No Man’s Sky and Stardew Valley
Just because totally awesome games release, doesn’t mean we stop lookin’ at what else is on the horizon, though this is undoubtedly more true for some with less couch and more desk time, than others. Over the past week, I have been absolutely blown away by two unlikely games, both of which haven’t even been announced for Xbox yet. (I am confident they will be or I wouldn’t be writing this.)
No Man’s Sky is a planet to galaxy explorer using procedural generation to create everything that the gamer sees and interacts with. Procedural generation isn’t new to game development, but the scale in which it is used here is a first. There are literally over 18 quintillion planets that the gamer could encounter, but the amazing thing is that even though everything is “randomly” generated via mathematical formulas and the Superformula, because of how randomization in computer programming works, it is possible to make it so that the universe created on the fly will be exactly the same for everyone who plays it. Each player will start in a unique location of the universe, however, and as they explore they can name the celestial bodies and in theory, come in contact with each other. The New Yorker has a fascinating article (May 2015) describing all of this in detail, and it is a must read if you are interested in innovative game design or creative solutions to difficult programming challenges. I have embedded a few quotes below. This game is also the cover story for the latest PC Gamer. Other links: reddit, Hello Games, Eurogamer YouTube Hands-On (March 6, 2015), Guided Demo with Dev (July, 2015)
Once Murray decided on the basic mathematical architecture of the game, he needed random numbers to feed into it. No computer can generate true randomness, but programmers use a variety of algorithms, and sometimes the physical limitations of the machine, to create approximations. “Computers can understand numbers only of a set size,” Murray told me. “When you are building a computer, you are literally saying, This is where a number gets stored, and this is how many digits can fit in that space.” For a game console, that space is sixty-four bits. When a player first turns on No Man’s Sky, a “seed” number—currently, the phone number of a programmer at Hello Games—is plugged into an equation, to generate long strings of numbers, and when the computer tries to store them in that sixty-four-bit space they become arbitrarily truncated. “What you are left with is a random number,” Murray said. The seed defines the over-all structure of the galaxy, and the random numbers spawned from it serve as digital markers for stars. The process is then repeated: each star’s number becomes a seed that defines its orbiting planets, and the planetary numbers are used as seeds to define the qualities of planetary terrain, atmosphere, and ecology. In this way, the system combines entropy and structure: if two players begin with the same seed and the same formulas, they will experience identical environments. …
…When Murray wasn’t being pulled away from his computer, he worked on the terrain. He told me that he was always searching for ideas. Last year, he saw the film “Interstellar,” which features scenes of a lifeless snowy planet that “had some very perfect ‘mathlike’ terrain.” The next day, he developed formulas that would create similar crevasses. More recently, he had noticed geological formations that an artist had hand-designed for another video game, and realized that the algorithms of No Man’s Sky were not equipped to make them. The problem nagged at him, until he found an equation, published in 2003 by a Belgian plant geneticist named Johan Gielis. The simple equation can describe a large number of natural forms—the contours of diatoms, starfish, spiderwebs, shells, snowflakes, crystals. Even Gielis was amazed at the range when he plugged it into modelling software. “All these beautiful shapes came rolling out,” he told Nature. “It seemed too good to be true—I spent two years thinking, What did I do wrong? and How come no one else has discovered it?” Gielis called his equation the Superformula.
The second game is Stardew Valley. Now, had it not been for my whole-hearted enjoyment of Ark: Survival Evolved, I probably wouldn’t have given this a second thought. However, Ark taught me to love resource gathering and nesting, and Stardew Valley has that in spades, plus barn dances. Seriously though, the game is getting Overwhelmingly positive reviews and looks to be great fun. The developer is working to bring this to the consoles as soon as he can. Other links: reddit, SV Wiki
106 hours into the game, this is what jxt09 (Frogman) had to say about it:
More than just farming!
I’ve never played Harvest Moon or any other of that type of game, so I can’t tell you how this one compares.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of things you can do:
Farming (3 seasons, each 28 days long, crops take different amounts of time to harvest)
Make wine, beer, maple syrup, pine tar, preserves, pickled vegetables.
Ranching (chickens, cows, sheep, horses, slimes)
Foraging (each season has specific items to find in the wild, berries, roots, ets)
Mining (Delve deep in the mine to find ores, gems, and monsters to fight!)
Fishing and Crab Pot (difficult to do at first, but lots of different fish to catch depending on location and time of day)
Crafting (level up, get blueprints, make thing like bee houses, furnace, tapper, preserves jar, charcoal kiln and more)
Cooking (upgrade your house to have a kitchen, get recipes, cook all kinds of stuff!)
Socialize (meet the villagers, give gifts to make them like you, 5-10 candidates for marriage depending on if gay is ok)
Family (expand your house, get married, have kids)
Wal-Mart, er I mean Joja Mart (embrace corporate business models or support local small business — prices cheaper at Joja)
Rebuild the Community Center (little spirit things want you to rebuild the abandoned community center by bringing one of each type of certain things to form bundles. Also it unlocks things later on I think, and you get free goodies for doing it. But if you side with Joja mart they will tear it down to build a warehouse.
Mini-Quests (check the postings outside the town store for reqeuests villagers have, like fetch me a radish, or kill 6 slimes in the mines, etc. You get gold for these and the villagers will like you more. 2 day time limit, though.)
Oh, and you get either a dog or cat, but they don’t anything productive, just wander around and sleep.
Now that you know what you CAN do, I’ll tell you what you HAVE TO do. Which is nothing! No time limit. No pressure. Well, sure you should grow crops in the beginning so you have money, but you don’t have to socialize and marry if you don’t want to. You don’t have to forage or fish or mine. Do whatever you want, whenever you want. Though you don’t get all the blueprints of everything you can bulid until you level up to certain levels. It’s not like Terraria where you can build whatever as long as you have the materials. You could have the materials but not the blueprint yet so you can’t craft it.
I think the key addicting thing about this game is the save point. It only saves at night while your character sleeps. You can’t save whenever you want. Which is good if a day is going badly, just back out and start that day over. But bad for getting sleep in real life. “Oh, I’ll just take a peek outside my house and see how my crops are doing.” And I end up playing another day….and then another…! The time of day moves quickly. It takes a hour just for me to run down to the beach looking for stuff that washed up then over to the little plank bridge area for those pink things and back to town. Shops close at 4 or 5pm so it’s a race to get where you want and still forage along the way. If you stay up past 1am you faint and lose some money or items or something. I try not to have that happen.
The artwork is very detailed. Check out the inside of some of the houses: posters on the kid’s walls, different furniture and wallpaper in the living room. Trees, plants, flowers are beautiful in all seasons.
Music is pleasant but does not distract. Honestly I don’t hear it much of the time because I’m concentrating on what I’m doing.
Price is right. You get a lot for your money. The replayability is huge. Choose this girl to marry this time, choose a different one in another playthrough. Or be single. Choose to rebuild the Community Center in one playthrough, go the JoJa route in another.
Highly recommended. There’s something for everyone in this game (unless you hate 2d games to begin with). Parental warning: so far there’s only been one questionable thing if you want your kids to play. There is a slight reference to someone having an affair with a married person. You’re asked to find something and that item is in another person’s room! Oh gee, how did that get there?! So far that’s the only thing, other than the gay thing, that parents might be leery of for their young children to play this game.
I have not finished the story part of the game, so it’s always possible there is more stuff yet to see.