A game of survival, exploration, and discovery, No Man's Sky is one of the fastest-growing phenomena in video game history, attracting and astounding players of all ages. The game's 18 quintillion planets are procedurally generated, meaning you could very well be the first person to ever set eyes on a planet that even the game developers never encountered—a true testament to the game's innovation. The very first unofficial guide, Limitless Sky: No Man's Sky Unofficial Discovery Guide will provide not only an introduction to the hottest video game, but it'll also teach you how to get more out of your valuable playtime—exploring vast areas, fighting pirates, upgrading your ship or spacesuit, avoiding Sentinels, and identifying new species and resources. This full-color book shares strategies, examines the creation of the impressive procedurally generated planets, and provides a glimpse at what's to come in this ever-expanding universe.
About the Author
Jeff Cork lives and writes in Minnesota, where he’s a senior editor at Game Informer magazine. When he’s not exploring the galaxy, he can be found at home with his wife and two boys.
Read an Excerpt
No Man's Sky Unofficial Discovery Guide
By Jeff Cork
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Jeff Cork
All rights reserved.
The Origins of No Man's Sky
Looking at No Man's Sky, it's easy to assume that it's the creation of a massive team of developers, from a studio with a track record of producing massive open-world games. The reality is much different — and far more interesting.
Before it wowed the world with the prospect of discovering an entirely new universe, Hello Games found success in a charming little game about a motorcycle stuntman.
Hello Games was founded in 2009 in Guildford, England. The town, located a quick train ride away from London, is a hotbed of English game development; it has served as home to game studios that have created top-tier titles such as Burnout, LittleBigPlanet, Fable, and many others. After working at a variety of Guildford studios, four developers — Ryan Doyle, Grant Duncan, Sean Murray, and Dave Ream — decided to break away from larger companies and form their own indie studio.
That studio became Hello Games, and its first title was the PlayStation 3 game Joe Danger. The side-scrolling action game, released in the summer of 2010, featured the titular stuntman in a series of escalating feats of derring-do. Players had to time their motorcycle's jumps and calculate their landings to score big — and avoid getting scorched by fiery hoops, devoured by ravenous sharks, or other career-ending failures.
The game was a success, and the small team worked on bringing it to the Xbox 360. They also hired a few more employees and began work on its sequel, Joe Danger 2: The Movie. The follow-up added more variety to the formula, giving Joe more vehicles to choose from and dropping him into a variety of different movie-style action sequences.
Audiences seemed to like Joe Danger and what Hello Games was doing, but Murray, programmer and studio co-founder, was growing restless. He had what he later described as a bit of a breakdown, and worried that the new studio, which he and his friends had founded to express their own creativity, was heading down an all-too familiar path. After Joe Danger 2, what would come next? Joe Danger 3? Joe Danger 4? As much as he loved the little guy, it wasn't a future he was thrilled about.
Murray set up a private office within the studio, and for a year worked on a secret project once his work on Joe Danger 2 was finished. He created another new game engine, but this was far more advanced than the one he had worked on with Joe Danger. Joe Danger gave players the thrill of being a stuntman. This new project would possibly give players an entire universe.
Eventually, Murray took Duncan and Doyle aside and explained what he was working on. Until then, it had been clouded in mystery. For years, Murray had been fascinated with games such as Elite, which let players explore space and forge their own paths. He'd wanted to be an astronaut for a time, and games turned out to be the next best thing. What if he could live that childhood fantasy through his own creation?
The three of them expanded work on the project, which was called Project Skyscraper. Hello Games is a small studio, but that core team wanted to work on this exciting new game in isolation. They took what seems like an extreme measure and set up a studio within the studio — complete with its own locks and entrance. They decorated this new space with covers of old sci-fi paperbacks, filled with fantastical visions of far-flung planets and alien ships. These would provide inspiration while the team worked on what would become No Man's Sky.
Murray says that it's easy to see their isolation as an act of selfishness — especially when the rest of the team was so desperate to learn what their co-workers were toiling away on — but that it was ultimately one of generosity. The people at Hello Games are more than co-workers; they're friends. Even now that the team has grown to just over a dozen or so people, it's a tight-knit group. Murray wanted the game to be more than just a kernel of an idea before he shared it with them. He wanted to impress them with a clear vision for what, exactly, they'd been working on all this time.
That moment came in 2013, when the studio was given the chance to debut the game at the VGX 2013 game awards. It was a big opportunity, guaranteed to give the fledgling game plenty of attention from gamers and the games press. Murray and his team agreed, and then it was time for them to show the rest of the group at Hello Games what they'd been working on in secrecy for several years.
