SAN FRANCISCO—Hello Games, the creators of the beleaguered space exploration game No Man’s Sky, announced a new initiative on stage at this year’s Game Developers Conference: Hello Labs. As announced by studio founder Sean Murray, the company is putting money aside to fund multiple projects – one of which is already in development – that focus on “procedural [world] generation and experimental game research.”
Murray made the announcement at the end of a discussion about using mathematical formulas to figure out the quadrillions of planets No human heaven. This discussion largely avoided talking about the game’s mixed critical reception. Still, Murray pointed out a few new details about the end of development.
For starters, Murray and his team made an astonishingly low prediction about how many players would start the game on day one. As in, less than 14,000. The team considered that number to be a high estimate of concurrent players, as staffers saw that number tied to recent Steam usage data for the game. Far Cry: Primalwhich was launched shortly before No Man’s Sky. “It’s obviously a huge game,” Murray said. “That [number] made us a little nervous about servers and the sheer number of people booting the game on day one. Insidebut staffers at Sony warned Murray to estimate anything befitting “a triple-A product.”)
As it turned out, the game ended up with 500,000 concurrent players on day one, with 250,000 of those playing on a wide variety of PCs. The total number overwhelmed the “network team” of staff, which Murray said consisted of just one staff (“and that was just” a of his orbits… and we had uploaded half a billion discoveries [by players]”). Of those quarter of a million PC players, about one percent had crash dump data reporting to Hello Games. “It was similar to games I had launched before, such as Burnoutbut we just worked on a different scale,” Murray said. “It went way beyond what I’d experienced before, in terms of people playing a game.”
“run out of money”
While describing the company’s history, Murray admitted that Hello Games had “run out of money” during its creation No Man’s Sky, while taking on the challenge of “finishing something you really care about creatively”. He also noted that Hello Games staff had an average of nine employees over the past five years and confirmed that actual world construction data from No Man’s Sky was quite small: 300 MB. The rest of the game’s 2 GB size at launch consisted of audio and pre-baked UI assets.
The game’s recent “Foundation” update has since hit a million players, Murray said, but he didn’t clarify whether that number was a concurrent or combined count, nor whether that was split between PC and console. Still, he insisted that reported crashes for the update have fallen to the 0.01 percent level, saying most of them are due to players running below minimum PC specs.
The panel focused largely on newer mathematical formulas and noise generation systems used to generate planetary terrain in No Man’s Sky‘s Foundation update, and Murray pointed to player feedback as a sign of the patch’s success, especially as it completely wiped out the game’s entire universe and rebuilt it from scratch.
“Something we kept hearing [about the Foundation update] was, the game feels a little bit more epic, or there’s a different feel to it,” Murray said. “That’s the terrain. I know, because when our changes were made, everyone on our team started to say: [the same thing]. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why, but you know you’ll see more interesting places and things that you haven’t seen before.”
Murray pledged to continue developing new systems for generating mathematical content, both for No Man’s Sky and for new games. He also told the GDC crowd that Hello Games is renting. Procedural generation “is a big part of our future,” Murray said in his pitch to game developers. “Making really neat, weird bike decisions and letting them dictate a cascade of trouble: it’s cool for me to stand up and say to talented people like you, we’re looking for that kind of thing.”
The Hello Games team was unable to attend the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday night, where No Man’s Sky beat the likes of The witness, pokemon goand Inside to win the innovation prize. During Thursday’s panel, Murray funny wailed about losing in other categories to… Inside before being hailed as a ‘great game’.