How The Underdog No Man’s Sky Ended up Dominating the Big Boys at the VGX 2013

on December 8, 2013 4:30 PM

To say that yesterday’s VGX awards live show was a mixed bag  is probably being rather lenient. Between trailers some of which were good, and some others not so good, a lot of “viral” content with very little entertainment value and even less gaming value, and one of the hosts that really tried too hard ending up looking like the clown in a Manzai comedy duo, we can’t really say that the first attempt to reset the old VGA show was very close to a success.

Yet, especially if you look at the reactions on the net, there’s one moment that “saved the day,” so to speak, and it was the world premiere of the next generation indie title No Man’s Sky, by Joe Danger developer Hello Games.

Just a year back a game like No Man’s Sky would have never found a prominent place at the VGA, and the fact that it did this year is probably the best piece of evidence of the effort going on behind the scenes to really reform the show.

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The biggest problem of the show, despite the awkwardness of one of the hosts and some of the downright annoying viral moments (I’d have preferred commercials to some of those, and I’m not even kidding) is that most of what we saw lacked ambition.

We got shown a lot of fancy graphics, very little gameplay for the biggest games of the evening, a lot of the most anticipated games for 2014 were simply missing, and the most widespread sentiment seemed to be “same old, same old.”

Even “indie” king Tim Schafer brought as his biggest announcement some voice acting work by hobbit extraordinaire Elijah Wood, that was almost sad in its attempt to appease the mainstream on a game that shouldn’t really target that kind of audience.

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Don’t get me wrong: there definitely was some exciting content here and there, but the fact that one of the highlights of the show was an animation of Joel from The Last of Us imitating Antonio Banderas is telling.

Again, what we really didn’t see during most of the show was ambition.

Most of the titles showcased will most probably be good or even great games, but how many of them push the envelope in any shape or form? Most of them are bigger, shinier, they displaye more polygons and higher resolution textures, but they lack the “wow factor”.

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On the other hand No Man’s Sky gave us exactly what most of the rest of the line-up didn’t: something ambitious and possibly groundbreaking to look forward to. Many next generation games promise large open worlds, but No Man’s Sky promises an open universe, with every planet explorable and every distant star reachable.

This is the kind of  “wow factor” many gamers have been (mostly without much success) looking for at the outset of this new generation, and Hello Games finally provided some.

And it doesn’t matter if the game is being worked on by a team counting only four people. As a matter of fact, it only serves to amplify that ambition and that “wow factor.”

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When developer Sean Murray walked on stage and sat on that couch to be interviewed by the show’s hosts, he really oozed humility. He looked definitely out of place, almost incapable to look directly at the camera, and that was actually refreshing to see, in a show that most definitely lacked any kind of humility between hosts delivering overblown lines, trailers built to shine and Reggie Fils-Aime talking smack.

Murray sold his house to make Joe Danger, and the success of his previous game allowed him and his colleagues to start a really ambitious project with No Man’s Sky. While we don’t yet know if they’ll manage to deliver, it’s something that today’s video game industry really seems to need badly.

Until yesterday Hello Games was the underdog. Today they stand as the ones that, in the eyes of many, dominated the VGX.

When one of the most viewed gaming events of the year is dominated by a four-men indie development team it may seem underwhelming, but No Man’s Sky definitely looks like a gem in the rough that deserves all our attention.

 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.