Journey, No Man’s Sky, and Video Game Hype
Let me be honest and upfront: I haven’t been super excited about a big budget AAA video game in years. This does not mean I don’t like and enjoy such games, because I get them and I do like them and play them and have a good time. But… they don’t move me like some indie games have in the last few years. Maybe that’s because the AAA hype machine is usually reserved for sequels and “safe” new IPs with PR campaigns that cost nearly as much as the game development itself. I was in the room when MGSV was officially announced, and I didn’t get excited for it until about 6 weeks before the game came out (truly, for the best). I will admit, E3 2015 has made me hype for the return of The Last Guardian, the new IP Horizon, and a few others, and with E3 2016 having happened relatively recently, I’m excited about more things, but I digress. That’s for another time. Here… I want to talk about game that while small, have huge expectations and bigger ambitions. Two games, one on the precipice of release, that have made me feel things about video games I don’t feel often. These games are thatgamecompany’s Journey, and Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky.
When Journey was first hinted at, I, a fan of fl0w and flower, was immediately onboard. I remember an interview with Jenova Chen talking about how he wanted to build a game that would remind the player of being akin to an astronaut, alone and helpless in their environment, and to feel genuine joy when they encounter someone else. “Whoa, a game where the player ISN’T all powerful?! A vast landscape to explore? Multiplayer where I can’t be griefed by another player? Sign me up!” I followed it incessantly for months, taking in any tiny morsel, wondering what the game could hold. What I was not ready for was breaking down in tears after beating it the first time. I was not ready to be overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of the scenery, the pull of the music, the heartbreak of what story I could pull from it. A game, made by a small team, with sparseness built into it, and I couldn’t stop being madly in love with it. I still am.
Did it live up to my expectations? I honestly don’t know, because I didn’t know what to expect. Was it a perfect game? Depends on who you ask. I thought it was fine, but perfection it was not. None of that seems to matter though. I own it on PS3, and have the PS4 rerelease. I specifically made time at a busy GDC to see Jenova Chen discuss the game, and felt a strange sense of honor to be able to talk to him afterwards about what the game meant to me and how it made me feel after a particularly dark time in my life. I own the soundtrack and the scarf, debate heavily on getting a tattoo, and can’t stop thinking about what it meant to me to finally play it.
Why did Journey grasp at me so? The gist of the game is “wander through a mostly desert landscape, find some hidden symbols here and there, make a friend”. It’s short for a playthrough. There’s no voice acting, not a lot of action, not a lot of well, anything. Maybe I love it so hard for those reasons though. For being a game that was ambitious in a different way. For being something I could show other people as an example of “what else” a game could be, right as indie games were starting to blow up. For being unabashedly itself: a game that could be a rather moving experience. I don’t know my reasoning for the hype, and that’s okay. I’m sure my enduring love of it is related to it’s release date at a particular time in my life. Either way, only one other game has made me feel that way in years, and again it’s an indie team capturing my heart with big ideas.
E3 2014 was not a time I was expecting a trailer to start a new obsession. But sure enough, the first trailer for No Man’s Sky was shown, and I was hooked. I wanted to live in the world they were depicting: a nearly infinite universe, a game where exploration was a huge component. Considering that some of my favorite times in games that had “open worlds” was just wandering the map and seeing what I could see, I couldn’t contain my excitement with almost no knowledge of the game.
Cut to today. No Man’s Sky was supposed to be out in June, but got delayed a bit to tomorrow. As much as I usually stray away from the hype train, I let myself go, spending twoish years pouring over any bits of news that would arrive, every new second of gameplay footage. All this time, thinking that finally, a company made a game that feels like it’s for me (someone looking for single player, at my own pace, space exploration where I can treat combat like an afterthought) instead of for what people think the average video game should be. And I’ll be the first to admit that No Man’s Sky, while not necessarily having a high budget ad campaign, had a fan-made hype train that occasionally burst into flames (see news of the first delay, disappointment and anger at a lack of “proper” multiplayer, etc). But none of that matters to me, because I’m still stupidly excited about it, what the implications of the game’s procedural generation and mere existence mean to the video game world at large, and how bad I just want to explore, knowing that I’m the first one to be wherever it is ingame that I get to.
I think I know part of what cemented my personal excitement for the game. It was the Playstation Experience, the year it was in Vegas. A Night Under No Man’s Sky. A concert/game footage event that overwhelmed me. Thoughts swirling in my head about my eventual hours dunked into this game, brilliantly fitting music the soundtrack to these thoughts. Wonderment, excitement, genuine and pure, unadulterated at the time by a rabid fanbase or too much press or game delays or what have you. Just me, hopeful for a game that might be the most unique thing I’ve played in a long time (whether that ends up being the case, who knows, but I’ll enjoy it nonetheless).
Tomorrow I’ll have the PS4 limited edition of No Man’s Sky in my possession. I’m highly debating on picking up the iam8bit PC limited edition as well. I’ve bought a digital copy of 65daysofstatic’s soundtrack for the game, and listened to it in its entirety several times. I wnat to buy oogles of merch for the game, and it’s not even “officially” out yet. Part of it might just be the admiration I have for Hello Games and how I want to give them my money in exchange for a job well done. Part of it might be the collector in me. Part of it might be my desire to prolong the idea of the game, and what it represented to me these last couple years.
The hype train is pulling into the station, and part of me is sad the ride’s over.