“Premortem” Postmortem

Photo credit: Hello Games

I am going to be candid here, in large part because it appears Hello Games has not, and explain why my first crack at the revived Premortem series was not, to my estimation, all that it was cracked up to be. This “postmortem” was meant, essentially until the moment this sentence was written, to be a one-off—to be promised as one, actually. But then I realized the rather obvious utility of a post-Premortem post, which is that it relieves the intended review of the game at hand—here No Man’s Sky—from any pressure of functioning as a barometer for the Premortem rather than for the game itself. But I’m not going to make promises I know I can’t keep by telling you for certain there will be another of these, or claim a No Man’s Sky review isn’t a distant object on my horizon right now.

It is, and for the same reason I’m writing this follow up: the game, it seems, is a disappointment at best and an egregious oversell otherwise. Or, you know, a lie; the gory specifics and consequences of which now more densely populate the internet than does anything, apparently, No Man’s Sky itself.

As I expect will be the case for all future postmortems, should they conspire to exist, the subject in its “final”, naked form has—in a strange, but in hindsight unsurprising, role reversal—shone quite a revealing light on the Premortem and its approach. What’s most glaring about the piece now is its tenuousness; measured, at least, against the stance which I believe the series should (and did in its first run) take: solid.

For in a sense, Premortem is just as much a vivisection of the manner in which a game is pitched as of the lifeform it threatens to become. Therefore any qualm present in me about being wrong in diagnosis should not effect the perfervidity with which I toll the bell. Premortem is an argument, based on all reasonable evidence, that the shark will have no teeth (though it well might, in cases like No Man’s Sky, have tentacles). If all signs point to failure but the destination, once reached, is ebullient and pristine, the Premortem is exempt, really: it could only take what it was given.

But happy surprises of this extremity are oh so rare, and with the exception of the (truly) black and white lies repeated by Hello Games and creator Sean Murray, which only the game’s release could ratify as such, there was no reason to believe No Man’s Sky was among this fringe. The lies—some of visual misrepresentation, some of simple omission (what I overgenerously called “speaking with silence” in the Premortem)—these are unfortunately, until they can be tested, a matter of trust, as the developer (and publisher) alone understand to which extent they are true. The question is, how much do you trust your trust?

In several ways, I failed to adequately read between No Man’s Sky’s lines and not remiss myself to abject cluelessness where its grey areas were concerned. When it’s clear that a game’s ambitions are aimed at its experience as a sum (18 quintillion planets), as it became clear over time with this game, one has to question what seem like errant misuses (or abuses) of mystique. It’s one thing to refrain from showing unfinished work and another to refrain saying what that work is when the resultant mystery serves no discernible purpose but to imply the wait will be worth some unnamed reward.

Points such as these should have punctured the Premortem, not in the form of questions, as they did, but as criticisms. Instead, disoriented by the game’s sheer opacity, and pilloried by uncertainty as a direct symptom, I gave Hello Games a cautious and unapt benefit of the doubt and zeroed in on what is obviously something of least consequence now, post-release: the center of the universe.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Not that there should be a centre—I maintain that there shouldn’t, though for what purpose I’m no longer positive. The centre cannot hold because virtually nothing is there to hold it. So welcome, all, to a postmortem orchestrated not only on a Premortem and its centre, No Man’s Sky, but on an epic lack of humility. For two years, two months, and three days (numbers take precedent, after all) we were promised the moon—we were promised countless moons, actually (functionally speaking)—by a soft-spoken fireplace personality with a big idea. No caveats required, no regrets. But who trusts a promise like that? Who, more importantly, makes it.



  1. It’s strange. I’ve never played NMS, my only exposure to it being through PlayStation SharePlay & the coverage of the mainstream games media, yet I feel like I’ve already witnessed the entirety of its lifecycle. The games lack of, well, anything of substance was bad, the disingenuous approach to its marketing perhaps even worse, and through it all I feel I have experienced the entire thing vicariously, yet with the same diminutive shades of hope and joy that everyone else who actually purchased it has. I was looking forward to your views on the game in turn, but similarly, no fibre of me wants any part of this colourful carapace of a game, at least not in its present state. It’s a shame we’ve arrived at where we are, anyway. I feel your frustration.

    1. I’ve had that exact feeling myself, Ash, and you captured it absolutely perfectly.

      I said “I’m not going to make promises I know I can’t keep” (the jab at NMS hopefully apparent there) regarding any future premortem-postmortems, but I will tell you this much about a No Man’s Sky review: it will happen. Not only because I feel that it would come across as somewhat tacky and opportunistic to commit this much doom and gloom to a game and then not test said forecast’s accuracy, but because some coffins simply need their final nail (or in less morose terms, punctuation) to really be a closed matter. I no longer have any desire to play the game for precisely the feeling and reasons you’ve outlined, not to mention its ludicrous price-point, but in a strange way I now feel I owe the game that, eventually.

      At any rate, NMS’s one remaining virtue, post-release, may be that it’s become impossible to be disappointed with, as that moment has long, long passed. Expectations are—my congratulations to Murray + the Machine—no longer part of the algorithm.