Sunday, October 15, 2017

Minecraft Monster Month Part 4: Dungeon Dwellers

If you intend to venture to The End and slay the Ender Dragon, you will almost certainly pass through a Stronghold to get to the portal. Normally these structures are abandoned, containing only the usual monsters, but if you're very unlucky you may cross paths with the master of these underground fortresses...and his servants...

Stronghold Monarch
Yes, those are Villagers in that cage behind him, just in case you weren't convinced from the costume that he's evil.

His origins are a mystery, his motivations a riddle, his identity an enigma. The strongest being in the Overworld, the Monarch is believed to wander the Strongholds and castles that dot the world. There are some who say he is the necromancer responsible for the zombies and skeletal archers who plague the world's caverns and nights on the surface. Perhaps it is for this reason that he wields a unique golden sword called the Holy Sword, specifically strong against the undead, to maintain his dominion over his monstrosities.

How such an evil entity came into possession of such a weapon of goodness is a mystery, but the prospect of reclaiming it gives warriors one more reason to face him in battle. It is rumored he is in possession of other mythical artifacts, like the Hammer of Notch, Obsidian Armor, or unique potions and enchantment books.

Stronghold Seer

Unfortunately, a Monarch is rarely without a court, and this one's court consists of a squad of powerful enchantresses. They are certainly skilled with Splash Potions, and rumor has it they are also competent archers with Tipped Arrows, which makes sense as they would have easy access to The End. As if fighting the Monarch wasn't going to be hard enough...

Doorman

Who knows what lies behind those iron trapdoors that serve as masks? The sinister guards of the Monarch's domains, they can hear instantly when a door, be it wood or iron, has been opened, and they will seek out the intruder with their axes. Destroying doors just makes them angrier. You can try tunneling through the walls, but you never know what stone bricks might be silverfish eggs.

There exists a common misconception that there is only one Doorman, a random killer who stalks humans and Villagers in the dead of night. This is because, despite their loyalty to the Monarch, once in a blue moon a Doorman might wander off into the surface world by accident; they're not very clever. If they come across a survival base or a village...lured by the sound of doors opening and closing...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Minecraft Monster Month Part 3: Miscellaneous Menaces

There are a variety of unsavory characters who roam the Overworld, griefing anybody they come across in various dastardly ways. The world's a big place, so you may have never met them before or even heard of them, and hopefully you'll never cross paths with them. But it's best you know what you can in case you ever need to be prepared.


Slymime

We're not really sure if it's a man or a woman under that slimy mask. Either way, this crook somehow knows how to spawn slimes, and they'll swarm you until you're dead.


Cake Maniac

This guy thinks he's a danger, but he's really just a nuisance. He steals cakes. And that's terrible.

Terror Spawner

Long has science known that every mob in the world can be found from an egg. The question of getting those eggs is a different story. Somehow, this scoundrel found a way, and few take the time to wonder why when being swarmed by Creepers and Spiders. Best advice? If you're fortunate enough to spot her from long range, try to snipe her with your best bow before she spots you. If she sees you first...good luck.


Silverfish Monger

The Monger is even more of a coward than the Spawner. By the time you know he's there, it's already too late. Any stone or brick block could have been replaced with a silverfish egg, and the only way to know for sure is to take a pickaxe to every stone block in the area. Be ready with your sword.

Frankencrafter
What twisted mind decided to craft something like this?! Pig, squid, horse, zombie, skeleton, all combined to form an extremely grumpy patchwork golem. Don't make him angry; he hits pretty hard. But some think he might just be misunderstood. Maybe he just wants a friend? Perhaps, if you can give him something he wants...what's his favorite food?


Gargoyle
When you're scraping the bedrock looking for diamonds, you may unearth something you've never seen before, for good or for ill. Just remember not to take your eyes off it!
If you ever bump into this monstrosity, maintain eye contact, and hammer it to death as quickly as possible. This is essential, because every time it wakes up or falls back asleep it regenerates health!


Bedrat
Not quite as terrifying as the Gargoyle, but anybody who's fought silverfish or baby zombies before knows how big a threat a small target can be.


Redstone Zealot
Sooner or later you will discover a dungeon or a temple with traps. At some point you'll probably ask, "Why is this even here?!" Some Overworld archaeologists have found evidence of a society of Redstone Zealots, engineers who lived in an opulent underground city, bringing in wealth by scattering traps all over the place and collecting the inventories of their victims. They could craft machines beyond most crafters' understanding, including unique redstone golems called "Protectors" that guarded their city so they could enjoy their ill-gotten wealth.

