11 C
New York
Sunday, April 21, 2024

Buy now

No Man's Sky – Sean Murray talks Switch, this week's 4.0 update, and the future



Its been another busy year for No Mans Sky. Not only has the exploratory space sim received three significant updates in 2022 – delivering some of the most meaningful revisions its yet seen its six years of post-launch support, developer Hello Games has been working behind-the-scenes on bringing the game to a number of new platforms in the not-too-distant future: Switch, PSVR2, iPad, and MacOS. Of those, Switch comes first, arriving on Nintendos console – alongside a major 4.0 update for all players – this Friday, 7th October. Ahead of release, Eurogaemr sat down with Hello Games boss Sean Murray to discuss the madness of porting to Switch, No Mans Skys eagerly anticipated 4.0 update, the studios future, and more.


ON THE STATE OF THINGS IN 2022

Somewhat incredibly, its been over six years since No Mans Skys infamously rocky launch, during which time the studio has released a staggering 20 free updates, massively changing the trajectory of the game, both in terms of its scope and reception. “In general,” Murray tells me when I ask about the studios outlook in 2022, “I think were a really happy team. I think were sort of the happiest and the most productive weve been in the last five or six years… The launch of No Mans Sky, if I was to plot that on a graph, it was maximum stress, and theres been a gradual but steady improvement year-on-year in how we do things and within the team. I think were enjoying it, you know.”

Murray attributes much of the studios revitalised outlook to No Mans Skys ever-growing community. “Were so lucky to have a player base thats really engaged with this, and is really welcoming and happy,” he explains. “And we get to make updates that generally go down well, [and] we get a lot of buzz from that process… I feel like weve planted the garden and that was the hard work… and were tending to the garden now, so we can enjoy it. Its there for our enjoyment as well. Theres a game there, and I can sit down and lose myself in it, talk with others on the team and get excited about features and stuff. Im not saying its not hard work at times, but its a nice relationship.”


Watch on YouTube

Julys Endurance release marked No Mans Skys 20th post-launch update since launch.

It helps too, says Murray, that Hello Games has settled into a development rhythm thats able to support a closer relationship with No Mans Skys community. “The first [big updates], we were spending a year working on those,” he explains,” and the community would see nothing from us, and it was a really different relationship. There was no room for experimentation, you couldnt just try something out and see how people would react – we were grafting on it for a year, crossing our fingers. And the reason we were having to do that is because we were doing these big, fundamental changes, and we were laying a lot of groundwork for where we are now. And now, we have much more solid foundations, I think – its a joy, you know, any day theres 100,000, a few hundred thousand people playing – and were able to put things in the game, and they can be out very quickly. And then we can… see how people react to it, and interact with it, and then build upon it.”


ON NO MANS SKYS 4.0 UPDATE

As it happens, No Mans Skys next major update – known as 4.0 – isnt far away, arriving this Friday, 7th October, alongside the games Switch port. “Normally when we bump the version numbers,” explains Murray, “weve added a new platform… 2.0 was Xbox, 3.0 was VR, 4.0 is Switch… and we take the time to sort of revisit the fundamentals of the game a little bit… Its a moment where we can do that, where we feel we should, because were going to have new players coming in, starting fresh”.

However, 4.0 marks something of a departure from previous major number bumps, and Murray is keen to keep expectations in check. While 2.0 and 3.0 [titled Next and Beyond, respectively] were “huge updates in terms of content”, he explains, “that isnt the case, here”. Instead, 4.0 brings extensive changes to what Murray calls “the more design-heavy elements” of the game: balance, difficulty, and structure.

“For me,” he continues, “this update is for if youve said, Look, I played No Mans Sky and I wanted to love it, but I bumped off it a bit because it was a bit grindy, [or] if you said I want to come back, but its been ages and theres been so many updates and it feels overwhelming… Youve probably had this experience where youve come to a game where its been updated a tonne and… sometimes those [elements] dont fit as cohesively as youd like. We hear this sometimes, and I think its true… and so what weve done [in 4.0] is weve revisited a bunch of things that are really impactful from the design perspective.”


Watch on YouTube

No Mans Skys Foundation update arrived in November 2016, marking the first step in its radical evolution.

To that end, 4.0 features “lots of streamlining in terms of the tutorial, when you unlock certain things, whats available to you”, all intended to fit No Mans Skys six years of updates “into a more cohesive whole”. That streamlining will also extend to the games inventory system, which, in turn, has enabled Hello Games to “massively increase what is effectively the level cap”, meaning bigger inventories, and the opportunity to level up ships and weapons further than was possible before.

Additionally, 4.0 introduces No Mans Skys first new game modes since the arrival of Creative and Survival in 2016s Foundation update. “When we [originally] launched,” explains Murray, “we made the game a little bit more difficult and more grindy, perhaps, because we didnt have the breadth of content [we do now]. But now people come in and they want to see a mech, they want to see the story, they want to go to the Nexus and things like that, and so we wanted to find that right balance for new players”.

As part of that goal, 4.0 adds a new Relaxed mode (playable with either a fresh or existing save), which Murray calls a “very fun version of No Mans Sky where the focus is on exploration, less on just surviving and grinding, [where its easier] to see the six years of content thats there”. This, he says, works well for first-time players, “but I think its [also] a common request from people who might have longer playthroughs, who might want just a game where they kick back”.

On top of that, among its various other revisions, 4.0 brings an overhauled Survival mode and tools for custom games. “Survival is [ccurently], I think, at its strongest in the first few hours as a game mode,” Murray explains, “[so] weve made it a much more challenging, more unique experience.” Custom games, meanwhile, will enable players to create bespoke sessions that better fit their needs at any given time, featuring options to adjust everything “from controls, to difficulty, to how a lot of those sort of fundamentals work in terms of the pacing of the game… which opens up a whole bunch of different ways to play the game that werent there before.”


