No Man’s Focus – A Look At Hello Games, Their ‘Magnum Opus’ And Beyond
Have you ever played a game called ‘Joe Danger’,? It’s a wonderful little indie-game from some little-known developers in a place called Guildford (in Surrey, England). Think cartoons, 90’s video-games and Evil Knievel combined to create a beautiful little love-child, creating wonderful 3D graphics on a wonderfully presented 2D plain.
What worked so wonderfully well for ‘Joe Danger’, was one simple thing, focus. It was this one mantra that carried through the initial concept through to release that allowed Hello Games to communicate exactly what this game was and how it worked. Oh it did work, magically. Such a painfully simple game that successfully extrapolated elements of ‘Excitebike’ on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), ‘Paperboy’, ‘Endure Racer’ and ‘Sonic’ to come up with a focused idea. Sean Murray’s aim was to make ‘Joe Danger’, compelling, exciting and most importantly accessible.
This focus on simplicity, yet alluring complexity fed directly into the way the game controlled; a simple control scheme focused on utilising the triggers for ‘speed’, a ‘boost’ button and use of the analogue sticks for ‘leaning’. Simplifying the control scheme allowed Sean and ‘Hello Games’ the opportunity to give the rest of the game that satisfying soul, kitschy humour and rampant fun that was present in the games of their own, and my childhood. I like to think they focused on that aspect of taking inspiration from games I played as a kid. Cheers guys!
‘Joe Danger’, back in 2010 was a little bit of an indie-revelation, initially exclusive to the PlayStation 3 platform, it was one of those games I loved to dump the hours into (literally), all in the quest of achieving all the stars, the stunt high-scores and all in the quickest times. I used to be quite literally badass at this game. When the sequel came out, I played that too. Endless hours to put into the game. I even plunked the hard-earned monies down for the PS Vita version, which if you haven’t played it (probably not looking at the sales of the PS Vita worldwide), then you have missed what is quite literally an amazing port. Oh, it also came out on iPhone and Android if I remember correctly and it was also fantastic on those platforms, I specifically played it on iOS.
Six years have passed since ‘Joe Danger’, came into my life and re-introduced me to the joys of childhood, the time-trial chasing, star-collecting, high-score defeating moments of childhood. Ah, to be young once more (as I look wistfully off into the hills and reminisce). Six whole years… then ‘Hello Games’ decide it is only right to bequeath another game to their adoring fans and to the impending vitriol of the internet and outlandish expectations.
Onwards, onwards, to pastures new.
Announced at ‘VGX’ (Formerly known as the Spike Video Game Awards) in 2013, ‘No Man’s Sky’ was seen as the moment when a small (a collective of 20) independent development team sought to make a game so large, so vast that it would take a person 5 billion years to visit each of the 18 quintillion planets (that is: 18,446,744,073,709,551,616) for 1 second. It’s fair to say that the hype for such an undertaking began to explode from the outset, it seemed that with every interview ‘Hello Games’ and Sean Murray took part in the expectation continued to grow to an unfathomably unrealistic level.
It seems in the time from the announcement of ‘No Man’s Sky’ to its release, a sort of confluence emerged. A steadily building convergence of anger, self-righteous pitch-fork gathering and extensive internet detective data-mining, which has both sought to deconstruct the mythos around the game, and criticised in force the redaction of certain features upon the release of ‘Hello Games’ magnum-opus. Multitudes of people gleefully gathering around the the cauldron of hate in an attempt to sully ‘Hello Games’ interactive attempt to leave their genre-bending mark on the world.
The wonders of NeoGaf, Reddit and various other gaming forums have systematically (since its release) poured nothing but scorn on ‘No Man’s Sky’. If you take a look at ‘Steam’, you will notice that this game has pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth, sales plateauing to such a level not expected pre-launch. That’s before even mentioning the reviews which are harsh to say the least. To an extent this could be with reason, there is always a reason to the madness… however vehement and spittle specked the argument may be.
Did Hello Games lie about No Man’s Sky?
It could be argued the game they sold differs drastically to the idea they had been touting, espousing the vastness of their procedurally-generated environment, the opportunity to explore huge swathes of space and to trade with a broad diaspora of alien life-forms.
What we actually got was something that although very intriguing and teeming with potential, was what is in essence an ‘Early-Access’ release. Many features that were touted prior to release simply didn’t make the cut. A simple ‘Google search’ for information on this results in a torrent of angry articles and borderline bickering pieces that lambast the ‘Hello Games’ team. Again, this is understandable to an extent. Following ‘No Man’s Sky’s’ release, Sean Murray has responded and said that base-building will soon be implemented in the game and more changes shall be made. This again is more promises on top of what has been a series of bold-promises.
Personally as someone who had pre-ordered ‘No Man’s Sky’ long before release, and who had imposed a self-inflicted media blackout in the latter months of development, I was happy with what I played on launch. But it did play like a game of obvious (unrealised) potential, one that could be grafted and even hewn into something fantastic down the line. I wish I had the ability to truly ‘explore’ space, to be fully involved in the landing and taking off of spaceships, to fly at speed in canyons being pursued by alien lifeforms or space pirates, to live out all my ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Cowboy Bebop’ inspired space cowboy fantasies. Does the fact that the game misses out on so many features which were hyped up before launch make it a disappointment?
To me… not at all, I tempered my expectations long ago. This was a game that began with just 4 people working on it, before expanding to 20 or so. I knew I had to rein in any potentially overblown hype long before I saw any more of the game, this moment was probably around the time that Sean Murray announced that ’65 Days of Static’ were working on the games soundtrack, again in a procedural sense. Again more big ideas, some which I didn’t think would be reasonable to expect in whatever game ended up being the apparent ‘finished article’.
This all brings me back to ‘Joe Danger’, that magical game from 6 years ago. A game teeming, with character, soul, subtle complexity, abundant fun, and most importantly ‘focus’. By simplifying and focusing on what made that game fun, it became a little-known phenom and dare I say a gaming classic, timeless. ‘No Man’s Sky’ is a game which on paper is an outrageously expansive and overwhelmingly large idea… it’s just a shame that in attempting to realise something so epic, so controversially daring ‘Hello Games has lost what made their previous releases great… that is focus.
Now everything is out, and the game has reached the public many will remain disappointed, some will have cut ties with the game. But I salute ‘Hello Games for having the tenacity, the balls to do something big. It may not quite have succeeded but as they say in latin “Audere est Facere”, “To Dare is To Do”… ‘Hello Games’, keep on doing, keep on going. I for one shall keep on playing.
In the meantime, let’s stop hating and start being constructive. We can give feedback without being arseholes… sure we can.
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