What does multiplayer mean for No Man’s Sky’s spectral civilisations?

no man's sky header

Some folk sure held a grudge over No Man’s Sky, huh?

It’s two years later, and you’d still be hard-pressed to find anything on that game not followed by a few souls still screaming at the void about “lying developers”. Not that I expect the conversation to change – first impressions leave stubborn stains – but, next month, No Man’s Sky will finally let you fly with friends. Multiplayer is finally coming.

I’m not much fussed. There are dozens of massive space games out there, and the simulationist Star Citizen goal of living a second life in the cosmos was never what attracted me to the title. We’ve plenty of those. But a Proteus-like escape into a post-rock procgen universe? Sign me the hell up, captain.

People like me played No Man’s Sky because it felt more mood piece than game. The answer to the question, “What do you do in No Man’s Sky?” might have ultimately been “… Errm… Not much”, but in 2016 that’s all I needed. A walking simulator with 18 quintillion different colour and shape combinations. An adult colouring pad where every image is ripped from an old Chris Foss artbook.

No Man's Sky Ships

But those weird, specific ambitions aren’t what sold people on a high-profile spacefaring adventure in 2016. People still wanted their space opera. And when No Man’s Sky launched a little more singleplayer than imagined, dreams of an infinite empire didn’t completely die.

While thousands of star travellers have never met face to face, they’ve been able to see each other’s marks clear as day. Names could be etched on the stars themselves; over time, more physical reminders of other players’ passing could be built and found. It didn’t matter that players would never extend a handshake to each other – slowly, over unthinkable distances, the community formed civilisations of ghosts and signals.

No Man’s Sky NEXT isn’t a sudden step into MMO territory – multiplayer instances are limited to 16 players. But the ability to see, hear and shoot each other over practically infinite worlds could cause a seismic shift in how these factions interact. To understand how things could change, we first need to look at how they started.

One of the earliest of these galactic civilisations was the Galactic Hub. Dissuaded by the underwhelming news that the centre of the universe simply led to more universe, a handful of players decided to create their own end-goal. Together, they mapped out and catalogued their own region of the galaxy, naming and claiming planets and plants according to a plan. Creating maps and fan-art, the Hub intended to bring a largely disparate community together, despite vast distances and sparse tools. A third-party pathfinder app even let prospective members track a direct course to the Hub from wherever they were in the galaxy.

No Man's Sky Civ Map

As updates shaped the game, so did they shape communities. With the Foundation update, players could build communal farms, sharing resources through shared bases. Message terminals allowed fleeting communication across time. Trails were built, guiding people along discovered systems with refuel stops along the way.

One of the strangest artefacts of the ways No Man’s Sky actually works reared its head during a planet-generation overhaul update, Atlas Rises, that changed the game last August. Mountainous worlds turned flat; lush forests terraformed into open ocean in the blink of an eye. The Hub had to move, their civilisation rendered unusable by the change, but they hardly left behind empty space.

Archaeologist Andrew Reinhard wrote about his attempts at digital archaeology in No Man’s Sky, and the report reads like the greatest and weirdest science fiction ever written. Bases lost long below impenetrable bedrock; terminals frozen high in the sky where a mountain once stood, now flattened into dunes.

Those empires are still very much alive, however. The Hub isn’t the only player in town, and there’s a number of interstellar nations building themselves a home in No Man’s Sky. Imagine EVE, but with less grand space battling, backstabbing espionage and rampant libertarianism.

With borders comes friction, and the No Man’s Sky community even found a way to fulfil that worst tendency of our species. Full-blown war happened between the Empire of Hova and the Vestroga Hub last November without a single laser fired. Instead, the invading force of Hova made a region of space unmappable through flooding – landmarks for navigation became hard to locate as Hova claimed every missed system, planet and moon. Vestroga disbanded, their nation disintegrated from within.

No Man's Sky Archaeology

What happens in July, when lasers shot by one traveller can finally hit another? On the scale that No Man’s Sky operates on, it’s unlikely that grand gestures will change. The potential for eight versus eight dogfights could create the impression of war for the more role-play inclined players, but dissolution seems to be the preferred tactic for getting rid of the neighbours.

