No Man’s Sky: My Personal Challenge Mode

No Man’s Sky is a really fun game, but as I played through the main quest lines on Normal Mode, I discovered there are some aspects of the game that trivialize its challenges. The most notable of these issues are the teleporters on space stations and in player created bases – the first time I used one and I saw that my ship had magically followed me though the teleporter too, I literally said out loud, “awe, that’s a little cheaty, isn’t it?”. What follows is thus a few self imposed limitations that help make the game feel more like what I had hoped it would be.

1. Play in Survival Mode
I’ve never liked the concept of perma-death in computer games, but the death penalties in Survival Mode strike a good balance between punishment and a fun challenge. Starting out is definitely harder and one’s you’re over that hump, things like extreme weather are still a major concern (where as on normal, I was jaunting around in a radioactive super storm collecting crystals like it was a beautiful summer’s day). The biggest difference I have found is that the terrain manipulator chews through its charge much more quickly than on normal mode, meaning it takes more resources to mine the same amount (thereby increasing the usefulness of automated harvesters!).

2. No Cheating Death
One can cheat the death penalty by frequently dropping a save-game machine and creating a manual save point that they can go back to should they die. It’s totally fine to do this if the death was caused by a bug, a power outage, if your arm fell off and you had to be rushed to the hospital, etc. but to do it as a way to avoid the consequences of foolishness is just plain old cheating.

3. No Cheating the Randomness
Rather than just playing the game, some folks cheat by constantly reloading their saved game to force new ships or multi-tools to spawn until the one they want finally spawns for them. I don’t see the fun in that type of behavior. For me, the mystery of what’s next and making due with what I have are large parts of what I find so compelling about the game play experience. As my daughter’s friend said on cupcake day, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. 🙂

4. No Base/Station Teleporter Use
Update: I hadn’t considered the problem of doing the quest to go to the center of the galaxy while still enjoying the fun base building aspect of the game. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a single portal at my “cool awesome base” that I can go back to whenever I’d like, so that’s the only use I will make of the teleporter system.

Being able to teleport to and from any space station you have visited, as well as any base you made and bothered to create a portal at, completely trivializes space travel and makes the game waaaay too easy. Add to that the fact that your ship (and it’s cargo contents) magically travel with you too, and you’ve got a game play system that takes convenience a tad too far. I’m just going to go ahead and pretend it’s not there, because I definitely didn’t expect it to exist anyway (and using it on my first play in Normal Mode quickly made me realize it’s ridiculously over powered).

5. Inventory and Technology Limitations
I was straight up shocked when I read on the wiki that one can unlock 48 high capacity cargo slots. That’s insane! Sure, some people groan and whine about inventory management in games, but the truth is that inventory limitations encourage the player to make decisions and compromises that can later put the player into situations where they are forced to overcome adversity and it’s rising to those challenges that makes games (and life!) so rewarding. If you’re able to tote around the solution to everything, then you’re robbing yourself of the chance to find joy in creative success. With that in mind, here are my personal limitations on inventory and technology:

  • 36 General Inventory slots (48 max)
  • 16 High Capacity Cargo slots (48 max)
  • 12 Technology slots (14 max)

I considered limiting myself to only using pistol type multi-tools, due to their 10 technology slots (compared to the 24 of rifles), but that would be pretty boring. I already have a 10 slot A class pistol that I have fully loaded to my liking, so yeah, it would be pretty boring to leave it like that forever. Who knows when I will find something else I like better!

Similarly to multi-tools, I am not placing any limitations on myself for ships, freighters, frigates, and upgrades, as that would just limit my ability to have fun; Adhering to the intended randomness of the game is both a good throttle on “power creep” and an excellent incentive to keep exploring. Indeed, I was super excited when the crashed ship I found as part of the story was an S class shuttle! How cool is that, eh? I had just upgraded from the starter ship to an A class shuttle that I also really liked, so I will just keep using the A class model while I poke away at fixing the S class.

Apart from the above points, I’m just going to take it easy in general, enjoying the experience at a casual pace without trying to “min/max” or otherwise subvert the challenges and rob myself of the experience.

No Man’s Sky is Everything I Wanted from a Game

With the exception of pets and pet crafting, I suppose, but hot-damn does this game deliver in all other respects! Seriously, having played No Man’s Sky over the past couple of weeks, I have absolutely no desire to ever play Star Wars Galaxies or work on SWGEmu mods ever again! I mean, why bother when NMS has everything in it that I like about science fiction, crafting, creating, collecting, treasure hunting, and it looks amazing, and it plays great…

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky


Without any exaggeration, I spent thousands of hours of research and development on the four iterations of my solo SWGEmu based Star Wars Galaxies server, Legend of Hondo, only to find that it’s not really fun to play. Here’s why…

Being “the man behind the curtain” of Legend of Hondo, creating all the mods and molding the game into exactly what I thought a solo version of SWG should be, also meant that there wasn’t any mystery; In order to make it, I had to know exactly how everything worked! Worse yet, I also knew where to find all the loot, all the creatures, all the quests, and so on, which didn’t feel very fun. Short of reprogramming everything to be completely random (and I doubt that would even be fun anyway), I’m not sure how one can avoid that problem when programming an RPG.