Sadly for the Zealots, and luckily for the rest of the world, the traps began to run dry. Adventurers either got smarter, or there just weren't any left. Many traps were sabotaged with TNT. The loot and resources stopped coming in, and the Redstone Zealots had neither the willingness nor the skill to actually work for a living. The situation was exacerbated by the loss or theft of something called the "Infinity Core," though whether this was their object of worship or merely the source of their technology is unclear, nor is it clear whether this has any connection with the fabled "Infinity Dungeon." Either way, the loss of the Core rendered the situation unsalvageable, and with their stolen diamond swords they fell to infighting and their civilization collapsed.

A few, however, are rumored to have survived the fall and escaped, moving to greener pastures and setting up new traps, accompanied only by a squad of Protectors.
So always be wary of tripwires and pressure plates. And if you ever see a Redstone Bug, a creature that seems drawn to the Zealots' complex machines, get ready for a fight with the Protectors.
And maybe, if you survive, you may find a new piece of technology to call your own.


Enchantro

Illagers shake at the mere utterance of the name Enchantro.

Once a humble brewer, everything changed in this man's life when he discovered a Potion of Intelligence. Whether he found a sample in a treasure chest or found the recipe in that massive book he carries on his back, nobody knows. But the potion gave him the ability to craft stronger Potions of Intelligence, which he then drank to make even better potions, and on and on it went until he was able to brew potions the likes of which nobody had ever seen. New recipes, with effects like Displacement, Sinking, Photosynthesis, Leech, and Beheading. Dragon's Breath and Bottles O' Enchanting he could craft without journeying far and wide to acquire the ingredients. He could enchant pickaxes of Silk Touch XVIII, able to retrieve End Gate Frames, monster spawners, and more. Swords that could fell a Wither in one stroke. Infinite possibilities were within his grasp...

...Until the Intelligence Potions wore off, and he was without the ingredients to make more. Or some say he forgot the recipe entirely. Either way, he went mad. His life became a quest to re-acquire that potion and resume feeding his hunger for knowledge and power, questing far and wide, to ruined fortresses, witch villages, and lost temples.




The unfortunate result of all that exploration in the dangerous wilderness is this: he is a very seasoned fighter. Beware his bow and tipped arrows; they will inflict effects never seen before. But if you can best him, you may be able to claim his book.

But the question remains: should you? Can the book be used for good? Can it be used safely? Or should it be destroyed lest you go mad like Enchantro, or worse?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Minecraft Monster Month Part 2: Terrible Titans

Whispers abound regarding giants in the world of Minecraft, though few can offer any firsthand accounts.

Woodbeast
Perhaps the most likely to be encountered is the four-block-high Woodbeast.

A self-appointed guardian of the forest, the Woodbeast won't do anything to you...unless he catches you chopping wood. Doesn't matter if you're newly spawned and need that wood to survive your first night; all he sees is you chopping his trees. Guess being a nature spirit doesn't make you morally superior. His arms can stretch to ridiculous lengths, so trying to get close is inadvisable. But he's immune to arrows as well as swords. Perhaps woodaxes will work on a wooden beast?

Eyece
Elsewhere in the world, among the Ice Spikes, travellers speak of the Eyece.
A fearsome cyclops, six blocks high, some say he throws snowballs packed with ice that can damage you. Others shay he shoots them right out of his solitary eye. Some say he hides inside the spikes. Some say he lies asleep until awakened by those foolish enough not to be sneaky. Others say he waits just below the frozen oceans until unfortunate passersby attempt to cross the ice above. Whatever the truth may be, know that there's more to fear in the frozen wastes than Strays and Polar Bears.

Blocksquatch
Many refuse to believe the Blocksquatch even exists. After all, in the high mountain peaks where falls are fatal, or inside darkened caves where lava pockets abound, there are plenty of explanations for miners disappearing without the need for a rock monster invulnerable to swords, axes, and arrows, right?

