Leading thoughts: At what point does a video game devolve into a virtual toy? What separates a good virtual toy from a poor one?
Essay thing: So No Man's Sky and Hello Games have been getting positive press lately after a string of major (free) patch releases. And it's easy to see why. It's a feel good narrative: disgraced studio makes good on their promises despite the blowback, transforming a once universally maligned game into something pretty good. It's positive and I'm here for it.
But while NMS has seen a variety of changes, those changes add much to the scenery, and add little to core mechanics. NMS is, effectively, a proc-gen universe you can navigate and not much else. And it actually sort of works, just not as a game.
After playing it recently I was struck by just a lack of ~there~ there. The gameplay loop, even by survival game standards, is barely there at all. Point laser at rocks, collect materials, upgrade ship, move on.
It seems like the latest string of patches have significantly added to the breadth – i.e. things you can see while exploring the universe, but have done little to expand the depth. The same thing appears to be true of Elite Dangerous as well.
And it struck me, that No Man's Sky isn't a game so much as it is a toy. It's a procedurally generated set of vistas with which you can make a game, or narrative, with your own imagination.
On one hand I know that it's easier to patch breadth into a game as opposed to depth. But I'm shocked by the lack of relatively low effort, entirely UI based gamified systems that would be relatively easy to patch in.
Another game that fits the "toy" mold: Minecraft. But I'd argue Minecraft benefits from: * An unprecedented degree of interactivity. * Enough systems in place that allow for emergent gameplay. * Fun gameplay loops in their own right. The initial hunts for materials in caves is, well, fun. Not to mention the wealth of simple but well realized supplementary systems, like farming, crafting, etc.
Building a house in Minecraft serves little purpose, and neither does base building in No Man's Sky. And that's fine. But building a house in Minecraft is obviously a lot more fun and more expressive.
Does No Man's Sky really need to be a better game or a better toy? It's an engaging, colorful setting and maybe that's enough. Maybe gamifying too many systems would eliminate the self-directed "play" that users engage with. And maybe the game would be less immersive as a result? If the player didn't have as much space to insert their own game upon it.
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