No Man’s Sky: How photo mode changes the game

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The latest chunky update for No Man’s Sky [official site] added a lot of things that are probably Of Interest to other people and a brand new, totally overhauled and significantly fleshed-out photo mode which is of interest to me. The mode was created in collaboration with Duncan Harris, whose awesome screenshot art you might know from Dead End Thrills and thus is far more than just a free camera and a HUD removal option (although it does both of those things).

I’ve spent an obscene number of hours since the update landed (an entire season of Spooks on Netflix) skipping from planet to planet in search of pleasing landscapes so I figured I’d share the preliminary results in a gallery!

To navigate the gallery just use the arrow buttons near the images or the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. Click on the images themselves to see larger versions.

I don’t have a fancy rig or anything so this is more about what’s possible and why the mode is interesting rather than some 4k-stravaganza…

As an FYI, some of the photo mode options are an FOV slider, a depth-of-field slider, options to fiddle with the amount of fog of war and cloud cover, a bunch of filters ranging from the Instagrammy to the Prisma-ish, the ability to change the time of day, and the ability to entirely change the position of the sun.

My own preference is to fiddle with the FOV slider (preferring a high number generally because of the fisheye landscapes it generates), take the vignette value down to the lowest value (10%) in case I want to stitch images together later and rely on changes in position of the light source for the rest. Filters don’t really do it for me, although I’m experimenting with the more extreme options for planets populated with plants of very well-defined/exaggerated shapes.At the moment, I’m more interested in how the photo mode can let you investigate the broader sweep of the terrain generation.

One of the side-effects is that I know my engagement with No Man’s Sky has ceased to have any depth from a gameplay point-of-view. I’m fine with that but I wanted to point it out as I do think the change might matter to others.

To elaborate, I’m just using creative mode to bypass any impediments to exploration such as resource costs and I’m hopping from planet to planet, spending a couple of moments to assess the terrain and the potential for interesting images and I stay a bit longer if there are shots I want and leave immediately if they aren’t. It’s not really a game to me, it’s a piece of software that’s generating worlds which I either find aesthetically interesting or I don’t. That sensation has been present since the start in some form and it’s one I’m fine with – I probably cultivate it so even before photo mode arrived I’d started trying to hack the game with this kind of end goal in mind.

The other, related, point is that having seen so many planets in such a short space of time, I know that I’m generally going to find variants on No Man’s Sky’s main themes of planet/flora/fauna. That doesn’t mean I’m not surprised by specific iterations, but if you choose to use the game this way it can feel very hollow by the time you’ve filled your pockets with images. Again, I had this sensation after playing a chunk of it when it first came out, but because I was engaging with the play systems as I travelled it took a lot longer to set in.

I want to stress that this isn’t a criticism per se; more an observation of how my own interests have altered my experience of the game.

Specifically responding to the photo mode, I really love it. I want more developers to do more considered photo modes as a matter of course instead of me needing to figure out various hacks or feed the screenshots into phone apps to get particular effects.

I wonder how creative directors and art directors would feel about that. On the one hand it gives options to explore what’s possible with an engine and provide ways for people to explore the worlds you’ve built in new ways. It also means you still have a bit of control over the output in that you’d be creating the presets for filters and options so you could see what works for your game.

On the other, I’m guessing it could easily be a significant amount more work and more bug-fixing so why not just leave it to modders and the more dedicated screenshot art communities? Plus there’s the risk of pulling players out of the play mindset. From a personal point of view I’d be okay with that because I think having curated photo modes would entice me to buy games I ordinarily might skip past but I’ve long since realised that I tend not to be the person a marketing department has in mind as the hallowed Target Consumer.

Disclaimer: Alec did some writing for No Man’s Sky. I no longer read any words in No Man’s Sky that aren’t “Photo Mode” so unless he’s been hiding dialogue in moons and down crevasses there’s none of his narrative in any of this.


  1. notcurry says:

    In this particular instance I don’t think it pulls you out of the mindset. Quite the contrary.

    For me, the best moments in NMS are those in which, for an instant, you feel like you are inside of a Moebius piece. Photo mode certainly amplifies that feeling.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Yeah, I was going to say the same thing, this feature seems a lot smarter and more in the “spirit” of NMS than some of the other stuff they’ve been adding lately (base construction, for example). If the appeal of the game is supposed to be in the journey, giving players tools to share the things they find on those journeys in more appealing, eye-catching ways seems like a good improvement.

      It’s not hard to imagine ways to elaborate on the idea further, either; maybe give the user a little narrative prompt where they can enter some text when they take the photo, and then build the photos and text into a downloadable/share-able/etc. visual storybook documenting their journey. Might help capture some of the “emergent storytelling” potential.

      • notcurry says:

        Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Not bad at all…

      • draglikepull says:

        It kind of sounds like you’re describing Elegy For A Dead World (which I rather enjoyed playing).

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        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Make those “mysterious signals” another person’s photo that you have to hop half way across the universe to find. Imagine finding quality photos like Pip’s in this way.

        Ever since playing Gravity Rush 2 I want every game to have a photo-sharing minigame.

  2. Ghostwise says:

    The mention of being unable to entirely turn off the vignette effect brought back terrible, awful, not good, monstrous memories of fighting the flarking Mass Effect engine to take tiled shots on an Nvidia GPU…

    • freakoftheuniverse says:

      I found most of ME(1-3)’s shockin’ vignetting could be minimised by playing with a windowed 1600×900 and using a tiledshot with a pixel overlap of 500.
      Example: link to

      • haldolium says:

        Well post-AA and many native downsampling (both via driver and often enough directly ingame) made that workaround for most games obsolete anyways (although it would be nice to be able to play in lower settings taking shots at maximum).

