Fun Collecting

Syncaine made an astute observation in my prior No Man’s Sky (NMS) impression post:

I’ve never read, this included, anything that suggests the game is actually fun. People point out what is missing or broken, and what is there, but never a series of ‘things’ that are interesting or fun.

As I mentioned in the post itself, I do find the game fun, and have been playing it now for over 60 hours – far longer than most AAA games these days. But… why? What are the fun bits?

In NMS’s specific case, I think most of the fun is derived from the accumulation of things. If you have ever played another survival game like Don’t Starve, 7 Days to Die, or even Minecraft to an extent, and enjoyed collecting 200 pieces of X so you can craft that next upgrade, well, NMS is here for you. Hell, it’s also sorta like herbing in your typical MMO. Run around, press the E button near a node, continue on. Except with spaceships and mining lasers and landing on different planets.

That’s… kinda it, really. Well, assuming you aren’t interested in the background plot.

Let me contrast NMS with two games. First, Starbound. Staround also features procedurally-generated planets, collecting all the things, and a plot that mostly glues the experience together. Starbound is the better game by far though, because combat spices things up and synergizes with the collection of things. In NMS, all you really fight are the Sentinels, which are everywhere all the time, and only ever escalate things if you don’t kill them fast enough. Compare that with Starbound having to dig deeper into a planet for the best minerals, with enemies getting tougher the deeper your go. The gameplay loop in Starbound and the engaging fights are more interesting and fun.

The second contrast would be with Sunless Sea. Procedurally-generated exploration game with a focus on profit from selling trade goods. Sounds pretty similar, right? Sunless Sea also has a mild Lovecraftian vibe and some great narrative. It also completely sucks as a game and feels terrible to play. The nominal gameplay is quite different – FPS versus overhead ship battles – but that is kinda the point. NMS feels engaging in a way Sunless Sea does not, even if they are both games that revolve around exploring and collecting and obtaining cash.

In the comments, Helistar mentioned that they would just “stick with ETS2 for the time being.” I had to Google the acronym, which is apparently Euro Truck Simulator 2. My first reaction was to scoff. What does driving trucks and selling cargo for cash have to do with flying around space… and selling cargo… oh. Well then. There you go.

If none of the above clears anything up for you, then No Man’s Sky is not for you. It technically really isn’t even for me. There is something there though, some half-formed game system I can’t quite describe, which is compelling. Or, perhaps as Zubon would describe, “compelling but not entertaining.” But I’m weird in the fact that compelling is automatically entertaining for me.

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Posted on December 13, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I played NMS quite a while ago, for about 3 days. It just didn’t have a whole lot that was complelling. Mind you, this was before base building.

    I ended up falling into Empyrion, getting it on sale on steam for $10. That game is more or less what I wish NMS had been. It is still in “Alpha” whatever that means. But if you enjoy the space thing and the building thing and the survival thing, I think it might be worth checking out.

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    • I actually have Empyrion and played it for a little bit, earlier this year. Not sure if the beginning experience has improved much, but at the time it was not intuitive enough for me. I looted the starting base house, walked around outside a bit, used the floating mining drone or whatever to dig a hole, tried to craft something and got confused, then went on to play something else.

      I will give it another shot later on, but Empyrion did not grab me in the same way that, say, 7 Days to Die grabbed me despite being in Alpha.

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  2. The gameplay loop sounds very much the same as Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, which I bought last year and played maybe six times for a total of maybe 6 hours. It was a useful learning experience. What I learned was that the very same things which I find both compelling and entertaining in MMOs I find mindless and soul-destroying in single-player games. I thought about that a lot after playing Yonder so buying it was money well spent, in a a way. Just not in the way I thought it was going to be.

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  3. The Starbound comparison (which I assume works just as well as Terraria, a game I have played): The point in those games of collecting and improving is that they influence the combat, and the combat is fun. If the combat isn’t fun in NMS, I’d think the collecting of stuff towards that would also have less meaning, which is why I’m struggling to understand the fun to be found here.

