Epic Gumdrop 13: Life After Minecraft, In Space

No Man's Sky

Minecraft has set the bar high for what tomorrow’s gamers are going to expect from a gaming experience. Will our kids just want to blast stuff or will they want to expand on their existing experiences of creating and exploring? And will No Man’s Sky be the next big game in their personal gaming history?

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Here’s our notes from the show:

My kids are by no means done with Minecraft, but there have been plenty of other games that have caught their attention for similar reasons. Let’s look at a few successors to Minecraft in our house, and look forward a little bit at what our kids expect the future of gaming to look like.

Minecraft’s success in our house

  • Seemingly endless discovery/exploration of worlds
  • Discovery of crafting system and slowly expanding complexity of gameplay (start by punching wood, end up brewing potions and fighting the Ender Dragon)
  • The way users have modded and expanded the game
  • The vast number of fun to watch gameplay videos (PSJ & Stampy being a few kid friendly ones that our kids have watched religiously)
  • Our kids were the content matter experts that taught us how to play
  • It is a shared experience. We play multiplayer with them.

Current Post-Minecraft Games, In Space

While there are wonderful side-scrolling games like Terraria or Craft the World that utilize crafting systems and mining to build up a world, or eye feasts like LEGO Worlds, they are all quickly set aside for anything space themed in our house. Here’s a few space themed games that occupy our Post-Minecraft world – I’ll read their promo statements because they tell you a lot about the market these types of games are aiming at:

Planet Explorers
(Pathea Games)

Planet Explorers

Planet Explorers is an open world smooth voxel based sandbox adventure rpg game set on a distant planet. The game uses a new OpenCL system based on the Unity 3D engine to allow players to change the terrain in anyway, create new objects such as weapons, vehicles, objects, and do it anywhere.

The gameplay will be in 3rd and 1st person perspectives. Players will be able to customize their character, combine and create weapons, vehicles, and buildings. At the same time, players will have to defeat multitudes of enemies of varying intelligence and defend the remnants of the colonists. There will also be a mission system that features NPCs giving the player goals to achieve to advance the storyline. The game will feature a single player story line as well as random single and multiplayer adventure maps. Multiplayer will feature prominently in Planet Explorers.

Our impressions:

  • The landscape and mobility make this more Minecraft-like, but with lovely graphics.
  • It is a resource hog in Beta, currently available on Steam
  • Graphics are beautiful and my kids like building jet packs and “other cool stuff.”
  • 3 modes of play: Story, Adventure and Build modes.
  • We haven’t logged a lot of hours, Steam says 9hrs, but it’s still in constant rotation.

Starbound
(Chucklefish studios)

Starbound

“In Starbound, you take on the role of a character who’s just fled from their home planet, only to crash-land on another. From there you’ll embark on a quest to survive, discover, explore and fight your way across an infinite universe.

You’ll encounter procedurally generated creatures and weapons, discover populated villages and abandoned temples. Explore planets dotted with dungeons, eyeball trees and treasure. Make use of over a hundred materials and over one thousand in-game objects to build a sprawling modern metropolis or a sleepy secluded cabin in the woods, and do all of it alone or with friends!

Starbound lets you live out your own story of space exploration, discovery and adventure. Settle down and farm the land, hop from planet to planet claiming resources, or make regular visits to populated settlements, taking on jobs and earning a living. NPCs are scattered about the worlds, offering quests and challenges for those looking for a little extra excitement in their lives.

Traverse the stars with the starmap to find endless procedurally generated planets and creatures. Discover new crops, creatures and weapons, capture monsters to keep as companions and clear dungeons of their loot.

Complete quest lines that let you delve into the greater galactic mysteries! Who created the Glitch? What is Big Ape’s secret? Why are the Hylotl so uptight? From abandoned bunkers to creepy temples, Starbound’s richly detailed universe offers a host of places to investigate and tales to unfold. Follow the story or create your own, experience the game how YOU want to.

The 7 year old says he likes Starbound because “You can travel to different worlds and stuff.” Future game reviewer right there? He needs to work on his hyperbole.

While it’s not as gorgeous as Space Explorers, the side-scrolling play and low-res graphics makes it feel like a space successor to Terraria. And the procedurally generated elements make the game feel bigger. My son keeps running into new things, although to be fair he’s only played about 5 hours worth (compared to 400 billion hours of Minecraft).