Enderall
Finally, we have, fittingly, the Enderall. Most of the stories about this one are believed, because only the bravest warriors can even set foot on the End islands, and there aren't many of those.
According to the legend, it may not be as strong as the Enderdragon, and it can't be healed by End Crystals, but it will breathe a gas that can be collected and used in Lingering Potions, so there are always opportunistic adventurers who will actually seek these guys out. Though at six blocks tall, with the ability to teleport and to stomp you flat, maybe facing the Enderdragon would be easier.
Those who claim to have faced it say it does have a weakness. If you can face its back, in spite of its teleportation, and place your arrows well, you can bring him down, unleashing a massive cloud of Dragon's Breath.
Are any of these titans real? Or are they nothing more than the hyperboles of solitary travellers attempting to entertain their friends at home? Either way, the very idea of these colossi is enough to make one feel very, very small in this wide, wide world.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Monster Month: Minecraft Edition

It's October, and that means Halloween season. This year I'll be doing something a little different: exploring the lore of the fun yet spooky global pastime, Minecraft.

Now Minecraft has always been a bit vague on its lore, but it is there if you know where to look. For example, last year a new skin pack introduced us to the Campfire Tales.


Even if it's just a skin pack, Mojang seems to be indicating that there's more to the Overworld, the Nether, and the End than even the most dedicated explorers know: worse things than the Endermen, Ghasts, and Withers. So I'm going to take some of these terrors and horrors and see if I can shed some light on them.


This site started as a blog about aliens, so let's kick things off by talking aliens!

Part I: Invaders from the Void

We all know the Villagers. They're a gentle, friendly people, making a living in their small settlements. They'd never hurt anybody, even in self-defense; that's what the Iron Golems are for.

Of course, they're not all like that. Most know of the outcasts, the "Illagers". Witches and Evokers, ax-wielding Vindicators, and the crafty Illusioners. Though by and large they live a simple life, the Villagers hide a great potential for good or ill.

Rumors tell of a huge city built by a clan of particularly ambitious Villagers. Instead of passing the days farming and grunting at each other, they channeled their effort into construction. They didn't need to do it; they simply wanted to.
Image result for minecraft alien invasion addon
But the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and despite keeping the city streets well lit at night to ward off threats, the Villagers were beset by a group of griefers the likes of which the Overworld had never seen before.
Image result for minecraft alien invasion addon
They came in massive flying saucers made of purple metal blocks nobody had seen before, lobbing explosives at the skyscrapers and disgorging troops: cyborg Alien Grunts with their mechanical arms outstretched like zombies, Alien Gunners with their oversized brains and plasma cannons to match, Alien Captains who could match a golem in strength, size, and endurance, and Alien Saucers patrolling the skies, bearing down on anybody who would duck their heads out of cover.
Image result for minecraft alien invasion addon
Nobody knew why, but their mission seemed clear: leave nothing left standing and nobody left alive.

Only that's not what happened. The Villagers were smart enough to know that in a city as big as theirs, there could never be enough Iron Golems to protect them. So every citizen, when they came of age, was issued a bow and trained in its use.

Suddenly the invasion was now a battle, as arrows and plasma flew through the air for days. Turns out all that alien TNT was so volatile that a single arrow in the right place could blow up an entire ship. The Aliens expected a raid on a civilian target, instead they got a strike on the equivalent of a military installation.

When it was all over, half the city was in ruins and many Villagers were gone. But the Aliens had fought to the last, and none were left. Scavenging the wreckage, the Villagers grimly buried their dead then began to rebuild.

Where did the invaders come from? Some said they originated in the Sky Dimension. Though others don't even believe it exists, and say they came from the Void around the world. Others say it doesn't matter or we'll never know. Perhaps they just don't want to ponder the answer because it's too terrifying to contemplate.

The lessons are twofold. Never prey upon the weak, because you never know what strength the weak may be hiding. And no matter how high you build, never become complacent. Always be ready to defend what you have wrought. For construction is easy, destruction is fun, but protection is hard and dull, but the most important of all.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mass Effect: Magnificent Desolation


