No Man’s Sky - A Journey From Galactic Potential to Black Hole and Beyond

September 1, 2018

My grasshopper-like spacecraft exploring an atmospherically toxic planet at sunset.

About The Author

He has passions that range from sports and adventuring, to playing video games and watching too much TV, as well as everything in between. When he's not lazy, something happens...
by Tucker Kennedy-Studach

The Galactic Potential
     When the highly anticipated Hello Games video game No Man’s Sky released in 2016 as a Playstation 4 exclusive, fanfair was loud and dreams were big; procedural-generation, a method of creating data according to algorithms instead of manually inputting them, would allow each player to pilot unique spacecrafts and discover unique flora and fauna on unique planets in unique galaxies, theoretically forever… a truly unique feat.
     NMS was supposed to be so vast, more so than any other game before and after, that even though it was “technically” multiplayer, one may never come across another player. Ever. The curious nature of NMS, the sheer wonder of what one would find if they landed on that distant ringed-planet, is what fueled so much intrigue during the countdown to launch. So who is this audacious Hello Games, a relatively quiet and new company, and why would they embark on a mission of such magnitude?
     Founded in 2008 in Guildford, England, former employees of other big-time video game companies came together to start over and get back to the fundamentals of creating games. Prior to NMS they specialized in making “indie games,” which means they produced games without major funding and support from a larger company like Electronic Arts (one of the places some Hello Games employees left). They did this in part because indie games tend to be more on the creative side and more akin to old-school side-scrolling video games. The other reason, Hello Games only employs 16 people. SIXTEEN. In comparison, EA employs 9,300 people (as of 2018 statistics).
     Ventures like NMS are thus unheard of for indie game companies because of the massive demand of resources for large scale games, even with a tool like procedural-generation.
The Black Hole
    Little upstart Hello Games was certainly attempting something ambitious and along the way, amidst the excitement, may have lightly promised features that were not in development at that time and might have forgotten about rather obvious issues. All of which came back to rip a potentially fatal hole into the side of “Space Shuttle NMS.”
    When gamers invested their $60 towards a brighter future navigating the stars, they were stunned when instead their money went straight into a black hole devoid of happiness. As I told the cashier at my local shop that I was picking up NMS he appropriately quoted the wise Admiral Ackbar. Indeed, sir, it was a trap. It was.The gaming community finally had hands-on experience and found more of a cheeseless moon than an Earth 2.0 or Mars. The excruciatingly simple tasks - traveling to a planet, harvesting some materials, and discovering new flora/fauna - it turns out got incredibly stale. The main storyline felt hollow, simple, and uninspired. It was also too short, something rather unforgivable for a game with such touted spaciousness.
     We also learned that even with procedural generation constantly creating “new” content, the myriad differences were not so great - e.g. the same type of planet, ice/toxic/etc. will have the same general types of flora/fauna but with minor differences like color, size, and perhaps types of legs (which sound more exciting than they really are). One can see the same strange land-jellyfish-like-thing only so many times before one gets bored and starts thinking about that sushi place a few blocks away (insert Homer Simpson drooling sound here_____)...
     One of the saving graces was that tiny, insignificant chance that maybe, potentially you might come across another player out in the ever-expanding universes. Well, some gamers with incredible stick-to-it-iveness found out that that’s not actually possible due to coding (or lack thereof) that made each player invisible to each other. Despite wandering the same planet for hours and potentially standing right next to each other, no player-to-player interaction was possible. Some of the other broken light-promises (I call them that because I don't ever remember Sean Miller or any other Hello Games exec claiming some of these during pre-release interviews, but the gaming community recalls otherwise) included the possibility for building structures ala Minecraft or Fallout. Those light-promises were not met upon release.
     There are ways of tracking how many people are actively playing a game at any one moment, and they are used to determine a games popularity in real time. These stats don't usually surface for the general public because they generally follow the same arc, but in the case of NMS, by the time Houston realized it had a problem, the numbers proved it. 88% of NMS players worldwide put the controllers down and walked away like they just watched Apollo 13 in person.
    With such a failure most companies would do as the consumer did, or they would tweak the game in some downloadable content for another $30. Instead, to their credit, Hello Games listened to the gaming community and went back to work to create a series of free, literally game-changing, updates.
    Foundation was the first major update, and laid the… groundwork... for building planetary bases, as well as adding different game modes. Path Finder followed with three different types of vehicles (dune-buggy, hovercraft, and behemoth) to be used for planetary exploration and some extra storage. Included is another game mode titled PERMADEATH (without the caps lock ofcourse) - which plays exactly how it sounds - go until you die, then, well nobody has come back from that to tell us what happens after (perma)death… Atlas Rises arrived shortly after, reworking the main storyline and introducing new side missions, portals for traveling quicker between galaxies, new system economics and trade improvements, and joint exploration which directly leads to the next update. Next… (yep) is the latest massive update and finally made true on an original promise - multiplayer. Attached but not to be neglected is the ability to command freighter armadas and a graphics overhaul that everything look even better.
    By now I have spent about equal time playing the original version and the updated version with all of the new goodies (about 100 hours altogether). I tried my best to stick with NMS during the lean times; the beautiful landscapes of each planet and simple tasks created a peaceful escape from stressful everyday life. I would be dishonest, however, if I said I loved it just the way it was and didn't think about what more it could be.The updates that Hello Games made feel necessary and delivered so much more dimension and content than previously existed. I have never experienced a game like NMS, which blends perfectly the uniqueness of Minecraft with the beauty and wonder of a Sci-Fi movie poster. I’m excited to share all of this with my fellow gamers, and with Next, finally be able to meet up on Hoth (the ice planet I’ve colonized and named originally). With more adventures on the horizon, today NMS seems destined to be a title that will never be deemed an all-timer due to its rough start, but will instead be called something more special by its fanbase - stardust - for that unique feeling and quality No Man’s Sky possesses.

