Ars was treated to a closed-room demo of the upcoming galaxy exploration game Nobody’s Heaven Tuesday at E3. There, wrapped in a small and extremely hot conference room with a dozen other journalists, lead designer Sean Murray showed the current state of play – starting on an undiscovered planet and eventually taking us to the swirling colorful depths of space.
Honestly, the most fascinating thing about it Nobody’s Heaven is Murray himself. The Australian developer, tall and thin, sometimes struggles to maintain eye contact with the audience when we ask questions; he is simultaneously aloof and bubbling with excitement about being able to present the game. His passion is contagious – this is clearly a person who loves what he’s created and can’t wait to share it. He answers questions at length, but not laboriously – he talks very quickly, almost breathlessly, gives profound buts fast answers the room and then returns to the game and describes its features at the same fast pace. The only time he clearly can’t remember is when one of the reporters in the room asks how many terabytes the procedural universe of Nobody’s Heaven takes over the servers of Hello Games.
Murray pauses as if he’s not quite sure where to begin with the answer: galaxy generation is one of the best-covered aspects of the game, so asking this question is a lot like showing up to a dinner party and asking what food is . – then he starts with a quick, very concise explanation of how the whole galaxy is generated algorithmically and doesn’t exist as a complete dataset on a server somewhere. Not quite getting it, the reporter asks the question again, but in a different way, this time asking how much storage space is used for each planet.
“It’s… it’s all just math,” Murray replies, stumbling over the answer and frowning. “It’s just math. There’s no storage space.’ He waves to the PR manager in the room to take over answering the question, tilting his head back and leaving the conversation. We only have thirty minutes in the demo room and this takes away playing time, and Murray seems almost baffled that the reporter doesn’t get it.
While the E3 demo we got to see isn’t available online yet (Murray and his team demoed a new build they made the night before, with some special features added), it was very similar to the footage he showed. showed off stage at the Sony E3 press conference Monday night, which looked like this:
We got to see a bit more of the game mechanics: players can gather resources while on planetary surfaces, and use those resources to craft upgrades to their space suit and weapon and ship, or sell them for “units” (the in-game currency). game currency) which can be used to buy new ships or new items. Shooting lifeforms or otherwise being anti-social can produce “wanted stars” that essentially work the same way Grand Theft Autos wanted level, so that first small drones and then larger and larger defenses mobilize and attack you.
As they wander, players can search for new discoveries, mainly life forms and minerals, which are documented in a journal-like interface that Murray called “your own personal Pokédex.” As you explore, you’ll come across beacons where you can upload your discoveries to the as-yet unnamed galactic network; players can play offline for as long as they like, but only by connecting to the internet in real life and hitting a beacon to upload their discoveries can they get credit for it (and if another player discovers the same worlds or lifeforms and uploads them first , that other player gets the credit). This allows players to play offline, without an internet connection, for as long as they like, but if you die in-game you lose any unuploaded discoveries, so the incentive is there to be online as much as possible.
Murray took off and flew to a randomly selected planet far, far away. He told us that in the press demo build, his hyperdrive had unlimited range so he could show off the game without worrying about refueling; in the release game you need to upgrade your ship’s hyperdrive to be able to visit distant worlds. He even said that a very visible sign of “progress” in the game will be the range of a player’s hyperdrive. He warped us into a system about 500 light years away from his starting point, chosen totally at random, and he told us he wasn’t sure if there would be anything there – and when we came down from hyperspace, we were in the middle of a giant battle on a capital ship that was kind of like something off Battlestar Galactica or Eve online.
This was apparently a fortuitous event – Murray explained while on his way to the nearest planet that while every system necessarily has a space station where players can dock and buy fuel, not every system has life, or even planets. It’s a huge galaxy and while life is in many places, it’s not everywhere.
Games and meta games
The last thing Murray did was zoom dizzyingly out of the galactic map, which looks much less like it Elite: dangerous’ map and much more like the long deep zoom at the beginning of the 1997 movie Contact. Thick multicolored star clouds filled the view in all directions, and in the distance a blinding light marked the center of the galaxy – the place, according to Murray, where the game eventually wants you to go. The place where Nobody’s Heaven ends.
How you get there, and how long it takes you, is entirely up to you – which brings us to the over part Nobody’s Heaven which I think a lot of people will not like at all. Because while Murray promises a satisfying conclusion, the Nobody’s Heaven experience in the center of the galaxy (as well as being able to continue playing after reaching the “end”), come there becomes the lion’s share of the fun.
After the demo was over, Murray talked a little bit about not just making his goals No human heaven, but the gameplay experiences of his childhood. He mentioned games like those of Ian Bell and David Braben Elite as central to his growing up along with Mario all kinds of games, and while he has the same kind of golden memories I have of gaming growing up, he’s also very taken with the bottom-up revolution that games like Minecraft imposed on the industry.
In super mario bros, for example, the player controls Mario and there is one rode to play: you have to complete levels to find and save the princess. But that kind of external motivation comes with a lot of baggage – it puts limits, however tenuous, on the story the player can create in his or her own mind. As Murray puts it, “I have been Mario. I’ve been Mario a million times! I want to be something different.”
Nobody’s Heaven is the game Murray says he’s wanted to make since he was a little kid, and at its core it’s a book full of blank pages. There are no lessons. There are no predefined roles. There are no stats or levels other than your ship and your suit; beyond “go to the center of the galaxy” there is no goal. Your in-game character has no name or background or dialogue or backstory, and there is no in-game dialogue with NPCs or over-communicated moral decisions or choices you have to make to make points on the “light side” or “dark side”. to deserve.
What does your character do Nobody’s sky? To answer that, you need to decide what you are put in it Nobody’s Heaven. Why does your character go to the center of the galaxy? You have to decide why you are going there – or if you want to go there at all.
Judging by some of the more vocal responses to Elite: Dangerous– which has a similar but much watered-down plotless structure where players must determine their own motivations and directions – this won’t sit well with many players. If you’re not comfortable making up a huge canvas of stories in your own head, then Nobody’s Heaven maybe not the kind of game that will pique your interest. If that frustrates you Minecraft has no more over-communicated “game” than “dig and build”, then you will have similar frustrations with Nobody’s Heaven.
The cadence of Murray’s speech picks up as he gets more and more excited – we’re definitely a little off-script when he goes into his feelings about games where you can tell your own story, and he’s clearly excited that he can actually do that doing to talk about the game to the public. I went into the demo with only a moderate level of excitement about the game, but it’s hard to avoid feeling at least a little of Murray’s almost childish joy while demonstrating what is clearly a game straight from his heart. In a world of AAA sequels and franchises, passion-driven projects like Nobody’s Heaven are rare gems – and silly as it sounds, Murray made a believer out of me.
Nobody’s Heaven has no release date, but we’re betting on 2016. It will launch simultaneously on PS4 and Windows PCs.