The response was one of awe, as they were shown the trailer for the game, and got presentations on the game itself and its various components. Yes, you could fly off a planet's surface in your spaceship. No, there wouldn't be any visible load times. Yes, the galaxy is that big. The rest of the team, which had been working on the iOS game Joe Danger Touch, couldn't wait to dig into this exciting new game.
The trailer made a big impression on the rest of the world, too. At first, few believed that such a game would even be possible, let alone possible from such a small team. Over the course of several showings in the following years, including stage presentations at E3 and guest appearances on talk shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, people began to believe.
The road hasn't been smooth, but it's led us to where we are now. The game was delayed several times, the final time only a month before its planned June 2016 release date. "Making this game is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but we are so close now, and we're prepared to make the tough choices to get it right," Murray explained on a blog post. "This is the hardest working, most talented team I've ever worked with, and I'm so proud of what we're doing. For all our sakes though, we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up."
And here we are. The game is out, and people are finally able to see just what this tiny team has cooked up. The amount of hype that had built up before its release was a mixed blessing, and the end result certainly isn't for everyone. But players who enjoy experiencing amazing new places and braving perilous conditions while exploring are likely to find dozens — if not hundreds or more — of satisfaction-filled hours.
No Man's Sky features a vast galaxy, filled with more planets than you could hope to explore in a thousand lifetimes. Once that's settled in, you might find yourself asking, "OK, then how the heck did Hello Games create all of those planets? Are they secretly time-traveling immortals?"
While the developers are certainly talented, they don't have any kind of magical or godlike abilities. What they do have is a firm grasp of a technique called procedural generation.
We won't get too deep into the weeds here, but it's important to have a basic understanding of what that means. It will give you a greater appreciation for how everything fits together — from the virtual ground you're standing on, to the creatures you meet and the music that fills your ears. Without procedural generation, none of this would be possible, or at least not in the scale that we're able to experience.
First, let's think about traditional 3D game design. Everything you see is the work of talented artists, programmers, and designers. They create your characters, the tools and weapons that those characters use, and the worlds that you explore. In the vast majority of cases, developers are essentially working with virtual Lego bricks. For example, let's think about a game that features a house. That house has walls that make up an exterior, as well as interior walls that create rooms. Inside of those rooms are various bits of furniture, appliances, and other things that you'd expect to find in, well, a house.
Artists and 3D modelers don't create that house in one big block. Instead, for efficiency's sake, they break it up into smaller components. That way, they can reuse elements instead of having to remake them from scratch. A door that's used in one bedroom can be used in another. A dining-room chair can be duplicated to make a set. It saves time, particularly in a game that features multiple houses. Play enough games, and you'll notice that certain objects pop up several times, such as vending machines or garbage cans.
Most of the time, when level designers are creating spaces for the player, they'll manually place the objects that the artists have created. In our house example, they wouldn't drop all of the decorations in a pile in one room and call it a day. Instead, they'll put things where players are expecting them — although in some game genres, like horror, the point is to surprise players with the unexpected. Regardless, people are setting the stage.
That handcrafted approach can lead to spectacular results, such as the incredibly detailed levels in the Uncharted series, the precise recreations of real-world tracks in the Forza Motorsports games, or even the tile-based worlds from older titles such as Super Mario Bros. When game worlds get extremely large, however, you have a couple of options. You can hire an extremely large team of developers, but that's (appropriately enough) extremely expensive. The other option is to rely on procedural generation.
Procedurally generated games still rely on the same basic building blocks that traditional games use, though they're used differently. Rather than having a person or team of designers manually placing objects in the world, procedurally generated games let computers do much of the heavy lifting. Games have been using this technique for decades. In Rogue, for instance, players could brave a new danger-filled dungeon every time they played. More recently, Minecraft generates vast new spaces for players to explore at the press of a few buttons.
Developers don't drop all the virtual chairs, tables, and walls into a folder and expect the computer to magically build a house, however. First, programmers have to create rules and guidelines for what's expected in a house. Houses usually have a minimum of four exterior walls. Doors lead to other rooms, and if they lead to the outside on a second story, there had better be an attached deck or set of stairs. Toilets should go in bathrooms, not lined up against the kitchen table. Once all the rules are established, the computer can create an entire housing development filled with slightly different houses that still function as houses.
In the case of No Man's Sky, Hello Games developed complicated computer algorithms that govern virtually every element of the game. When you start the game, it's almost certain that you're going to begin on a planet that nobody from that team has seen, with creatures that none of them are familiar with, in a solar system that's as much of a mystery to its creators as it is to you. But because of the work that the developers have put in over the course of several years, they're confident that it will be an interesting and satisfying place to explore.
When games are procedurally generated, most of the time it's limited to the layout of an environment or the placement of objects, such as trees and rocks, within those environments. With No Man's Sky, however, it runs much deeper. The creatures that you see are also procedurally generated — including the way they move and sound. Artists at Hello Games created hundreds of different creature parts, like head shapes, limbs, tails, horns, and other parts drawn from real-world animals. The computer assembles those various bits into fully realized alien life, finishing them off with a vast array of different types of fur, scales, skin, colorization, and other visual flourishes.
