No Man Sky launch on PC puts a big dent in the resurgence of computer gaming

The No Man's Sky launch on PC is a terrible nightmare. Some gamers have even decided to wait for bug fixes. This is not a good sign.

Users aren’t that upset by this. They are measured in their tone, almost sanguine. In one chat forum, someone mentioned how they half expected this and will wait “a few weeks” for bug fixes. Another said they decided to stick with PS4.

That's right -- the PC launch for No Man’s Sky is not going so smoothly.

The problems so far are related to overloaded servers. In a Twitter post, the developers mentioned how they were surprised to see so many games launch the game at the same time (even though Steam users can pre-load the game). There are also issues with the controls, settings, and graphics. Some users even say the game won’t load at all or that it crashes as soon as they see the main screen.

This is not a good sign for the supposed resurgence of PC gaming, an uptick that started innocuously enough when games like Far Cry 4 and Battlefront popped up on Windows, then surged again when indie games became so popular.

In the past, many hardcore C.O.D.-style gamers would have not strayed more than a few inches from the living room and the consoles. Strangely enough, while Acer and Alienware continue to carve out their niche with high-end gaming desktops, business laptops only get faster, the VR headsets provide a welcome boost to gaming overall, and even the Mac seems like it could join the fray as a legit gaming system someday, there’s an annoying sense that this is yet another false start.

Why is that? For the die-hard fans, PC gaming never went away. They’ve been toiling away in the basement tweaking their liquid-cooled systems and happily snapping up NVIDIA cards. The rest of us sit back and wonder what’s going on. Why are the games still so time-consuming to install? Why are there so many crashes? Why do you have to think so much about compatible drivers and upgrade to the latest version of Windows 10? Who keeps insisting we upgrade for every new game? Part of the fun of owning a PC is that you can customize everything, but that’s also the great and eternal curse.

I’m in both camps. I like being able to Alt-Tab over to a game running in the background, and there are times when I don’t want to go sit on a couch and “lean back” to play a game. I started out on PC; I avoided the entire Nintendo gaming craze and even berated people who jumped on that bandwagon. I’ve been a PC and Mac gamer since Marathon, the original Bungie game. Yet, what’s always been so perplexing is that these machines -- powered by advanced processors with loads of RAM and plenty of storage, with super-fast connections -- can’t become more intelligent.

It’s amazing. There should be a “gaming” mode for PC that literally runs as though you have an Xbox One inside your Acer. Maybe that’s a major technical challenge, maybe it's been tried before, but I doubt it. When you use this Xbox mode on your PC (it could even boot to the Xbox logo), it should first verify you have everything in working order before you ever install a PC game. You would get one patch to apply if you want the latest version. Even then, games should run in that “base” mode without crashing. The reason No Man’s Sky runs smoothly on the PS4 is due to the testing environment. They playtested on one predictable platform. With a small team, there was no way to test No Man’s Sky on multiple PC configuration, and it shows.

(By the way, I know there’s a way to stream an Xbox One game to a PC over Wi-Fi, and there's even a tweak to make it work better. That’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about grabbing the game from Steam and playing right away, no console required.)

Even if there isn’t a gaming mode that actually works (and I know it would require support from the industry to make that happen, plus a lot of other steps), Windows itself should be part of the solution. Microsoft still seems to take a hands-off approach, and that’s mostly a good thing -- they are not as touchy about the ecosystem as Apple. Yet, it also means there are some many, many compatibility nightmares when it comes to brand new PC games unless you are EA or some other big studio.

No Man’s Sky is an ambitious game. It shifts the momentum back to classic adventure gaming, the kind that does not involve blood and ammo. I’m all for that. Yet, on PC, it is a major step backwards if it means the install fails. When a PC gamer says they’ll switch to PS4 or wait for bug fixes, you know there’s trouble.

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John Brandon

Computerworld (US)
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