And then the real kicker is the enormously massive, gargantuan amount of effort that almost all mods to Core3 and the SWG client require. Why? Well, neither have a proper programming reference guide, Core3 is a convoluted nightmare of a program, and the whole damned thing is based on the reverse engineering of Sony Online Entertainment’s buggy mess of a game client. I recently helped out with some programming for the Tarkin’s Revenge server, but I decided to throw in the towel when I took a step back and saw how working with the SWGEmu code base and SWG client utterly consumes my life. Things that would take 15 minutes to do in other projects can take literal days of head-desk stumbling over syntax in custom libraries and multiple languages, waiting for compilations, waiting for the server to boot, testing every possible permutation of the thing to catch the inevitable “gotcha” that some end user will uncover, and so on. In the end, it’s really not that fun to work on SWGEmu mods and given that programming is my hobby, what the hell is the point of doing it at all if it’s not fun? I mean, I love helping friends, but I literally giggled like a schoolgirl when I uninstalled Microsoft Visual Studio 2017, having used it only to help my friends when they were desperate to have their launcher updated. I hate to say it, but I get the same sort of joy when I think about not working on anything related to SWGEmu ever again.

I’d rather work on stuff like RocketTux and play No Man’s Sky!

Hard to believe that I am a year and half behind on finishing RocketTux. Apparently shit doesn’t get done when you don’t do it. Who knew?! 🙂 I ended up boring myself by rigidly sticking to the goal of finishing the art and levels rather than just doing what I felt like doing (which really is what one should do with their personal hobby projects). But I digress…

What’s so great about No Man’s Sky?

1. No Division of Labor? No Problem!
It was basically designed from the ground up to be the polar opposite of Star War Galaxies, in terms of what can be achieved by a single player. Fundamental changes to the combat system aside, much of my time modding SWGEmu was spent attempting to make a game that was explicitly designed to make it difficult for a single person to play alone, into a game that, at the very least, functioned properly for only one person. That’s totally not an issue with NMS, because even though it has multiplayer aspects, it is most definitely a game that can be enjoyed from start to “finish” by a single player.

2. A Strong Variety of Gameplay Systems
You know, No Man’s Sky is kind of a more complete version of Elite Dangerous, only it’s actually fun and it strikes a nice balance between simulation and arcade game… Huh. Anyway, from building your fleet of capital ships and sending them on missions, to cataloging the flora and fauna of millions of planets, there is a lot to do in No Man’s Sky and for the most part you are free to do it at your own pace and in your own way. Here’s a randomly organized point form list of different activities I have discovered:

  • Finding a cool ship to buy. There are two ways to go about this, one being standing in space stations and talking to the NPC pilots who fly in, the other being tracking down crashed ships to repair them.
  • Upgrading your suit and multi-tool, which can be done by traveling to new places in the galaxy to find merchants and treasure.
  • Shooting rocks. You can shoot holes right through’em!
  • Shooting rocks…. in space!
  • Seriously, shooting rocks is the basic manner in which one gathers resources. You can also punch trees when you upgrade to a Nintendo Power Glove.
  • Spelunking, aided by the terrain manipulator which can blast holes in the ground (or fill them in, if that’s how you roll).
  • Building bases, with the only limit being 20,000 items per base. You can have up to 5 bases per planet and there’s something like 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets, so hop to it, eh.
  • Building and upgrading a freighter fleet.
  • Sending your fleet on (imaginary) missions.
  • Building a base inside your capital ship. This impressed me when I whipped out curved hallway parts, but I literally exclaimed, “shut up! No way!” when I found that I can even add stairs and rooms! Imagine having your own custom Tantive IV and you’ll have a good grasp on feel of the interior.
  • Trading goods in a manner similar to other space truckin’ games. It’s less detailed than Elite Dangerous’s commodities system, yet one misses nothing in the process…
  • Fighting pirates in your ship. This includes attacking capital ships and looting the stuff that you shoot out of their holds.
  • Missions from various individual NPCs and the space station based guilds.
  • Learning languages and exploring the lore of the galaxy by chatting with NPCs and finding interesting places on the many worlds.
  • Building machines to harvest and process resources.
  • Collecting, upgrading, and using the different ground and water vehicles. Yup, there’s a frickin’ submarine even! I just got the basic car today and the handling of ground vehicles is similar to Unreal Engine or Crytek based games, with simplified controls. It’s definitely not like using a ground vehicle in Elite Dangerous, at all (though I actually liked that aspect of ED, for the most part).
  • Collecting stuff and using it to craft the items you need while doing the above things.