I told you it’s grasshopper-like! This is Hoth (original) my colonized planet.

This freakin planet was made entirely of hexagonal plates, reminding me of the “cob-planet from Rick and Morty.

My character waving goodbye to an npc alien - “Hate to see you go, love to watch you leave.”

(For more NMS pics/content follow me on twitter @TuckerKS9)

The Elam Ending Fundamentally Changes Basketball For The Better

AUGUST 3, 2018

About The Author

He has passions that range from sports and adventuring, to playing video games and watching too much TV, as well as everything in between. When he's not lazy, something happens...
by Tucker Kennedy-Studach

The Basketball Tournament, established in 2014 has become somewhat of a reprieve from the lack of quality sports in mid-summer, even if only because of the radical way in which its games end. However, that ending may be able to do more than just entertain summer couch-potatoes, it could revolutionize an entire sport.

In TBT, games don’t end when the clock reaches zero, rather when said clock reaches 4 minutes in the 4th quarter, a “target points-total” is set when the first game stoppage occurs (time-out, turnover, any whistle, etc) and the clock turns off. The new goal is determined by taking the leading team’s score and adding an arbitrary seven; whoever reaches it first, wins. This is called the Elam Ending, named after its creator, Nick Elam, a professor at Ball State University (no pun intended?). The Elam Ending is really the only significant change from what is otherwise the NCAA rules.

The Elam Ending is also really the only thing that makes TBT actually worth watching; in a way it forces good quality basketball. Typically if a game isn't a complete blow-out, the losing team will foul in order to stop the clock and extend the game in hopes of making a comeback. The ensuing mess is a sorry excuse for basketball, strategy, and just flat out sucks to watch. The underlying problem with the current format is that it’s not just ugly, but rarely does the losing team ever complete the comeback to win. So instead of enjoying ourselves, we either watch as: A) our team scratches and claws (literally) to get back in it competitively; or B) our team is harassed at every turn and we sit on our hands until it ends anticlimactically; or C) we don't pay attention at all… because as casual onlookers it's really hard to watch bad basketball. Any which way you put it, it sucks.
This is why the Elam Ending is more than just different; it fundamentally changes the way the games are played towards the end. With the clock shut off, and a set point-total to be reached, both teams are behooved to play at a high level, defending with energy and executing with precision on offense. Instead of trading whistles and freethrow attempts for quick, bad quality jump shots, the game plays out like it’s suppose to.

Where I’d Like To See It Go From Here

    As a former high school basketball coach I can say wholeheartedly that there’s a lot of bad, bad basketball out there. Kids pick up poor basketball habits at an early age just by playing AAU, watching the NBA, or playing video games. Unless someone instills good habits in those kids, the bad ones stick around and have a lasting effect. I’m not going to stand on a box screaming “DOOM” but there is fact-based evidence that youth sports provide more support in molding who people are: work-ethic, honesty/integrity, and teamwork. I would like to see the OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) and other state’s equivalence, take a serious look at implementing the Elam Ending at the high school and lower levels. I know groups like KidSports and the YMCA have more freedom to change rules, but I believe they won’t unless the next level up decides to and applies some pressure. The highest level of basketball, and the one entity capable of initiating sweeping changes, won’t, because the NBA has much more pre$$ing matters to attend to. As “molders of people” the onus is on the OSAA and others to make these changes, to foster the highest level of quality and competition.