Marketing Games to Kids

Some concepts we see all the time in game marketing now are:

  • Sandbox
  • Open World
  • Procedurally Generated
  • User can modify/adapt world to their needs
  • Possibilities seem endless, giving user unlimited choices

This is the set of expectations our children have been given. And setting the bar even higher will be my kid’s current obsession: No Man’s Sky.

There is so much hype over this game. But it is justified. Ever since the first videos we have been salivating like a dog every time we hear Hello Games’ Sean Murray give us a game teaser.

After the 2015 E3 gameplay where an interviewer pressed on about shooting stuff and inquired about the detail of “droplets of blood” in the game, I worried. Sean Murray looks vaguely uncomfortable with all this talk of in-game conflict. He tried to emphasize the role of the Sentinels and their desire to maintain order. But still, we worried. Initially it looked like Sony had a PS4 exclusive before PC release. Would they pressure Hello Games to make this some horrible space shooter? Now it looks like it is PS4 and Windows simultaneous release and in recent interviews Sean Murray has since revealed reassuring info about gameplay.

I watched the recent IGN interview and their 18 minutes of gameplay with my kids, and we were happy to hear that this indeed sounds like a worthy successor to Minecraft, in space.

No Man’s Sky Gameplay:

  • You travel around gathering resources and making discoveries.
  • Resources have value that you trade at mining or trading outposts
  • Discoveries have a value – after scanning and making a discovery you go to a beacon and register it. You receive units for sharing this info.
  • Modes of play include:
    • Mining/trading: resource economy
    • Pure exploration: gaining units for discovery, finding ancient relics
    • Combat: piracy of freighters, stealing elements
  • Gameplay is dependent on upgrades.
    • Some planets are toxic or radioactive. You will have to upgrade your suit to survive them.
    • Ships can be upgraded
    • Weapons (used for mining) can be upgraded to enable user to mine wider array of elements
  • Sentinels prevent gameplay from being just a violent rampage
    • Killing animals alerts Sentinels who close in, forcing player to go on the run
    • Mining a planet too heavily will attract the attention of the Sentinels
  • While there is an objective of getting to the center of the galaxy, the game doesn’t end here.
    • The edge of the galaxy is safer, less hostile and it becomes more difficult as you go inwards.
  • Players can choose to upload information about planets and systems to share. If they do this players get to name things they find.
  • Sean Murray referred to “crafting” elements to create products. He says that like in Minecraft, users will have to discover what can be crafted and how. There will also be an invented periodic table for discovered elements and players sell/trade resources to AI or other players, or combine elements to create new alloys.

And then we breathed a giant sigh of relief. After E3 we fretted that there was going to be a lot of pressure to essentially ruin No Man’s Sky. And by “ruin” I mean for the little gamers of tomorrow, like my son, not for the middle-aged gamers who are going to be turned off by the lack of conflict or exploding mutant-math-goat-dino-fish heads.

Those key words I listed earlier – Open World, Sandbox, Procedural Generation – aren’t those what gamers of tomorrow want? They want to explore, on their terms.

When our kids learn about history they learn about humans as explorers. The first people to create maps and explore the world. In the last century we had people like Jacques Cousteau who explored the ocean and showed us a universe beneath our feet, and astronauts who raced through space to the moon to show us how small we really are. There is still so much to explore, but now kids don’t have to wait to grow up or explore vicariously through the exploits of the very rich or extremely daring. Games are now a way for kids to explore on their terms.

Here’s a few things my son had to say about why he’s excited about No Man’s Sky. Spoiler: It’s not blowing crap up and complaining about how realistic the carnage is.

“I’m excited about traveling to different worlds and trading with other people (because you can only trade with villagers in Minecraft) – I like games you can trade in. The graphics are really good, like Planet Explorers or Salt.”

I asked him about game objectives and conflict, and he said he doesn’t care at all about them:

“It’s like the Ender Dragon in Minecraft. I don’t care about this at all. I’d rather build stuff than defeat it. I don’t really care about fighting.”

I’m excited to see where today’s gamers will take us tomorrow. Games that encourage the best in humanity, inspire us to dream of the unknown and allow us to fulfill our innate desire to explore the uncharted universe are what these young minds need. It’s what we all need.

No Man's Sky

Images courtesy of Hello Games, Pathea Games and Chucklefish.

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