No Man’s Sky was ready five weeks ago. After delaying their game out of June, Sean Murray and the rest of Hello Games posed for a photo, disc in hand. On that was 6GB of data that encompassed the whole of No Man’s Sky – their ambitious, procedurally generated space explorer that has generated far too much attention for its own good. In the weeks after that, they’ve been working on a day-one patch, which is now ready for launch.
A patch that makes that photo look incredibly silly.
Yesterday Sean Murray tweeted out the contents of the day-one patch everyone planning to play No Man’s Sky should be downloading. It adds a lot of fixes to the game, taking out some exploits, improving graphics fidelity and and preparing the game for the thousands of people who will log on day one. What was a little surprising was the sheer number of bullet points on the change log that were anything but changes. They were additions – massive gameplay implementations that not only changed the way No Man’s Sky worked, but prepared it for even more in the future.
Day-One patches aren’t new to this industry, but the over-reliance on them to deliver a stable launch has become a bit worrisome. For the most part though, they’ve been patches, adding a few bug fixes here, mending save corruptions there. Definitely stuff you want to be downloading if you can. These often come hand in hand with large file sizes, which still make them a little difficult for those with limited internet access to acquire. Still though, a game pre and post patch is still the same game. Except that No Man’s Sky is (one) of the exceptions.
There are core gameplay changes taking place in No Man’s Sky’s first patch, to the point where those looking to pick up the disc on day one and not patch the game are in for an entirely different experience to those who do. It’s beyond simple exploit changes (which make No Man’s Sky’s end goal a lot easier to attain). It’s things like the sizes of galaxies. The ability to feed wildlife food. The addition of a pseudo quest system that lets you map your progress through the galaxy. It’s core gameplay systems that simply aren’t on the disc.
Hello Games plan to continue this throughout development too, eventually adding features like base building and customisation, as well as the ability to own massive space freighters to do…something with. Even Sean Murray understands how these will, fundamentally, change the way No Man’s Sky works.
Next up we’re adding the ability to build bases and own giant space freighters. Temporal AA and my new cloud rendering tech should be coming soon too. It will really change the game again, and enhance it visually.
It’s additions that those looking to stay purely offline will completely miss out on too, and that’s a problem. It’s even more of a problem than performance tweaks and bug fixes because of how radically different it makes the game. Although in the minority (but certainly still significant, especially locally), there are still many players who look to retail releases as a mark of stability. That game on a disc is a promise that you’re getting a finished game that will work once off (and especially true in the console space).
That hasn’t been true for a while, but the limits to which this is being stretched is becoming alarming. Those lucky enough to have snagged a copy of No Man’s Sky before the weekend will have to delete the saves because of how different the game is going to conduct itself. And some of those players are already making it clear how different this patch is set to make the entire experience. Austin Walker, editor-in-chief at VICE Gaming, was just one of many.
There’s nothing wrong with Hello Games wanting to support No Man’s Sky faithfully after launch. As Rami Ismail from Vlambeer points out (in an incredibly insightful piece into what a headache certification is), the build that Hello Games went gold with might have been months old. With a team as small and nimble as theirs, adding this much content to the game might have always been on the road map. And that’s their prerogative – at the expense of those never able to download the patch they envisioned for launch.
It might be a causality of transitioning into the inevitable digital-only future (because that is past approaching), but right now there’s still a significant number of players who are potentially missing out on No Man’s Sky features. I personally know a few people who will inevitably be in this position. Should they be getting better internet infrastructure? Perhaps. But should they be missing out on a fundamentally different No Man’s Sky experience when buying the same game as everyone else? Definitely not.
Last Updated: August 8, 2016