From there, the system can determine how the newly formed creature flies, walks, slithers, or swims, depending on the position of each limb, the size of the finished creature, and other factors. So a small horselike beast might gallop as expected, but something that looks like a gargantuan scaled goat might stomp around a valley. Something with wings might fly, unless its mass is too large to prevent that from happening.
On the audio side, creature vocalizations are generated based on the general acoustics of their body, head, and nose shapes. It's all accompanied by a soundtrack that's — you guessed it — procedurally generated based on tiny audio pieces created by the band 65daysofstatic.
Thanks to all those elements, Hello Games (and its complicated tech) has created a magnificent universe for players to explore for decades to come. And with that, it's about time we get started.
You'll likely feel a kinship with your character during the opening moments of No Man's Sky. When you awaken on the planetary system, it's clear that you've suffered some kind of crash landing and you're a little dazed from the collision. Thanks to the magic of procedural generation, the specifics of your starting scenario are going to be different from anyone else's, but there are some critical overarching elements to cover before we disembark.
In the first few moments, your suit's various systems go online in an automated diagnostics routine. One by one, the elements of your heads-up display, or HUD, flicker onto the screen. Before we dive into the game itself, let's take a moment to acclimate ourselves to what exactly we're looking at.
On the lower-left portion of the screen, you'll get information that's vital to your survival. At the top of that section, you'll see the levels of your suit's life-support and environmental-support systems in a meter. Below that, you'll see the name of the planet that you're on. Rounding out that corner is the temperature, in Celsius, as well as the current levels of radiation and environmental toxicity. You may find yourself on an oppressively hot planet, with scorching temperatures that are incompatible with native life. Or you could be lucky enough to find yourself on a temperate paradise. Regardless, this section of the HUD is a quick reference to see how you're faring against the world itself.
Above that, on the upper left, are the portions of the HUD devoted to you, the meaty little thing inside the suit. The meter reflects the strength of your shield, which is the barrier protecting you from taking physical damage. Once the automated life-support systems fail, your shield is depleted. Or your shield can be depleted from falling from unsafe heights or from encounters with dangerous animals. Once it's gone, the health pips, represented by the boxes with crosses on them, will tick away. Once they're gone, you're dead. Don't worry if that happens, though; you can visit your "grave" where you expired, and reclaim your lost inventory.
In the middle center is a simple waypoint display. It's a particularly helpful tool for finding your ship. If you do find yourself lost, simply spin in a circle until you see your ship's icon, turn until it's in the center, and start walking in that direction.
On the upper right are the portions devoted to your multi-tool. Your multi-tool is a handy device that's one part weapon, one part mining tool, and one part scanner. It's an essential piece of equipment, and you can see what mode it's in — between the mining beam and the boltcaster, which you don't have yet — as well as a meter that shows the heat levels of the mining beam when it's being used. You can also check out the tool's remaining fuel. That row of five icons to the left of the percentage shows the amount of Sentinel attention you've gathered at the moment. As they fill, the greater the threat. We'll get back to that in a minute.
Finally, you can see your objectives on the bottom right. As we begin, you have several tasks to worry about. But first, let's take a look at the area that's immediately around us.
There are plenty of interesting things to check out in the nearby debris field, not the least of which is your smoldering ship. You can walk up to its cockpit and enter the crashed vessel, but it won't start — its pulse engine and launch thrusters were damaged, and it's up to you to make repairs.
There's actually a fair amount of damage to repair, some of which is extended to your multi-tool. If you try to scan the environment by pressing L3 on your gamepad or pull up your analysis visor with L2, you'll get notifications that both of the devices are offline. You'll need to collect 25 carbon and 25 iron to make those repairs, respectively. Take a look at the area around the ship, and you'll see several crates and other containers. Hold down the square button to interact with them, and you can see and take their contents. Some of the smaller containers may contain the required elements that you're looking for. If not, don't worry.
One of the items around your ship is very important: a distress beacon. Interacting with that and choosing to follow the path that follows sets the game's story mode in motion. No Man's Sky is an exploration game, but choosing to follow the Atlas is a great way to get your feet beneath you as you play the game. It provides some structure to the opening hours, too, and it's highly recommended that you follow its path. For the purposes of our overall walkthrough, we'll assume that you're doing just that. But first, of course, we need to get off our starting planet. Back to the repairs.
Excerpted from Limitless Sky by Jeff Cork. Copyright © 2016 Jeff Cork. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Origins of No Man's Sky,
Exploring the World Around You,
Journey to the Stars,
Other Game Recommendations,