For the past several years, the video game community has been salivating over No Man’s Sky, a space exploration game by Hello Games. Now at last, the game is being released on June 21. At an event in Los Angeles, we experienced about 30 minutes of gameplay—and discovered that some of the game’s planets are inhabited by intelligent life forms.

Much has been made of the game’s 18 quintillion planets (you read that right)— which basically makes this universe infinite. People have also talked about the fact that the game has no load times because it creates things on the fly, and all of these planets are generated by the game itself. That means even the people who made the game have no idea what each and every planet looks like, because they will only be created, named, and populated as players visit them. At the same time, there are so many planets, solar systems and galaxies in the game, 99.9% of them will never be visited.

But like they say in the Carl Sagan movie Contact, “The Universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” And the same goes for No Man’s Sky. At an event in Hollywood on Tuesday, Sean Murray, the Managing Director of Hello Games, revealed that some planets are inhabited by NPC (Non-Player-Character) aliens.

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“There are bunch of different alien races in the game,” Murray said. “They have their own lore. Some of them, perhaps, have a military slant or a scientific slant, and the more the learn of their language the more you’ll be able to communicate with them. The more you communicate with them, the higher your ranking with each race is. And the higher your ranking, the more options are available. So for trading, perhaps you get better prices for goods, new technology, that kind of thing.”

In our 30 minutes of gameplay—which was isolated to a single solar system of the trillions in the game—we visited two planets, and met two different races. (A coincidence that was almost assuredly created for a press demonstration.) One, the Korath, looked like the lead character from Dead Space. The other, the Gez, are short, two-legged walking birds, with huge beaks.

When you meet an alien, you’ll be allowed to communicate. Depending on how much exploration you’ve done of the alien’s surrounding world, you may know some of the language, or you may not. Those kind of things are revealed on mysterious monoliths and constructions on various planets, as seen above. You can try and decipher the language, or you can just guess what to say. If you guess right, maybe you get something awesome. Or you might just piss them off. You really don’t know.

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Finding these aliens won’t be particularly easy, because getting from one planet to another is actually a bit of a trial. In previous demonstrations of the game, the planets of each solar system were grouped fairly close together. But now, as the game is getting closer to release date, all the planets have been moved to more realistic distances. So, even using a hyper drive, it took us 45 seconds to jump from planet to planet. Bear in mind, that’s the next closest planet. And there are 18 quintillion across the universe.

Obviously, each planet looks totally different, because it’s rendered in real time by Hello’s unique set of randomizer tools. Because of that, anytime you arrive on a planet, it’s almost wholly overwhelming. In this new gameplay demo, one planet had subzero temperatures, so if you didn’t upgrade your suit or find shelter, you’d freeze to death. A way to find shelter was to craft grenades and blow up the side of a cliff. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll also find a cave which can be explored and mined for resources. Which adds yet another massive component to the game. The surfaces of these planets aren’t the only things that are explorable. Each is built as a sphere, so while you probably can’t bomb your way to the planet’s core, you can walk all the way around it and, on some planets, even look underneath the surface.

And everywhere you go, you’ll find resources, which are the key to the game. No Man’s Sky has its own periodic table, which includes elements you’ve heard of, as well as new ones. Sulfur, Carbon, Silicon and Plutonium are just a few examples we found (see above). These can be found on random crates in the ground, crystals, plants, you never quite know. A huge percentage of what you see on a screen can be discovered, logged, and potentially used in various ways. So when you find resources you can combine them to make technology, upgrades, items—it really depends. You’ll be spending a lot of time in your menu, messing around and trying to figure out how it all works. Options there include “Suit,” “Weapons,” “Ship,” and “Discovered,” each with a 5x5 grid of changeable options and sub-options.

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This incredible ability to explore and mine the planets can be dangerous too. Steal too much and the game’s enemies, the Sentinels, will come down and things turn into a space-opera version of Grand Theft Auto. You get a “wanted” level that goes up, the more you steal—or if you decided to try and break into something that’s locked—and they attack. First as little flying bots, but then larger robots, walkers and eventually huge ships. So if you watched previous footage of No Man’s Sky and thought it was nothing but a nice, calming experience, that’s not true at all.

And when you die—and you will die—you’ll first be greeted by a quote from one of the greats of science fiction (we saw Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick) and then respawn. If that happens in space, you’ll end up on a nearby space station, which is also filled with NPCs who you can trade with and buy things from.

While the planets we were exploring during this demo were a tad more action-packed, that’s not to say they all will be. That’s the point of No Man’s Sky. Much like our universe itself, anything could be out there and it’s just up to you, the gamer, to find it. But knowing that there are aliens in the world to interact with and help you through your journey is yet one more enticing element to an already insanely exciting and massive game.

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In addition to the GIFs above, all taken from new footage, here are some brand new still images from the game.


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.