Sean Murray was "always a bit skeptical" about bringing No Man's Sky to Switch

No Man's Sky Switch screenshot
(Image credit: Hello Games)

What would you do if you were President of the United States of America for just one day? Hello Games' managing director would want to ask one question, and it's extremely on brand: "What's the story with the aliens?" Sean Murray told me this after revealing that he had some trepidation about bringing the ever-ambitious No Man's Sky to Switch, and after I wondered whether he had considered holding out for the long-rumored Nintendo Switch Pro – given the difficulties inherent to bringing the space sim to such a small system. Just as Murray has questions about Area 51 for his stint as President, he had similarly large, unanswerable questions for Nintendo when the collaboration began: "But, like, really, what's going on?" 

No Man's Sky just celebrated its sixth anniversary. Quite the achievement for a game that many declared to be DOA. But after scores of key quality-of-life improvements, numerous content updates, and ports to no fewer than four platforms since its debut on PS4 and PC in 2016, No Man's Sky is in better health now than it's ever been. GamesRadar+ spoke with Murray to discuss the challenge in bringing the procedurally-generated No Man's Sky to Switch, and why the need to continue pushing boundaries is embedded in Hello Games' DNA as the studio looks towards its next major project. 

Sean Murray interview

No Man's Sky Switch

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"When we started bringing No Man's Sky to Switch I assumed it wouldn't be possible"

GamesRadar+: No Man's Sky continues to push boundaries, six years after its release, and plays fantastically on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X. What was it about the Nintendo Switch that attracted Hello Games' attention? 

Sean Murray: From a development point of view, I have a real appreciation for the Switch. It's more impressive than a lot of people realize as a device, and you're seeing that reflected in the types of titles that are coming out. And I certainly have a deeper appreciation for Switch than I did a few years ago, before this project started – it's been a real learning curve. 

But to tell you the truth, when we started bringing No Man's Sky to Switch I assumed it wouldn't be possible. Some members of the team wanted to try it, and were excited to try, but I was always a bit skeptical. I also wasn't sure whether No Man's Sky would be well suited to mobile, pick-up-and-play gaming. I play a lot of long-form games on Switch – The Witcher 3, Diablo 3, games like that – but I don't know if other people do. So I was always like, well, let's just see how this goes. 

Something that was really eye opening for me was the Steam Deck release. I was skeptical of that too, as I didn't know whether No Man's Sky would suit it. And we've been really surprised to see that it's been one of the top titles on the platform for the last six months, which is above where we would be on Steam generally. It seems like people like No Man's Sky on there, and that it's quite well-suited to mobile, handheld devices. It's been nice to see that reaction. 

GR+: No Man's Sky had to be optimized for its release on Steam Deck, but has additional work gone into the Switch port? 

Murray: We've done a lot to make No Man's Sky more suited to Switch. Actually, a lot of our 4.0 Update is tailored towards new players, and to playing on the move. I would love to say: 'I've known all along that it would be this perfect fit, and that it would be possible.' That I came into the studio and said, 'Guys, this is what we're doing; it might seem crazy, but I've got this!' But that's not how it went [laughter]. It was the other way around! But like I said, I think the Switch is more powerful than people realize; there are clever things that you can do with it. 

No Man's Sky Switch screenshot

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"I assumed that No Man's Sky on Switch wouldn't be in the same universe."

GR+: It's my understanding – and apologies for not having this 100% in my head – that No Man's Sky is a regular release, rather than a Cloud Version? 

Murray: When we announced that No Man's Sky was coming to Switch, everyone was like: 'Either that footage isn't real, or it's cloud-based.' And, no, it's a full release, and all the footage we've shown so far has been from a Switch. And, no, you don't need to apologize, because I think loads of people have had that assumption. And I understand where it comes from, and we're looking forward to surprising people. And it's okay for you to think that, because I assumed that No Man's Sky on Switch wouldn't be in the same universe. 

GR+: Was that something that you considered, making a smaller version of No Man's Sky for Switch? 

Murray: Because No Man's Sky is procedurally-generated, we could have made a cut down version of the No Man's Sky universe. One that didn't contain as many biomes, or the same, I don't know, trees in the same place as on PlayStation. You know, I thought we would have to do that. We haven't, but I was the voice all throughout development saying, 'Okay, so we've hit this hurdle… we could just slim this down.' I would love to tell you that I was fighting the good fight, but I wasn't. I was like, 'We can give up at any time!' But the team managed to pull it off – and it contains pretty much everything from the last six years, which is crazy as well. 

