Feature Article

The Story Behind No Man's Sky's Show-Stopping E3

Show-stopper.

Assassin's Creed, Call Of Duty, Battlefield; these are the games that traditionally dominate an E3 press conference. But tucked between the expertly choreographed explosions and polygon-packed visuals of Sony's E3 press conference this year was a different kind of game, one that didn't just impress the thousand-strong audience of the show in LA and the millions watching at home, but for many stole the show entirely. And it came from a team of just 10 people, housed in a tiny, humble building tucked beside a concrete car park in Guilford. For Hello Games, its appearance at E3 wouldn't just remind people about its upcoming open-world epic No Man's Sky; it would turn it into one of the most highly anticipated games of the year.

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But No Man's Sky's success at the show was far from guaranteed. Six months prior to E3 at the controversial 2013 VGX Awards, the game made its debut. It was met with an extremely positive reception from press and public alike, but for Hello Games founder Sean Murray, that didn't mean an easy win for the game at E3. If anything, the studio was expecting far less.

"I think after the VGXs we had a really good reaction, and that totally took us by surprise", says Murray. "We thought what we were showing was quite niche, and that people wouldn't really get it, and we didn't feel like we showed that much. We thought that people wouldn't be that excited. But actually, it was the opposite, and people had a good reaction and loved it. But we just clammed up afterward. We should have done loads of press and stuff, but we actually pretty much did nothing after the VGXs and just went quiet for six months, working on stuff we wanted to get ready for E3.

"But then, I actually just expected it to just be a reminder for people about the game. We had that discussion as a group, that the amount of views the video would get would be less than the VGXs, and we should just be fine with that, and not take that as a bad sign, because people already know what the game is and we're not showing them anything more than that. But it was the opposite, and it seems to have been way more popular, which is awesome. The VGXs just meant for us that we have to go away and work on it. That's the right thing to do and that's what people want us to do."

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And go away and work on it they did. For six months the 10-strong team toiled away on the game, trying to get it ready for a more personal showing at E3, not yet knowing it would be part of Sony's press conference. Without a publisher, the studio was free to explore the possibilities of its clever procedural generation engine, but with that came a lack of pressure, and deadlines. It's a problem that Murray is all too aware of, "a tendency to just go off on one" as he describes it. Like the VGX Awards before it, E3 would be a major milestone for the game, a date that the studio couldn't move and had to stick to--and, despite a flood-related setback along the way, it was on track to do so. Then, a week prior to the show, there was word from Sony.

"I know now looking back that we probably should have known earlier [we were going to be part of Sony's press conference]", says Murray. "There were these indications that we probably should have understood. There were these hints and things, but we didn't feel like we knew, honestly, until a week beforehand. We knew that we were under consideration, and we had been showing Sony what we were up to, showing them builds and things. And they seemed to be going down well and getting a good reception. But, what I found is that Sony is incredibly laid back and quite informal, and I don't expect that from some huge mega corporation. So, I would say to them, 'would we, maybe, be in the E3 press conference?' and they'd be like 'sure!' But because it was said in such a laid back way, I didn't think it could possibly be real...for me it didn't feel real until we went over and did a rehearsal."

While the studio had already prepped the game for a showing to journalists, the press conference was another matter entirely. A 10-minute demo of some combat in Call Of Duty is one thing, but how best to show a game that makes a grand, Molyneux-like promise of an infinite universe and exploration in the space of just a few minutes? Would anybody understand it? And would they believe that a tiny indie studio--one that hadn't even attended, let lone exhibited at E3 before--could possibly pull it off?

No Man's Sky isn't a game that naturally suits a three-to-five-minute demo. When we first started talking to Sony about it, that was its big worry.

"There was this series of bombshells leading up to the show, where we suddenly realised that No Man's Sky was going to be on stage, and it was going to be on a 120ft screen, and realising that there are problems associated with that, and even just realising that it's at a stadium. I've always just watched the streaming version, and you don't realise that there's actually 5000 people in the audience. That for me is my worst nightmare.

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And No Man's Sky isn't a game that naturally suits a three-to-five-minute demo. When we first started talking to Sony about it, that was its big worry. I think we surprised them as it got closer and closer to E3. We were working very hard to create something that in some ways is very similar to other game demos, even though our game doesn't suit that at all, in that you've got a mixture of action and adventure and discovery going on in a really short time frame. We're one of the few games where in our demo you end up flying about 100,000 km, or something ridiculous. Most games don't have to cover those immense distances. So it is really complex from that point of view, to boil that down.

We're one of the few games where in our demo you end up flying about 100,000 km, or something ridiculous. Most games don't have to cover those immense distances.

