Play
Please use a flash video capable browser to watch videos.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Feature Video

How Does No Man's Sky's Universe Actually Work?

Cameron Robinson visits Hello Games to uncover the algorithms that built an entire universe.

The scale of AAA games development is starting to reach obscene levels of craft. While our computers and consoles have become capable of rendering much larger environments, we've also become more demanding of the detail within those worlds. This is why there are hundreds of people working on the Assassins's Creed franchise. Because we demand that each door is painted uniquely and each civilian is wearing something different.

Content is expensive in games development so the team at Hello Games have had to come up with an entirely new way of creating it. And that method lies in a vast set of interconnected algorithms which are responsible for creating the universe of No Man's Sky. Today we present a special episode of Cameron Robinson's science show Reality Check, where he visits Hello Games to uncover the tools and math that built an entire universe.

Written By

Long time community member. Creator of video nonsense. Apologies in advance.dannyodwyer.tumblr.com@dannyodwyer

Want the latest news about No Man's Sky?

No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky

Discussion

471 comments
themc_7
themc_7

It actually isn't that hard to do, it just seems that where few games use it. Procedural generation can make millions and millions of unique planets without having someone manually create them. Vegetation, colors, bodies of water, atmospheric properties, animal inhabitant, world layout, etc. can all can have randomly generated values to create interesting and unique worlds. Spore had something similar to this I believe.

matthiasba
matthiasba

The procedural generation sounds like a very interesting idea. But the fact that changes are not recorded is a big design flaw. Players want an impact on the world they play in. This doesn't seem to be the case. They'll have to revisit that to make this successful.

Rooten
Rooten

Damn, the way they are making the game with all those math stuff looks complicated hehe!

thedude1144
thedude1144

the only question i have is if it is possible to change the world. He was talking about the tree on the mountain that would be there whenever you or anyone else went there, but what would happen if you cut down that tree? would it just be re-created wen you came back, or would it stay destroyed? Or can you even cut the tree down (I would assume so, but maybe they made things like that indestructible so as to solve this problem?)

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Words can't express how much I want this game. Really hope it comes to all major platforms so everyone gets to play this gem.

ooblah
ooblah

This game has much potential.  It takes me back to a few months ago when I was playing around with Google Earth.  The Google Earth app has a hidden flight simulator built into the code that allows you to literally (virtually) fly around the entire planet.  It took me a full 3 and half hours to fly from the Pyramids in Egypt to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  It's not the most exciting game/simulator I've ever played, but it was so cool being able to fly anywhere on the planet in real time.  Most of the map (and by map I mean Earth) is flat, but most major citites, famous landmarks, and mountain ranges are full 3D.  I thought to myself as I was flying around my hometown (Ann Arbor, Michigan - home of the Wolverines!) how cool it would be if the entire planet was fully 3D and I could land my fighter jet, and get out, and explore and interact with the people, places, and things of Earth.  Sadly you're restricted to the cockpit of your aircraft.  This game however ... they mentioned in one of these videos that there will be all types of planets to explore in the universe -- from tiny King Kai sized planets to actual Earth sized planets and possibly bigger.  Even if all I can do in this game is fly my spaceship, fight other ships, shoot lazers at robots, and catalog new planets and the stuff on those planets (and I'm sure there will be tons more to do that they haven't disclosed) -- the idea of exploring an actual Earth sized planet (let alone an entire Universe) excites me tremendously.  I can't help but think of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, when he's Space Man Spiff and he's exploring planets and encountering alien lifeforms.

raiders1901
raiders1901

It worries me that a game that is supposed to be so vast and unique only has about 15 gameplay clips that all seem to be pretty much the same.  I really hope this game achieves what Hello Games wants it to, but I will say that there currently is some doubt on my end. 

false6hepherd
false6hepherd

Loved this series, hope Gamespot keeps doing features like this in the future. That being said, there was not one minute of new gameplay footage in this entire series, and I'm sure that's more a result of Hello Games not wanting to overexpose their game or let out too much before release, but I'm thirsty. Slake our thirst!

swuhg
swuhg

When's the next video, it's been 4 days!? :(

vadagar1
vadagar1

just found out that Sony payed Hello games like a gajillion dollars for the game to be  PS4 "TIMED" exclusive 


so we will get it on PC after the PS4 release, after 1 month maybe or 3 max...


cant blame them though the game looks like it was made by god and makes the rest of the AAA titles look like CR#P, AND they do need the money

rsj2
rsj2

This game is going to change everything.

cpuchess
cpuchess

What would be cool is if I destroyed a tree on some planet that it stayed destroyed, but I think if I flew and came back the tree will be back again.

fmobliv06
fmobliv06

What if we're all just NPCs in some alien's version of No Man's Sky, man? Whoa...


