When I got wind of a new one No Man’s Sky update launched on August 14, free to all owners, I went through the usual routine of emailing the creators at Hello Games to request some form of access. Anything from a beta branch to a list of patch notes could support what I ended up writing, I said. In response, Hello Games offered a high-quality upgrade: a phone call with the game’s director.
That’s Sean Murray himself, the man whose name became increasingly attached to stories of disappointed fans – and who went into media blackout mode for some time as a result. Since its launch, NMS has benefited from a series of patches, and was looking forward to hearing about even Lake new content coming to the game, such as a VR update (which I briefly tested at a Valve Index reveal event in April) and an emphasis on online play.
Of course, hours before my phone rang, my game news feed lit up with the No Man’s Sky community that loses its lost mind.
Murray just had jumped on Twitter and announced that NMS’ the upcoming “Beyond” patch included “three pillars”, then placed the vague math equation of “30-40%” of the patch being about VR and 30-40% about online play. That left a few percent unexplained. On the game’s largest Reddit community, the highest-ranked thread on these tweets was simply titled “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!”
When my phone rang, I asked Murray a pointed question. NMS fans are currently foaming with speculation and hoping for features. We’ve been down this road before. Does that mean you’re not done putting your foot in your mouth yet?
Murray laughed nervously—the whimsical laugh I remembered so clearly from our last long conversation in February 2016—and blurted out, “Oh, you know. Never say never, right? But I’d like to be.”
“We’ve had a crazy old trip”
Perhaps Murray’s return to the public eye, and renewed confidence in teasing the game’s updates, has something to do with his sense of shock – shock at the positive reception of the massive No Man’s Sky update, the 1.5 “Next” patch, was successful in every way.
“None of us had super high hopes for” [Next]said Murray from Hello Games’ headquarters in Guildford, England. He recalled the game’s age at the time — two years since launch and a year after the last major update — and assumed Next would be largely received by “those who already play the game.” Instead, Murray said the free patch has generated “millions” in new sales across all platforms combined. (He didn’t clarify how many of those came from the game’s 2018 premiere on Xbox One consoles.)
“That was a surprise,” Murray said. “We used to be very nervous [Next]’s release, curious how people would react. After all, we’ve had a crazy old trip No Man’s Sky† Then we said to ourselves, ‘We’ll never do it’ That again.’ That was a huge update and it was stressful, so we’re done with that. Let’s do what any normal studio would do: minor updates.”
Several smaller-scale quality-of-life patches followed, each pushing the game back into Steam’s top 25 “competitive player” rankings. Then the team started toying with ideas for three separate patches to wrap up over the next few months of development: a VR mode, an expansion of the game’s 2018 multiplayer options, and a “2.0”-worthy set of sub-games. the hood fixes. Murray explains that they all started small, only to grow beyond their individual capabilities.
For VR, the studio planned to deliver a “direct, straight-forward port in VR,” which it compared to 2017’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR version. Hearing this comparison raised a red flag for me; the amount of VR-specific optimization needed to map Skyrim‘s traversal and battle with VR controllers was not inconsiderable. And in the case of No Man’s Skyplans for a simpler reach (meaning, unmodified UI and non-VR gamepad limitations) evaporated the first time Murray sat in his VR cockpit.
“This great moment, to be in the ship, to see the [virtual] joystick with one hand, throttle with the other, and steer the ship well?’ Murray gushed. ‘That was it. We were done. We had to do that for the rest of the game.” This meant a major rework of 20 control mechanics to support 3D-tracked VR controllers, including terrain deformation, submarine controls, and cargo ships. (VR modes will also work fine with standard gamepads too. )
While Murray didn’t provide any details on VR comfort, at least I can point to my brief test of the mode in April as a good indication of what’s to come. An in-helmet UI as I walked across a planet and a steady view of the cockpit as I blasted into space provided my sense of presence in a way that didn’t feel dizzy. Still, we’re waiting to see what that all feels like for a 10-minute-plus demo.
Why, you might ask, did Hello Games choose to increase the scope of this completely free, free VR feature update? That became a recurring theme in our conversation.