There are really three reactions people generally have when they look at No Man’s Sky, the bright, infinitely expansive space exploration game:
1) “Wow, that is very good-looking!” Videos of the game feature picturesque arrays of dinosaurs traversing maroon forests, underwater caves, vast interstellar expanses dotted with planets and starships. It’s concept art come to life.
2) “Wow, that is very big!” Since its inception, these images have been unfurled along banners with word like “quintillion” on them, to promise the vastness of their computer-generated cosmos and the promise of a videogame to end all videogames. Only Elder Scrolls games elicit more of the sorta-depressing, “oh shucks I’m not talking to my children anymore” .gif reactions.
3) “What the fuck do I do in it?” That’s a lot of pretty space, but games need verbs, and the verbs of No Man’s Sky have remained frustratingly unclear.
Last night, permanently flustered designer Sean “The Star-Child” Murray took the stage to quell response #3.
“It’s full of choices,” he says at the beginning. “Like here, we’re at two warring factions. I can join in, I can take sides.” He fires guns, destroying two ships, as if in evidence, and then he leaves.
This allows for an opportunity to engage in a “holy-shit the game is huge” section (THE STARS), after which he warps to the planet Keyti. It is a gorgeous mustard-yellow expanse of sky and earth. Murray soars to a landing, gets out, throws some subliminals at the planet itself (“I’ve seen much better”), and then gets to scanning. There’s no alien life on the planet, he says, but then adds, “But I can show you this,” and starts shooting his gun at a nearby tree. The gun blows up portions of the tree. I’m not sure what I or he expected when he started firing a gun at a tree, but what happens is not it. Then he gets chased away by a robot, which is actually pretty rad.
E3 is weird. It’s most fun via the internet, where you can stream and tweet and wash your feet in pith. I’m never more embarrassed than when I hear a stadium full of grown men cheering at a computer-animated headkill, and that’s even worse in person. No Man’s Sky dazzles in a different way—through scale, through beauty, through promise—and there’s something charming about the way Sean keeps getting on stage and just being like “Here is a videogame, I swear to fucking God.” It’s a little weird that that videogame is shooting at trees, but hey, I’m just the guy on the internet. Shine on, you crazy diamond.