I have strong memories of the Mass Effect trilogy both good and bad, such that I still haven't touched the more-recently-released Mass Effect: Andromeda. Who's this "Ryder" character? What's a Pathfinder? As far as I'm concerned, you'll never be better than Commander Shepard.
MassEffect.jpg
The first Mass Effect game in particular delivered to me a unique experience that no science fiction game, not even No Man's Sky, was able to reproduce. Despite being firmly in the "space opera" subgenre rather than the exploration subgenre, it was perhaps the only game where I felt like an astronaut. Mass Effect 1 is notorious for its side-quest segments where you and your teammates traverse remote planets in a ground-effect vehicle known as the M35 Mako.
Mako 2
Raising gamers' blood pressure since 2007 or 2183.
The sequels focused more on combat and less on the Mako's unwieldy controls and the long barren stretches between mission objectives, and while this may be an improvement from a game design perspective, I think something is lost when you can't take the time to appreciate the scenery, the "magnificent desolation" that Buzz Aldrin described when standing on the Moon.
Not pictured: the planetoid that's due to crash in a few hundred years.
In a genre where most focus is given on habitable planets, and little consideration is given to biological or chemical barriers between planets and explorers, Mass Effect devotes a fair portion of its extensive background flavor text to the attributes of the lifeless planets that vastly outnumber the "garden worlds" of the Milky Way. Every solar system you visit is explorable; you can't land on every planet, but you can at least visit each one. You might expect that this gets old fast, but it doesn't; there's a surprising level of variation; the few dozen planets in this game feel more distinctive than the 18 quintillion in No Man's Sky. I've referenced before how much I love the colorful names given to the different regions of space accessible in the trilogy. Taken altogether, the series is, however you may feel about its storytelling missteps, a masterclass in worldbuilding.
Mass Effect
Below are a few of the in-game encyclopedia entries on some of the planets, to give an idea of what I'm talking about.


Casbin is a classic 'pre-garden' terrestrial world, with conditions similar to
those on Earth millions of years ago. Its hot, humid atmosphere is mainly
composed of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. An increasing amount of the surface
is covered by simple lichen and algae. Should no unexpected calamity occur,
these tiny planets will change the atmosphere into an Earth-like nitrogen-oxygen
mix over the next few millennia.

Due to its potential for future habitability and sapient life, Casbin has
been designated a Sanctuary World by the Citadel Council. Landing is
prohibited by law, and any disturbance of the fragile young ecosystem will
result in harsh fines and imprisonment.

At present, the planet is passing through the debris trail of a long-period comet.


Antibaar is a cold terrestrial world with an atmosphere of methane and argon.
Its frozen surface is mainly composed of iron with deposits of magnesium. The
world has been noted as a possible target for long-term terraforming; if the
atmosphere could be increased to the thickness of Earth's, the global average
temperature would rise by 10 degree Celsius.

Antibaar's combination of low temperatures, high speed surface winds, and low
visibility make it dangerous to explore on foot.


Agebinium is a small terrestrial world with an extremely thin atmosphere of
carbon dioxide and krypton. Although the planet has a sufficient mass to
maintain a thicker atmosphere, much of it has been blasted away.

The red giant Amazon is a long-period variable star, currently at the nadir of
a 16-year cycle. At peak, its energy output doubles, lashing Agebinium with
intense heat and radiation.

The crust is mainly composed of aluminum with deposits of tin. Much of the
surface is coated with a fine silicate dust, which easily penetrates the
smallest cracks to foul machinery.


Edolus is a terrestrial planet with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide and
nitrogen. Edolus's surface is covered in wide deserts of silicate sand, with
only a few areas of igneous rock highlands to break the abrasive, dust-chocked
wind.

Edolus's orbit is congested with debris thrown inwards by the gravity of the
gas giant Ontamaka. Due to a high rate of meteor impacts, exploration is
highly dangerous.



Chohe is a terrestrial planet whose surface is mainly composed of aluminum, with numerous deposits of calcium. Though it has enough mass to retain a dense atmosphere, Chohe is nearly a vacuum. This lack of atmosphere allows a moderate average temperature, but the differences between night and day are extreme.

The surface of Chohe's sunward-facing side is usually covered by a haze of volatiles (mainly water vapor and carbon dioxide), which return to the ground as frost over the course of the long, cold night.


The Sirta Foundation has established a research outpost on Chohe to investigate the native subterranean life of Chohe, which shows incredible resilience to extremes of heat and cold.


Amaranthine is a chilly rock world with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Its frozen surface consists largely of light titanium and aluminum oxides, with deposits of thorium and other heavy metals located in the deep crust. Amaranthine was named by the human poet Sofia Cabral during her tour of duty aboard the Alliance surveyor ship Kupe. Under the dim light of the red dwarf Fortuna, the surface of this world is lit in rich twilight blues and purples even at midday.


Nodacrux is a verdant world with abundant water, temperate climate, a thick oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and a rich ecosystem. It would seem to be perfect for life. The relatively high percentage of oxygen makes humans feel energized and alive, though it has also allowed insect analogues to grow to frightful sizes.


Unfortunately, Nodacrux is a case of "almost but not quite." Thunderstorms are as common as on Earth, but in Nodacrux's thicker, oxygen-rich atmosphere, they are deafening and spark constant wildfires. More damning, however, are the large and ubiquitous tufts of pollen that float in the high-pressure air. In humans and other oxygen-breathing species, they cause severe or lethal allergic reactions.