But really, both The Next Big Game and No Man's Sky are super ambitious projects and seem to be turning out great so far. 

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

Wow these concepts are exactly Why I question whether their is a god the way most people imagine one.  I've always thought god to be a possible Scientist or even a computer programmer and we all just live in that simulated universe.  Like if you were able to create a True AI.. And you put that AI into a simulated world like this game.  You would in Essence have become god that AI would be like the first Adam/Eve learning about that world around it.  This is a HUGE idea with so many possibilities!  It could really push the way for forward for VR.  This game simply MUST support the Occulus.

ronan32
ronan32

Look like to me they are selling an idea and don't actually have a game.

ronan32
ronan32

if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, it makes no noise. theres a bone in your ear that creates the sound from the waves of the fallen tree. no ear, no sound.
 The sound is made by your own physical form and not the tree falling

Minders
Minders

One thing I'm curious about, that might be answered somewhere, is the impact you have on the universe. If I cut down a tree or mine some minerals, will it be cut down when I come back? Can I return to mine those minerals again?.


If I mine iron on a world will it store that I have mined it on my computer but if someone else goes there will it be there again? And if so, only for them? 


I also didn't hear anything about the world evolving. Assume that they do save some things. What if I kill all the predators on that planet (or at least most), will the herbivores increase in number? What if I kill all the prey for predators, will they run out of food?


None of this is gamebreaking, but I'm still curious.

gammerz26
gammerz26

Gamespot: get a decent video player, one with some controls or better still, post them on Youtube.

gluuurak
gluuurak

Something I have been trying to find out about this game is if they made all of the universe out of voxels - including characters. If so, how did they animate the creatures? I know there's ways to do it, but they're certainly not widespread in the industry and there've only been very small projects where someone managed to animate voxel characters.

It looks like they're using polygon models in Maya, so they might only convert them once they're inside the engine. Maybe they have found an efficient way to mix polygons and voxels, so the creatures are never actually turned into voxels? (I know someone made it possible for both kinds of models to interact with each other and render voxels and polygons alike, though on a much, much smaller scale, of course).  
From a technical viewpoint that's something I was hoping to get to know about in this video. Not to say that it's not interesting as is.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

I know next to nothing about games development or programming, but this sounds to my low-IQ like it's bordering on quantum physics. Like they've input the rules of life, gravity and matter and just let the game get on with it. I'm seriously struggling to comprehend it.

The one really cool thought I did have while watching this is whether or not we might be witness to the birth or death of stars and planets.

pongley
pongley

@matthiasba They are recorded. Sean Murray said in E3 previews that you can even set up traps for other players.

Rooten
Rooten

@gcodegamer It's not the same game so I don't think it will kill it.

uncompetative
uncompetative

@gcodegamer

Well, I've played the Destiny Alpha and was decidedly underwhelmed. It lacks mystery and stifles exploration and self-directed discovery and the challenges that come to define you. Activision's Advance Warfare will probably make them more money than Destiny.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@gcodegamer if this game delivers it will KILL every other game in the universe (well on earth)

t3ero2zero
t3ero2zero

@vadagar1 i think they payed them to show it at E3 at sonys conference ...but im not going to get too hyped about this game, i think most people will admirer the game as a work of art and computer programing... but as a game i can see people getting bored of just flying around a galaxy/universe??

uncompetative
uncompetative

@cpuchess

It might keep a record of stuff like that on just your HDD. You'd probably have to destroy a spacestation for the game's central server to persistently change its simulation of the local trading economy for every connected player.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@Gwarpup makes my face melt to think of AI civilizations inside cyber space and I mean ACTUAL AI not some random clockwork NPC


one day someone somewhere will make it happen

Zloth2
Zloth2

@ronan32  It's a year off still so that's no surprise.  You're right, though, this is way too early to be pre-ordering.  There are still huge unknowns.