No Man's Sky Switch screenshot

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"When people talk about Switch Pro, I worry about what splitting the player base would do"

GR+: Over the years, we've heard numerous rumors about a more powerful Nintendo Switch Pro. Given your trepidation towards the platform at the outset of development, and the difficulties inherent in making No Man's Sky work on Switch, did you ever consider just holding off? Waiting to see whether Nintendo had something new in the works before committing to production?

Murray: You know, around the time we started working with Nintendo… Have you ever thought about what it would be like if you became the President for a day?

GR+: Sure, it would be a disaster. 

Murray: [Laughs] Well, if I became President of the USA, the first thing I'd ask is: 'So, what's the story with the aliens? When can I go see at Area 51?' And working with Nintendo was a little bit like that for me. They think I'm coming over to ask about the technicals of the Switch or whatever, and instead I'm like [voice drops to a whisper] 'I heard that rumor about a Switch Pro… So, what's going on? No but, like, really, what's going on? Can you show me a real one?' 

Even just as a player, I'm curious! It's not for me to say what Nintendo should or shouldn't do, because Nintendo does its own thing, but I think it was the right choice to not divide the consumer base. If you look at the games that are still coming out on Switch – what a lineup! I think it would be sad, in a way, if that was split, with some games that were only coming to a Switch Pro. And that's what people dream of to some extent. They want this powerful, mobile thing. That's why the Steam Deck is super exciting, right? It's lovely to carry about something that powerful, and I play a ton of games on it.

But it's quite big. And it can be a little bit noisy. And, you know, the battery life. Say what you will about it, but the Switch has real merits. As a player of games, I love it. It's an exciting platform, and it continues to amaze me. So when people talk about Switch Pro – or some sort of upgraded Switch – I worry about what splitting the player base would do, and about buying a game only for it to not… I guess I just love the Switch as it is, you know? 

No Man's Sky Switch screenshot

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"There's a real tension between the survival and the sandbox elements of the game, but we didn't want to break what people love about the normal game mode"

GR+: What were your priorities with the No Man's Sky 4.0 update? 

Murray: We've introduced a new platform with each of the '.0' updates. First it was Xbox, then VR, and now Switch. But we've also taken a moment to address some of the fundamentals. We really dug into what it's like for new players that are coming to No Man's Sky, and for players that are coming back who may have lapsed – and I think we've added a lot to the game to address that. We also looked at what we can do on the design side for the really core player who has played for 1000 hours. There are elements that we were so scared of breaking, but on these '.0' updates I think that people like that we go and try to revisit some of the fundamentals. 

So it's not a huge content update – we've done loads of those! It's really a design update, but I think that's what people want at this point. We're focusing on adding content that our really long-term players will appreciate, but also looking at what a new Switch player or a player who is interested in returning to the game wants – we don't want them to feel overwhelmed by 21 different updates fighting for their attention. 

GR+: Over the years, the starting experience has improved leaps and bounds in No Man's Sky…

Murray: Yeah, I agree.

GR+: …but, anecdotally, it seems that there are still a lot of returning players who are afraid to commit to getting through the opening hours.  

Murray: It was good to do this new sort of game mode – Relaxed Mode. That's really for people like that, you know. Because there's a real tension between the survival and the sandbox elements of the game, but we didn't want to break what people love about the normal game mode. We've got such a big sandbox now, and we sort of just wanted to let people enjoy it, rather than being ready to die all the time. 

No Man's Sky Switch screenshot

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"I look back on when we were developing No Man's Sky, and it's just a blur"

GR+: You're still releasing a lot of content for No Man's Sky, PSVR 2 release is set for next year, and Hello Games is working on a new project. How does the studio prioritize its projects and focus its attention?

Murray: Honestly, if I try to compare where Hello Games is today versus where we were mid-development of No Man's Sky… we were a lot more chill back then, right? [Laughs] No, you know, that was a very stressful time. I'm sleeping a lot better at night now. And for those of us who are still working on No Man's Sky, we are really enjoying it. You know, it's just nice to have tons of people playing the game and being in a position where we can do updates for them. It's lovely. It really is. This is just the nicest part of development. 

