Protean Escapism

Sean Murray is a liar who’s favorite pastime is basking in the limelight. As a director for Hello Games latest endeavor, he boasted to the press about a multitude of features and astonishing design accomplishments that never materialized in No Man’s Sky’s full release. That being said, the long anticipated title did arrive, and while its price point and marketing were certainly ridiculous and completely unreasonable for the finished product, No Man’s Sky remains something creative, enjoyable, and beautiful despite being more than a bit derivative. Where the gaming public was promised intrigue, excitement, and desolate eeriness, they were delivered peace, contemplation, and exploration.

In its original mode at least, No Man’s Sky is almost painfully easy. Sentinels fire on you after any rapid extraction of resources, but your overheat timer is easily reset without waiting the full duration and sentinel hitboxes seem to have no end, as firing far to either side of the nuisances will still damage them. While managing the tiny inventory supplied to the player is dull and sometimes frustrating at the beginning of the game, it never adds enough challenge to justify its presence, as any and all resources are utterly replaceable and abundant throughout the galaxy. Perhaps the only real challenge in No Man’s Sky is avoiding all the random bugs that could stop you from reaching the end of its Atlas Path. In reality, any qualms about difficulty and worries about narrative completion defeat the central design of the game: No Man’s Sky is about sightseeing and relaxation, but little more.

As I moved through planet sized planets with no distinctive features and infinitely repeating art assets, the game’s aural design captivated me. Intertwining themes, rhythms, and tones painted the picture of each planet with interest, and the distinctive flavor that I found lacking in No Man’s Sky’s visual splendor was heightened through sound to create a feeling of wonder that would be missing otherwise. It’s often a failure of design if musical movement is required to elicit the emotional response intended by artwork but, seeing how bare No Man’s Sky is in terms of narrative, I can’t help but applaud its use of sound. Walking entranced through procedurally generated forests and rock formations seeking some purpose for my journey beyond journeying is something I had already grown quite familiar with. It’s not a far stretch to relate the peaceful traveling of Proteus to No Man’s Sky star surfing.

Each time Proteus begins, a new island is formed. Each object within this procedurally generated island is essential the same, it’s only their placement and occasionally their color that remains dynamic. In terms of visual splendor, the pixelated and blocky shaping and textures of Proteus aren’t anywhere near realistic, but a consistent art style, gorgeous skybox, and dynamic lighting gives Proteus a special aesthetic. No Man’s Sky presents perhaps a more modern (or retro, depending on how you look at it) representation of this sort of graphical fidelity. Where Proteus reminds one of early first person experiments on 1990s era personal computers, No Man’s Sky vividly realizes the stylings of generations of science fiction artists. Beyond the graphical design similarities of the two games lies their most intimately shared feature. Proteus and No Man’s Sky both create something that sounds alive.

When you approach each object within Proteus’ island, they spill single tones and notes into your ears, culminating in a dense, interesting, and relaxing menagerie of sounds. Chiming frogs and singing flowers are the bread and butter of the Proteus experience making your travels across the nearly deserted island even more enjoyable. Using noise cancelling headphones would be highly advised to increase immersion in Proteus and truly let you relax. Immersed experience in which the game is the only stimulus to the player is the reason Proteus and No Man’s Sky are the poster children for virtual reality. Because of their laid-back and stressless demeanor, they’re also incredibly important for introducing children and newer gamers to immersive qualities that could be frightening to the unprepared in more challenging games.

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No Man’s Sky’s marketing logo. (Image Credit to Hello Games, taken from the No Man’s Sky press kit)

As an evolution of immersive, pointless exploration games like Proteus, No Man’s Sky is a pinnacle of interesting and varied visual sense and highly effective sound design. The only feature that falls short in both of these video games is the defining feature of a game, gameplay and mechanical depth. Personally, I find solace in the escapism of these experiences, but I can understand the concern of consumers who want what they paid for and at a reasonable price. In the spirit of those people, I would not suggest buying No Man’s Sky for any more than $15, as that’s the worth of the enjoyment I’ve taken from it. In you fell to the hype and own No Man’s Sky today, hop in your cockpit and explore some maths. Maybe one day I’ll actually be able to see you around, space cowboy.

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Author: Shane Nichols

Co-founder and blogger at Birb Friends. I like a variety of games and celebrate game design that uses game mechanics to tell stories. You can catch me writing comparison posts, in depth game reviews, and game design articles, as well as with Noah Stites in our YouTube let's play show TheDPadShow.

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