Thursday, August 11, 2016

No Man's Patience

How I very much want to like No Man's Sky, but it sure isn't making it easy!

Notes from a grumpy old ex-game coder.

I've probably put in a dozen hours or more playing NMS on the PS4 the last few days, and there's a lot about the game that I like, in terms of the atmosphere and just the general idea of procedural generation.

It's such a great pity that the flaws in the interface make it so hard to just sit back and flow through the game; you're always fighting it. After bashing my head against it for a while, I think the designers fell afoul a very common cognitive blind-spot -- they didn't spend enough time thinking about how players (especially casual, older players like myself) would actually play the game. And after all, if it was easy for them (the developers) to play, it should be easy for everyone else, right?

Wrong. We are at a huge experience and skills deficit. We don't have all the implicit knowledge built up as they developed the game. It really feels like they either didn't test with naive players, didn't test deep enough into the game, or didn't want to hear the results.

Here's a short list of outrageously annoying and really simple-to-fix problems with the game and interface.

  • The cursor is often a single pixel and invisible. There's often also UI icons near the center of the screen that distract you and give you a false impression of where the aimpoint is.
  • When you turn in space and stop, you keep turning a bit. This means it's damn near impossible to put the aimpoint where you want it, which makes space combat much more difficult. And BTW, there's no learning curve on space combat, you're almost always up against multiple enemies who will quickly slaughter you. The "sensitivity" controls are simplistic and don't do much.
  • When you want to find something specific, you just have to wander around until you stumble upon it. You can scan when you're on the ground, but that just tells you the general class of a target. If you're looking for Copper and don't know it's the big floaty chunks, you will wander for hours. I know I did.
  • Often the major differentiation between two types of minerals is color. I can imagine that color-blind players are not amused one whit.
  • The only way to tell for sure what an asteroid or monolith is made of is to mine it. I've got a warp-capable starship that can't tell the difference between Iron and Copper.
  • This wouldn't be so bad if the Galactic Market was well-stocked. But it isn't; the chances it will have what you need in the quantities you need it, esp. for raw materials, is just about zero.
  • Only raw materials stack, which is not pleasant in a game with limited inventory. I've ended up spending almost all my money on Exosuit upgrades.
  • On the subject of the market interface, your options are two; sell all units of a commodity, or scroll the number down to sell partial -- both of which are things a player will rarely want to do. What they want to do, in a game where inventory slots matter, is sell one full stack at a time or the partial stack.
  • While we're bitching about stacks, when you mine, you get shown what you are mining and how much you've mined since you started mining (and you can only mine 10-15 seconds at a time). What you really want to know is how full is your current partial stack of that commodity!
I could go on, but I feel a need to save some things up for future cathartic posts...






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