To give you an example of some problems, we planned out what our demo was, and then we had to find somewhere in the universe to set it. So I flew around for quite some time, a couple of days, looking for a planet that particularly suited it. So I had to pick that planet, but also find another planet that was nearby that I was going to fly to, and kind of engineer this situation where there was going to be things to fight in between. And then you actually end up having to deal with really weird things like the time of day on the planet it starts from, and what animals are going to be out at the time of day, and what time of day it is on the planet you land on. We wanted that to be daytime, and that's really hard to plan, and it just doesn't happen that easily. It was quite a fun little problem to have. Whereas, for any other game, you would be constructing something for months especially for E3. When Ubisoft shows off what Assassin's Creed is like, it has specifically made that entire demo for that show. We don't have that control, which is really good, but also really crazy."

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As for whether or not people finally understand the mechanics of the game, well, the jury's still out on that one (if you're still at a loss, be sure to check out our Next Big Game coverage). But it's not something that's troubling Murray. If anything, that mystery is exactly what he's after.

"I think we in games have gone too far in this direction, which is that I find games incredibly predictable, especially AAA retail games. I can tell when a game is about to end, when I'm at the middle or filler section, all of those things. And I'm not jaded of those games, I still enjoy them, but I'm really interested in making something different...at E3, almost everyone we saw asked us 'what is the 30-second game loop?' And we try and explain how that can be, but there's a real part of me that just wants to go 'you know what, why do you need a 30-second game loop? And why do you need quests, and amulets, or whatever? Aren't we really tired of that?'

I also think that gamers are smarter than people think. I think that's been proven time and again. Call Of Duty is the number one seller, and it's incredibly popular. But you go to any gaming website and you will find gamers who are not that excited about it. We as a group are just making a game that we're interested in. And you absolutely take a risk by making something different, and I'm just really accepting of that. It's good news if you're worried about things. If there's no one to say that your game will be successful, because it's like these other games, it's better, because we would be competing with those other games and we're a tiny indie studio. We don't have a marketing budget or anything like that, so we have to do something different. You're probably right; [No Man's Sky] isn't necessarily going to be market tested as a console-friendly game for the person that plays FIFA or Call Of Duty, but we're kind of OK with that."

With three Game Critics' Best of E3 awards for Best Original Game, Best Independent Game and the Special Commendation for Innovation, and numerous awards from the media--including GameSpot's own Best of E3 2014--the press is certainly enamoured with Hello Games' work. And, having seen the game in action, and having learned what makes it tick, I find myself being just as infatuated with the grand ambitions of No Man's Sky too. But there's always a worry that with such early success, and with such support behind it, the game can't possibly live up to anybody's expectations. That, or the studio cracks under the pressure.

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I think we in games have gone too far in this direction, which is that I find games incredibly predictable, especially AAA retail games. I can tell when a game is about to end, when I'm at the middle or filler section, all of those things.

"I'm the guy--and I think there's a few of these personalities at Hello Games--where they might be 100 positive comments, and all I will see are the negative ones", says Murray. "And that's just kind of human nature, but I have that problem to the Nth degree. The positivity, and I know sounds really bad, but you almost do your best to avoid it, and filter that out and not let it get to you. All I can take away from that is the same message, which is that I need to go away and make this. I think that we strayed into this area that is not just excitement, but kind of like hype, and hype is your worst enemy as a developer, because it's that thing that's really impossible to deliver against. It's great that people have that excitement, but all it makes me want to do is actually go quiet and go and make the game.

I think it is just pressure, you know? But I think the way we work we're happy with. I'll give you an example. Every other developer I meet keeps saying 'oh, how many is Hello Games now post-E3, it must be, like, 50 people? You must be hiring like crazy!' But that's not our attitude at all. We definitely don't want it to affect us. And I think it would be this ludicrous mistake as well. You could almost write it out that Hello Games would come back from E3, hire loads of people, go crazy, and never be seen again. But it's also quite nice that we have enough interest, because it allows us to just focus on making the game. Every publisher that I meet would advise me to keep doing more and more press or whatever. Like, Watch Dogs, had 16 different gameplay videos or something like that. And, in theory, we should be doing something like that, but we're not going to. We're just going to make the game, and finish the game. I think that's what people want. No amount of videos will change whether our game is good or not."

