Hype Wars

Hype Wars

Can someone actually make the ultimate space simulator?

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Robert B. Marks:
Hype Wars

Can someone actually make the ultimate space simulator?

Read Full Article

Great article, sir, as usual. If things don't work out, I will miss this column very much as I feel its one of the last great pieces of content left on this site.

Shameless longtime fanboy praise aside, I'm in agreement with you on many points here. So many people took a lot of the PR for No Mans Sky and expanded on it, to the point of over-hyping things. Hello Games also did make a huge mistake in showing a lot of things visually but not actually delivering on some of those visual promises, and it comes down to the vertical slice issue of marketing.

Too many game publishers/devs are doing this, taking something either wildly out of context in a video and presenting it up front when it may either not actually exist in their game or if it does, ends up significantly reduced in scope, or non-existent, or even obscurely featured. What I mean is they can show you a piece of a game, which will lead you to believe said piece is common, or a major feature when it could actually end up on the cutting room floor, or cut significantly enough to be barely noticeable... or in the case of some features in No Mans Sky, lost in the vastness of a procedurally generated universe to the point where proving its existence in game may actually never happen.

Another thing game devs/publishers are still trapping themselves with is what I am dubbing the Molyneux effect, where a developer/publisher PR's themselves into a corner with promises that either current technology cannot actually produce, or developer talent cannot actually deliver, or even deadline time constraints end up forcing by the wayside. Some of this is developer/publisher hubris, which Molyneux has demonstrated can lead to a huge drop in customer trust towards a once loved developer/figurehead. That he has done this many times over in years after the first major incident with Fable, makes me question his grasp on reality at times. I honestly believe that yes, Peter Molyneux is a bright guy, and means well, and loves gaming. But I also think his reach has consistently exceeded his grasp and as such I do not trust his abilities to deliver any longer.

It would have behooved Hello Games greatly to hire a PR company to handle their public releases of planned content lists. It also would have really benefitted them if they'd been honest at the outset and stated that the game at release was not going to be exactly what they wanted it to be, and perhaps give some reasons why this happened. We do know that Hello Games suffered a major setback in development due to a flood of their offices, which could be a reason why some things did not end up in the launch release. I actually feel like its highly probable they lost a build or two in that disaster and had to scramble to recover things, which not only put them behind but may have even been difficult to reproduce some aspects that were originally planned and being worked on. But because of a lack of transparency, there's no trust there to believe them if they came out now and gave us a full explanation.

I guess I'm saying that if a developer is wanting to create a game that is wanted, like a space exploration flight sim type, they really need to be 100% transparent about development OR they need to keep promised features to a minimum until said features are completed, in the game and available to be shown as working as intended. And also we gamers need to stop hyping things beyond what they could be, regardless of marketing tactics. Though yes I'm one who is not a fan of marketing, I understand why it is necessary.
And you are right, it is nigh impossible to make the perfect space exploration flight sim game. So many working parts need to come together for it to fit that mold. Its a scope beyond what we can do with technology right now, at least what I can imagine the perfect space flight/exploration sim would be. So actually that ties into my point, we game fans need really to scale back our own expectations for these things. Be realistic in our hype, if that is possible (or just not hype things up but rather compare what we're promised to what we've found so far to be possible).

If we temper our feelings, our hype, then if someone does exceed the expectations, does manage to break through the tech barrier somehow and deliver a massive experience that shifts our view of the genre, well then that's a wonderful thing. But we all need to temper our scopes, developers/publishers and customers alike. Else we're doomed to disappointment, and developers/publishers are doomed to lose goodwill from those target customers. It may even get to the point that publishers won't take chances on a game that might actually be able to deliver, simply because of previous failures from other devs due to the hype and hubris, and due to the loss of trust in the genre.

I hope this never happens, and I hope we can get beyond these failures. I still like No Mans Sky for what it is, only because I rarely if ever buy into hype for games. But I do recognize that is has significant flaws in multiple areas, and it saddens me because even without the hype there was potential there for a better game.

I think the game would have gained more traction, and staying power, if it had a story to follow. I mean, right now, what separates it from the other 100+ survival simulators out there?

Interesting! In your list of upcoming space sims, you didn't include Star Citizen! Because this is also a "we do it all!"-sim!

Geisterkarle:
Interesting! In your list of upcoming space sims, you didn't include Star Citizen! Because this is also a "we do it all!"-sim!

He was only covering games that will come out in our lifetime.

Seems Star Citizen threw enough legal money at Defy Media to be safe from further mentions by the Escapist.

http://www.oneangrygamer.net/2017/03/controversial-star-citizen-articles-removed-from-the-escapist/27419/

...at least if you can read between the lines.

Imperioratorex Caprae:
I guess I'm saying that if a developer is wanting to create a game that is wanted, like a space exploration flight sim type, they really need to be 100% transparent about development OR they need to keep promised features to a minimum until said features are completed, in the game and available to be shown as working as intended.

