What 'No Man's Sky' Can Learn From 'Minecraft'

If it wants the same kind of staying power, anyway.

One of this seasons must-have video game titles is Hello Games’ PlayStation 4 exclusive No Mans Sky. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for Xbox One loyalists, but those are the facts. But does the game have any staying power? By taking a cue from Microsoft’s (ne Mojangs) indie hit Minecraft, No Man’s Sky might just find life beyond the fervor of its initial release.

For the uninitiated, No Man’s Sky is a long-awaited, math-propelled title that sets users at a random point in a galaxy of 18 quintillion planets. (A single quintillion, for reference, is the number one followed by 18 zeroes.) From there, the player is free to create their own story. Explore strange worlds, catalog new life, upgrade possessions, and survive in a harsh, expansive Universe. At a glance, the sheer size of the game would seem to provide dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay, though a simple exploration loop or scads of similar gameplay may compromise the ability of No Man’s Sky to become a long-term fixture in the gaming community.

Be More Than Just Endless Exploration

Anyone who’s ever plunged headlong into an expansive world has run across the developer’s dilemma: eventually, a lot of content becomes too much content. On a long enough timeline, even a varied gameplay loop (fight, collect, trade, upgrade, rinse, repeat) gets boring as hell, and the only option is to shrug and move on to another virtual world. Repetition in a game intended to provide the illusion of countless combinations is no good.

If No Man’s Sky is hoping to keep their audience around and entertained (or at least coming back from time to time), they’ll need to provide some kind of incentive that goes beyond “look at all the random stuff we built.” Like Minecraft, No Man’s Sky needs to imbue their players with a sense of natural purpose, one of overarching achievement that goes beyond finding new stuff.

The world needs to bend and flex in a player’s wake; we need to be able to carve out our own path in the game’s large universe.

Monoliths like this one are scattered throughout the universe. They are a means of conveying the stories of civilizations and species sprung from the surrounding areas.

How Do You Expand A World That’s Already Complete?

A reliable way to keep folks entertained is to keep giving them new shit to fiddle with and do. With No Man’s Sky, that’s actually a trickier proposition than one might think. Like every developer launching a new title, Hello Games has promised to continue lavishing attention on its flagship title, but one has to wonder how future update plans will impact gameplay on release day.

In a game about exploration, new is always enticing; at the same time, adding new territory to a game with 18-quintillion planets at launch sounds borderline useless. In addition, when cataloging and sharing the existing crap in said universe is so important, it makes little sense to really mix things up a lot, too. According to what the developers have said so far, new missions are ruled out as a future option as well, though there might be some new spin on the three previously announced gameplay foci: pirate, trader, or explorer.

In other words, it’s up to Hello Games to deepen the gameplay experience as Notch and his crew once did by deepening the crafting and customization systems in order to provide new ways to approach the title — adding complexity to an already complex system for further natural reach.

As you travel around, you'll gather resources and whatnot from the places you visit. Once you hit your limit on cargo, you'll need to hit up a trading post like the one above and make a deal with the locals.

Let Players Truly Influence the Universe

Here’s where Minecraft had a clear advantage over No Man’s Sky coming out of the gate. In Minecraft, the player takes on the role of an explorer who was able to shape the very fabric of the world around them. Players are quite literally able to destroy and rebuild the virtual space as they see fit.

In No Man’s Sky, players are an explorer experiencing the sheer scope and majesty of someone else’s universe. That’s all swell, and likely beautiful, but Hello Games will need to figure out some way for players to make their mark on the Universe that goes beyond simply naming procedurally generated animals. The developer may already have the secret sauce to this essential gameplay component hidden away as No Man’s Sky may have a short time in the spotlight if they don’t.

Players will need to be invested in the world around them instead of simply bouncing from set piece to set piece. Otherwise they’re not really playing a video game, they’re simply a fly on the wall of a beautiful terrarium.
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