For more No Man's Sky, head over our Next Big Game hub.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Mark Walton

Mark is a senior staff writer based out of the UK, the home of heavy metal and superior chocolate.
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Avatar image for grimchaos01
GrimChaos01

I am very happy with the way they are tackling the production of this game. I don't care if it's 1 year, 2 years or even 3 years away from being ready to release to the public. As long as they're working on the game and the team is happy with the way development is going. Production that's unadulterated by big name publishers seems like a great way to build a game. Even better is doing this with a team you're familiar with. Which seems to be the case here. Also, I'm not gonna raise my expectations for this game any higher than the devs already have. So I'll reduce the risk of being let down due to my own false hopes. Hopefully others will do the same. Good article btw. :)

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

I do fear that this game has become far too hyped, and it's probably because of Hello's coy approach to the press.

I'm still crazily excited for this game.

It's an interesting exercise in alternative marketing though. Hopefully Ubisoft and Activision will see the benefit that keeping your cards close to your chest generates even more interest than constantly bombarding us with trailers, screenshots, and stage presentations with rappers.

Avatar image for phenomfawaz
phenomfawaz

I'll have a genuine response once I play it. But for now, I don't think it was a "

Show-stopper" by any means.
Avatar image for fatal_heart7
fatal_heart7

Yes, I see the WH40K Influence!

Avatar image for meedokicky
meedokicky

Very nice, best of luck!

I think what they've done so far is incredible, but I am not too excited for it tbh. Which is strange, because I love games that have exploration elements.

Avatar image for Arushni
Arushni

Unfortunately (for many), it's PS4 exclusive... though they are open to other platforms. I just hope that, eventually, one of those platforms is PC, because it would be an utter shame to allow a game of this scope be limited severely by not having access to a modding community. If it came down to it, I would buy a PS4 for this game, but I would not like having to do that (not that I have anything against PS4, I just find this potential problem irritating considering the possibilities of a PC release).

Avatar image for meedokicky
meedokicky

<< LINK REMOVED >> idk GS says it is coming for PC too. look on the right side :P

Avatar image for Arushni
Arushni

<< LINK REMOVED >> I hope so, but wiki says that as of E3, it is still a PS4 exclusive. Could just be Gamespot hoping as much as I am.

Avatar image for RevLux
RevLux

@Arushni @meedokicky It's a PS4 console exclusive, but it is coming out for P.C. as well.

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> I'd probably put money on the wiki page just being written by a fanboy who completely forgot about PC.

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lando423

So did Gamespot destroy a forest just for the sake of this video. lol

Avatar image for lawgone
lawgone

I was wondering the same thing. Where the heck were they filming that?

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vadagar1

I would literary do anything short of murder to get this game

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Thathanka

This looks ridiculously good.


I am guessing that once you get to the centre of the galaxy you go through a wormhole and into a new galaxy.

Avatar image for RevLux
RevLux

<< LINK REMOVED >> The quasi-goal of the game, as per Sean Murray, is to reach the center of the universe. Of course the real universe has no actual center. So, if their procedurally generated universe is anything like the real thing, you will never reach the "goal." Of course it's just a game so I'm sure there is a center. It will just take an unbelievably long time to fly there.

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

<< LINK REMOVED >> I was thinking something like that, lol. Maybe if you upgrade your ship to the point where you can survive passing through a super-massive black-hole you ascend to the level of a deity and gain control of the game's creation tools.

Avatar image for deactivated-58a78a043e9d4

<< LINK REMOVED >> I actually hope there's some Doctor Who-esque lore like a really ancient, time-locked battle between whatever this big evil Sean's mentioned and some ancient civilisation. Something like that.

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Blumper

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Yeah, I'd definitely like to have my mind blown in some way when I get to the center. Something in an Arthur C Clarke, maybe. Love the idea of ancient intelligent beings, but I also would like a certain level of strangeness to it. I like aliens to be...well...alien.

I hope for something more than just bumpy headed, purple speckled humanoids in robes and onesies, and it sounds like these guys might want that too.

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vadagar1

I CAN SEE IT NOW


PC release with moding tools..... creating Voyager mod ... lost in space :D

omg my face it melts

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vadagar1

OMG


I WANT THIS GAME NOW

NOWWWWWWWWW

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g4bryael

I have to say, Hello Games is another group of developers that "get it." Not alot of glitz, just a lot of passion and a desire to build a great game. Now as long as no publishers horn in, then impose a bunch of changes and destroy the whole, beautiful, wholesome creature being created here, we'll be good.

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RevLux

<< LINK REMOVED >> Since Sony doesn't require a dev. to have a publisher for the PS4 it is unlikely that they will get one. From everything I've read they are determined to finish the game without tons of marketing or even increasing their # of employees. Which is an even better sign that they probably won't get one.

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Kiaininja

Well I'm excited about this game. It reminds me very much of Star Trek with the exploration of new planets and species. I would like to learn more about the dangers of hostile creatures and environment that you would have to survive and the possibility of adding more to the world with future patches. Maybe they can even have Star Trek DLCs like shuttles and phasers.

