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The Technology Behind No Man’s Sky

Gamers: Have you heard of the new game called No Man’s Sky designed by 34-year-old Sean Murray and his small team of developers? It’s an incredible game that was released early August from a small company called Hello Games, an independent studio in England.

So what is it?

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Sony has been talking about this event for a few years now, highlighting it during E3 in June of 2014 and showing the trailer at E3 in 2015. To put it into a simple explanation, No Man’s Sky is a game for the Play Station 4 and PC and it focuses on exploration and survival as you are put on a planet. You’re free to get into your spaceship and travel to other planets, but there is a very small chance that you will ever run into another player. Why? Because the game has 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets – that’s over 18 quintillion planets!

It sounds like a fun time, right? But what’s even more interesting: the technology behind it all.

But…how? 

Typically, other video games take around 300-person teams to build content from the ground up. This game, on the other hand, was built and designed by no more than 12 developers who manipulate lines of code to make mathematical rules that determine different characteristics of the game, such as the density of atmospheres and the overall environment of each planet. No two planets are exactly the same thanks to the mathematical formulas coded into the game. In the gaming industry, No Man’s Sky is known as something called procedural generation; a procedure that uses randomness and equations to create the assets for the game. Other games, such as Minecraft and Star Wars Galaxies use procedural generation as well.

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With over 18 quintillion planets, you’d think there are thousands and thousands lines of code, right? Wrong. The terrain and other characteristics of the planets are made out of only 1,400 lines of code since the visual information is already described in the formulas. To put into perspective how big the game really is, if you were to discover one planet every second, it would take 584 billion years to discover all the planets. That’s insane!

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Sound and music is also a crucial part of any game on the market. On some planets, there are animals and wildlife whose sound effects are defined by the shape and size of their bodies. The music when traveling from planet to planet as well as the sound effects when you’re flying your spaceship around took some time. The creators basically applied their procedural generation tactic to the soundtracks. They worked with 65Daysofstatic to create most of the music in the game. The band gave their audio files to a piece of software and allowed it to assemble a soundscape for the game. Murray and the band also deconstructed the songs into beats and short sound bits the game could use in different places.

It is clear why gamers, developers, and companies are raving about this game. The whole universe of the game is packed into 6GB of data and 600,000 lines of code. Players are free to explore the universe for hours on end and never get bored of discovering new and exciting things on each planet!

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