Ye Olde' Unlock

JULY 25, 2018

About The Author

He has passions that range from sports and adventuring, to playing video games and watching too much TV, as well as everything in between. When he's not lazy, something happens...
by Tucker Kennedy-Studach

    Stick with me for a second, something interesting happened the other day and I’m still not sure what to think or how to feel about it. I would love to get your thoughts on this in the comment section below or on twitter @LoweredExp. First, however, I’d like to set the scene and provide a little context.
    I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to sports video games, “never buy the same sport in consecutive years.” The reason for this is simple, not much truly changes between editions except for rosters. Those can be easily updated through game-released updates or by the gamers themselves uploading updates that anyone can use. The graphics quality, player control, feel of the game, etc. are all generally the same from year-to-year. So while the Madden Curse tries to claim its victims year-after-year, I avoid the taboo of shelling out $60/sport title each year. Back in the days of EA NCAA games, I would spend $180 to $240 each year just on college football/basketball and pro football/basketball. Toss in a baseball title and that range can grow even more. Eventually the frustration amounts and one creates a personal rule.
    By now you’re probably wondering why this is titled anything other than “sports games are expensive and repetitive.” If you’re one of my non-sports-inclined friends, you’ve probably yawned/left and/or thought “that’s what you get” and “personal choices.” I've heard it all, can you tell? Well… I was playing NBA 2k16 on PS4, and I happened to unlock an “ultra-rare trophy,” for XBox and PC (Steam) users this would be an “achievement.” Trophy rarity adapts as players unlock them, so some trophies have only been attained by 0.1% of that games players. My trophy in question isn't one of those 0.1%-ers (Grass is Greener, attained by 0.6% of 2k16 players, still ultra-rare).
My issue is that by now, as the new season for sports games approaches (2019 editions), my trophy belongs to an outdated game that isn't even supported by its own maker anymore. Initially I was pretty excited to get that unexpected rarity into my trophy collection, but then I wondered, “with so many people moving on to 2k17, 2k18, and now 2k19… is that trophy’s coolness diminished? Is it even better because it's less likely to ever be demoted to just “rare” status? If this trophy is diminished, what about broken records for speed-runs through ancient Super Mario? This ongoing debate in my head ultimately leaves me squarely in purgatory until I find the answer to the greatest question in the history of mankind.

Slogging Through The Summer

JULY 18, 2018

About The Author

He has passions that range from sports and adventuring, to playing video games and watching too much TV, as well as everything in between. When he's not lazy, something happens...
by Tucker Kennedy-Studach

Firstly, allow me to introduce myself, my name is Tucker and I’m incredibly excited to be joining the No Sell Entertainment family! Through different platforms I hope to contribute a myriad of content, from athletics to video games, and everything in between. Please keep a lookout for the “Lowered Expectations” name, and enjoy!

The Summer Slog

It’s inevitable, with every Summer comes a period of time I like to refer to as the summer slog; that oh-so-special time when ALL SPORTS DIE. DEAD. NO MORE. SAYONARA SUCKA! Not really to that extent, but it certainly feels like it. This year we’re a bit luckier because of the World Cup, but to be honest I can’t do it, soccer just doesn't tickle my fancy. Nor does the awful NBA summer league or the majority of Le Tour de France. The same goes for any small-time activities like corn-hole, competitive eating (ironically not the same thing), or that little thing called regular-season baseball (162 games). So while most people utilize this period of time to travel, let’s say to Scotland, I’m here feeling like a jacobite slogging through the bog of Culloden Moor, just trying to survive til post-season baseball and college football. In fact, the aforementioned bike ride, bag tossing, mouth stuffing, and meaningless baseball seem more like the cannon balls and musket fire that the jacobites had to actively dodge as they were trying to gain ground for melee combat (a jacobite strength). I wont get into details, my ancestors the Campbell’s didn't have a good showing, but while the infighting amongst Scottish clan chiefs ramped up, their demise quickly followed due to the bog and the redcoats. Today, as I flip channels in search of hope, all I see are the usual talking-heads, debating poorly whether or not LeBron will win rings in LA, or if the NFL can finally tell us what is/isn’t a catch. To me, they look like the losing clan chiefs, and while I know that somewhere William Wallace (rather, Mel Gibson) will soon be screaming for freedom… we continue the slog through Summer.