The game that got me and a lot of other people the most hyped this E3 is getting built by less than a dozen people. And, to my mind, No Man's Sky has totally screwed with the idea of what it means to be a Big Game.
Assassin's Creed Unity is being made by hundreds of people. So are Batman: Arkham
City Knight and Uncharted 4. You expect to see follow-up installments in successful franchises at E3 press events like the Sony press conference. But, when a game like No Man's Sky wound up on the same stage as the massively funded blockbusters-in-waiting like the titles named above, it took a lot of people by surprise. That's a good thing.
On one hand, Hello Games' space exploration game, with its small team, unique take and technological idiosyncrasies seems to fit the very definition of indie. And it's worth noting that, so far, none of the game's trailers have featured the kind of gratuitous, up-close violence dominates the screens of the splashiest E3 stages.
On the other hand, it's a game that is trying to cash in on giant, risky ambitions. No Man's Sky wants to envelop players in an entire universe, which makes it not that different from an Uncharted, a Destiny or a Halo. It doesn't seem to be aiming at the intimacy of Gone Home or the moodiness of Dear Esther.
Simply by being what its creators want it to be, No Man's Sky defies the easy, binary categorizations applied to digital game-making nowadays. (Categorizations which, if I'm honest, I have indulged in.) As much buzz as there is surrounding this game, the signals it's trying to send still seems to be remarkably clear.
No Man's Sky reminds me of God of Blades, a cool mobile game that fused infinite running and weapons-based brawling. The best thing about God of Blades was how purely and completely it infused its inspirations into the entire fabric of the game. Pulp fantasy art direction and writing straight out of a Robert E. Howard novel coupled with prog-rock soundscapes influenced by bands like Yes.
With its oversaturated neon atmospheres and familiar-but-different fauna, No Man's Sky looks like it's trying to do the same thing. It reminds me of the science fiction book covers I'd see in the public libraries and flea market sales of my youth. Each one of them promising new unknowns, new visions of mankind's headlong journey into the stars. That promise is what the best of video games can deliver, when they avoid the gravitation pull of profit-driven sequelization and questionable annualization. Entire galaxies are out there, beckoning you to visit and see their wonders. Who doesn't want to answer that call?