This was a really good post, but I think that this central point is one that is never going to be addressed, or at least dealt with in the options you suggest. No one is ever going to be 100% transparent about their development process, if only because that is impossible to keep up with. On a similar note, if they don't promise anything until it's set in stone in the game, they're going to say nothing for many years of development. Feature creep isn't something to be avoided at all costs, it's the inevitable result of a big project with many moving parts that ideas are proposed, loved, advance significantly towards being an integral part of the final project, then are dropped for various reasons. After all, if they're showing off visuals of something, that means that they thought it would be in the game. They didn't show it to you with the intention of downplaying it or leaving it on the cutting room floor, they showed it because they thought it was a cool thing you'd be excited about and would help give them momentum to continue development.

Playing Yahtzee's Wager
image
and tempering expectations may work well for individual consumers, but it's not a good business plan. Molyneux may have broken faith repeatedly, but we all know when he's working on a new game. It is far superior for a company if they start high and disappoint some people, than it is to promise low, sell few units, and still disappoint some people because their low promises didn't attract any investors so they didn't have the resources to meet even the low promises. Publishers might not take chances on some properties, but if they take no risks at all they'll soon be out of business. A genre may go out of fashion, but things will cycle back around if there's money to be made, and the best way to convince publishers that there's money to be made is if developers promise something huge, groundbreaking and astounding enough to draw in customers.

You repeat the term "ultimate space sim", but I don't know what it means in the first place. The term "ultimate" doesn't tell me anything that I can actually picture in my mind. I think the Ultimate Space Sim isn't achievable because the concept itself is too abstract to be a tangible goal (even if there were no limitations to be technically doable, chances are that what you see as ultimate isn't the same for the developers).

If by ultimate means with everything that can happen in a space simulator, I thing it shouldn't be as a single game launched fully fledged on day one. It would be more like different modules interconnected with each other, getting released slowly but carefully in a project in constant expansion.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Imperioratorex Caprae:
I guess I'm saying that if a developer is wanting to create a game that is wanted, like a space exploration flight sim type, they really need to be 100% transparent about development OR they need to keep promised features to a minimum until said features are completed, in the game and available to be shown as working as intended.

This was a really good post, but I think that this central point is one that is never going to be addressed, or at least dealt with in the options you suggest. No one is ever going to be 100% transparent about their development process, if only because that is impossible to keep up with. On a similar note, if they don't promise anything until it's set in stone in the game, they're going to say nothing for many years of development. Feature creep isn't something to be avoided at all costs, it's the inevitable result of a big project with many moving parts that ideas are proposed, loved, advance significantly towards being an integral part of the final project, then are dropped for various reasons. After all, if they're showing off visuals of something, that means that they thought it would be in the game. They didn't show it to you with the intention of downplaying it or leaving it on the cutting room floor, they showed it because they thought it was a cool thing you'd be excited about and would help give them momentum to continue development.

Playing Yahtzee's Wager
***SNIP***
and tempering expectations may work well for individual consumers, but it's not a good business plan. Molyneux may have broken faith repeatedly, but we all know when he's working on a new game. It is far superior for a company if they start high and disappoint some people, than it is to promise low, sell few units, and still disappoint some people because their low promises didn't attract any investors so they didn't have the resources to meet even the low promises. Publishers might not take chances on some properties, but if they take no risks at all they'll soon be out of business. A genre may go out of fashion, but things will cycle back around if there's money to be made, and the best way to convince publishers that there's money to be made is if developers promise something huge, groundbreaking and astounding enough to draw in customers.

I get where you're coming from and realize my point was kind of the ideal situation. But even so, companies who do trend towards vertical slicing and hype, and massive developer/project lead hubris would benefit at the very least from a PR filter to sift through their announcements/interviews so they don't later eat a full plate of crow.
I'm not against anyone touting features, planned or finished, but I would love it if companies took a bit of caution and in cases like No Man's Sky, maybe even a bit more transparency than the near-total radio silence we got post-release. An explanation, not backpedaling or (the worst thing) blaming the fanbase, would go a long way towards mitigating goodwill loss from customers. You won't save everyone, and you might lose sales initially, but a company that's up front about development issues can benefit from at least being open about why things didn't work out. I get that it won't always happen, but it can be more beneficial than not IMO.

I think the main issue is that the vast majority of space is just that. Empty space. Lack of content is boring. Ive not played NMS but look at EVE. Much of your time is spent just moving between points with nothing happening.

For the most part the Untimate space sim leaves you doing a whole lot of nothing for big chunks of time.

Robert B. Marks:
In part because of poor expectation management by Hello Games - and in part because of a rising tide of hype that outstripped and expanded on the promises made by Hello Games - No Man's Sky quickly became the expected saviour of space sims, a massive universe in a bottle that would deliver everything a space sim fan could ever want.

