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The addictive boredom of No Man’s Sky

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The game with everything can serve up a whole lot of nothing

Hello Games

No Man’s Sky is a game I quit every night and can't wait to play every morning. I go to sleep feeling sure I’m done with the game forever. I wake up not being able to think about anything else.

No Man’s Sky is a survival game of sorts, and your progress is limited partly by the number of warp cells at your disposal. Warp cells are also a good way to illustrate how much time you'll spend on inventory management and resource collection.

Warp cells require 100 thamium9 and one piece of antimatter to craft. How do you get antimatter? By using 50 heridium, 20 zinc and one electron vapor to craft it. How do you get electron vapor? By using 100 plutonium and one suspension fluid to craft it. How do you get suspension fluid? Craft it with 50 carbon! It’s simple.

This level of inventory management can be exhausting, especially when you consider you have to make sure you’re keeping enough resources for your hazard protection, life support, pulse engines, and launch thrusters at the same time. Your first job, in fact, should be to expand your inventory. It makes everything in the game less painful. The video below can help.

And this is what leads to such a natural rhythm of each session. You never know what you’re going to get on each planet, and that thrill of discovery is a large part of what makes the game so intoxicating.

I find myself "buying" exploration time by thinking about what my short- and moderate-term goals are and focusing only on grabbing the materials needed for those goals. After I create a few warp cores or add a slot to my inventory, and I know I’m carrying enough supplies to refill all my critical systems? I feel like I have time to wander and explore each planet. This process can take a very short amount of time, or it can be excruciating ... and it all depends on what is randomly deposited on each planet.

I imagine Matt Damon felt the same way when he was stranded on Mars. If you want to earn some disco, you better grow some taters out of your poop.

The game doesn’t care about your time

No Man’s Sky is completely indifferent to your time and efforts. It wasn’t crafted to offer certain materials at certain times, nor to make sure you don’t get discouraged.

"Most of the planets I've charted have been mostly barren, offering mostly elements I can extract to improve my space ship," Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner wrote.  "An entire solar system (consisting of six planets) was largely void of life — a discovery that took five hours to realize."

There were times I’ve found huge deposits of gold next to a structure with a shop inside, making the only limit to my wealth the amount of time I was willing to spend walking between the two. I earned about 300,000 units and gave up. I had things I wanted to see, or at least I became seduced with the idea that the next planet might feature something more interesting to see.

No Man’s Sky is completely indifferent to your time and efforts

That’s why the two-hour play session is such a great chunk of time. The first hour is spent making sure you’re well-supplied and you’ve created some forward momentum toward your ultimate goal; the second hour can be free-form exploration. By the end of those two units of time, I’m usually well and totally bored with the game and questioning my need to ever go back. So I save, shut it down, and walk away.

A few hours later I’m obsessed with the idea of finding out what’s on another planet, or learning a bit more of an alien language. The rewards are doled out randomly and perfectly; every time you land on a planet, you’re not sure what you’ll find. It’s a loop of moderate drudgery mixed with adrenaline spikes when something, anything happens to spice up your quest for survival and forward motion.