No Man's Sky, the long-awaited space exploration adventure from Hello Games gets a Day-One-patch - so far so good (and so typical in the industry today). That alone would not be enough for me to write an article since this is no news-site. But the patch has huge implications, maybe more than meets your eye when reading the quite lengthy notes on the developer's website. I want to take you on a little trip of the mind, why these changes might build up to the patch with the biggest impact on a game as of yet...
Let's recap for a second what No Man's Sky actually is: from what we've seen so far, the game allows you to roam an enormous universe containing over 18 quintillion planets. To put it in perspective (at least somewhat): if you would visit every one of them for one second only, it'd take you hilarious 585 billion years! Let's all hope that's no pre-requisite for the platinum trophy. The gameplay consists of exploring (duh!), but also combat and mining and trading and such things. The main goal of all this is to get to the centre of the galaxy, so you have to upgrade your spaceship to be able to travel further distances.
The mechanic which made such an immense playspace possible is called "procedural generation". Maybe you've heard of it before since it is used in movies like Avatar to breathe life into the depicted worlds or in TV's favourite Game of Thrones to inhabit places with people. But even if you are not acquainted with it, it is not too complicated to grasp. My explanation may be flawed too, but to put it in a nutshell, procedurally generated means that a computer program can utilize a pool of building blocks or elements to create new things in a somewhat random fashion. It prevents creative designers having to do tedious work like putting different 3D-models of trees into a landscape to make a forest. Or to craft distinct looking people for a computer-generated crowd by hand. And sometimes, those algorithms for procedural generation are put to use to design whole galaxies with planets and plants and animals, like in No Man's Sky. Not the biggest team on earth could design this game's world by hand and in consequence, even the creators won't ever see the vast majority of what this game has to offer. Kind of an astonishing thought, isn't it? But why on earth did I explain all that to you? Well, because the Day-One-patch of the game interferes exactly with that, with beautiful consequences, as you will see.
One of the patch notes mentions, that the rules of the universe generation algorithm have been changed - and the implications could hardly ever be bigger. After patch-installation, the galaxies are up to 10x larger (!), whole planets have been moved, environments changed biomes, galaxy-shapes are different and things like dead moons and different geometric anomalies have been added. You might think now "yeah, interesting, but SO WHAT? The patch gets installed when I load the game and I won't know it any other way from now on.". While this is a valid thought, there is yet another point to consider, and it is a mind-boggling one.
In the future, patch 1.03 will surely be embedded in the download-client and pressed on the game-disks in stores. But right now, there is a version 1.0 out there, playable. When patching, what does that effectively mean for the game's universe? Well, it ceases to exist in this raw form it was in when the game disks were pressed. As I mentioned above, we are talking about huge changes here. And now bear with me for a moment: what if...you didn't patch? Sure, you won't be able to connect to the online-servers to upload your discoveries (you can name things, if you are the first one to see them) and yes, you will suffer from several other negative consequences, too. But the game is playable completely offline. The seed of the procedural generation of the entire universe is on your unpatched disk. Isn't that amazing? This universe is one of a kind, since there won't be a huge conglomerate of wikis and how-tos and reddits where to find what and how to achieve this and that. Maybe no one even bothers to visit this unpatched game-world once the new version is installed. But it is there, and I somehow wouldn't be too surprised if there will be a small set of people who get together and explore this uncharted territory at their own pace - a territory soon to be buried in oblivion by most other gamers. In fact, such an opportunity sits in my PlayStation 4 while writing this article. I didn't start the game, but I could, unpatched. How will you decide?
- No Man's Sky is an intellectual property of Hello Games