Instead, I’m interested in seeing what happens once the community can start working together in more constructive ways. Imagine events like Elite: Dangerous’s Distant World expeditions, bringing a flotilla of ships across the galaxy just to see if it can be done. Shrink that to ground-level, and picture a road trip across one of No Man’s Sky’s alien worlds, a convoy of curators meticulously logging the flora and fauna. There’s potential for storytelling of the likes that we see come out of Eve Online, but with far more Utopian aspirations.

As updates have rolled out, there’s a clear sign that this side of the community is gaining the most from No Man’s Sky’s continued development. Bases and farms helped create focal points; freighters aided in trade. The most recent updates have been facilitated by fourth-wall breaking ARGs (alternate reality games), rewarding players with physical tokens for their investigative prowess.

This is the community that No Man’s Sky is ultimately for. Players like me will forever be happy with whatever small improvement aids us in our perpetual voyage; but the vast, silent societies are the lifeblood keeping the game alive. With the long-awaited call for meaningful multiplayer about to be finally answered, I’m excited to see what happens when these civilisations become loud.

If you’re interested in how much No Man’s Sky has changed since its release, Rich McCormick took a look at it at the start of the year for Update Night.

38 Comments

  1. aepervius says:

    It’s two years later, and you’d still be hard-pressed to find anything on that game not followed by a few souls still screaming at the void about “lying developers”.

    I think this is mostly due to the fact each time game site cite a new functionality comes in, some people are reminded of the initial fiasco. The “multiplayer” will be another one of those.

    Personally I got my content of the game , went after uncountable hours went through the “next” galaxy and simply de-installed forever the game once it started again in the “new” galaxy. Most of the PR stuff I did not care , I hate multiplayer with a vengeance, I was simply fascinated by the maths behind the environment, the generation of the terrain and the species. I got my content’s worth and more.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Likewise. It may not have been the most awesome game of 2016 but I enjoyed my time with it a lot more than some other games and put in plenty of hours.

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    • Mario Pajas says:

      Funny how some people like throwing away money to see some “maths”.

      • Ghostbird says:

        If they liked what they saw then it wasn’t money thrown away.

      • SensibleMagos says:

        Are you one of those people who can’t cope with people liking something you don’t like by any chance? If people had fun with it then it wasn’t a waste of money.

    • Blastaz says:

      I mean the developers did straight up lie though.

      The game was an Indy walking simulator, and a relatively pretty one at that, but it got picked up by Sony and the devs couldn’t cope with the exposure or the expectations and rather than try expectations management they actively fanned the flames – by lying.

      At launch it felt like almost all the “gamey” aspects were tacked on to what was really the core experience of pootling around pretty proc gen planets and that’s not the experience a lot of people were sold.

      • Uncompetative says:

        Sean Murray never lied. Every feature that was in its Steam product description was in the initial release. It was clearly marked as Single Player and inch to the right of the BUY button. People focused on what was said about early builds of the game within interviews that were several years old. Even the Colbert interview was a year before it released, and Sean tweeted that they had removed multiplayer and Hello Games put it up on their official blog, IGN reported upon it, Sean corrected a German interviewer it wasn’t multiplayer shortly before release. The two livestreamers who made a big deal about not finding each other were creating drama to smear the reputation of a hard working indie developer that had always been transparent about the nature of its title. Even in that stream one of them made a discovery and the other saw that that thing had been given a name. All games change during development for aesthetic, technical and business reasons. No Man’s Sky nearly had to change its name because it was being sued for trademark infringement by Sky television. Hello Games lost work when their studio flooded, and Sean said that he would have cancelled had people not been so keen on the game from a VGX 2013 trailer that had been put together in a year by four people. Sean wasn’t ready to show his game but was convinced to do so by Geoff Keighley. Keighley later commented that No Man’s Sky ought to have been released as an Early Access title, even though:

        a) Sony don’t do Early Access
        b) He had put the media spotlight on Hello Games before they were ready to show it
        c) It was none of his business as he hadn’t sold his house to found the studio

        I was treated as a heretic for making a post on the No Man’s Sky subreddit that they shouldn’t blindly preorder the title, but watch early livestreams of it on twitch to find out what it was you did in it and whether it truly appealed to them. Too many bought it against my advice, ill informed as to what to expect from it. I bought it because I was fascinated by the technology of terrain generation and had no intention to journey to the centre of the Galaxy. I thought it was a tour de force of procedural generation, but I rated the overall experience as an atrocious 2/10 which only qualified as a game when subsequent updates added the ability to mark out race tracks for others to try to beat your best lap times on. Maybe it has crept up to a 5/10 now, but I accept it will be a disappointment to many who failed to do the proper research into what it was about.

