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Twitch streamer Tempest in a Teacup had just finished a block of Smite and was preparing to transition to No Man's Sky, purchased in a recent sale. Even with her love of space exploration games, she had been hesitant to dive in. Bad press had surrounded the game's 2016 launch, and the few accounts of improvement since then hadn't been enough to sway her, until now.
"This planet that I'm on is called 'Bensavirgin', and I don't know why it's called that," Tempest says, trying to mine advanced ferrite and some unidentified mineral out of a nearby rocky outcropping. A player's first moments in No Man's Sky are notoriously hectic. They're moored on a dangerous planet and must learn to survive in a trial by fire. Or boiling rain. Or radiation.
Now, nearly a month later, Tempest has found her sea, er... space legs. No Man's Sky has become her primary game, both on-stream and off, and she's searching for a permanent base in a series she calls House Hunters Interstellar. Though, all that progress may be lost on August 14 when developer Hello Games rolls out the latest free content update: Beyond. Additional features like VR support and the Nexus, a hub for all manner of multiplayer activity, expand what players can do with their friends and fellow Travellers. Hello Games' founder and managing director, Sean Murray, recently clarified the cryptic Third Pillar as repackaging years of iterative design into a much more cohesive experience, both for players and the developers.
That last bit has the community reminiscing.
Because of the massive procedural engine that drives No Man's Sky, that iterative repackaging could make a universal reroll necessary. It's happened before. The Next update, released in July 2018, enhanced, expanded or streamlined nearly every in-game system and created an overall better experience. But that came at the price of the world players once intimately knew.
Some had their home planets terraformed overnight from verdant Earth-like paradises to irradiated badlands. Others logged in to find their bases swallowed by the earth, or otherwise suspended in the sky, far beyond their reach. Ships became riddled with outmoded technology, and resources changed or disappeared. An unlucky few Travellers were left stranded in a shattered reality too riddled with bugs to be even remotely playable.
Murray has called the upcoming Beyond update "No Man's Sky 2.0." Many players wonder if there's an unspoken confirmation that they all need to prepare for the Universe's apple cart to be upturned one more time.
Finding a Community
Lillihop struggled to find a community that would accept her. She wouldn't describe herself as a gamer, but she found something about No Man's Sky compelling enough to hook her. She says the state of the game in 2016 "really didn't hold your hand," which led her online in search of more experienced players.
She found Reddit acerbic and exclusionary but discovered a smaller, thriving fanbase on Amino. Originally created for use by K-Pop fans, the app's mobile focus and advanced photography tools provided a niche for No Man's Sky fans. But here, too, certain individuals seemed bent on building walled gardens. Frustrated, Lillihop decided to grow her own community on a foundation of what she describes as inclusion theory. It's essentially the old adage "the more, the merrier," but with more social science behind it.
The result was Cafe 42, a collection of online spaces and its in-game civilization counterpart. "It's a cross between the Star Wars cantina, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and an old diner where everybody knows everybody and they just talk. And it doesn't matter if the lawyer sits next to janitor. So, that's what I built, and it just took off," says Lillihop.
With no pretense of allegiance to any faction, players from all corners of the game bellied up to the metaphorical bar. While she never imagined roleplay as a component, people would play the bartender by listening to the trevails and troubles of weary Travellers just popping in for a tea or coffee between galactic hops. The fiction stuck, and now the Cafe's social outlets have dedicated channels for those in the RP spirit.
"Everything in the Cafe is organic. The growth, the feeling, the fact that people took it on as a movement was all them. I just kept everything running and on track," Lillihop says.
She views Beyond with the same dogged optimism that colors all of her endeavors. If the universe wipes progress or deletes player created content, it would be a small price to pay for the ability to finally gather in groups larger than four players at a time. She, and many others in the Cafe, dream of constructing a UN-style hub that recognizes all allegiances but remains agnostic as an entity.
She was once aligned with the Federation, one of No Man's Sky's larger political factions, but eschewed their alliance of sovereignties for a more collectivist mindset. She believes those players, along with ones from the Galactic Hub and every other faction, would benefit from a common place to meet and share ideals.
"If I can get everyone in there—the PvP, the RP, the casuals, the nomads, the loners, the Hub, the Federation—playing together and conversing now, those small seeds of interest will bear amazing fruit in Beyond."
Most of the members of the Cafe, Lillihop included, have no fear of losing progress to a universal reprocessing. She relates a story of excavating a post-Next base buried in synthetic, hexagonal trees with chagrin, leavened some by time. The Sentinels, an ever-present autonomous force of defense drones, swarmed her every time she tried to salvage a door or wall from within the far-future shrubbery. For her, those seventeen deaths are a mark of honor and hard-won experience. She hopes she can save newer players from making the same mistakes.
"What kills hubs and civs before an update is when they find a place and grow an attachment to it. They carry a meaning for them, they name it after a loved one or build something that's truly fantastic, and then they wipe it all away," Lillihop says.
But the Cafe is more than a collection of bases and territories, of names and coordinates, she says. "To get one person to see what's in your head and in your heart, that's really cool," Lillihop says. She's managed to assemble thousands, and as long as they're carrying the Cafe 42 torch, No Man's Sky will be worth her returning to no matter what's lost in the wake of change.