There are likely other things to do in the game that I forgot to mention (like following the main story line!), but I think that will give you a good idea of the breadth of the game. One thing that I really appreciate is how all of these things come together in a way that makes the game feel a lot more purposeful than Elite Dangerous. In ED there is basically only one game loop, which amounts to “earn money to get a bigger ship so you can earn money to get a bigger ship…”, and that’s very, very boring. Are there other aspects of ED? Sure, but they’re boring too. No Man’s Sky manages to offer a wide variety of things to do in a way that isn’t boring. Yay!

3. It’s Like I Stepped Into A Classic Science Fiction Novel
As a young man, I loved Issac Asimov’s Foundation series and robot books, and I also very much enjoyed Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, as well as other novels of the early scifi era. The art style of No Man’s Sky appears to be designed such that it’s as though the player has stepped into the cover art of a dusty book from store shelves past and begun an adventure almost as wild as their own imagination. While I suspect the post processing effects may be lost on the younger folks, I get what Hello Games was going for and I like it.

A few books I’ve kept though the years…


Now the game and its universe pales in comparison to those which are described by the great sages whose works defined the Science Fiction genre, but all things considered, given the gameplay systems and artwork, what they’ve created is phenomenal.

Picking Some Nits
From the perspective of a boy who grew up in the 80s and 90s on Star Trek reruns, TNG, Star Wars, and a plethora dusty old books, Hello Games has not let me down with No Man’s Sky. From the perspective of a man who went from playing a detailed online Star Wars game to later spending years modding that game into a single player experience, I can say with the utmost sincerity that Hello Games has not let me down with No Man’s Sky. It makes me wonder why I waited nearly three years to play it! That said, I do have a few thoughts on where I think it could improve a bit.

Let’s be real here, for all intents and purposes Earth is the Human universe. It’s literally the only place in the entirety of everything where we know we can exist. This tiny ball of dirt hurtling though the cosmos, slathered in water and a slight dusting of breathable air, is home to countless organisms which are as varied as the biomes in which they evolved. Alas, in No Man’s Sky, as far as I can tell, all celestial bodies have a single biome that covers their entire surface, meaning there are “snow planets”, “desert planets”, etc. (with the exception of planets that have both land and water biomes, I suppose). While it might be interesting to explore temperate transition zones, I can’t fault Hello Games for creating the planets without them, because it’s damned hard to do what they’ve done as it is!

Humans have been building paths, roads, towns, villages, and cities since the dawn of time and ya know what, other critters here on Earth build these types of structures too. In No Man’s Sky the entire galaxy appears to be inhabited by creatures who never considered these concept. Nope, they either roam aimlessly or they travel exclusively by space ship. Again, in a game as vast as this one, something’s gotta give – I can imagine the headaches it would cause to create procedurally generated cities, complete with buildings, people, shops, homes, and NPC activity, on a global scale. That could be a game in and of itself…

W = Forward
S = Backward
A = Turn Left
D = Turn Right
SHIFT = Turbo
L CTL = Brake
Mouse Movement = Camera Panning

That’s how ground vehicles are done on PC the man, come on! 🙂 Seriously though, I can live with the mouse moving left/right for steering, as it’s light years better than vehicles in SWG. Space movement in No Man’s Sky also feels better than the Jump to Lightspeed space flight in SWG.

And finally, one space station interior? Really? Just one, for the whole galaxy? Where the NPCs all stand in the same locations? OK, but only because you wow’d the absolute crap out of me with the rest of the game!

So, No Man’s Sky…
It’s a good game. I like it a lot. I like it, because it’s chalked full of awesome; I like it, because I can shut it off and miss a damned thing!

Using the portal at base Psychedelic Hondo

Base Snow Hondo

Base Hondo Under No Man’s Sky

Ps. It play’s alright on my old as dirt computer (AMD FX-8320 CPU / AMD R9 270 2GB graphics / 24GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM) at 1080p using the default settings. I drop to 15 FPS when looking at my largest base (even from far away), but most other times I am in the 30 – 60 FPS range (with some hitching though). By comparison, I can run 3 instances of Star Wars Galaxies, at max settings with 4x AA and 16x AF forced in the driver, while also running the server in a virtual machine and using several tabs in Chrome without the computer breaking a sweat – these 8 core FX CPUs weren’t terrible at everything, eh. 🙂