The last time Hello Games’ Sean Murray spoke to us, or anyone else in the press, he was still in the pre-launch, hype-building phase for the incredibly ambitious, procedurally generated universe exploration simulator . Then the game launched. The summer 2016 release drew some critical praise but also loud, sometimes virulent Internet criticism saying the launch version didn’t live up to the pre-release promise.
Murray and Hello Games have gone quiet since, keeping their heads down and focusing on building and releasingnumerousupdates that have layered plenty of important new features onto the launch version of the game. With the upcoming release of ‘s multiplayer-focused “NEXT” update, Murray has finally broken the studio’s radio silence, giving wide-ranging interviews to Waypoint, The Guardian, Eurogamer, and GamesRadar about the game’s past, present, and future.
Too much hype?
First off, Murray told Waypoint that he “never really wanted to talk to the press. I didn’t enjoy it when I had to do it. I think that was super obvious watching me doing interviews.” Keeping quiet and silently working on the game over the last two years, on the other hand, means that “this is the happiest I think we’ve ever been, as a result,” Murray said.
That state of affairs means the team at Hello Games had to “agonize” over whether to open up to interviews even now. In the end, though, Murray said he felt “we owe it to people to be able to address a bunch of questions that they have, and then maybe, hopefully have the ability to talk more openly with our community.”
Looking back on the sometimes deafening pre-release hype for , which included a major presentation at Sony’s 2015 E3 press conference, Murray took himself to task a bit for talking up the game’s potential so heavily. “We were naively excited about the game, and we talked to other people who were naively excited about the game and they interviewed us and we all talked really excitedly,” Murray told Eurogamer. “And I will not do that again!”
Part of the problem at the time, Murray told GamesRadar, was not being direct enough about the overall style of space exploration game players should expect. “I thought we were making it clear that was a weird lonely experience. But some people were looking at our trailers and thinking it was , when really it’s more like !”
Another pre-release problem, Murray told Waypoint, was assuming that the audience knew more about the way games are made. “We were showing people demos… that we knew, as developers, were like, ‘Oh, this is like a five-year development on this game. Obviously, some of the detail of this will change, some things big and small… Obviously, it’s going to change.’ And that is not obvious, right?”
It certainly wasn’t obvious to the Internet throngs who picked apart every previous public trailer and statement from Hello Games to see if they matched up with the released version. That quickly led to an “angry mob” developing that Murray told Eurogamer was extremely efficient at “crowdsourc[ing] ways to be mean to people… I was dealing with the Met[ropolitan Police], Scotland Yard, stuff like that. It was serious and it was real.” He added to Waypoint, “It got as bad as it can get.”
“I remember getting a death threat about the fact that there were butterflies in our original trailer,” Murray told The Guardian. “And you could see them as you walked past them, but there weren’t any butterflies in the launch game. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Maybe when you’re sending a death threat about butterflies in a game, you might be the bad guy.’”
Filling in the missing pieces
To deal with that barrage of hate, Murray told The Guardian he would “basically just get my head down, and I work, and I avoid. I just focus on making games, making cool creative things, and that’s an outlet for me. I think the team just wanted to do that.”
Despite the polarizing response two years ago, Murray says the version of that launched in 2016 is a version Hello Games was happy with. He thinks it could keep reasonable players happy for about 20 to 30 hours. But Murray also acknowledged to Eurogamer that players who thought “this could be so much more!” had a point.
The creator says he was also heartened, though, by the fact that 70 percent of the feedback he was getting on was coming from people who didn’t own the game. The people who were playing the game, he said, usually came across as more frustrated with the few missing features they wanted rather than outright angry about the entire thing.
“Actually, the vast majority of people were saying really simple things to us,” Murray told The Guardian. “They were saying ‘Oh, I love the game,’ or ‘I want to love the game, but I don’t like your inventory system’ or ‘I don’t like the way launch fuel works’ or ‘I want a creative mode. I want base building!’… It’s like, oh my god, that sounds fine. I can do that!”
“NEXT” is part of the continuing effort to fill in those missing pieces players want, Murray says, letting groups of four players explore the universe together with a ” away team vibe,” as he put it to The Guardian. In the new interviews, Murray also talked up changes like longer draw distances, a new cloud system, and more realistic animal behaviors that enhance the “space tourism” angle of the game. Weekly content drops and community missions, meanwhile, should give the game some more longevity.
Murray told Waypoint the team has also focused on frontloading some of the game’s most important features, so people don’t have to play 20 or 40 hours to see the coolest in-game systems. Base-building is now introduced in the first hour or so, and resource-gathering freighters in hour six or seven. That should also be useful for players experiencing the upcoming Xbox One version of the game for the first time.
“This time around, we’ve thought a bit more about the person who has never played the game before or just wants to start a fresh save,” Murray told Waypoint. “They can’t even remember two years ago when they picked it up at launch. And we’re like ‘Cool, you’ll have a, hopefully, much nicer experience, and you’ll get to see some of these things earlier.”
Murray summed up the lessons of ‘s development thus far to Waypoint: “We are not trying to make the perfect game. We have definitely learned that is impossible and that in this hyper, kind of critical, hyper-polarized world, that is not a good path to go down.”
“Something about seems to get people hyped,” Murray told Eurogamer. “We can’t seem to stop it—even now when we’re being boring and putting out patch notes. People are still excited. It’s a real buzz on something like that.”