sknight175216
sknight175216

@ronan32 In physics sound is the vibration created whereas in psychology sound is the perception of the sound created.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@ronan32 actually when the atoms in the tree move towards the center of gravity (the ground) the atoms around them (the air atoms) get pushed away and when the atoms of the tree collide with the atoms of the ground an amount of energy is released in many forms (also the air is pushed away creating some pressure difference) all the atoms in the event zone will gain energy and we can sense this as sound and vibrations :P (ground tumbles and air rushes on ur face...etc)


so yes "hearing" or "seeing" is IRRELEVANT the energy transference and transformation will happen regardless

vadagar1
vadagar1

@Minders I did answer this cause I watched youtubez about this game


if the event is BIG and important IT will save for all


but if its lame and small (like picking flowers) it wont save (only locally for you)

swuhg
swuhg

@Minders Only major things will be remembered, just like Minecraft. After a distance it will not render it, then when you come back it will remember major things, like changes in the terrain or minerals mined. But things like animals will respawn. 

uncompetative
uncompetative

@Minders

I think your assumptions are probably correct. That is how I would do it.

Temporarily save all changes the player has made to an ecosystem, but allow it to regain its balance over time, for trees to grow back their branches over time, etc. Eventually, you could run out of room on your HDD to store all that you had done so it would have to forget about all but your most significant changes and retain only those that had been recently observed, forcing you to keep backtracking to make it think that the burn marks you had left with your laser on a cliff spelling out your name were worth keeping around.


That is not to say another visitor would see that you had written your name there, but then there it does allow you to name the planet's you discover, although this would probably be limited unless there was a slot ready for player id and chosen name for every planet in the galaxy ready to be filled in on their central server.


I would have thought it would be impossible to kill all the sharks, just lower their incidence expressed as a probability of occurrence within a volume of water, so a mating pair could take advantage of the burgeoning population of prey and reproduce in greater numbers until it hit homeostasis again and the game recognised its convergence with the values it held for both at which point it could throw all that state away and go back to its clockwork model of the ecosystem.

uncompetative
uncompetative

@gluuurak

No idea, only speculation. I surmise that they have built their own engine that is similar to Voxel Farm, insofar as it supports destructable polygonal based meshes by turning them into weighty voxel fragments and let them roll and bounce around until they settle down, at which point they could even be merged back with the terrain mesh. This is all complete speculation though, but seeing their use of Maya makes me think that the creatures are conventially skeletally rigged with inverse kinematics and therefore poly or constructive solid geometry based meshes. I'd be interested to know if their Mental Ray materials editor was automated, with the procedurally deterministic chemical composition of rocks and skins being sufficient to define an appropriate shader on-the-fly, or whether this was being crafted by hand as a large library of parameterised textures.


http://procworld.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/voxel-physics.html


http://kotaku.com/how-a-seemingly-impossible-game-is-possible-1592820595


Personally, I'm still rather frustrated at the lack of definite details on its mooted multiplayer as I think this aspect is fuelling a lot of the hype and may well not be delivered in the form people assume. I'd almost prefer them to say that multiplayer will not be present at its release, but that they are looking for ways to incorporate it in a subsequent patch, as I feel they have enough of a single player space exploration and adventure game without need of trading, construction, or multiplayer dogfights and RTS elements - leaving that to games like Enemy Starfighter and Flagship that lack landing on the planets and walking around discovering exotic flora and fauna. In a way I feel that Sean Murray is avoiding saying no when asked any question about its potential feature set, almost as if he knows his game so well and his team's technical capabilities, that if some interviewer says "can you do X in it?" which isn't currently on his to do list, he does a quick mental check on its feasibility, nods in an ambiguously affirming / bashful way, grins and without making firm eye contact doesn't say "no", yet neither does he say "yes" as he knows he could run into technical difficulties doing it, or simply find that the feature is outside of the project's current scope as it excessively increases their burn rate, making it wiser to leave it as a feature to patch in after launch (or add through DLC), and leading to his avoidance of a straight answer on the basis of leaving these aspects of gameplay for the player to discover by themselves, rather than be told explicitly what the goal is, or the list of achievements to complete.


