No Man’s Sky, the ambitious sci-fi exploration game from Hello Games coming out whenever-ish, is not without its own influences. It’s a game built upon the shoulders of giants. But who are the giants?
Since it might as well be forever until No Man’s Sky is in our PlayStation 4 or PCs, there’s no better reason than to indulge in the big works that led Sean Murray and Hello Games to one day making No Man’s Sky.
Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’
The 1965 epic sci-fi novel Dune is one of the first things Sean Murray brings up when he talks about things that influenced No Man’s Sky.
“I can actually remember reading it and just being hungry, you know? Because I had just fogotten to eat,” he said in an interview with IGN. “It’s such an amazing book and it paints this picture of a world that’s so believable. Everything about all of the systems, I think that’s the really good thing about really good sci-fi. It just makes total sense that you get lost in the world a little bit.”
The 1984 space game released for BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers was one of the seminal games of Sean Murray’s childhood.
It might look like a bunch of lines and dots because, well, it is. It pales in comparison to games today, but that also just means kids are spoiled. Within the ‘80s space simulator is a comprehensive space explorer where you worked as a freelancer, taking on piracy and military jobs alike to get credits and upgrade your ship so you can keep flying. Sound familiar?
30 years later Elite is credited for establishing the foundation for what all blockbuster video games are built on, from Grand Theft Auto to EVE Online. Wanna play? Emulators of Elite are easily accessible.
The novels of the “Big Three”: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein…
Who isn’t inspired by either Asimov, Clarke, or Heinlein? Still, Sean Murray and the rest of Hello Games have gone to great lengths to make their roots in the paperbacks clear, namedropping Asimov and Heinlein on the E3 stage in 2014.
Later that year, Hello Games asked fans what their favorite sci-fi books are. They “unscientifically cherry-picked” selections recommended by their fans, which include stuff like Hitchhiker’s Guide, William Gibson, Ender’s Game, Forever War, Commonwealth Saga, and the works of Iain M. Banks.
…and their covers.
No Man’s Sky’s driving attraction is exploration, and nothing inspires a journey more than seeing someplace you wish you could go. That’s No Man’s Sky.
In several interviews, including his appearance at the New Yorker’s Tech@Fest this year, Murray frequently mentions artists like Chris Foss, John Harris, and Ralph McQuarrie whose works have graced the covers of sci-fi books, video game manuals, and pre-production illustrations for movies like Star Wars.
Sean Murray, on Chris Foss: “What I really love is that he created this kind of art when everyone else was creating black starfields, grey dull monolithic spacecrafts. And he created this and people loved it,” Murray said in an interview with Eurogamer. “I can’t imagine somebody taking that kind of risk and just doing something so different to what everyone else is doing. I think that’s why he’s one of my favorite artists.”
Doing something different than what everyone else is doing is one driving ethos to No Man’s Sky. While the game does feature combat, upgrades, and enemies like other games, Sean Murray wants the players to create their journey made of their own choices which will color their unique experience. Very few games allow that kind of freedom, even in “open world” triple-A games.
Vintage sci-fi art has spawned its own fandom, and you can indulge your curiosity in fan forums and blogs.
Breaking news: Star Wars are very influential movies.
There’s no reason to doubt the power Star Wars has had on people like Sean Murray. But rather than the dogfights, shootouts, dashing heroes, lightsabers, and droids, there is one specific shot in A New Hope that left a long-lasting impression on Murray for decades.
At Tech@Fest, Murray illustrated gaming can come in two kinds of meals: In junk food (mobile games your mom plays), or an elegant meal. While he had no wish to deride smaller games, his ambition for No Man’s Sky aimed a little higher than releasing the player’s dopamine.
Thatgamecompany’s Journey from 2012 is admired by Murray. At Tech@Fest, he praised its simplicity and elegance and hoped to channel that in No Man’s Sky.
‘Burnout 3’ and ‘Black’
While even Hello Games wouldn’t credit these games, the auteur theory isn’t without examining the creator’s past works. Burnout 3, Black, and Burnout Paradise were games Sean Murray worked on while an employee at Criterion.
Embodiment of everything triple-A games had to offer in the mid-2000’s, understanding them provides a profound context to Murray’s wish for soul-satisfying work that can be seen in the sophistication and ambition he and the rest of Hello Games have let loose in No Man’s Sky.