No Man’s Sky’s massive Origins update doubles the variety in the game

There have already been some cool things added to No Man’s Sky in 2020, including a horror-themed update, the addition of mech suits, and cross-platform multiplayer. But today the sci-fi sandbox is getting its biggest expansion of the year with Origins, which aims to double the variety in the game with new features like more plant and animal life, and gigantic mountains and oceans to explore. The update is out today for free across all platforms, and it’s the latest in a growing list of big annual updates for No Man’s Sky.

“Previous years we’ve done things like VR or multiplayer or adding story,” says Hello Games’ Sean Murray. “This year we thought it was time to revisit some of the foundations of the game.”

According to Murray, the Origins update is something the studio has wanted to do for some time; despite all of the many updates and expansions for No Man’s Sky, the base universe has remained largely the same since launch. “We’ve updated the game a lot since then, but actually that universe has stayed pretty static,” he says. “The terrain, the plants, the creatures, the things that you see, those have largely stayed the same.”

So what’s actually different in the update? Here’s how Murray explains it. (You can also check out the full patch notes here.)

We have increased the diversity and variation that you see, hopefully doubled it; that’s the math of it, but hopefully that’s how it feels. So there’s a lot of new sights to see, more flora and fauna, and hopefully exploring planets should be really fresh and new again. But we’ve also done things that we were never able to do before on a technical level. Mountains can be multiple kilometers tall, oceans can be deeper, caves can be deeper, chasms can be wider. We’ve added weather systems like lightning and meteor storms and lava and volcanoes. We’ve tried to make it a more interesting place to explore, and hopefully impacted the gameplay as well. Those things change how you play the game.

The update has been in the works for around 18 months. According to Murray, one of the big challenges was changing these core aspects of the experience without disrupting the game as it is now. Players have built some incredible things inside No Man’s Sky, and the studio didn’t want to destroy all of that work that the community did. “How do we keep what people really enjoy about the game, and keep the things that they’ve built, but also completely change the universe underneath them? It’s remaking the foundations while people are still living in the house.”

Hello Games says that, despite launching in 2016, No Man’s Sky is more popular today than it has ever been. Part of that has to do with releasing on new platforms like Xbox Game Pass, which added around 1 million new players. But according to Murray, a big reason for the continued success is a change in the way the studio approaches updates.

“Initially, when the game launched, I would’ve liked to update the game really regularly,” he explains. “Launch was really intense and crazy for us and we were under a lot of scrutiny, and so it seemed inappropriate to do lots of smaller updates. We knew that whatever we put out had to be really impactful.”

But as the game became more stable because of those updates, the cadence of changes shifted. Hello still releases big expansions like Origins but also smaller-scale changes, like the mech suits. “It felt wrong to wait until the end of the year to release that,” Murray says of the mech update.

It’s more akin to how other live-service games like Fortnite and Destiny work, keeping players engaged with new things on a regular basis. “Having more and more updates has made it a really big year for us,” says Murray. “We have more people playing No Man’s Sky than ever, and people generally play for a really long time. That isn’t the biggest metric for us, but it’s nice.”

Following Origins, there should be around one or two updates still to come for No Man’s Sky in 2020. After that, it’s not clear what will come next. Murray says that each of the updates has been inspired by particular ideas the team had; someone just decided to build a mech one day, and it turned out to be a good fit for the game. This makes it hard to predict what will happen next — though it doesn’t sound like the team at Hello is stopping any time soon.

“After every update, I’ll be like ‘we’re probably done for a while now.’ And then we always manage to have something,” says Murray. “I am sure there will come a day when we can’t think of anything, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.”

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