No Man's Sky director Sean Murray E3 2015 interview

  • 01/07/2015

Few games shown off at E3 have instilled as much wonder in the audience as Hello Games' trippy space adventure No Man's Sky.

The procedurally-generated, open-world universe allows players to explore a practically infinite area of space, encountering alien species on countless unique planets.

At E3 I caught up with Sean Murray, No Man's Sky co-director and founder of Hello Games, to find out more.

When No Man's Sky was revealed, it created quite a buzz. Why do you think people are getting excited about it?
I think about that sometimes, it does seem to have resonated. Obviously you make a game and you want it to appeal to people, you really hope it does. You work really hard, you put together an announcement trailer and you want the whole world to love it. But you don't actually expect them to. For some reason, No Man's Sky did capture people and it's hard to explain why. I think it's partly because we're making a really ambitious game. We've made a bunch of games before and then I had what I'd describe as a mid-life crisis, or a mid-games development life crisis at least. I wondered how many more games would I be able to make, and if I only had one more game to make, what would that game be? That for me was No Man's Sky, something I'd been thinking about for a really long time. It's so ambitious that I expected it to not work out - I thought I'd work on it for six months then think it was just a terrible idea. But I wanted to give it a go and I think that ambition resonates with people.

There's a real sense of wonder to this game. How were you able to embed that into it?
Part of what drove us to make it was we grew up with games, and there's a childlike part of your brain when you're playing games, wondering, why am I confined? I'd play Street Fighter and think, wouldn't it be cool if I could walk into the background? I'd play Elite and think, why can't I land on those planets? You'd hear things in the schoolyard about, like playing Silkworm and there'd be a special way to get out into space. So I guess we were driven by that. It's been said that this is a game as if it's come from the mind of a child. I think they were trying to insult me, but I'm fine with it. I wanted to make a game where there's no skybox, where you can go anywhere, where you aren't limited. We hear all the time, 'This is the game I've been waiting for for years,' or 'This is a game I dreamed about when I was a kid.'

The game world is procedurally generated, but it is generated within barriers of its own art style. What is the art style you were going for?
There's a really well-defined aesthetic that we want to get across. We're not trying to create every possible permutation of planet that could ever exist. We want things to look like No Man's Sky. I want people to be able to look at a screenshot and recognise it as a No Man's Sky screenshot. Now games will get announced, even at E3, and people will say 'oh that looks a bit like No Man's Sky'. That's nice. That aesthetic for me is bright, colourful, vibrant, interesting, slightly utopian and optimistic. It's really influenced by sci-fi I grew up with, real science fiction, the books of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and Robert A Heinlein. Their books, but also the covers of those books, which were really colourful, vibrant, wild, crazy sci-fi. That's what we want to get across.

How many planets are there in No Man's Sky?
There's lots. When we started off, we had 2 to the power of 32. We were using a random seed which was 32-bit and that's a really big number. It's such a big number that if a planet was to be discovered every second, it would take thousands of years to discover all the planets. We thought that was really good, then people started getting really interested in the game. We started thinking, what if millions of people play it? If they're all discovering planets every few seconds, maybe it'll only take a few years for them to discover them all. So we expanded what we were doing and went for a 64-bit seed, so that means there are now 2 to the power of 64 different planet permutations. There are now, like, 18 quintillion different planets. If one was to be discovered every second, it'd take about 584 billion years to discover them all. So the sun in our real world Earth sky will have extinguished by then, so we can say basically that it's infinite and no one is going to survive long enough to prove us wrong.

The universe is shared online with other players, so will it be possible for me to direct a friend to an awesome planet I find?
No, but you can share what you've found. You can name it, you can upload it and you can share it through your console or PC. You can tell other people about it but the reality is, we created something really huge, and we want people to spread out and explore it. So every player starts on a different planet on the outside edge of the universe. The chances of you finding the same planet as your friend are very slim. Then even if you were to land on the same planet, these are planet-sized planets. So it'd be like two people landing at two random different places on Earth. It's not about multiplayer, it isn't an MMO. This is a game about being in this huge universe and going out and exploring it, surviving, trading, fighting. To come across another player, it would be incredibly rare for that to happen.

But not impossible?
Not impossible.

You just said the planets are planet-sized planets. Do they behave like real planets in our solar system?
Yes, there's day and night, because the sun shines on the daytime side of the planet and is not hitting the night-time side of the planet. The planets spin on their axis, so day turns to night because of that. You can walk in any direction and you'll eventually come back around to where you started. That could take days upon days, or weeks upon weeks, depending on what size planet you've landed on.

You've revealed in-game combat. How does that fit into the game?
This is a living, breathing universe that has its own set of rules. There are people who would attack you, there are pirates with attack ships. They're aggressors out to cause trouble and steal what you've got. Or you can play as an aggressor, you can attack them first or protect other ships from them. You'll get a reward for doing that. Or you can join the pirates, attack freighters and traders and make your living that way. Combat is actually a big part of the game. Some people will be all about exploration, some will be all about combat, some all about trading. No matter what you do, though, you're not entirely safe. There's pirates and police in space that can cause you harm, and there's things on the planets that can attack too. There's the robotic race, the sentinels, but there's also creatures that will attack you for no other reason than they’re a bit mean.

So if you are attacked and you die, what does death mean in the game?
Death is actually pretty significant. If you die on a planet, you lose all the resources you've collected that you haven't banked somewhere, you'll lose any discoveries that you've made that you haven't uploaded. That can be really significant. After losing that, you'll restart back at your ship. When you die in space, you lose quite a lot from your ship. You lose resources that you've gathered, you lose money, you can even lose your ship. So you have to play a little bit carefully.

Lastly, what's something that's really surprised and delighted you with your own game?
There are moments when you're working on a game, actually most of the time as a programmer, when you don't really think about what you're making. You just see all the problems and you're so close to it, you're looking at the individual pixels. For me as a graphics programmer I'm thinking about anti-aliasing, or how the terrain is generated - all I can see is the problems. Normally, coming up to a show like E3, we'll have to make a trailer or take screenshots, so I just start flying about, planet to planet. It's kind of like an intergalactic location scout. I'm searching for somewhere pretty to get the screenshots or trailer. There are moments where you just think, wow, like you're really surprised. Often if we're doing something like a trailer, our artist will do some concept art, then I go out and try and find that place. And I'll surprise myself, like I won't know even that shape of mountain could exist, for example. I've found some forms of life living in a cave and didn't know that could happen. Those are lovely moments when it just surprises me. This will sound strange and people might not understand this, but I've never had that working on a game before, because you always know exactly what's in there. You never have any surprises basically - at least not good ones! If something is different to how you intended, it's a bug, but for us it's really exciting, like wow, those systems are interacting and I guess we get this result.

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No Man's Sky is set for release on PlayStation 4 and PC at a future date to be confirmed.

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source: newshub archive