Eh? No one in their right mind would've looked to NMS to be an actual space simulator, which was clear even before seeing it in all its rather [initially] vapid resource gathering action.

I'd say most decent folk in the actual sim community looked to it to be 'Baby's First Elite' as a gateway IP to games like Elite and, eventually, Star Citizen. I'm not sure it's played out like that, given how terribly Hello Games and the liar Murray squandered the generated goodwill, but with Elite now on all platforms it's easier than ever for everyone to start getting into space sims. I still hope NMS spreads the word, so to speak.

Take, for example, realistic space flight and Newtonian physics - you can have that in a game such as Kerbal Space Program, but it makes the game less accessible for the casual player who does not have a couple of hours to spend learning how to pilot their spacecraft.

Elite mostly models Newtonian physics (the cap on max speed in normal flight and the effect of boost are compromises largely to balance combat), but it implements it as a toggle - Flight Assist on or off. Some people on PC pride themselves in flying FA-off almost all the time, but even console players can use FA-off toggling for more advanced maneuvers be it in combat (to target an aggressor, or force more acute FA-off boost turns to re-target or evade them) or during station docking (or landing, if someone's feeling particularly adventurous or confident in their abilities. on low-G worlds disabling FA is a decent option for fairly soft final touchdowns).

So it's certainly possible to depict [mostly] realistic flight models whilst remaining very accessible (frankly I'd say Elite's implementation can be considered 'realistic', given it makes sense for highly advanced civilian and military space ships to have systems to aid the pilot in general flight).

Aside from that? The hurdles any space game faces are no different to any other form of game design, in that compromise is inevitable to varying degrees. I'd say we should be thankful we live in an era where there is an increasingly competent range of space games; I personally want them to become more complex and 'realistic', and I hope other IP's join NMS is catering to more casual players who also want to mess around in spaceships.

bjj hero:
I think the main issue is that the vast majority of space is just that. Empty space. Lack of content is boring. Ive not played NMS but look at EVE. Much of your time is spent just moving between points with nothing happening.

For the most part the Untimate space sim leaves you doing a whole lot of nothing for big chunks of time.

Firstly, the underline's just subjective, and it depends on the context (i.e. precisely what constitutes a lack of content, see also a definition of the C word itself).

Also, everything is relative; there should always be a place in the market for wildly differing game styles. Some love Elite because the kind of experience it offers is unique, and a veritable universe away from the pace and intensity of most other games. The very moment to moment experience of Elite is incredibly distinct (how ships handle, how they sound, the ambiance inside stations, being around other ships, planetary landings/approaches, etc), and for me even after a few hundred hours that's not gotten old (and if a flight stick's released for Xbox it'll get even better).

Procedural generation is kind of the "failed savior" of independent games. It can create some interesting experiences, it can allow the amount of content a smaller team can create to be spread over a longer playtime... But it can't actually replicate the experience of a large team of competent creators all creating planned-out content for a game universe. And, often as not, attempts to make a universe seem rich and diverse through a series of random numbers end up feeling shallow and same-y, even when done by a larger studio (I think of Spore, or Daggerfall farther back.)

Within a procedurally generated world, it seems that there are often two extremes: one relies on tighter scripting for what the player might encounter, which temporarily creates a compelling experience but over longer play-time begins to reveal that the player is running through the same "story arc" or "play arc", only now the relevant parties are tinged pink rather than orange and called the Xaryxxl rather than the Plummyrch. The other leans harder on the random and risks creating things that are at best visibly incoherent and improbable and and worst unplayable; without the guidance of an author there's little sense of a reason for things to work in a certain way, no certainty of anything resembling a story for the player to participate in, beyond nudging a few variables (whether they're experience points, collected resources, or something to feed into the all-but-inevitable crafting grind).

The best such games can seem to hope for over an extended play time is to create a solid mechanical understructure into which quasi-random variables can be plugged in ways that create intriguing and different game-play. Something like "Minecraft" achieves this in part because the potential to build things allows a player to create goals for themselves of which the game system itself remains ignorant, whether it's to build a twenty-story obsidian tower in the middle of a lake or re-create a structure out of a beloved fantasy novel or to make a barren desert with nothing but replicas of male sexual anatomy. Short of that, it becomes difficult to hide from the player if they're simply increasing a series of numbers until they unlock the ability to increase a different set of numbers, in turn unlocking the next small parcel of content.

An interlocking series of quasi-random systems that produces something resembling a human-created story- one that isn't just fabricated out of a player's willingness to provide a massive amount of myopia and suspension of disbelief- is something like the holy grail of modern game design. I don't know if we'll ever get there, and I definitely don't know if I'll want to play many of the incremental failed steps along the way. But there is a certain fascination in watching designers try to achieve it.

 

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