What a show for Sony. They began with the long awaited The Last Guardian, a silent beast that has been dormant for around five years with speculation running rampant around its hellish development cycle. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, a brand new IP from Guerrilla Games that is a beautiful, colourful far cry from the dark, overstaying-its-welcome Killzone franchise. They ended on a live demo for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which gave us a look at some the of the best action that the series has ever seen.
There were some points of the conference, however, that were perplexing to say the least. Media Molecule’s new game Dreams, and Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky are concepts that seem boundless and wholly innovative, creative and unique. But they leave me wondering, “what do I actually do in these games?”
No Man’s Sky
The demo gave us our first look at Hello Games’ Sean Murray actually playing the game. He took off from a large ship’s holding bay, panned out across the universe, showing a plenitude of stars with solar systems around them, and landed on a planet that had until that point been undiscovered. His modesty, and honesty, when landing on the planet was inspired, as he stated that its yellow grass and green waters were far from the prettiest locations that he had seen, teasing that more spectacular sights could be found throughout the game. He fired his weapon at some rocks, identified a new species of fish, and then uploaded his findings to a beacon in order to catalogue the animal for future reference.
The premise of No Man’s Sky seems to be vastly compelling for anyone who enjoys exploration, but even explorative games such as Minecraft have a purpose. Building towards the completion of a project, or searching through mines to aid in the construction of said project are rewarding scenarios once completed. But unfortunately, Hello Games’ infinitely large space exploration game seems like a simulator solely for looking at colourful environments, or spotting strange life forms with the occasional bout of shooting to break up the quiet of No Man’s Sky’s alien safari.
Sean may have been searching for various creatures to encounter, but what is the point of actually making these discoveries? Is he working towards the completion of an encyclopaedia of species, or is it simply just because they are there? A number of demos at multiple conferences have been shown, with the same repetitive reveals each time, and despite its heavy presence on Sony’s stage, very little interaction with the world or its inhabitants has been showcased on any of the planets seen. Are there sentient beings that can talk? Is there any dialogue or communication at all? Is there any point in battling with enemy ships in space? Or are these simply meagre distractions that hide the lack of solid gameplay mechanics?
No Man’s Sky, at the moment anyway, is an enigma. The game will obviously be a grand accomplishment because of its size, but the lack of clarity when discussing what actually happens in the game outside of trekking around vibrant, florescent lands is certainly troubling.
Another project that seemed wholly ambitious at Sony’s conference came from Media Molecule. Alex Evans, the company’s co-founder, took to the stage to introduce Dreams, a title that would be bringing his team’s focus on digital creation into a new sphere of imagination. The demo presented a world created out of a clay-like substance, that its demonstrator described as a “living painting.” A man’s legs were sketched with the Dualshock 4’s light bar, along with his torso, before an old man’s head was added to its brush stoked shoulders. The figure was then puppeteered by the controller, motioning its body up, down and around with the peripheral’s movements. Alex described Dreams as a tool that could capture the dream-like moments of individuals using the PS4 as a “new creative palette.”
The concept of creating dreams using software is one that is original and unique, and while the core mechanics were simplistically shown, little else was explained. Apart from the elderly man, vastly greater concepts were presented, including a virtual puppet playing the piano amongst a gorgeous woodland backdrop, as well as a polar bear sliding through a crumbling snowy tundra.
Creating certain objects may be easily done through a swipe of the controller, but how do these creations actually move with deftness?; the intricacy of the piano player seems far too complicated for a single movement of the light bar. In another instance, a ship was propelled through a long scene of purple skies and futuristic buildings. Once again, how is this cinematic movement achieved, and what is the size of the world in which you’re creating? Is it 3D, and are all interactions done using the Dualshock?
The creation mechanics in Media Molecule’s previous digital world builder, Little Big Planet, were complicated, but at least the endless possibilities of creation were boiled down to a series of tools; the equipment used in Little Big Planet is almost akin to that of an architect’s. Dreams has thus far been explained in terms that are much more vague and ethereal. Alex’s words bordered on the philosophical during the presentation, increasing the confusion of how the game is actually played.
He mentioned exploring the dreams of others, as well as creating them, but instead of clarifying its mechanics, that raised more questions that needed to be answered. Do we watch the dreams of others as a cinematic, or are there levels to explore? Is this a Minecraft-type game, in which user generated worlds can be ventured into and built upon?
Dreams seems like a wonderful abstraction, buts its surreal, vague, and quirky presentation of dreamiverses and lucidity did little to explain its mechanics in a viable or clear way.
At the moment, both No Man’s Sky and Dreams stand out of the crowd as unique concepts that encourage creativity and limitless possibilities. But unfortunately, a lack of clarity within their individual presentations leaves me worrying about the actual game play within these original works of art. They may seem brilliantly absurd, but are these concepts of infinite worlds of imagination and exploration lacking in playable substance? At the moment, it seems that way, but only time will tell.