The Mystery of Beyond
"Even just a brief look into some of the channels can show you that the majority of the more vocal users are excited and probably a bit anxious about the update," says Grandpa Joseph, one of the moderators for /r/NoMansSkyTheGame. With 250,000 subscribers, it's the largest related subreddit. Their official Discord server boasts 27,000 users.
"The anxiety, I believe, comes from the fact that we don't really know what the third part of the update is. Speculation has been quite wild, with everything from new lore and story to new mechanics."
He's talking with two of his fellow mods, Tony Towers and Nyxara. They have worked together, along with several other mods, for at least a year, and every discussion devolves into lighthearted banter. None of them fear the potential of a reset. They, too, have been through the rocky transition to Next and believe No Man's Sky players can bounce back from nearly anything.
They recently bolstered the moderation team in preparation for an onslaught of posts once Beyond is live. Every time Sean Murray tweets, regardless of the context, pageviews and activity explodes. Each day closer to Beyond raises the pressure on the community's hype cooker by another degree. But the trio believes Hello Games won't disappoint.
"Not enough good things can be said about the Hello Games team, and if [Sean Murray] had the whole team motivated to do something new and exciting with this update we are in for one heck of a treat," says Tony Towers. Remember that this is the community that crowdfunded a billboard across from Hello Games' office just to thank them for all their hard work. They've also sent the studio cupcakes, including one with Sean Murray's face on it. Which he, of course, personally ate.
It's hard not to admire the comeback story that is No Man's Sky. Immediately panned by fans and wrapped in controversy, Hello Games went communications dark for the better part of a year before announcing a string of free updates that both fixed problems and expanded the story. Everybody loves an underdog, it seems.
"I feel that the rocky launch to the franchise bonded the community in a way like no other. And that bond has only grown stronger over time," says Nyxara. "I truly believe No Man's Sky has the single best community of any game. I'm a moderator and user in a lot of other communities, and there isn't a sense of camaraderie in any of them like there is in NMS."
They admit that updates can be a bittersweet experience if you lose progress or personal creations, but it provides space for "so much more creative potential." Talk of how expanded grouping will change everything, from trade convoys to emergency aid squadrons to racing, left little time to mourn what might be lost.
The Anxiety of Beyond's Changes
Meanwhile, folks at /r/NMSCoordinateExchange are a little more guarded in their enthusiasm. According to JCHysteria, moderator and YouTube creator for the subreddit, they stand to lose the most if Hello Games commands a reset to the universe. Their slice of the fandom invites players to share the string of symbol-based code that will lead others to incredible finds, whether that's unique exotic ships, freighters with the perfect paint job, or multi-tools boasting an incredible design.
"We've been quoted by larger YouTube channels as being the largest car show in space," says JCHysteria.
His worry comes from the fact that ships, freighters, weapons—the Exchange's bread and butter—are tied to the same procedural systems that produce planets, terrain, creatures and everything else. Coordinates to an S-Class fighter submitted on the 13th may send travellers to a toxic fungal wasteland after Beyond has its way with the algorithms. They would be starting from scratch.
"We have people who really just enjoy going out there in the universe and finding ships. That's their thing," says JCHysteria. "In honesty there's not much we could do except reaching out to Hello Games through forums, emails and other ways to make our case that this shouldn't be changed."
Coordinate Exchange users don't just post ships; bases, multi-tools, farms, fauna and more are shared there daily. Another moderator, ApexFatality, expects the subreddit to host "VR Views locations" once Beyond implements virtual reality support for the full game.
ApexFatality hasn't played through a reset, but they are familiar with the stories. Both the mods remain skeptical a reset is in their future, instead focusing on preparing the subreddit for a new wave of fresh adventures and content. It's the same trust and hope present in every community still active today. Anything lost can be found or built again. The game changes, the community persists.
"Resets have always been done to better the game in some way," says ApexFatality. "So if it's necessary to implement better features I say bring it on!"
BruceCooper started streaming No Man's Sky on Twitch about a month before Next. He remembers what a feat it was just to launch his ship for the first time. The exultation as atmosphere burned away behind him and space opened up like a glittering dark flower was unforgettable. For him, as for so many others, No Man's Sky was the game he had been waiting for.
"I'll hopefully be one of those old guys who keeps his computer around just to boot it up again," says BruceCooper. "They could reset everything, and I... We all know Sean Murray has our best interests at heart. I feel like Sean and Hello Games do listen to the community. That's all they had to do."
The first time he discovered a sudsy planet teeming with bubble-like lifeforms was on stream, and BruceCooper couldn't decide if he or his audience were more excited. For him, streaming the game is not about achieving progress or showing off skills. He continues to play No Man's Sky online several hours a day to share more encounters with his friends and fans.
A reset would only give him a chance to revisit the game's first moments again, which he can't help but see as a gift. "People who stream NMS are put into a unique situation in that so much of the game revolves around the player experiencing something for the first time, and I'm so happy I get to share that with other people."
Thanks to a new trailer on August 9, players have a clearer outline of the new features being delivered with Beyond. The Nexus will provide a central hub for questing, gathering, and sharing. Fauna will be rideable, cookable, and even milkable. New crafting systems and base components will give builders plenty of fodder for their imaginative playstyle. And while neither Sean Murray nor any of the Hello Games team have forewarned a hard reset to the universe, the No Man's Sky playerbase doesn't seem to mind.