I’ve been curiously following the development of an incredibly ambitious video game called “No Man’s Sky” since its first appearance in December of 2013. Sony officially announced the game as a Playstation 4 console exclusive at E3 2014. No Man’s Sky has been described as a space exploration game with elements of crafting, space combat and ground combat. The main point of the game, though is to explore the universe and travel to its center. Players start with a spaceship on a planet at the edge of the game’s known universe and they have to slowly upgrade their ship and equipment to make it from star system to star system. They will run into danger along the way, as each planet is procedurally generated, and may have a toxic or radioactive atmosphere as well as dangerous terrain and wildlife. Players can also run into alien factions in space that may want to fight you in space combat.
The thing that really stood out to me about this game was the fact that it is ENORMOUS. The game houses around 18 quintillion (yes, QUINTILLION) unique planets and, yes, each one is unique and explorable by players. The developers estimate that players won’t even visit 99.9% of the planets in the game over the course of its life. How did they achieve such an amazing feat? The entire game’s universe is procedurally generated. They initially populated the universe using a complex math equation that uses a “seed” number to set the locations of all the planets. Then, as players discover planets, they are populated randomly using another seed number. The planet’s terrain, atmosphere, flora and fauna are all generated on the spot. Also, once the planet is discovered, other players who may happen upon the planet will see the exact same planet the person who discovered it did. The game will also tell planet visitors who discovered it. The game’s developers initially uploaded basic pieces of art and 3D models that the procedural generation algorithms can alter to create unique wildlife, plants and planets. This is a vast oversimplification over what went into this system, but that’s as best as I can explain it.
While the game isn’t exactly my favorite genre (exploration/survival), I was—and still am—completely amazed at the level of work that had to be put into it. I’ll be very interested to see what people think after its release on August 9th.