The primary purpose of this article is to publish my interview with Michael Peiffert, Founder and Creative Director of Mi-Clos Studio, which released Out There in 2014. Before diving into the interview, I need to provide some background as to how I came about communicating with Mr. Peiffert in the first place. Like many others this summer, I got caught up in the hype that proceeded the release of No Man’s Sky. The game seemed to offer the promise of endless exploration and adventure, and media outlets that were allowed early access fueled the speculation:
- IGN – “Survival really is the beating heart of this gorgeous, enigmatic beast. Only time will tell if my 20th or 200th hours with No Man’s Sky will hold a similar sense of driving purpose, but my first two most certainly did, and that’s a good start.”
- Ars Technica – “In a world of AAA sequels and franchises, passion-driven projects like No Man’s Sky are rare gems—and as silly as it sounds, Murray made a believer out of me.”
- Polygon – “Many game developers will earnestly tell you that their creations defy categorization, and Hello Games’ Sean Murray is no different. He stresses that although this game clearly involves space combat, exploration and resource gathering, it’s not really about any of those things individually.”
A review by The Guardian summed up the challenges of a game that reaches the heights of expectation achieved by No Man’s Sky:
Two-and-a-half years ago, the team at Hello Games presented their concept for a practically infinite procedurally generated galaxy, and since then they’ve been suffering the consequences of that pitch’s success, faced with the task of creating a real game that would somehow measure up to thousands of different imagined ones.
Once the game was released, the reviews from the same media outlets were not as kind while others praised the attempted scope of No Man’s Sky:
- IGN – “The promise of limitless exploration ended up working against it when I lost faith that it had any more meaningful things to show me no matter how far I traveled. This ambitious game reached for the stars, but its reach exceeded its grasp by light years.”
- Ars Technica – “Its voxel-based, procedurally generated engine is an incredible template for more systems, content, and performance tweaks. Until then, the game’s title is true: this isn’t yet a sky any man (or woman) should bother claiming.”
- Polygon – “Hello Games has built a set of tools that is amazing and unprecedented, something that could absolutely change the way huge games are made if placed in the right hands. But these powerful universe creation algorithms have been grafted onto a game that is, beyond its initial hours, so light on imagination.”
- Trusted Reviews – “Sean Murray and Hello Games’ vision of creating a vast universe on a scale unseen in video games has no doubt been achieved, and will certainly provide everyone who plays it with something unique.”
- GameSpot – “However, there’s an intriguing narrative that contextualizes your in-game actions, making for a fascinating experience that ultimately trumps issues that appear early on.”
- Game Informer – “In its finest moments, No Man’s Sky is a sublime exploration of the infinitude of space, the beauty and variation of nature, and a quiet contemplation on loneliness… However, No Man’s Sky rarely reaches beyond its vibrant world-building efforts to provide satisfying gameplay and story.”
As I started to read the reviews of No Man’s Sky, the first though that came to my mind was, “This game sounds incredibly similar to Out There.” I even tweeted about this the day the game was released:
And again after playing the game for an hour or two that first night:
I first played Out There after a dungeoneering-minded friend gifted me a copy on iOS in 2014. It was around the time I was also playing FTL so I was in a space frame of mind! He actually wrote the following, “I should apologize for that game I gave you. It is good and fun, but also frustrating!” Out There starts the player lost in space with the goal of reaching a far-off destination. The player immediately has to gather resources to survive while upgrading his or her ship and moving from planet to planet to get closer to the destination. It is a punishing game, where failure is commonplace; yet the game endeared itself to me and kept me coming back like the more recent roguelike title, Darkest Dungeon. For the record, I’ve yet to reach the final destination. I once got close after upgrading to an enormous ship – only to have something break and run out of oxygen.
The lack of recognition Out There garnered for No Man’s Sky mirroring it so closely was simply stunning to me. No Man’s Sky was fueled by hype and speculation around simple questions like, “What do you do in this game?” And yet you would be hard-pressed even two months after the game’s release to find many articles referencing Out There while discussing No Man’s Sky. I will save you the trouble of Googling yourself:
- PC Games Network – No Man’s Sky PC Review (Bravo to them for having it in their review!)
- Pop Matters – The Vast Indifference of ‘No Man’s Sky’
- Digital Trends – 8 Great Games Like No Man’s Sky
- Kill Screen – Disappointed in No Man’s Sky? Here Are 10 Cheap Alternates
An article by Euro Gamer that discussed similar games to No Man’s Sky even left Out There off their list! Why was this connection between the games not being addressed?
I first assumed this oversight was because a member of the development team from Out There was involved in No Man’s Sky in some capacity. Not being able to discover if their was a link between the development team of the two games, I started to research the development of Out There. I contacted the creator of Out There, Michael Peiffert. He continues to operate Mi-Clos Studio, which is based in France.
What follows is an interview that took place over the course of several weeks as Mr. Peiffert was busy traveling across the world to gaming conventions. He shared his candid thoughts on the numerous similarities No Man’s Sky shares with his game, Out There, and his frustration with the press for failing to cover the topic, “If indie developers start to rip themselves off and the press thinks it’s OK, then our industry is doomed.” Please take a moment to read the interview with Michael Peiffert and consider the possible ramifications and following questions.
- What does it mean if the creative team behind No Man’s Sky knowingly borrowed/plagiarized multiple gameplay elements from Out There – and profited heavily from it?
- Were traditional media outlets that preview and review games oblivious to the similarities to Out There – or did they choose to ignore them? Which of those alternatives is worse?
- How much responsibility do gaming journalists have for cutting through the hype of a game like No Man’s Sky to give players an accurate sense of what a game is – and is not?
- Games copy features all the time, though where is the line between inspiration and plagiarism?
- Why were the creators of No Man’s Sky in hiding until a recent patch update?
I contacted Sean Murray and Hello Games numerous time for comment while writing this article and conducting the interview with Mr. Peiffert. I contacted them both through Twitter and email on multiple occasions, and have yet to receive a reply. I remain willing to communicate with them for an interview to discuss these issues. I am genuinely curious about these questions. If no one else is going to inquire about how Out There influenced No Man’s Sky, then I will continue with my efforts. Until I get a response, here is the full interview with Mr. Peiffert.