

      Also, both terms suffer if over analysed. Unless you meant that no man was actually disappointed with the game, which I expect you didn’t from the rest of the comment.

  8. Alberto says:

    Nice to hear!

    I think NMS has shown how powerful procgen can be. I’m sure that wonderful procgen worlds such as in Horizon Zero Dawn could not exist without this game.

    Blablabla hate blablabla lies and all that, but I reallyike the fact they’re adding to their galaxy and helping other people to build theirs.

    I want proc gen racing across whole planets, proc gen giant monsters to battle with, proc gen food in videogame restaurants.

    Also: fcku me, how beautiful are the new spacecars. I’m in!

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      modzero says:

      *google-google* ah, here’s the presentation. Um, Horizon Zero Dawn is “artist directed”. I.e. the biggest issues of NMS are sidestepped, and frankly, it’s nothing new (though certainly Guerrilla may have made it much better). Perhaps more importantly, the baked maps involve erosion and flow — that means the game doesn’t have to place rivers in real time. You can poke at the presentation here, it’s actually pretty neat, though it’s clear it was narration heavy, so I’d wish there was a transcript somewhere.

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      MajorLag says:

      “I think NMS has shown how powerful procgen can be.”

      If by “powerful” you mean “dull as balls”. Face it, procgen creates a nigh-infinite amount same-y uninteresting experiences. It has its uses, but ultimately that’s all its good for, in my estimation. Though I’d loved to be proven wrong one of these days.

      I expect any really significant change will only come when and if AI reaches a point that it can have human-like creativity. When that day comes, though, we as a species may as well pack it in because the future will belong to the robots.

    • edit says:

      As someone in the early stages of developing a proc gen engine myself (after brainstorming it and writing notes for 10 years) it is my view that NMS is actually a very bland representation of what procedural generation can do. There are virtually infinite different ways you can approach algorithmically generating content. NMS does NOT represent procedural generation in general, it only represents one possible procedure (of infinite) for generating content.

      The non-terrain content in NMS feels like they made some 3D models and then mixed and matched parts, and adjusted some variables, to “generate” a huge amount of content that is virtually the same. This is not the same as generating the geometry procedurally from scratch according to some interesting simulation parameters, or something.

      The terrain content in NMS also feels lackluster because every part of a planet looks basically the same as every other part. Where is the environmental diversity that comes from different climates (like minecraft’s biomes)? It seems like they wanted to avoid blowing their diversity load within each planet in order to attempt to preserve some diversity between planets. This is not because procedural generation has an inherent limitation in the type of diversity it can produce… It’s because the techniques employed in NMS are only able to produce the kind of diversity that you see in the game. With some richer simulation parameters under the hood each planet could be telling quite a unique story with it’s landscape, and each planet could have a very distinctive climatic spectrum based on, among other things, its orbit around the star which provides it energy.

      I’m not trying to bag NMS. It’s pretty cool. It was overpriced, and the thing that bugged me the most was the horrible hand-holdey flight controls. I enjoyed aspects of the game. It just bugs me when people assume that this is all procedural generation can do, because it was so hyped as an “infinite procedural universe”. The type of procedure used here and the nature of the variety it can produce, would have been better employed producing variety on one planet.

      • edit says:

        One additional note… Procedural content doesn’t only have to be visual. A.I. behaviors, planetary history and culture, and story can also be procedurally generated. There is really nothing going on in those departments in this game. That’s fine, not every game has to revolutionize everything… My point is simply this: Don’t for a moment believe that NMS represents everything “procedural generation” can bring to a game. The limitation is ONLY in the imagination of the designers and programmers who have decided to generate content algorithmically.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    So much vitriol in the comments – this is really great, IMO, regardless of whether NMS is/was terrible or not. Games always seem like a pretty cutthroat business (I mean look at the Zenimax and Carmack thing), so it’s cool there’s someone out there wanting to cooperate and do things differently.

    • mujie says:

      Considering HG can’t be making money from NMS at the moment, I wonder how they’re going to fund all these projects. Or is it like an investment?

      • mujie says:

        Wait, are they funding them or helping them with procedural generation?

      • draglikepull says:

        It was one of the top selling games on Steam last year (according to Valve’s list) and I’m sure it sold a boat load more on PS4 (Amazon listed the PS4 version as one of the top-selling games in their stores in 2016). They’re also hiring more people to work on the game. I don’t know how much money they’re making from the game right now (most games aren’t selling in large quantities 7 months after release), but they’ve surely made quite a bit in the whole time it’s been out.

  10. Blackcompany says:

    Gaming needs this. Something to reward innovative and experimental techniques and ideas. Really reward them. And only them.

    Let’s face it. This medium is largely stagnant. For every Rocket League you get a dozen more PVP arena shooters. For every Witcher 3, half a dozen Ubi games, or Bethesda clones.

    This medium needs experimental stuff. I applaud this, whatever Hello has done before.

    But then, my girl and I are having a ton of fun with (her words) the “critter hunting space game.” Sure beats staring at 400billion systems worth of brown planets and hoping this one has the RNG roll you need to craft an inexplicably unavailable item to reduce the number of loading screens you have to watch to get to the next one, but you don’t hear near the vitriol about that game that NMS gets, for some reason. Least NMS has stuff to DO.

  11. Shuck says:

    This seems like the kind of thing we need more of – a big problem with procedural generation is dev teams spending all their time and resources making the procedural systems work, then running out of time/money to actually make a game with it. If they can help teams get into procedural systems without having to devote all their time to them, we might get to see some really interesting things get done with them.

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      MajorLag says:

      I disagree. I think the big problem with procedural generation is that people try to use it as a panacea for creating content. Oh, it can create content, that’s for sure, but that content always reeks of having been created by a relatively simple mathematical process. It’s always same-y and boring. There’s a place for it, but I feel that too many developers try to shoehorn it into spaces where it is really not a good choice.

  12. Ninja Dodo says:

    Great initiative. Always good when devs are sharing knowledge and tools and helping each other create cool things.

  13. Ham Solo says:

    No, thanks. Not touching anything from that dev anymore. Just can’t believe anything they say.

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