The Foundation update for No Man's Sky is here, and it's remarkably familiar. Didn't Minecraft tread this path already?
Back in May 2009, the game that would eventually be known as Minecraft launched as little more than an idea: Players could wander around a procedurally generated open world using tools to reshape it like an elaborate Lego sandbox.
A few months later, the earliest version of what would eventually become the game's popular Survival mode — the core of Minecraft, in many ways — was introduced. Both modes of play evolved from there thanks to subsequent updates that added features and sanded down the rough edges.
It was an embryonic version of what is now widely referred to as the “early access” phase of indie development. This isn't something that happens with every game, but many indies nowadays are choosing to release an unfinished product and then maintain a transparent dialogue with fans as work continues.
Strip away the $60 price tag and the Call of Duty-worthy marketing spend, and that's what No Man's Sky was at launch: an early access game.
Yes, the first version of No Man's Sky focused on exploration rather than creation. That was a big criticism, really; the procedural generation engine that Hello built could provide a near infinite supply of wonders to discover, but there was no way to leave your lasting mark on the galaxy.
The Foundation update changes all of that (all the details are right here). Base-building and freighters, which are effectively space-borne bases, let you pick and choose your home. Teleportation tools rein in the unwieldiness of galactic exploration by giving you a way to get back to whatever slice you build for yourself.
These are just some highlights from what amounts to a much larger update. Foundation introduces farming, planetary scans, a wider range of resources, and a tweaked user interface. It also, in the most direct nod to Minecraft, breaks up the game across different modes of play.
Normal is the base game that launched in August, further enhanced by the new Foundation bits. It's an easy mode survival game that echoes Minecraft‘s own survival mode. Creative mode removes the need to gather resources, letting players explore — and now, create — freely. Finally, the new Survival mode delivers a more challenging take on the base game.
These are positive changes for a game that has already shown plenty of promise but offers little reason for players to commit. But I'd still like to see one more thing from Hello founder Sean Murray and his team: improved communication.
Here's an example: the Foundation update was revealed on Friday, Nov. 25, a.k.a. Black Friday. The announcement offered minimal details and a loose “this week” timeframe for the update. That's bad timing and a frustrating lack of info, given it was the first public update on the state of No Man's Sky since September.
To be fair, Hello isn't technically bound to the early access commitment of transparency. Regardless of what was in the game at launch, No Man's Sky was marketed and sold as a complete release.
That said, in the weeks and months since launch, Hello has acknowledged the game's shortcomings and pledged to address them. Murray himself — who promised a bit too much, too often in the run-up to release — seems to have learned from past mistakes.
Hello delivered the update just two days after that announcement, well within the previously stated “this week” timetable. Even better, Murray doubled down on the announcement with some real talk on Twitter.
That's the important thing Hello has been missing: players don't necessarily need the full roadmap, but communication is essential. Minecraft fans didn't necessarily know what was coming as the game evolved into and then beyond its final form, but they could always count on hearing updates and non-updates alike from Mojang.
This new update adds a lot of exciting content to No Man's Sky, but I'm much more excited about the foundation it lays for Hello's continuing relationship with its players. Whether or not it was ever intended to live as an early access game, that's where it is now.