On a separate topic, I know it's been a long time since I've last posted. I guess the more "novelty" you find in science fiction, the less it stands out to you. A kind of "novelty inflation." I started this blog to seek out new ideas in science fiction, and I've definitely found some.

The thing about novelty is that it shouldn't be confused for genuine quality. I think I'm done with my search for novelty, and will probably re-tool this blog to be a more general "stuff I like" blog. I'm still a fan of cool world designs and creature designs, and so those will be appearing on here. But I probably won't be restricting myself to space-based sci-fi. I've got something in mind for October and Halloween, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Prefixed Biomes: How to Diversify Your Planetary Options

So I've seen Rogue One three times now. And unpopular as this position might be, I prefer The Force Awakens. Whereas on repeat viewings TFA got better in my eyes as I had a better appreciation of the characters and their story arcs, including one particular character's arc coming full circle after almost four decades, what stuck out for me rewatching Rogue One was how long the movie drags between its action scenes. As YouTubers Doug "Nostalgia Critic" Walker and Chris Stuckmann observed, Episode VII was excellent with a passable climax, whereas Rogue One is passable with an excellent climax. Well, your mileage will vary. I won't deny this is the Star Wars prequel I've hoped for since I was seven years old.

I'm not going to break down each planet like I did last year, as I feel I would just repeat myself. Instead I want to point out a trend I've noticed in the Disney era of the franchise. Rogue One is the eighth theatrical film in the Star Wars franchise, and at this point one would think the series would have run out of biomes to steal from Earth to make into whole planets. And, well, you'd be half right.

Let's look at Jedha:
Jedha
This is the second desert planet to appear in a movie's teaser and make fans ask, "Is that Tatooine?" Thankfully the answer is no; revisiting Tatooine is what Star Wars does when it's too afraid to try something new.
So how does Star Wars keep doing desert planets without making them all look the same outside the trailers? Because you can't just describe these planets with the word "desert."
Let's break down the desert planets in the movies:
Tatooine: "Lawless Desert"
Geonosis: "Termite-infested Desert"
Jakku: "Junkyard Desert"
Jedha: "Holy Desert"

Jedha distinguishes itself with its "Holy City," full of ancient history of followers of the ways of the Force. The fact it is another desert planet is incidental; it's not used as a gimmick. Same with Jakku; the focus is the wreckage of the war between the Rebels and the Empire. Furthermore, The desert aspects are different: Jakku resembles the Sahara, while Jedha is much less sandy and much more mountainous, having been filmed in Jordan.

(Also Jedha is actually a moon. Not that you could tell if it wasn't in the on-screen captions.)

Let's contrast with another mountainous planet that appears in the same film: Eadu.

The terrain is probably indistinguishable from Jedha's, but you can't tell and/or don't care because the climate is opposite. And based on the brief view from space in the film, the whole planet looks that way. So instead of two "mountain" planets, we have "arid mountain" and "monsoon mountain" planets that look nothing alike. Similarly, contrast the two ocean worlds Mon Cala and Kamino. One has permanent rainstorms, the other has a perfectly mundane climate. Contrast the wealthy city planet Coruscant with the crime-infested city moon of Nar Shaddaa (it's in the comics).

When you use just one element at a time, once you run out of elements you must start repeating yourself. Combine two elements and suddenly you have exponentially more options. So next time you brainstorm, throw two ideas in a blender, and see what comes out. You just may strike gold.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Goofus and Gallant: Contrasting No Man's Sky and Obduction

So No Man's Sky finally came out last month, to great fanfare followed quickly by thrown tomatoes.
I'll do my best not to make this piece about developer Hello Games's overpromising and underdelivering after two years of hype; much has been written and said about that elsewhere. Let me just sum up my sentiments with the observation that when your development staff has a headcount less than that of a private elementary school class, maybe don't literally promise the universe.