        • fish99 says:

          Yeah because everyone checks a games twitter feed before buying a game to see if any major features got cut.

        • aepervius says:

          Just a small correction : right before it was being sold sticker were put on the box to switch it from MP to SP, so the change is not as far *back* in time as you seem to push it, and right before the start or shortly after they were making PR move to pretend player meeting will see easter egg or whatnot. The reality is *as sold* the only things you could see from other player was the planet name. That’s it.

        • Ham Solo says:

          Wrong. He did lie. Often.

        • GHudston says:

          There were things in the launch trailer that weren’t in the game at launch. I got my monies worth out of the game, but don’t pretend that the Devs didn’t make a TON of promises that they didn’t keep.

  2. Ben King says:

    that in-game archaeology article you link to is really neat, but damn if the bedrock issue isn’t a shame- I would love to see what’s down there. I didn’t even realize NMS HAD bedrock, and the ghost-mountain is… so strange… I’ve never been keen on in-game politics or elaborate community machinations- I can barely be motivated to commit to completing a Destiny Raid, but I find the possibilities of multiplayer collaborative work with terrain manipulators and construction super exciting. I’m keen to see what’s possible with the forthcoming update.

    • Urthman says:

      Reminds me of when new biomes were first added to Minecraft and I had a home that had used a lot of waterways as entrances that was now covered in ice and snow.

      I posted a question to some Minecraft forums about whether there were any mods I could use to thaw that region out and titled it “Climate Change: Can it be reversed…or is it too late?” but my thread was deleted by a mod who thought I was making off-topic political posts.

  3. Mindkontrol says:

    Cool! Now we can be bored out of our minds TOGETHER!

  4. diamondmx says:

    Did you really need to open the article by being dismissive towards people who had a legitimate grievance about the game’s marketing and release?

    In fact, it might be nice for some people to remember for longer than a couple weeks about developers who push boundaries in terms of bad behavior.

    • Morcane says:

      Just. Let. It. Go.

    • Roest says:

      It must have really really hurt you.

      • aepervius says:

        Disappointment can be slightly hurtful, but the feeling of being lied can be very hurtful. I can understand why many felt so, what I do not understand is why so many here on rps don’t have the empathy to recognize that , and are so dismissive. IMO It was beyond a PR bluster, it was downright false advertising. For some people which buy very few game it may have been even disastrous.

        There is a reason the acorn from “fable” is always cited with article on Moulyneux. The very same reason why it stayed post-release in the mind of so many people following the game pre-release. Same here with no man sky.

        • tomimt says:

          There is a limit on how long you can feel symphathetic towards people who were scorned by something as trivial as false advertising.

          • Salsa says:

            Trivial? Alright, let’s just keep the trivial coming and who cares if it’s false advertising or not right? It’s just trivial. The guy goes on Stephen Colbert, one of the most famous talk shows, and basically replies to “Can you run into other people?” with “Yes, but the chances of that are incredibly rare TRIVIAL”. And repeats that statement on several shows.

            So yeah, it’s not just the lack of sympathy that is staggering, it’s the sheer amount of ignorance.

          • tomimt says:

            And it was two years ago. Just let it go. All you lost was some money, it isn’t like the game killed your mother.

          • aepervius says:

            I lost nothing I enjoyed the game. In fact having MP would have been for me a turn off, I hate MP. The fact it was SP and procedural based sold it to me. But I recognize that some people felt cheated and I empathize with it. Yes two years afterwards, when people bring it up there is the immediate stalwart defender of “getting over it”.

            No. If consumer felt rightfully cheated , they should NEVER get over it. Consumer getting over it is what makes companies (be it game or anything else) feel like they can push the envelop further. Only when company feel the long term backlash do they change their tune. And it is not even solely related to games – it is pretty much any business. After all why should they change their bad habits if there is no long term consequences ?