I'm not promoting my unfinished game through videos, trade shows and interviews as I want to work on it free from the pressures of expectation that comes from this early hype. As it is a self-funded hobby project there is no pressure of a deadline on me to rush it out and I can take as long as I like with it and, ultimately, reserve the option of being the only person who gets to play it as I'm not interested in money and would rather prefer to avoid harsh criticism, or demands for further expansions, or the administration of a community. I'd hate having to travel to something like QuakeCon, or the EVE Fanfest and meet people.

uncompetative
uncompetative

@PlatinumPaladin

I doubt it goes that deep. Last night I was thinking about how best to create a fictional, but internally consistent Theory of Everything, and toying around with Scale Relativity, Loop Quantum Cosmology and E8 Lie Algebra so that I could derive fundamental forces acting upon subatomic particles, etc. so that it would be possible for players to conduct research to reveal the laws that governed my universe and invent technology that adhered to its principles, but was not restricted by real science - e.g. you could build your own FTL drive.

pezzott1
pezzott1

@PlatinumPaladin birth / death of stars is an awesome idea!

martinjulhammer
martinjulhammer

@pongley @matthiasba Exactly. As I remember, he said it depended on significance. If you shoot an animal, it won't be recorded. If you find a new planet it will be recorded. Stuff like that. It depends on the scale on if it will be saved.

Rooten
Rooten

@uncompetative eh, I don't think so. Destiny has a lot of potential. I played the alpha and I'm playing the Beta, I love it so far and I think this game is going to be a masterpiece. I'm not saying this because, yeah I'm a CoD hater (maybe Advance Warfare is going to change my mind about the CoD serie since Modern Warefare), but anyway, I like the way they added the aspect of MMO+FPS with a kinda Borderlands/Halo style in the game. Anyways this is just my opinion but I think the game have a lot of potential and will be a masterpiece. And also, there is a way to explore the level/map you are in, you can rush to your story mission or just run around and explore and find some chests, loot, events, new hardcore monster to kill, etc.

ooblah
ooblah

@t3ero2zero @vadagar1 

Well if we're to go by what's been shown, sure that would probably get pretty boring.  But the fact is that we don't really know a whole lot about what you'll actually be doing in the game.  They mentioned a few things you might do, they mentioned that there is an "end goal", and that there is some form of antagonist -- but as far as all the different things you'll be doing, that's a mystery, probably even a bit of a mystery for the devs.  Hopefully, like their procedurally generated universe, the options and tools they give you will be endless and allow you to play the game as you want.

uncompetative
uncompetative

@vadagar1 @Gwarpup

Make it too real and it won't be accessible or fun. Want to race a car? Well have you earned the money in VR to pay for it? What about petrol and insurance? Ok, so you steal one that doesn't have an engine immobiliser, there must be a few classic racing cars you could hot-wire? Don't know how to hot-wire? Assume you do, or can figure it out through trial and error before the track days staff capture you and hold you until the police arrive, can you drive stick? If... you manage to steal it and race off in it what about the risk of permadeath, you can't just keep respawning into a shared reality with a bunch of other connected Rifters as your sudden appearances would need to be explained. Having crashed the racing car on your first attempt it would be permanently gone where you to go back to steal it again. There could be no checkpoints to revert your experience to as it would desynchronise you from everyone else's coherent spatiotemporal reality.


As it is I'm expected to kill AI NPCs in games, then feel bad about it because the character I'm role playing is feeling sorry with themselves, but when in VR do I want to be me, or my alter ego, or some defined adoptive role? If I were to get rewarded for staying 'in character' by being given a choice of 'better roles' at the end of this initial 'dramatic arc' would this feel like an intrusive metagame that made me feel like a stuntman, or actor, in a movie, rather than the hero they sought to portray?


