Seeking out new life and new planets. It’s the Star Trek dream, and something that games are still struggling to provide as a form of entertainment.
While the original Elite and its subsequent titles did well enough at giving us a galaxy to explore, they were still very limited in their scope. Granted the original Elite was released in 1984. And back then a single planet and space station per system was about all computing power could handle.
It’s not really surprising then that the game focused on building ranks, trading, smuggling, fighting, and very little on true exploration. In 1993, Frontier: Elite II tried to widen that scope. Boasting a perfect reproduction of our own solar system (as it was known at that time).
But Frontier: Elite II, while again impressive back in 1996, had its own share of issues. Some of which were likely the result of its attention to detail in its physics model and the resulting glitches when it couldn’t cope.
I can remember attempting to travel at accelerated speed ending in planetary crashes on too many occasions. Enough that it was “game over man!” for my time with Frontier: Elite II on the Amiga 600.
Even Elite Dangerous was, to be honest, a bit of a let down in terms of exploration at release. As impressive as its simulation model is, it just didn’t allow for that Star Trek dream.
This has apparently been addressed to some extent with it’s Horizons add-on, which makes planetary landings possible. Although I have yet to purchase this myself.
A major factor in this decision is that I’ve simply fallen in love with No Man’s Sky. In over thirty years of gaming, it is the closest I have come to being able to boldly go exploring new worlds.
That isn’t to say No Man’s Sky is perfect. Far from it. Like many developers, Hello Games have been expected to make exploration secondary to some other form of gameplay.
With its current updates this is basically fitting into a Minecraft-esque base building, farming, crafting, and survival gameplay model. This is a shame as exploration gets held back by an all too constant need to babysit a range of fuel and energy requirements.
Recent updates however have once again breathed life into the exploration side of No Man’s Sky. Particularly, the addition of an in-game photo mode — which for Steam versions makes use of Steam’s built in screenshot function.
No Man’s Sky is without a doubt a very photogenic experience. The Seventies-esque Sci-Fi aesthetic ensures that almost every other step provides an amazing vista to be admired. I can only imagine how this could look in VR.
Even No Man’s Sky abundant life is interesting in its own way. It might not be as impressive as the variety of life shown in that original trailer, but there are still some lovely life forms to discovering bouncing around.
I can’t disagree with opinions that the life forms look like something out of Spore; They often doggo. But unlike many, I don’t see that as a bad thing. For me, it adds another layer to No Man’s Sky’s charm while providing opportunities to capture some funnier moments.
It is a bit of a shame though that accessing the photo mode requires navigating a quick menu that gives priority to the baby sitting requirements. This can mean missing some chances to capture a truly beautiful moment. If only photo mode had a dedicated key to access it!
I also hope that any future space exploration games will be bold enough to go where no one has gone before; to focus on exploration and not get weighed down by the need to provide an established gameplay model that detracts from the exploration experience.
Screenshots are direct grabs taken via Steam’s overlay using the ingame Photo mode to remove the UI. Ingame settings were set to highest possible. They have not been altered or modified.
No Man’s Sky was purchased from Steam.