I look back on when we were developing No Man's Sky, and it's just a blur. How did we do it? The average team size was like six, and I still don't really understand what happened – how the game got done, or how we managed to do any of it. And there were just so many things going on, and I just think… actually, this period right now at Hello Games, I think in a few years I'll look back and be similarly amazed. Or I'll feel like, 'Christ, what were we up to – it was madness!' 

We're launching on Switch and on PSVR 2, and we're really actively developing the game across so many platforms, and the team is still really small – like, laughably small. And then, on top of all of that, there's a bunch that people don't know about. I know where we're going with the next few No Man's Sky updates, which is exciting. But there's also a bunch of other stuff that we haven't announced yet, and that's really exciting too. And I'm loving… I'm loving this part of development on that project as well. Developing without the public eye on me? It's really nice [laughs]. 

No Man's Sky Switch

(Image credit: Hello Games)

GR+: Do you see Hello Games as a two-game studio, or do you think that support for No Man's Sky will naturally fade as development ramps up on other projects? 

Murray: I'm gonna say something that's going to sound really pretentious – really business-y… 

GR+: You are fully within your rights to be as business-y as you want to be. 

Murray: It would be a very 'C-E-O' type of thing for me to say 'we're people first', right? But what I mean by that is that if the people here working on No Man's Sky weren't interested in working on No Man's Sky anymore, I would have no interest or ability to drag them through that. If they couldn't think of new ideas or didn't work on some of the content, I couldn't turn around to them and say: 'Okay, but we've got to put out seven helmets and six capes in the next month.' Like, it's great that some studios are able to do that, but we're just not well set up for that. And honestly, I don't even know who would organize that here [laughs]. But I do know that it wouldn't be me, and I don't want us to do it! 

We aren't set up in that way, We're set up in a different way, where I come into work and people go: 'Ah, I've started doing a Switch version of No Man's Sky!' [laughs]. And I'm like, 'Oh, okay! Do we have any idea if it's even possible?' And someone else will be like, 'I'm doing the PSVR 2 version!' and I'm like, 'okay, cool, but have we thought it through?' But that's how we're set up here, and it works for Hello Games. It's different, but it works for us. 

No Man's Sky

(Image credit: Hello Games)

"I know where we're going with the next Man's Sky updates, which is exciting. But there's also a bunch of other stuff that we haven't announced yet, and that's really exciting too"

GR+: What's the benefit of working more ad-hoc? 

Murray: This is how we end up with things like The Last Campfire, and how we end up with the next thing that we're working on. It's good to give people a bit of freedom. You know, if I go to a 'heads of game studios' party, I always feel really embarrassed. They all have, you know, proper plans. They're like, 'We want to get this many people, or we want to be a two-game studio!' And I just don't fucking know. Like, I don't know. And I probably should know. 

But we don't think in that way. But that's fine. What we're doing is working. Their way works, and our way works too. I do feel a little bit, I don't know, maybe naive that we don't have that sort of planning… or like I'm not a proper real head of studio. But there's a lot going on that I'm excited for. 

GR+: If we were having this conversation six years ago, after the initial release of No Man's Sky, maybe you'd be advocating for a more focused way of Hello Games tackling projects… 

Murray: You know, after No Man's Sky, it was a really tough period. I don't love talking about it, but it was a tough period. The team of people that worked on it had worked so hard, and I was so proud of the work that they had done. But if they had said to me, 'We don't want to work on it anymore!', there's no way I would have wanted to try and make them. I had no interest in that, and It would have been so unfair. So I think it's actually come from that – that mentality of people wanting to get stuck into certain problems and solve them, about being excited to do the work and find their love of why they're doing it. 

Because that wasn't necessarily coming from the traditional places. So instead it focuses you, on what is it I want to do, and what is it I care about? So we've come from that place. And it's worked, and we haven't questioned it all too much. And you know what, maybe we should. You bring up some very good questions, Josh. And I'm about to go out there and, you know, crack some heads together [laughs]. 

No Man's Sky is set to take flight on Nintendo Switch on October 7, 2022. While you wait, check out some of the best survival games you can play right now, or the other upcoming Switch games you should have on your radar. 

Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.