One of the factors that draws me most strongly to many games is a sense of exploration - whether that be physical, mechanical, or narrative.
Exploration has been a significant part of many theories of play for some time. Salen and Zimmerman's Rules of Play had a big impact on me as a designer; identifying a diversity of motivating factors in play is a fantastic tool for design and development because it keeps you focused on the ways in which your game engages players. Exploration is one of those motivating factors for many people - the feelings of discovery and mastery that it creates can be very empowering.
The recent plethora of games following Minecraft's formula of using procedural generation as a proxy for content has meant an explosion of things for players to explore - to define the systems they move inside, feel out its edges and its rules; and even in the literal sense - to find and catalogue new things. It's particularly good for gaming as a whole because it redefines the conversation around content - when you have literally an infinite space to explore, the methods and tools of exploration and the quality of the content become so much more important.
My excitement for No Man's Sky reminds me (and is tempered by) my similar excitement for Spore, a game which notoriously failed to provide the depth of content it promised. I'm more hopeful this time around, however - independence means that the ambition won't be reigned in to provide a more "mainstream" (conservative) experience.
Regardless, it's fantastic to see one of gaming's strengths coming to the fore - an explosion of content that could never be created by a single author or even a team the size of a Hollywood blockbuster's film crew - and without the confines of the page or the screen, those invisible walls which curate our experience, we are instead free to immerse ourselves in and explore these virtual worlds for ourselves, and tell our own stories.
Elite is one of several games with a computer-generated playground so vast that players will never come close to seeing all of it. No Man’s Sky, a space simulation game to be released next year, is set in a randomly generated galaxy containing so many planets that – according to its makers – visiting them all at the rate of one a second would still take longer than the lifetime of our sun. Even in Minecraft – where players can roam randomly generated landscapes – you could walk for 20 years and not reach the edge. One player who set out in 2011 is still walking, partly just to see what’s there.