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No Man’s Sky update turns its weird science into procedural storytelling

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The newly improved visor is my favorite part of the game

A screenshot of a space ship and freighter orbiting a planet in No Man’s Sky Hello Games

When No Man’s Sky was originally released, there was plenty of disappointment to go around. For me, one of the biggest letdowns was the game’s attempt at biodiversity. As a procedurally generated spacefaring exploration game, there sure were plenty of plants and animals roaming around, but it seemed as if many of their forms and features repeated themselves. More importantly, they felt more like props than natural features of the places that they lived.

With its latest update, called Next, that’s changed completely. Not only are the animals more diverse than ever, they’re also more detailed, both as individuals and entire species. The secret is the game’s new and improved analysis visor, which gives you more data than ever before.

You’ll make your own visor in the first hour or so that you start playing a single-player game. All it takes to build is a few easy-to-find resources. Once installed, you can literally stand atop a ridge line, zoom out and survey every one of the plants, animals and minerals laid out in front of you.

Charlie Hall/Hello Games

You’ll also earn some credits for your trouble.

In addition to increased range, the visor in No Man’s Sky now gives you much more detail on the species that you discover. Take these armadillo-like critters I found on my first planet:

The A. Crabbiddae that I discovered paid off with 1,600 space bucks, but also with a bevy of biological details. It’s described as cheerful, with an indeterminate age. The species is symmetrically gendered and color-blind.
Charlie Hall/Hello Games

While its age is unknown, the tiny guy has a cheerful disposition and feeds on the small trees that dot the landscape. The species is symmetrically gendered, which sends the mind reeling. What does that mean in the context of this planet? And how does their color-blindness play into mating and reproduction?

Things get even stranger with the game’s description of plants.

Plant life on my starting planet was even more interesting. Most of what I found was fungal. One fed off the enzymes secreted by the planet’s rocks, giving a purpose in my mind to the constant toxic rain. This W. Lonearumae even has a mobile root structure, which requires a rethinking of what plant life can actually be.
Charlie Hall/Hello Games

How is a root structure mobile? Does it leave its fungal mass, dotted with tiny crystalline flowers, on the surface and then burrow itself for thousands of years to the other side of the planet where it blooms again?

As the oddities begin to pile up, my mind began to try and create connections between them all. Perhaps these were the small trees that the armadillos ate, or maybe I had to search harder to find that particular piece of the puzzle.

Like a great science fiction novel, the game continued to surprise me. One plant I discovered was sentient, another could be heard faintly singing. This kind of granularity does more than simply encourage head canon. It refocuses the entire moral center of the game.

The robotic guardians that observe your actions are no longer the same kind of nuisance that they were before. They’re the robotic protectors of this universe’s incredible biodiversity, created by some unknown force I want to meet. No Man’s Sky flipped for me, from a passive game of observation to a desperate battle for survival against a universe hard-wired to preserve itself from human exploitation.

Clearly these details are procedurally generated modifiers, attached semi-randomly by the complex math that sits deep in the center of the game. For a team skillful enough to create billions of worlds, it should be no trouble at all for Hello Games to add a bit more detail to the trillions of animals as well. But the richness it brings to my own experience of the game cannot be understated.

No Man’s Sky has its hooks back in me, and I can’t wait to discover more.