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No Man's Sky: A Video Game With A Vast Universe


The new video game "No Man's Sky" is big. For one thing, its computer-generated universe holds some 18 quintillion star systems, and it's one of the most-hyped games in years. The creators were featured in The New Yorker and appeared on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." But is the game any good? Chris Suellentrop and JJ Sutherland of the podcast "Shall We Play A Game?" share their first impressions.

JJ SUTHERLAND, BYLINE: This is not a review.

CHRIS SUELLENTROP, BYLINE: The game is just too big. We haven't even finished it.

SUTHERLAND: And I'm not sure I ever will.


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Life support systems activated.

SUELLENTROP: Or whether you ever can or what it even means to finish a game that's the size of the physical universe.

SUTHERLAND: And Chris, they're able to make this game that absurdly large by letting an algorithm build the world rather than doing everything by hand. It's called procedural generation. It's not unique to "No Man's Sky," but this is the first time it's been used to create a virtual world this large. It's really a technical feat.

SUELLENTROP: And because the virtual universe is so vast, your experience of it, at least as far as we've gotten, will make you feel quite small. You're very alone in this vast space.

SUTHERLAND: And I do want to say it is beautiful. The science fiction aesthetic we really don't see that much anymore. It's rooted in optimism - more Arthur C. Clarke then cyber-punkish William Gibson.

SUELLENTROP: And because of the way the game is built, you can run across a planet, jump in your ship and fly to the stars, and there isn't a single cut or edit or pause. It feels completely seamless.


SUTHERLAND: All that is true. It is pretty. The music is great. The ambition - also great. But to me it ends up feeling like a vast universe where nothing really happens or matters.

SUELLENTROP: Things happen. I've mined for elements. I've talked to aliens. I've shot down enemy ships.

SUTHERLAND: Sure, Chris, but to what purpose? I mean the game starts, and instead of flying around this majestic universe, you're stuck on some planet, and you have to get the materials to fix your broken spaceship. You don't know who you are. You don't know where you are. You don't know why you're there. You don't know anything really.

And then - and this was the most frustrating part to me. It makes you walk in real-time, mind you, 10 minutes to get to the resources I needed to fix my ship.

SUELLENTROP: I agree with you. The walking in the beginning of the game can be a little tedious.

SUTHERLAND: Tedious - it took me hours to fix my ship - hours.

SUELLENTROP: "No Man's Sky" is a game that's kind of like "Minecraft." It doesn't tell you what to do. It asks you to explore the terrain and experiment to learn the rules.


SUTHERLAND: Sure, but when you get to space - right? - so you're in space. It's going to be this awesome, huge, fantastically large universe. And what do you have to do? You have to gather more stuff to fix your ship again or to power your drive or whatever. It's a giant game of crafting. It's just making stuff just to make stuff.

SUELLENTROP: Sure, but you're also exploring. It's part of a whole genre of video games that are about exploration and creating a mood - in this case, one of serenity, beauty, awe at the vastness of space and a dash of existential despair.

SUTHERLAND: Frustration and boredom at the meaninglessness of my life in the face of a vast, incomprehensible universe - mission accomplished.

SUELLENTROP: It's pretty, JJ. Not every game involves blowing things up.

SUTHERLAND: True, Chris, I know that's true. But listen. I'm 10 or so hours in, and I still don't know what to do or why anything is the way it is. As someone once said, who am I? Why am I here?

SUELLENTROP: There is the central task of flying to the center of the universe or galaxy or whatever it is, and there are hints about something, a great person or a great power being there.

SUTHERLAND: But do I have to get there by constantly doing the same thing over and over again, the same monotonous and fruitless work? I've quit jobs like that.


SUELLENTROP: Remember. This is not a review. We haven't finished the game yet.


CORNISH: Chris Suellentrop and JJ Sutherland are the host of the podcast "Shall We Play A Game?" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.