UK indie studio Hello Games is building something that it's calling "more ambitious" than No Man's Sky. The studio's next game is Light No Fire, and it brings procedural generation to an entire planet on an incredibly detailed scale.
Light No Fire is an open-world exploration and community-building game set on a planet the size of Earth, blending RPG elements with sandbox survival. It's a multiplayer experience in an ancient and fantastical landscape, with climbable trees, hills and mountains, and secrets to discover at every turn. It's "the first real open world," according to Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray.
Light No Fire has been in development for five years, by about a dozen developers at Hello Games. In the title's first trailer, it looks like the team took an entire planet from No Man's Sky and filled it completely with life, resources and mysteries.
There's no release date for Light No Fire and no confirmed platforms, and the game was kept in complete secrecy until its reveal at The Game Awards on December 7. Given Hello Games' history with over-hyped marketing schemes, that's no surprise.
Hello Games is synonymous with No Man’s Sky, a sprawling and incredibly popular space-exploration sim that landed in 2016 and only got better with time. But before the indie studio scored a huge marketing deal with Sony for No Man’s Sky — before one of its founders was meeting with Steven Spielberg and appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert — Hello Games was known for the cartoony sidescroller Joe Danger.
UK developers Ryan Doyle, Grant Duncan, Sean Murray and David Ream founded Hello Games in 2009, after quitting their jobs at major studios like EA and Criterion. This was before the modern indie boom, at a time when XBLA was just getting started and Steam had only a handful of indie games.
"Actually breaking away and doing your own thing was a stupid thing to do at the time," Murray told me in 2016.
For nine months, the Hello Games quartet worked on Joe Danger, a 3D sidescroller starring a happy-go-lucky dirtbike daredevil, and they tried to lock down a publisher. No one was interested.
"Everyone turned us down," Murray said in 2016. "Sony turned us down, and Microsoft and so many places."
Out of money and resigned to giving up on their indie dreams, Doyle, Duncan, Murray and Ream went to the pub.
"We came up with this stupid idea," Murray said. "I had a house, and so I sold my house to pay for the rest of development. … The way I looked at it was like, I had bought that house because I had worked at EA, so it was like blood money. Like a blood diamond. You gotta sell that; that's bad karma."
And he really did. Built on loans and the money from Murray’s house sale, Joe Danger came out on June 9, 2010, and it was a hit. Hello Games followed it up with Joe Danger 2: The Movie in 2012. By then, the studio was an established indie hit-maker and it had relationships with major publishers. In December 2013, the team revealed something entirely unexpected: No Man’s Sky, a multiplayer game the size of the universe and filled with galaxies of procedurally generated planets to explore.
The next summer, No Man’s Sky had a tentpole moment at Sony’s E3 press conference, and the AAA marketing machine was activated. Sony leaned heavily on Hello Games to bolster its image as an indie curator, and over the next two years, the buzz around No Man’s Sky reached astronomical heights. Spielberg, Colbert, Kanye West and Elon Musk all got involved in their own ways, and No Man's Sky was a household name years before it launched.
By the time the game came out, it was impossible for it to live up to the hype. No Man’s Sky promised a universe of procedurally generated planets to explore, teeming with minerals and creatures and other players to encounter, but at launch on August 9, 2016, it was buggy and empty. The bones of a fantastic game were there, but some players felt so misled by Sony's intense marketing campaign that they filed a lawsuit against Hello Games.
The team kept working on No Man’s Sky, releasing bug fixes, updates and expansions, including a VR version. Over the years, the vision that players were initially sold clarified in-game, and the online rage died down until it was fully replaced by admiration. Since launch, No Man’s Sky has won multiple high-profile awards, including Best Ongoing Game at The Game Awards 2020. This year, it’s nominated at The Game Awards in the Best Community Support category.
"It's become so much simpler two years out from launch," Murray told me in 2019. "At launch, we were so focused on trying to please the partners that we were working with, trying to market our game, trying to live up to expectations that we were really struggling to meet."
No Man’s Sky in particular is Murray’s brainchild, and he was the face of the game as it rose and fell and rose again in public perception. He and the rest of the Hello Games team — which is bigger than four developers nowadays — have been keeping silent about their internal projects, and it’s easy to understand why.
"They are super talented and I didn't want to just move on and let that be their legacy," Murray said in 2019. "It's really nice for them to be able to say to people, 'I worked on No Man's Sky,' and people to be really happy and positive about it now. That is something that they deserved."
This history makes today’s reveal of Light No Fire even sweeter. Fourteen years after that fateful night in the pub, Hello Games is a testament to persistence.