        But I remember as well… then again, many people didn’t notice it back then :D

        • freakoftheuniverse says:

          Too true, mate. Tiledshot is one of those weird hangover features that never quite got taken out of the Unreal Engine (it’s still in XCOM2 for crying out loud), but I’m so glad that downsampling exists and that we can have delicate scene lighting at stupidly high res now. I only knew about Tiledshot because I was using GPU with ATi on the side until a month ago (5870, circa 2009), and I didn’t really want to see how easily it would catch fire. Tiledshot did end up teaching me some good real-life photography techniques though, like the Brenizer Method and how to stitch images.
          Heck, my biggest wish these days is that we see more fully featured photomodes, like NMS, or Shadow Warrior 2 (which I believe was designed in consultation with DeadEndThrills forum members).

          • haldolium says:

            Yeah that would be great. I also like that Anseln is getting more support, even though it’s nVidia propritary (it always has been a pain to take great shots with ATI back then… had a 5870 myself once, guess its easier today)

            Shadow of Mordor had an outstanding photo mode as well. I am almost inclined to re-install NMS just for that, but it’s damn huge and I didn’t like the game itself that much.

          • GenialityOfEvil says:

            It’s only 4.5GB.

          • haldolium says:

            Huh, true. Thanks! I thought it was 60something.

      • Ghostwise says:

        Some proven work-arounds didn’t work on Nvidia, where you had to reset the bUsePostProcessEffects string in one of the .ini to false then set your inter-tiles overlap *just right*, and still get a faint “cells overlay” effect due to vignette persistence under some lighting conditions. The .ini change also necessarily killed the DoF.

        So, I’m glad that new stuff like Ansel and DSR and the photo mode Pip wrote about now exist and are done with screenshot photography people.

        • freakoftheuniverse says:

          Hey, thanks for linking that article! I should fiddling with those settings if I ever jump back into that game :D

          I agree completely about Ansel. I recently got a 1070 (mainly because I needed something with CUDA for work) and I tried it out in Obduction and The Witness. I thought it was really impressive!

          The ability to turn a game into a photography simulator with tools that can outperform real-world equipment is something I’ve dreamed about for years. I honestly hope powerful photomodes becomes a standard feature in the future.

  3. popej says:

    There’s some promise starting to show with this latest patch. The game still has lots of problems but there’s potential to be great.

  4. causticnl says:

    great pictures pip

  5. AthanSpod says:

    If you’re enjoying such photo modes this much, have you had chance to check out what’s coming in Elite: Dangerous 2.3 ? It has a whole new camera suite, including Depth of Field and Focal Length. No filters that I recall though. And you don’t get to pause the game whilst lining it all up.

  6. FatOak says:

    The photo mode is great, but why does it not auto-hide the photo mode’s UI when you screenshot? Also I know FoV is a more game-literate way of describing the camera lens, but I’d like some sort of option to see the length of the lens (18mm, 35mm etc). So close…

  7. Abprie says:

    I have to admit that I am somewhat puzzled why rps is placing articles nearly every day on a game that is just so-so (personal opinions may vary, the overall reviews are clearly negative). There are certainly many other games out there that could be given some more attention than an update to a mediocre game that enables us to make screenshots (think of it)! Feels like you’re getting money from Hello Games…

    • Craig Pearson says:

      Are No Mans Sky’s competitors paying you to talk shit?

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Hello! Abprie has been banned.

      It’s not acceptable to accuse us of corruption for writing articles you don’t like. We would never take money from a game developer in exchange for positive articles, and if we did we’d need to declare it or we’d be breaking the law. You don’t get to accuse us of committing a crime we didn’t commit, without evidence, and continue to have an account in this community.

      As always: we write the articles we want about the games we want, based on what we’re interested in and what we think our readers are interested in. This is all.

      • Craig Pearson says:

        Not even mega-murder?

      • GenialityOfEvil says:

        How about fashion crimes?

      • Holden McGroin says:

        in his defence, he did not state that you infact were getting paid but told you what he felt, tought. those are 2 different! so maybe a little quick on the draw, IMO. please dont ban be for saying this :S

        that said, i dont think you get money from hello games, the Photo Mode is sweet as sugar. I’ve told my friends about this new exploration experience!

  8. danielpferreira says:

    PS: In game design “fog of war” is when stuff is hidden from the player based on gameplay mechanics, like in a strategy title (it doesn’t even need to be actual fog).

    In NMS I think it’s just environmental fog, based on distance to player…

    (One could argue that in practice environmental fog acts as a “fog of war” – still, they have different roles in terms of gameplay mechanics )

  9. freakoftheuniverse says:

    Very nice, Pip! If you’re interested in doing a tiny bit of fiddling, up on Dead End Thrills twiiter: link to there are currently some simple mods, and he’s working on an updated Cheat Engine table to give you a bit more freedom in photo mode.

  10. April March says:

    “I can finally enjoy this expensive game now that a patch turned it into the equivalent of a free Strangethink game.”

  11. haldolium says:

    Well, this was a waste.

    Tried getting back into it, this game remains a farce or rather the misdevelopment that took the wrong turn at some point in production or prepro. As I assumed when I skimmed over the past patchnotes, NMS is done. There is no way in rescuing this project and everything that has been done by Hello Games seems ridiculous since it adds stuff to an inherritly broken framework.

    Same mess as it has been at launch, the photo mode sadly is as lacking to say the least and badly thought through as the entire rest of the awful interface and horrible PC controls.

    I really wanted to like NMS (and in some ways, I do). But it is bad and broken and will never work. I still hope Hello Games survive and learn, getting something new in the spirit of NMS working.