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    • Yeah, that is pretty much it. Combat exists in NMS, but is mostly superfluous. Of all the billions of variations on animal life, 99% of them are docile. At the same time, it is not as though the devs miscalculated – the vast majority of upgrades are for exploring, such as Cold Weather protection, etc. Then again, the spaceship combat is no joke; it’s very easy to die up there.

      Maybe the Minecraft comparison is better after all. So: “It’s like Minecraft, if you decided to try and walk to the edge of the world.” Minus the Night cycle.

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  4. It sounds like NMS is mostly missing the second half of the equation to the “accumulation of things as gameplay” loop – purpose/reason/meaning for the player to keep accumulating said things.

    I’m a fanatical accumulator of things/node harvester (read: hoarder) in MMOs. Having other players involved automatically provides me with personal rationale for collecting – I can “beat” other players by having more (even if it’s just for topping leaderboards of most useless junk item collected), I can sell my surplus to other players in exchange for stuff I do want, the developers might make said items useful or valuable in a future patch, I might be able to use it later to progress, and worse case scenario, someone else could inherit it if I decide not to play any longer and it’s not account bound.

    In singleplayer games, resources are accumulated mostly for the purposes of progression or possible future use. In Minecraft, I keep stuff to advance and progress through mods that need ever increasing amounts of more technical stuff, and you never know when you might need more building material. In Terraria, you need more and better stuff to fight harder bosses, and so on. In Slime Rancher, which is pretty darned simplistic as these games go, you collect more stuff in order to get more profit to unlock future upgrades, and you get to venture further and further afield from your base to see more novel and weird/cute slime species.

    If the rationale in NMS is to collect more stuff in order to visit more planets, then the moment to moment loop of visiting those planets has to be somehow entertaining/interesting enough to the player to induce them to keep getting more things. If each planet feels the same and the novelty factor isn’t there, the reason to collect would probably start to wear thin in a hurry.

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    • Yeah, NMS is more sandbox-y than most. If you simply want to progress the story and/or head towards the center of the galaxy, everything is pretty straight-forward. Hell, the only real limitation there are Warp Cells, which you can craft – you’ll be able to do X jumps in a row, only stopping long enough to get more elements to restock your fuel.

      The devs added base-building, which can sometimes require expensive elements for the nicer pieces. But since you can set up farms in bases, it really just becomes a matter of getting some (ahem) seed money and then leaving the game running in the background, since most plants regrow in ~30 minutes.

      The loftier goal would be to purchase a Freighter, which can cost upwards of 186 million units, when average quest payout is 250k after 50+ hours of increasing reputation. The Freighter can warp much further distances more efficiently, acts as a mobile base, and allows you to have up to six different starships (so you aren’t flying a cargo ship all the time). All of which would have incredible utility… if it had any real use. I mean, by the time you get a Freighter, there is nothing to challenge you in any way, since clearly you were resourceful enough to buy one in the first place. Kind of reminds me of killing the WEAPON bosses in FF7: they dropped really, really good items, but were much harder than the actual final boss, so… thanks?

      None of the above really bothers me in comparison to, say, the fact they have elements like Deuterium everywhere, which requires vehicle-grade mining lasers to mine, but Deuterium is only ever used for vehicle upgrades. Why the hell wouldn’t they hook that into the late-game recipes?

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  5. Yes, ETS2 is Euro Truck Simulator 2. I discovered it by chance, it was mentioned on a blog about “work simulators” (together with Farm Simulator or Train Simulator), and it was also suggested to my by facebook posts of a friend, who is a professional truck driver (weird as it sounds, there seems to be quite a few who play ETS2/ATS).

    Reading the description of NMS it really sounds a bit like ETS2 with an added grind. A bit as if I had to grind for diesel when refilling at a gas station with my truck. So why not keep the “travel” part and skip the “grind” part?

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