When No Man’s Sky Beyond was announced in March, Hello Games called it “three major updates rolled into one larger free release.” Out August 14, the first will be a new approach to multiplayer, and the second is VR. Since that blog post, No Man’s Sky players have been waiting to hear what the third pillar of the update is. According to Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray, it’s the fabric that weaves all the systems together. “We wanted to do what we called ‘version 2.0,’” he said over the phone.
There’s a saying in comedy: “putting a hat on a hat.” It means when you have a concept that is funny, but instead of building on that concept, you just add another, unrelated funny bit on top of it. You might catch another laugh, but you’re not going to be holding anyone’s attention long.
No Man’s Sky, which has added vehicles, base building, and true multiplayer and refreshed its world generation since its 2016 launch, was beginning to feel a little bit like a hat on a hat, according to Murray.
“You add base building and you’re like, you just get this block and you place it on top of the rest of the game,” Murray said. “Then vehicles comes along and you put that on the top, and then you put story on the top. Whatever you added, you sort of only care about that one thing. I don’t know how obvious it was to players, but for us it felt not as cohesive.”
No Man’s Sky’s Beyond update will have an inordinate amount of new things for players to do. You’ll be able to ride creatures, yes, but also tame them and even milk them. The farming system, Murray said, ties into a new cooking system, where players can make meals and even deliver them to customers.
“You can be like space Deliveroo,” Murray said, referring to a UK food delivery service comparable to Seamless or Grubhub. “Now where we are is having plants that you can harvest. You can build a cooker using the building system. You can cook these plants, you can experiment with them and create recipes. You can find animals and milk them and then combine all of those things to create like, different pies – or various kinds of alien food, which is something I’ve always wanted in a game.”
Beyond will also debut the Nexus, a socialising hub that players can call in from space like a freighter. There will be non-playable characters on planets, as opposed to just space stations. Players will also be able to see the 32 closest players in multiplayer, which is a huge upgrade from the current limit of four. On their own, these updates are enormous, but on top of that, the base game getting retuned so that existing features don’t feel as incongruous as they used to.
“There’s two components to any gameplay mechanic. One is, you know, the mechanics themselves, and one is the fantasy, and I think both are really, really important,” Murray said. “Mechanically, we have a whole bunch of stuff in base building that I think works well and is a neat way to earn money. But when you watch people doing it, it just felt like they weren’t living in the fantasy. I think players can feel that, and they feel like, ‘Now that I’ve discovered the best way to make money is something that I don’t really enjoy in terms of fantasy, I’m sort of done with this game.’”
“Cohesion for me is when the thing that feels like the fantasy of the game is also really closely married with what is mechanically the best,” Murray continued.
Murray said that he’s worked on No Man’s Sky for seven years, so his understanding of it is much different from players who haven’t seen what’s under the hood. The process of making the pieces of No Man’s Sky all fit together meant, for the most part, watching other people play and seeing how they react to the game’s systems. But the Beyond update gave Murray a moment where the game felt brand new again: seeing it in VR.
“It’s what it must be like for a new player of the game. I’ve been saying for years, I just wish I could have that. I wish I could take the eyes of a fresh player and see the game anew so that I could have that experience, so I could balance it better, so I could make it work mechanically,” Murray said. “I’ve always seen the game as maths, which sounds very nerdy, but we shape a lot of the things. I know when I stood in a cave what kind of s-curve I’m on or whatever. Seeing those in real life, there’s something very cool as a maths-y nerd, to be like, ‘Oh, that’s what it looks like to be in amongst this formula.’”