ON THIS WEEKS SWITCH RELEASE

4.0 arrives alongside No Mans Skys Switch port, an endeavour that was met with both delight and – given the relative technical limitations of Nintendos console – a certain degree of incredulity among fans when it was announced earlier this year. Murray says he can understand that scepticism, admitting, “I do agree. It certainly on the face of it seems like madness. And I had that reaction myself, to be honest.”

Murray says his initial reaction to the idea of No Mans Sky on Switch was partly down to the nature of the game itself. “This might sound bad,” he explains, “but I was unsure as to whether it was suited for mobile play. I mean, Ive played long-form games [on Switch before] but, generally, its hard to know how much of the rest of the world is like me – is it more focused on shorter, more mobile experience, more drop in, drop out or whatever?”. However, Murray says all his apprehensions vanished when Hello Games adapted No Mans Sky for Valves portable Steam Deck earlier this year. “It has been a real surprise to me to see it in the top 10, top five of the most played games on [Steam Deck] for months and months,” he says. “That makes us feel like, okay, maybe it is [a good fit] and, you know… over the last few months, as the Switch version has come together, I find myself really gravitating towards it.”

As for the technical challenges of squeezing No Mans Sky onto Switch, Murray says Hello Games has made a “concerted effort” over the last three or four years to improve No Mans Skys performance on both top-end and lower-end machines, “and so at some point, some folks on the team were like, I think Switch is possible, and then everyone said the worst thing, which is like, No, its not. And that just made a bunch of people think, Okay, well, Im going to try and prove that it is. Over time, it just showed more and more promise… and more and more of the team have gotten excited about it and piled onto it”.


Watch on YouTube

Switch is just one of three new platforms No Mans Sky is confirmed to be heading to in the future.

As a result, No Mans Sky on Switch feels like a “very similar experience” to other platforms from a gameplay perspective, and “surprisingly at home”, with the team having had to make surprisingly few compromises to the core experience. By way of example, Murray explains the team had anticipated Switch would need its own version of the games universe, expecting that the demands of procedural generation would make it impossible for Nintendos console to have parity with other platforms. “I would have assumed and did assume [that],” Murray admits, ” [but] whats really surprised me is that we havent done, weve managed to keep them in parity – you see a tree on the PlayStation 4 version or the PS5 version, and its there on Switch version… So the discoveries are shared, if you name a planet or whatever, those are the same”.

Ultimately, the studio opted to make two key feature concessions. First, the sprawling, town-like settlements introduced in last years Frontiers update will be missing on Switch. “The most performance-intensive things… the very biggest constructs are something we wanted to sort of avoid on [the platform],” explains Murray.

But perhaps of more significance is the absence of multiplayer, which the team chose to omit as a result of its focus “on performance and on kind of picking our battles getting the gameplay across”. As Murray puts it, “Multiplayer in No Mans Sky is important, I love it as a feature, its great… [but] its not our most important feature compared to other games that have multiplayer. A lot of people play No Mans Sky effectively alone, single-player, and [Switch] is less focused on multiplayer as well, because of the nature that youre playing it on a train, youre playing on the toilet, out and about or in bed at night or whatever. Loads of people play multiplayer games on Switch… but its a smaller percentage, and so our attitude is release, and see how people interact with it, and see whats important to them and react to that”.


No Mans Sky on Switch features all content from other versions, minus settlements and multiplayer.

As for whether those absent features might one day make it to Switch, Murray remains cagey. “I think I never want to make promises about anything or allude to anything… I really would like to avoid that,” he laughs. But at launch, Switch will include all 20 updates so far released on other platforms, as well as the new 4.0 update, meaning newcomers will have a wealth of toys to play with – including access to all future curated Expeditions – in their intergalactic sandbox. “Beyond that,” teases Murray, “we already have a whole bunch of stuff lined up that I think people are going to be excited for.”


ON THE FUTURE OF NO MANS SKY AND HELLO GAMES

Six years on from No Mans Skys launch, though, and with the game in a healthier state than ever, its hard not to wonder how long those updates can continue. “I would love to know where we are in the journey,” Murray laughs when I ask him, admitting he simply doesnt know. “I just feel lucky that people are playing it, that people care, and I feel super lucky that the team enjoys it… I just think it would be horrible to try and make a team do updates they didnt have any ideas for it or even enjoy. And I also dont think wed do it if the player base wasnt playing the game or enjoying it, you know. But whilst those two things are true, its sort of what we get out of bed in the morning for, knowing that people are playing it for longer.”

“I will be honest and say it is so surprising that its gone on for this long,” Murray adds. “Its lovely, every day its nice that we have that opportunity, but every year, Im like, Im sure next year no one will be playing No Mans Sky and no one will have any ideas, were surely out of ideas now or out of enthusiasm. And thats got to be true at some point. But if Switch comes out, and it becomes a really important platform due to the number of players, then therell be a whole load of enthusiasm. But you know, I dont sit here and think I know whether those things will happen or not. Im very, very fallible”.


Watch on YouTube

The Last Campfire, Hello Games first release since No Mans Sky, launched in August 2020.

But what of Hello Games endeavours away from No Mans Sky? While Murray confirmed the studio is already working on its next project earlier this year, he remains reluctant to say more when I ask what else might be in store. “Im so hesitant to say anything about anything [the studio is working on],” he says, “but theres a surprising amount. That is one thing I am really amazed by, theres a surprising amount going on – some of which people know about, and way more that people dont. And I think in five years time, I will look back and think, Christ, how did we do all that with this few people… I think our next project is quite far along. And its a lot further along than No Mans Sky was when we announced that. And Im enjoying that. You know, Im quite happy to be in that place.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles