Building a Universe in a Video Game

A tiny video game studio in England has reinvented the cosmos. The game No Man’s Sky, set to be released this summer, uses procedural generation to create an entire explorable universe. Complete with 18 quintillion planets and all the geography and biodiversity to go with them, No Man’s Sky pushes the limits of what a video game can be and what virtual simulation can achieve.

NMS 1
An image from No Man’s Sky (Courtesy of Playstation Europe)

In the beginning, there was code. Then, from a tiny video game studio in England, a new cosmos was born.

Hello Games, an independent studio based in Guildford, England, will release its second-ever product later this summer: an innovative, mass-scale open world exploration game called No Man’s Sky.

The game’s creators used a technique called procedural generation to “build” a virtual universe on a scale hitherto unimaginable. No Man’s Sky will contain 18 quintillion unique planets spread out across millions upon millions of solar systems, each one accessible for players to explore, conquer, and colonize – provided they have the spaceship and resources necessary. The planets feature all the tenets of a real universe: mountains, oceans, rivers… and on some, plants and animals.

The game is said to be so large that, despite being multiplayer, the chance of running across another player are infinitesimal. Head developer Sean Murray has said that less than 1% of the game’s universe will likely ever be explored. The way the game has been built, even the its creators do not fully know what features could lie deep within the its galaxies.

Since it was announced three years ago, video game fans have speculated endlessly on just how groundbreaking No Man’s Sky will be. Indeed, the game is so anxiously awaited, that when developer Sean Murray pushed the release date from June to August earlier this summer, he received death threats.

Already, other developers have announced plans to create similar games with procedural generation, such as Novaquark’s Dual Universe. Widespread adoption of procedural generation could mean a new era of massive playable scale in video games, as open world becomes open universe.

No Man’s Sky is scheduled to be released on PC and Playstation 4 in the United States on August 9.

Read More at The Atlantic

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