            Consumer should never get over it. Not letting poison their life or have an influence on their life ? Yes definitively that would not be good. But getting over it should not be fine. Each time the company comes up it should be reminded. As a lesson to other companies on long term consequence of fucking up with the consumer.

          • tomimt says:

            To me, being still so hurt about it after 2 years, not being able to let it go doesn’t sound at all reasonable.

    • Bull0 says:

      It’s become cool now to act aloof about the whole fiasco. That’s gamers for you.

    • corinoco says:

      I saw a film that was a bit crap recently. It somehow didn’t ruin my lifestyle or give me some sort of PTSD; nor did I walk out and demand my money back. I just came out of it as said ‘well, that was surprisingly crap’ – I had read some good reviews about it too.

      It just goes to show, doesn’t it?

  5. pookie191 says:

    I avoided the game when it first released as I knew what was coming when they mentioned procedural generation but I picked it up last year, played it for a hundred hours and quite enjoyed myself

  6. Kohlrabi says:

    Have they fixed the UI? I remember it forcing you to hold down the button/key for 3 seconds for every single action…

    • CriticalMammal says:

      Not entirely, there were mods that removed all the hold to press functionality… then in updates they officially removed hold to press for SOME actions. But left it for others… so it’s still ~kind of there but I’m sure there are updated mods for it to completely remove.

    • Kefren says:

      Nah, it’s still awful – one of the barriers to me playing the game. I’d press a button, nothing would happen. Try again – nothing. Realise it’s one of those where I have to hold it. Some options you just press. It’s a mess. One of those games where I feel like exploring a bit, but the UI and controls just keeps getting in the way and irritating me. (Kind of like Windows 10. Which is why I went back to 7.)

  7. Crusoe says:

    Um it’s also exceptionally boring.

  8. ZakG says:

    Multiplayer is the very last thing i was looking for in NMS (I don’t even want to hook my game ‘online’ to collect all the names for systems other people will have given as i often find that can be immersion breaking for me).

    Still i understand for some this is the defining aspect about NMS and it’s infamous launch.

    Having played the game a lot (and made a couple of mods for it), i would say i’d hope they fix/improve all the various things that are still ‘off’ in the gameplay, from the flight model and (lack of) navigation systems to animal behaviour and better feel to the planets (animals seem everywhere now vs the original release etc).

    There are so many niggling issues that make me happy i play this on PC and can mod out many of these issues. Still official fixes to the general balance and feel of the game is my most hoped for feature set in the coming update. MP is boring in comparison to fixing the base game to create that awesome feeling of exploration and discovery they were trying to create.

    • Kefren says:

      I was frustrated there was no option on install to prevent the game going online. Not everyone wants that.
      Nowadays I use Tinywall – no program can go online without me whitelisting it, which I only do for email, browser, Steam, and one or two other things. Every other program thinks there’s no Internet connection.

  9. Grimpast says:

    I’d say these were not bad first impressions which left stubborn stains. The developers (and publishers) did a uniquely shady, controversial thing, and they are being remembered for it. And looking at their cautious way of trying to restart the hype train, it is understandable, that the wider gamer community is suspicious. It would have been enough to hear the publishers lying, it was a pity to see developers take a huge part of it. I think that’s why people are still angry at Hello Games. They led this strange campaign where they promised everything. But sure, plain hating leads nowhere, so we should look at this current project objectively.

  10. cherbert says:

    It’s basically 4 player co-op. Everyone needs to calm down and stop getting over excited.

  11. CriticalMammal says:

    Those first couple paragraphs really articulate exactly how I’ve felt about NMS since it’s release and through all the updates. It might not be going the direction I would have set for it with the multiplayer focus, but it’s been a ride watching it grow and find a humble community that’s still finding joy in it.

    I really enjoyed looking at the archaeology piece linked too. I love that side effect of the proc gen looking back on it. Forcing players to abandon their structures for others to try and re-discover later… very cool lost civilization style stuff.

  12. Astaa says:

    I got 100odd hours out of it so not that bothered about the release fiasco. I was more annoyed about the complete lack of communication.

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