The problem with hotly anticipated video games is that eventually they get released.
Take “No Man’s Sky,” for example. Over the course of its years-long crescendo of hype, the game arguably has become one of the most anticipated titles in video game history. That’s largely due to the insane technology it’s packing under the hood: the sci-fi action and exploration game, which is being released Tuesday by Hello Games for PS4 and Windows PCs, features a procedurally generated (that is, randomly generated via an algorithm that “bakes in” certain patterns and features) universe with not 100, not 1,000, but something like 18 quintillion (you know, give or take) planets the player can visit, each with a unique collection of flora, fauna, and geographic features.
“[A]t its core,” wrote Polygon in March, “‘No Man’s Sky’ is so massive that its statistically insignificant team of four human artists can’t control or oversee its creation. At best, they can audit some of what already happened and adjust accordingly.” A computer program is building — has already built — a universe a human being could literally explore for billions of years.
Naturally, gamers are salivating at the prospect of diving into this game world. But as the release date has approached, some thoughtful observers have pointed out that given the near-legendary heights to which “No Man’s Sky” had been hoisted long before its release, it’s inevitable that gamers will discover shortcomings in the final product. Will it end up being an insanely impressive tech-demo, or a product that works as a game as well?
An interesting wrinkle is that exactly one person outside the development team, that we know of, has already played it. A guy who goes by “daymeeuhn” on Reddit bought a leaked copy on eBay for $1,250, plus shipping, and has been sharing his thoughts on the social news site for a rapt, effectively captive audience (where else can they go to hear a critique of the game before it is released?).
In his posts, Vice’s gaming editor-in-chief Austin Walker reported, “daymeeuhn doesn’t seem as obsessed with the question of scale as the rest of the Internet is. He’s more interested in talking about the cool sounds he’s heard, the frustrating bugs and design decisions he’s encountered, and the disconnect between fan anticipation and reality.” At the end of the day, it’s a game, after all, and gamers will expect it to act like one — with a satisfying set of curves involving objectives, rewards, and character growth. It’s impossible “No Man’s Sky” won’t entail some disappointments on that front, since it’s a game made by human beings.
In his piece, Walker approvingly mentions a post on Rock, Paper, Shotgun in which Graham Smith acknowledges, “I’m a little sad that ‘No Man’s Sky’ is being released.” He concludes the piece by predicting that “whatever the answers” to questions about the game’s ultimate playability, “ ‘No Man’s Sky’ seems certain to burn out in my affections more quickly when it’s finally here than when it was all just a distant dream in the mind’s (sic) of its developers. If only it could have stayed as a shared dream for longer.”
I have to concur, but I’m in a lucky position: I’ve got some traveling and family commitments ahead of me in the next two weeks, so it may be a while before I actually sit down and pour some hours into “ ‘No Man’s Sky’.” Maybe that’s for the best — I’ll get to enjoy the impossibly perfect concept of it a bit longer than anyone else.
Jesse Singal can be reached at email@example.com.