The game itself is not strictly bad. Even after all the disappointment I'm glad I purchased it and played it. And I applaud the developers for attempting to break the mold in modern gaming. Unfortunately the game is plagued by numerous baffling design choices that all add up to a sub-par gaming experience:

  • If the game is about open-ended exploration, why do things like life support, ammunition, mining beam charge, and starship fuel all deplete so quickly? It ruins the one thing the game has going for it: immersing yourself in an alien world.
  • Unobtrusive "Achievement Unlocked" notifications have existed for over a decade now; why must the user interface be hijacked for 15 seconds every time a new achievement Milestone is awarded?
  • Why does spacesuit-Siri feel the need to notify you "LIFE SUPPORT POWER LOW" when your power supply is only at 75%? And again at 50%? At 25% it starts to make sense, but most gamers are smart enough to keep an eye on a power meter like that. In fact in the age of the cell phone, I'd say most people in general have been trained on that.
  • Why is the player's spacesuit so vulnerable to environmental hazards? It's a SPACE suit; it's supposed to be sealed. Toxins should not be a threat. Neither should going underwater!
  • If the game is all about boldly going where no one has gone before, why does every single planet, without fail, contain multiple outposts manned by members of the three alien species in the game?
  • Did this game really need 18 quintillion planets? I would've thought 18 trillion would do.

I think the biggest problem with the game is that ultimately all the planets feel the same. The game goes for a colorful aesthetic, which is good because too many games focus on a very limited "real is brown" palette. Unfortunately that distinct aesthetic permeates the entire game universe, and as a result the planets all start to feel the same.
Look at these three screenshots I took from three different planets:



Now compare with these three images of three real-life worlds: Earth, the Moon, and Mars:

I will admit that there is definitely some variation between planets in the game, just not enough to prevent them from gradually blurring together in one's memory after several hours. There's a reason I don't have many screenshots besides the ones above; I just don't find much reason to do so when I'm playing. The problem seems to be that while the planets are different colors, they all have the same level of colorfulness. There are no stark, monochromatic planets to contrast with the colorful ones. Furthermore, there is no biome variation on any of the planets; each of those screenshots could be considered representative of their entire planets. The only variation is in the terrain. That's excusable on barren planets, but on life-bearing worlds? Expect to see the same plants no matter where you land. If I used that photo of Earth to represent all environments on Earth, anybody criticizing me would be right in doing so. The Moon and Mars are more representative, but Mars does have its polar ice caps. I haven't seen ice caps on a single planet in the game. Contrast this with Minecraft; that game has forests, plains, mountains, oceans, deserts, icy wastelands, and even mushroom forests.

A couple weeks after No Man's Sky was released, I purchased Obduction.
This is the long-awaited return of Cyan Worlds, creators of the Myst series I talked about before. And it is glorious. The game only features four alien worlds (sort of), but each of those worlds is hand-crafted by the developers rather than procedurally generated.

Naturally my favorite is the purple planet surrounding the displaced village of Hunrath.

Wild rock formations, some of them floating. All with a purple tint. At least two other planets are visible in the sky, and both of them appear to be habitable. Now in No Man's Sky, if I see another world in the sky I could fly to it, but I would also know that it would be little different from the planet I was currently on. Here the worlds in the distance are left to the imagination. And as anybody who was excited and then disappointed for No Man's Sky is undoubtedly aware, one's vague imagined idea tends to be better than reality. It's not often that creators are able to meet an audience's expectations.

The other planets are, for the most part, conventional biomes that will be familiar to Earth-dwelling players. Though some impressive vistas are still present.


This game cost $30 to No Man's Sky's $60, but it only took about 8 hours to complete, and being a puzzle game, its replay value is limited; once you've solved a puzzle once, solving it again becomes trivial. Despite this, I still consider Obduction the better deal of the two games. No Man's Sky has theoretically infinite replay value, but there's no reason to keep going because every hour played will be fundamentally the same as every previous hour played. The two "story" goals in the game, the "Path of the Atlas" and the "get to the center of the galaxy" goal, have practically nothing to offer once achieved. And I'm not spoiler-warning that, because potential buyers deserve to know what they're getting into. Obduction, on the other hand, actually has a story that motivates the player to keep going. Even Minecraft has a dragon waiting to be slain, even if there's practically no indication of it in-game. And I sincerely doubt that No Man's Sky will ever produce a creature as distinctive and memorable as the Creeper or the Enderman.

And yet, despite everything, I don't regret purchasing No Man's Sky. I got to play a game with alien worlds unlike any I had seen before. I don't fault the developers for trying to make a game that breaks the mold. But when held up next to Obduction, we see that one still cannot automate creativity. Human-crafted settings blow the procedurally-generated settings out of the water, and No Man's Sky's quantity cannot match Obduction's quality.

I hope that lessons will be learned from No Man's Sky. I hope that procedural generation can be leveraged to help developers - or even writers and concept artists in other media - brainstorm new settings. And I hope that someday we can get the space exploration game we were all hoping for.