A major issue that has surrounded a plethora of games that are developed for the PC first and ported to consoles later is the UI and controls. Now, No Man’s Sky has been on PS4 for these two years, too, so why does it still feel like no one on the development team has actually looked at the console UI and thought, “This doesn’t seem right…”?
These are simple quality of life improvements that would make the game feel a lot less like a PC port and more like a game with each system in mind.
Big tells of obvious PC porting are the cursor elements that are common for mouse and keyboard users. Making it so a console user with a controller cannot use the directional buttons to go through their inventory or drop down boxes and have to use the cursor just doesn’t feel at home. Many games opt for a mix of the two, where you can use the stick to drag the cursor and if that cursor is on a box, you can then choose to use the d-pad to select between the adjacent boxes. NMS, at least on Xbox, does not support and use of the d-pad in inventory screens, except for one thing that I’ll mention later. Another big tell is the actual UI moving around as you move the cursor. It’s a pretty effect, but it becomes much less pretty when whole columns of your inventory can be hidden off the side of the screen because your cursor is too far to the right - or the inventory text or names of your things become partially hidden at the top of the screen because the cursor is too low. I have some experience with certain UI code so I’m more than positive these things could be fixed just by changing some percentages so that the UI can still move without going off the screen.
The UI is also hindered by just being this cluttered mess of information text that covers 80% of your inventory sometimes so you have to drag the cursor out of the inventory area to be able to find the icon you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. Just moving the cursor along a single row or down a column of resources in your inventory will show you just how obnoxious the flickering info box can be. An easy fix for this would be to simply have that info display stick to the lower right side of the inventory. Of course, this mean moving the General, Cargo and Technology symbols, which would be worth doing regardless. The way these options are displayed is to create the immersive illusion that the Cargo, General and Tech options involve unique sections of the Backpack, Starship and freighter, which is nice, but more unnecessary than not. Example, ‘Technology’ stays clearly visible even when the drop down box is opened to display the stats of your Starship. So the word ‘Technology’, well as the icon for it if selected, will almost always be overlapping ‘Hyperdrive’ or ‘Damage Potential’. You’re Backpack, Multi-tool and Exocraft luckily won’t suffer from this issue since the Multi-Tool has no Tech option, the Backpack has no stat display, and the Exocraft has neither. Yet, the UI should still be unified throughout every menu, yes?
Looking at the UI currently, and we’ll use the Starship tab for this example, you have something like this: Inventory/Tech display in middle-left, the Starship name and Class and an edit option for the name at the top-right with a drop down arrow beneath the Class that displays Starship stats, and the image of the Starship with the General and Tech icons tossed over that image in middle-right. This very simple edit keeps the goal of a streamlined look intact… Move the drop down arrow to be underneath the edit option, but let the stats appear in the exact same spot. When the stat display drops down, keep the arrow in the same spot so the user doesn’t have to drag the cursor down to hit the arrow since it currently sticks to the bottom of the stat display. Now, for every item that has multiple tabs (General, Cargo, Tech), have those options display neatly under the Starship name with enough room between them and the drop arrow so there is room for the stat display. This keeps everything neatly tucked up at the top with no gaps while making it so ‘Technology’ doesn’t overlap the Stat display.
Also, to swap from General to Cargo to Technology, they allow the use of the Left and Right d-pad buttons… Well, since the bumpers swap between your Backpack, Multi-tool, etc., why not have the triggers swap between the inventories for those items? This then frees up your d-pad for navigating the inventory itself as I mentioned before.
Now for the controller layout… It’s almost expected by now that games just allow users to configure their own button schemes because not every developer has the best set up in mind. In this case, it’s with Exocraft. When flying your Starship, you can look around with the right stick, steer with the left, use the right trigger to thrust forward and the left to go in reverse. Standard. Simple. Easy and neat. But then you get in an Exocraft and think it’ll be exactly the same, which is totally normal and fair. You can look around with the right stick and go in reverse with the left trigger… But the right trigger doesn’t do anything while the left stick in used to make the vehicle move forward… But what is even more odd than just that is the Halo effect… Steering the vehicle by looking a certain direction. So, you move the left stick forward and you drive forward, but only in the direction you’re looking. Pulling back on the stick oddly also reverses it. Left trigger also reverses, so what gives? The left stick should be to steer while the triggers control going forward of back. The current set up makes it impossible to watch everything move passed you in a cinematic way, which for a lot of people, is the draw of the game. Limiting the ability to sight see in an exploration space game is like eating soup without a spoon because they only gave you chopsticks… That’s what I mean when I say devs don’t always have the best control scheme in mind… You’d easily be able to correct this yourself, but the screen that displays the controls (at the time of writing) has no edit option. When you fly the Starships one way for so long only to use another vehicle and it have a needlessly different control scheme is just jarring at first. It’s not something I can’t get used to, but it would make more sense if I didn’t have to just accept something that doesn’t make sense and live with it.
Finally, the building UI. This is simple, nested menus are a little annoying but not awful - I generally don’t mind. But it would be nice if holding the button to back out of the menu would back me all the way out rather than me having to tap the button for every layer in I am. Additionally, since 3rd person is new, I’m a little forgiving there, but let’s face it… Being told you’re inside an object that’s 5 feet away from you so you can’t place it is super obnoxious. Coming from a modded Fallout 4, I tend to get really close to things to make extremely slight and precise adjustments. Having to guess over 5 feet away is more different than it sounds. This is also a huge issue when certain bugs occur. For example, I jumped down a ladder rather than climbing down. The bottom floor I jumped to was situated on top of the metal cylinder foundation piece (forget the name). The cylinder in the middle is hollow and I guess the floor of the rounded rooms tend to forget they are solid, so I fell through the floor and go stuck inside that cylinder. Since you can’t delete an object if your ‘inside’ of it, there’s no hope. An hour of base building progress gone as the only solution is to reload. Simple game fix here would be to make the player character not take up so much invisible space while also allowing us to delete something regardless of proximity. If the base piece is being deleted, why does it matter where we are relative to it when we delete it? In Fallout 4, this was helpful because there were also several cases in that game where you could get stuck, but you could just delete the thing and replace it once out of the spot. The ability to do that same exact thing in NMS is both easily done and would be so so so useful, especially in those situations.
Those are my thoughts. I am enjoying the game now that NEXT has basically made it a 2.0 rather than 1.5-something. All the things I’ve mentioned here would be incredibly easy fixes and adjustments, truly. Given the things this tiny team has done to make this game so massive, I can’t imagine these changes would be anything more than scooping a litter box in terms of difficulty… so not hard at all. I appreciate anyone else’s thoughts and opinions, additions to this list even, though I can’t say I’ll be checking this all too often as I really just wanted to share these ideas where it can be seen easily with direct connection to NMS by it’s forums. Thanks!