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No Man's Sky title

I don't typically get excited about E3 the way that other gamers do. I try not to buy into hype, since I've been burnt before. I prefer a good review over the most stellar of previews. E3 tends to be a lot of pomp and circumstance; a cacophony of light and sound and flashy presentations of scripted, pre-rendered previews that are hardly ever representative of the final product.

I also haven't been paying much attention to the new consoles. They just don't excite me that much. Most quality games are seeing multi-platform releases these days, which usually includes a high-quality PC port that is at least as good (and sometimes better) than any console iteration. Gone are the days of sub-par, buggy PC ports. Or at least, that is how it seems to me. So I just don't see the new consoles as being worth while as long as I have a decent gaming PC. And in fact, these consoles will likely be inferior to good gaming PCs within a couple years. So what's the point in investing in one?

There are a few games on the horizon that look intriguing. I've already talked about Evil Within and Alien Isolation as being two of my most anticipated games of this fall. Both of these games will have PC versions that I will likely purchase, so no need to invest in a new console yet.

There's also a new project by the developers of Demon's Souls that was announced as a PS4 exclusive. That game could have the potential to sell a PS4 to me, but I'm going to wait to see more of the game before I get too excited.

But E3 did have one stand-out surprise that really piqued my interest. It's a new game by a developer called Hello Games. The game is called No Man's Sky.

This game was presented during the PS4 E3 press conference, but it's likely to see a PC version as well. If not, then this title could also turn into a PS4-seller for me.

The game is being advertised as an "infinitely-expanding procedurally-generated science fiction universe". It seems to put a large focus on players hopping into little spaceships and zipping off into the depths of space to explore procedurally-generated worlds and seek out fractally-randomized life (and maybe even alien civilizations?). When you put it that way, it almost sounds like a Star Trek game! In fact, it sounds even more like Star Trek than most games that have bore the name "Star Trek".

According to the developers, the game world is entirely procedurally-generated using a system of deterministic algorithms. This means that every player will be able to experience the same worlds and creatures if they travel to the same places in the game's universe, even though the raw data that makes up the world is thrown out whenever it is not in use. The game's universe is not stored on disc, or on the cloud, or on a server somewhere. The game creates it on-the-fly whenever a player enters a particular area. But since the algorithms used to generate the universe are deterministic, each world will be the same for each player.

This all sounds very promising, and spectacularly innovative. It wouldn't be the first time that a developer has promised a procedurally-generated universe. Spore is an example of a spectacular failure in an attempt to make a similar game (albeit at a higher scale). Minecraft is probably the best example of procedural content in a game, but it's a game that focuses on user-created content, so the player doesn't care so much about the terrain that's generated by the software; they care more about what they can do with it. And adventure games like Diablo have procedurally-generated dungeons, but they're usually just a series of recycled rooms hot-glued together in different orders and populated with the copy-pasted enemies and random loot. If No Man's Sky can successfully deliver on its promises, then it could be one of the most interesting and innovative projects in gaming history.

No Man's Sky - exploring an ocean
There seems to be a heavy focus on players exploring the game's universe and "discovering" new places and life forms.

Hopefully, the game is capable of generating enough variety of content to keep players interested and engaged. Not just planets and aliens life forms, but also space-faring anomolies: black holes, quasars, pulsars, nebulae, and the like. Traveling to different planets and seeing the same color-swapped dinosaurs and jungles over and over again will get pretty dull pretty quickly. And hopefully there is enough content being generated for enough players to be able to make new discoveries. If all the discoveries of new worlds and life forms are made by a select few "hardcore" players, then the game may feel pointless for the rest of us.

No Man's Sky - space battle
I hope this game doesn't devolve into endless, mindless space battles.

This is all, of course, assuming that exploration and discovery are, in fact, the key gameplay element. If it turns out that the focus of the game is on space battles and fragging each other on alien worlds, then I will certainly lose interest pretty quickly. There's no shortage of sci-fi games that are about shooting things with laser guns and ion torpedoes. We don't need any more of those. What we need is a game that is about exploring the boundless wonders of the galaxy.

With NASA talking about Mars-missions and warp drive existing in our lifetimes, and private companies opening up space tourism operations, we could see a second space-exploration renaissance just over the horizon. I hope that if such a game is successful, then it could inspire a new generation of young gamers to get excited about real-life exploration and discovery the same way that Star Trek did for TV-viewers back in the 60's and 70's. These same young minds can find new ways to use the technologies currently in development to push humankind even further into the stars.

It's going to be a long wait to find out if this game delivers on its promises. No Man's Sky isn't due out until December of next year (2015). In the meantime, I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.

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