Procedurally Generated Dreams and Ambitions

Posted by admin on September 24th, 2016 filed in Development, Games

Everyone is talking about large procedural space games… with no load screens and smooth transitions… practically infinite systems and endless planet exploration… And I sit here dreaming I’ll complete writing a game as complex as … NOCTIS!

One day I’ll be done! :-)

I basically agree with what Paul Kilduff-Taylor (the developer of the game Frozen Synapse) said about expectations and reality in his article “Promising the Earth“. Yup, I’m referring to a certain space game (let’s call it NMS) that was released in Aug 2016: A huge hype, accompanied by a huge amount of pre-orders, followed by a huge let-down.

I also pre-ordered this AAA-priced game when the developers (HG) announced the build went gold. I had missed several years of hype that led up to the recent debacle, so I myself am not emotional about it. In contrast to part of the community, which is very emotional: Forum discussions had become so toxic that I refused to go near NMS’s Steam forum for a month.

I read up on what the outrage was about, and I mostly understand it. Yes, some rumour-mongers hyped themselves up about imaginary features. But HG also made ambiguous and contradictory public statements. Even with goodwill, I cannot come up with a re-interpretation of some statements in HG’s favor that makes sense. On the other hand, the accusation that this is a purposeful fraud makes no sense either. HG has produced games for years, the developers’ identities are known. It would be ridiculous to assume they have planned to abandon their careers, and all go into hiding, on the small chance of one random hype lasting long enough.

Also, the money HG made is revenue, not profit. I don’t have any insight how much money a dozen people need to rent homes and office space, and live and work for four years. But the detractors pretend that HG has zero expenses nor loans, kept 100% of the revenue, and ran away after the release to lead rich lives. In reality, the devs have been committing patches regularly since the release. (Admittedly, the patches were fixes for bugs that QA should have caught half a year ago, which is embarrassing at such a price, but the devs are clearly still on it.)

I only knew of NMS as a single-player game, so I am not one of those who are waiting for that one patch that magically adds massive multi-player. I expected that the only trace I will see of others in the same universe will be “discovered by” labels on things. However, the trailers do imply cool features that were not present in the initial release — such as consequences for faction alignment, working portals, and superior animal AI.

Customers are angry because HG have made no explicit acknowledgement along the lines of “This is an Early Access Build” or “The following features are missing a few months’ worth of finishing touches, and here’s the timeline when we’ll add them“.

I incredulously follow the exploits of several enthusiasts who dig for hidden clues that might enable all those missing features… They seem to be smart and can think outside the box, their approach is just perfect — If NMS were a puzzle game like MYST… which it isn’t.

Their rain-dances around portals and beacons are plain superstitious behaviour. If someone tells you they found a clue in “three points forming a triangle”, or “two points on the same line”, or “a face they see in the blurry wall texture”, anyone’s alarm bells should ring.

I gave them the advice to try to falsify their hypotheses. As soon as you think you’ve found a pattern, simply attempt to disprove it. E.g. if you have the hypothesis that the flags at monoliths point towards the nearest portal, count how many portals you find in that direction — and compare it to the number of portals you find in any of the other directions, in the same time frame. If the numbers are not radically different, then portals are merely distributed randomly, and it was meaningless that you found one in the flag’s direction.

I’m sad we’ll find them disappointed soon, when the last of them realizes that kind of depth and mystery simply isn’t in the game. For comparison, when the game Obduction came out, several equally enthusiastic MYST fans had worked out solid solutions and walkthroughs within a week. In contrast, for NMS, there have been zero revelations in two months. I don’t expect any. (I still hope for free DLCs though.)

And if not? NMS is beginning to look like the perfect subject for a future study in Procedural Generation of Mass Hysteria and Superstition in the Internet Age. XD

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