While the likes of Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen present hard-edged, believable visions of a space-faring future, No Man’s Sky (opens in new tab) is steeped in the mysterious, evocative science fiction of the 1970s. It’s a game about journeying into the unexplored depths of a colourful cosmos, wondering what you’ll encounter on these strange far-flung planets. And if you like this kind of fiction, or just appreciate the unique look and feel of No Man’s Sky, you might enjoy the following as well.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Watching Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 sci-fi epic for the first time is an unforgettable experience. With its minimal dialogue, stirring music, long, slow shots, and ambiguous storyline, it’s more like a visual poem than a traditional film. It takes us from the primordial deserts of Africa to an advanced future where humans have mastered space travel in one stark match cut, and asks the biggest questions of all: who are we, where did we come from, and where are we going? The final act is a surreal collage of ideas, sounds, and imagery, and when Bowman finally travels beyond the infinite, you’ll never think about space the same way again.
After a seven year absence, reclusive electronic duo Boards of Canada (opens in new tab) returned with their most recent album, Tomorrow’s Harvest. It’s a remarkable collection of music with a dense, enigmatic atmosphere that evokes 1970s sci-fi cinema. Tracks like Transmisiones Ferox (opens in new tab), Uritual (opens in new tab), and Sundown (opens in new tab) make you feel like you’re miles from Earth, lost in the darkest reaches of space. The game’s musical soundscapes, partly created by the band 65daysofstatic, are superb, but Tomorrow’s Harvest is a great alternative soundtrack to accompany a journey through the stars.
Chris Foss (opens in new tab) is an influential British sci-fi artist, and the book Hardware (opens in new tab) is a collection of his work. Foss has contributed to movies including Alien, Superman, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune adaptation. But it’s his book covers in particular—for writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick—that inspired the visual identity of No Man’s Sky. His curiously-shaped, boldly-coloured starships and psychedelic alien vistas are instantly recognisable, and one of Hello Games’ goals for the game was to make you feel like you’d stepped inside one of his worlds. There are a few Chris Foss collections out there, but this is one of the best.
Hello Games founder Sean Murray has cited Dune in several interviews as a big influence on him, and as a result No Man’s Sky. It’s one of those books that completely transports you to its setting, telling the story of the coveted desert planet Arrakis and the politics and religion surrounding it. David Lynch also directed a film adaptation in 1984, which is one of the most bizarre (opens in new tab) movies ever released by a major studio. Huge sandworms similar to those found on Arrakis were seen in trailers for No Man’s Sky, although no one seems to have found them in the game yet. Dune also spawned several spin-off games, including Westwood’s fantastic Dune II (opens in new tab).
Another grandiose sci-fi epic, this time from director Christopher Nolan. The influence of 2001 is undeniable, but Nolan uses his film to tell a much more human, and less abstract, story. It follows a group of astronauts as they travel through a wormhole to try and locate a new home for the human race, and it’s full of striking, beautiful imagery. On an ice planet orbiting a black hole, the crew find themselves walking on immense frozen clouds, some of which are suspended above them. The first time you watch the film, wondering what awaits the crew as they land on these distant worlds is thrilling, and I get a similar feeling when I’m playing No Man’s Sky—even if I haven’t seen anything quite as dramatic yet.
Developed by Russian astronomer and programmer Vladimir Romanyuk, SpaceEngine uses real astronomical data to procedurally generate a three-dimensional recreation of our universe. It lets you fly around its galaxies and nebulae freely, and even land on planets, but it’s more of a simulation than a traditional game. Still, it’s hugely impressive, and whenever I play it I have a minor existential crisis. It makes you realise just how impossibly vast space is, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful. Put on some classical music or some Boards of Canada and go on a mind-expanding cosmic voyage. And best of all, it’s completely free (opens in new tab).
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Late astronomer Carl Sagan wrote and presented this influential 1980 documentary series, which saw him embarking on a voyage through the cosmos. His knack for evocative, poetic description, and atmospheric music (opens in new tab) by Blade Runner composer Vangelis, makes it a strangely serene watch. An updated series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson is also available, but despite an abundance of flashy CG, it’s not quite as powerful as the original. If you want an easy introduction to the sheer, unknowable majesty of space, this is a good place to start. Some of the information is outdated, but this is still one of the best attempts to popularise astronomy.
One Time For All Time
The soundscapes in No Man’s Sky are, for the most part, quite understated and ambient. But when the action picks up—if pirates attack you or you anger some Sentinels—you’ll hear something more in line with 65daysofstatic (opens in new tab)’s usual musical style. One Time For All Time is one of their best albums, full of soaring synths, twinkling post-rock guitars, and driving percussion. It’s an epic, massive-sounding record, particularly the brilliant Await Rescue (opens in new tab). Sean Murray, a long-time fan of the band, approached them to licence a single track for No Man’s Sky, and they were so inspired by the project that they ended up writing the music for it.
Ridley Scott’s confident adaptation of Andy Weir’s hit novel is one of the best films he’s made in years. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a sharp-witted, resourceful scientist who finds himself stranded on Mars. It’s a film about survival, with Watney using what little resources he has to survive until rescue comes. Survival is a big part of No Man’s Sky too, particularly on planets with extreme weather or radiation. Although if you want a more detailed, in-depth simulation of surviving on a harsh planet, try the manned missions in Bohemia’s fantastic Take On Mars (opens in new tab).
Rendezvous With Rama
This novel by Arthur C. Clarke is the first of a series, although the first one is widely regarded as the best. It tells the story of a group of astronauts travelling to a strange object flying through our solar system, who later discover that it’s actually a vast, seemingly lifeless space station. Clarke’s vivid descriptions of the station, named Rama, brilliantly convey how utterly alien this strange object is. As the crew explores the enormous structure, you share both their fascination and their fear of the unknown. A great sci-fi novel that I’d love to see adapted as a film one day.