The cosmic reboot is a science fiction staple. We find it in our blockbuster films, our cult TV shows, and maybe even in our own universe. So while most games might take heat for purging old content between updates, for pulp sci-fi love letter No Man’s Sky, it feels almost appropriate.
In No Man’s Sky, once-valuable resources occasionally turn to junk as major expansions are dropped and cosmic economies get re-balanced. For most players, it creates a few moments of minor disorientation. Some players, though, find that where they once left great works, now the lone and level space sands stretch far away.
Such was the case for Craig, aka chongsparks. Craig picked up No Man’s Sky for just £12 three months after it first came out in August 2016 and was hooked by the time the Path Finder update came out the following March. On his first playthrough, Craig macheted his way all the way to Eissentam, the tenth of the game’s 255 galaxies. When the Next update rolled around in July 2018, Craig found that his pockets were suddenly empty. That’s when he abandoned his first save file and, in his own words, “retreated into Creative Mode to lick my wounds.”
During this wound-licking period, Craig built his Xanadu House — the Portal Energy Experiment No.2, or PEE-2. “The successor to PEE-1,” he said, “which, unfortunately, unexpectedly exploded.”
— chongsparks (@chongsparks) August 10, 2019
Creative Mode is one of No Man’s Sky‘s four game modes, along with Normal, Survival, and Permadeath. It emphasizes expressive, low-stakes play. Players have unlimited health and resources in Creative Mode, and buildings have no material costs. It’s a perfect playground for the erection of sites like PEE-2, titanic monuments to sheer inventiveness that would be prohibitively resource-expensive to construct in the default Normal Mode. For Craig, once a dyed-in-the-wool intergalactic explorer, Creative Mode completely changed how he approached the game.
“I’ve lost track of how many [bases I’ve built],” he said. “Creative Mode was where I found peace in building things, and the progress wipe brought on by Next is all forgotten now. My Normal save still sits at the center of Eissentam.”
Despite its intimidating size, PEE-2 was easy to get up in Creative Mode, which offered Craig the freedom to adapt his mental blueprint as he built. “There was a plan. It was torn up shortly after breaking ground,” he said. “I tend to have a pretty good idea what I want to build but it usually goes off at a tangent somewhere.” Work was helped along by what the architect describes as the base’s deceptive simplicity. “This base was only a few evenings’ work, with little bits done here and there afterwards… It’s actually quite a compact construction with not a lot going on at the back of the portal.”
Craig hasn’t always been so modest with his floor plans. Some of his underwater bases were twice the size of PEE-2. His most ambitious creations have even had ARG-like puzzles woven into their layouts.
“In past bases I’d tunnel into the ground, make secret cave compartments with cryptic messages for travelers to find. Unfortunately in the early days of base building I had terrible problems with other players not being able to see my bases, so it was rare that anyone would actually find a message. My first base after Next was covered in a secret binary message that spelled out an email address. I intended to give the first person to figure it out a specially designed T-shirt. Sadly it had to be deleted because I’d reached the build limit!”
Despite the time and planning that goes into some of these sites, Craig said he’s still a nomad at heart. “I have no real home base. I build, adapt, fiddle, then move on to another location, drop a base computer, then go back and delete.”
Craig may have gone into PEE-2 without a concrete blueprint, but he did have aesthetic influences in mind.
No Man’s Sky has its own distinct look, a kaleidoscopic melding of Chris Foss paperback illustrations and album covers by William Roger Dean. Imposing a new look on top of that can be a creative challenge. Craig’s inspirations are largely dystopian and cyberpunk — distant aesthetic relatives of the game’s more utopian pulp style. Still, Craig managed to get PEE-2 to reflect his influences as much as Hello Games maestro Sean Murray did his.
“The more observant visitors to my bases may notice a little nod to Brazil, by Terry Gilliam. He’s the man who gave me my obsession with pipework,” said Craig. “[Blade Runner is] a hugely influential film for me. I’ve always been drawn to the industrial look of things in my art style. I can never have enough pipes in my builds and a lot of my drawings are criss-crossed by them. I love to make things organic-looking even though they’re very obviously not.”
Sure enough, PEE-2 looks like what the Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 might look like if it ran through the industrial wasteland from Eraserhead. The location helps sell the look — Craig deliberately built PEE-2 on an especially alien moon in uncharted space, which he christened The Boneyard.
With the colossal Beyond update dropping today, the fate of PEE-2 is uncertain. Murray has described Beyond as the game’s biggest expansion to date, twice the size of the base-obliterating Next update. Beyond promises significant upheavals and improvement to the game’s base-building mechanics, which may leave PEE-2 and other similarly proportioned works lousy with obsolete components, if they remain standing at all. Murray has said that the team is trying to avoid wiping out players’ creations this time, but Craig is pretty zen about Beyond’s rising tide potentially destroying his cosmic sand castle.
“I’ve already had the worst that can happen happen, and I’m completely unfazed by what may come. If this base is still there on Thursday, then that’s brilliant. If not, PEE-3 will come along shortly afterwards. I suppose this kind of thing is art — my peers’ builds I certainly consider to be art. Art is transitory. It comes and goes, and that is especially true of digital art where the canvas is controlled by a higher power.”
Besides, said Craig, new content from Hello Games means bigger, weirder bases will now be possible. With Beyond, bases will reportedly be capable of more industrial functions and styles, which pleases the pipe-happy Craig. The newly expanded multiplayer options are also exciting for him — he says what he’s looking forward to most is what the rest of the community will make with its fresh tools. He’s clearly eager to get his own hands on some new toys too.
“Bases in No Man’s Sky for me are never finished. I’d cover a planet if I could.”
No Man’s Sky Beyond is out today on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. No Man’s Sky Virtual Reality, one of the update’s three nodes, is coming to PlayStation VR and Steam VR.