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ralphikari

I was at E3. The game drew my attention but it was hardly "show-stopping." Elite: Dangerous looked just as promising if not more so, and I think the real show-stopper was The Witcher 3.

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hystavito

<< LINK REMOVED >> Yeah, a lot of people think there's been a bit of an overreaction to it. We still don't know much about it at this point, but right after the E3 demo we knew even less, yet people went nuts :). I still wonder if it was mostly just the stylized look that blew people away then.

Avatar image for RevLux
RevLux

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> You've never had a child-like fantasy to jump in a space ship and explore planets far far away? If not, then that is likely why you don't understand what made this game so fascinating to so many of us.

Avatar image for hystavito
hystavito

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> But there have been a lot of games like that and there are even other new ones coming that we all knew about since well before No Man's Sky. So, the question is, what was so different or special about it at the E3 presentation that warranted such reactions? I cannot answer that question.


I can guess, like the stylized graphics which is very popular now and gives it an indie look that is also very hot these days, that's something the other games don't have. There was also the fact that you actually transition from space to planet atmosphere to surface in real time, but that alone doesn't seem like a big enough deal. So, I don't know what it is, but I can't believe it's just simply space exploration fantasy because that is neither new nor unique to No Man's Sky, it has to be something else.

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Aaronp2k

@hystavito @RevLux @ralphikari maybe the fact you can fly seamlessly from planet to planet which no other game has done.


maybe the fact that each planet is generated with a mathematical procedure and not just random generation, something not a lot of game developers bother with.


maybe the fact you can play it the way you want to play it. there is a story but you aren't forced to do any of it.


there are many reasons. this is going to be the elder scrolls of the space sim genre.

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mainman665

i just want to visit gas giants or fly into a blue super giant star maybe see a pulsar or land on a comet...............YEAH!!!


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lawgone

It looks really cool. The one thing I didn't like in the video was where he was flying from space into the planet...that looked weird. The scale was way off. It was as if the atmosphere was only 10 feet thick.

Avatar image for deactivated-59ee775dcdb1e

almost loled at "show stopping"


it was hardly that. but it was cool none the less.

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Alucard_Prime

I haven't noticed other sites hyping it so much like Gamespot, but I am interested in the game, looks cool but hopefully it won't be an exclusive, still undecided about getting a PS4 at this point.

Avatar image for RevLux
RevLux

<< LINK REMOVED >> It's coming to the P.C. as well.

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paulell

I get the procedural thing!

I get the basic mechanics of how you play (mining, exploring, trading, fighting)


I just have one question, How do you interact with the world around you? As in, how do you communicate with the AI when trading and making allegiances when fighting? will it be scripted voice interaction, or maybe written text. Would the guys at Hello Games have a procedural programme for communication?


If so, that would truly be mind blowing! Personally, I think there will be a few scripted commands when interacting with the AI but I hope I'm wrong!


Avatar image for justinneveritt
JustinnEveritt

<< LINK REMOVED >> That's a really strong question. The way I'm imagining it is, you walk up to a ship and presented a prompt that includes it's cost and a button to press in order to purchase. For suit and multi-tool upgrades, I'm sure these will be done through a sub menu. And the interactions with the AI fleets will all be in passing, I don't see any communication happening there. This is just how I picture this all happening, nothing more.

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paulell

<< LINK REMOVED >> in one of the interviews, someone mentioned making allegiances with certain fractions to fight with or against. I'd like to think you can enter a conflict as a neutral and announces who you're fighting for.

Avatar image for justinneveritt
JustinnEveritt

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Right, but if I can recall correctly, those factions will not be called out as good or bad. You can pay attention to the decals/flags on the various ships in order to know which faction they're a part of and it's up to the user to determine if those factions are good, bad, neutral, etc.

Avatar image for KeviNOlighT
KeviNOlighT

I really hope the best for this game and for the developers, I really like their approach and comments.

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vadagar1

<< LINK REMOVED >> *nicolas cage face*


YOU dont say.......

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Bugermeister

Man, I love this guy's mindset: marketing doesn't make a game better. Every thing I see and read about this game just makes me want to play it more and more.

Avatar image for RevLux
RevLux

<< LINK REMOVED >> I agree. We tend to perceive Hello Game's approach as almost the antithesis to marketing. Though, in a strange way, it is simply marketing of a different kind. I don't think this was intentional though. Which makes it all the more incredible to me. If the game ends up selling well, we are almost certain to see other smaller devs try to replicate the "strategy."