I've been working on an adventure game for 22 years. So far I have just been engaged in extensive research and development of the tools that I need to be able to sufficiently boost my productivity (through such things as procedural generation and a forge community capable of creating episodic campaigns as well as techniques for using simulated dramatis personae and empathetic NPC player entanglements to funnel you from an ambivalent open world into some kind of compelling coauthored narrative which periodically asserts its underlying theme as well as being able to contrive a climactic synthetic conclusion), using a multiparadigm programming language that is almost the complete opposite of C++ that is commonly used within the industry to develop AAA games - as well as determining how to fuse multiple genres together without sacrificing much of their articulacy of expression despite having to work through a unified gamepad control scheme (I've analysed the essential fun dynamics of over twenty titles to arrive at a subset of each of their mechanics which intersect with my universal design, without forcing the player to break their immersion by expecting them to pause their experience to remap the control scheme to be more appropriate to their current in-game activities), all in service to a grand vision of an intergalactic MMORTSFPSRPG set in a multiverse of parallel universes. I haven't decided on a name for it yet and I don't have a development blog as I am not seeking to promote it until I have made further progress implementing the tools. I expect it to take me at least five years to be at a stage where I might put up a YouTube video of example gameplay. I don't own a VR headset, but there is no reason, in principle, why one couldn't be supported at some point in the future. I expect it to be such a large project, that (like Minecraft), others continue working on it after I have retired, or died. Inevitable upgrades to its Physics, AI and Graphics will be made easier for any modders when I come to Open Source its toolset, once the language has substantially matured through my own use of it, I intend to make that available also, so it can be thought of as a VR construction kit.


I've no idea whether any of this is what you are after, but I thought as a result of your comment that I would speak up and reassure you that someone is trying to make this happen.

jackoo88
jackoo88

@vadagar1 @Gwarpup I'm writing a book about it at the moment, it's essentially set in 15-20 year future and is about a game like No Man's Sky (or its future version) that has been explored and charted and split by humans and where there's also tons of AI ''bots'' to help or even rule over some parts of this universe... Since many people are permanently living in that world in VR and earning money (crypto-currencies) and the game is distributed across all the players and many countries, it's too big to shut it down. It all starts with disappearance of some of the top leaders of one of factions of the game and a simple guy starts investigating what's happening and discovers that all these guys have been killed in real life. He teams up with 40 sth police detective and they both start investigating this in VR, as it seems like what are totally random killings in real world, are kills ordered from VR.... What they discover is actually that some algorithms have produced much more intelligent ''bots'' which are still unaware that they are living in a simulation, but more aggressive and smart and waging an interstellar war now. Also VR has advanced to a point when people are taking some substances to make time spent in VR seem longer than reality and the substances sort of distort the ability to differentiate between VR and real world, so there's also this sub text of dependency on VR and simulation over the real world,


I hope I can write it all down in glorious detail.

gluuurak
gluuurak

@uncompetative @gluuurak 
This sounds very plausible. I wish they would reveal a bit more about their engine and what it's capable of. That's actually the only part where their vagueness bugs me. I can see them not wanting to bore players with something most of them won't even be interested in, but as a game artist you want to know about this stuff.

I think you're right about them being skinned and animated as polygonal meshes (the models you can see in this video and some photos I've seen highly suggest that). I had not even thought about how they handle shaders so far, really. They say that the engine creates the textures... Well, thats pretty vague again. And I have to admit that I'm not super familiar with the shading stuff you describe here. I could see them start off with some handcrafted textures like you suggest, but that sounds unlikely, as they stated that everything that was in their VGX trailer was made by a single 3D artist. If I remember correctly, they also said that the standard procedure for him was to only model something and then put it in the engine and let it do all the work; including textures.

Ha, that second article is what spawned my interest in the game and voxels in general. Until then, i hadn't really known too much about either of them.

Hm, I can see where your frustration comes from, but I honestly never considered it to even partly want to be a multiplayer game. I always thought his statements were rather clear in that they're *not* making an MMO. If it happens to contain MMO elements, they will almost never get to show, anyway. And I am fine with that. Part of the reason might be my horrible internet connection, but, personally, I don't play multiplayer games. So far, I don't think it sounds like they're going to include a lot of what you seek. I can only speak for myself: I didn't think that was creating most of the hype, as Sean has often stated how very unlikely it is for you to ever meet another player. This is a pretty clear "no", isn't it? Maybe I haven't seen the same interviews as you... Like I said: As someone who wasn't looking for multiplayer hints or backdoors of any kind, that's how I took it and I never had a problem with it being a single player due to the universe's vastness.

I guess vagueness isn't always a good thing... You could say they're doing it right in many ways and I like not knowing everything about the gameplay. I can see you wanting more clarity, though. Until now the team has made a genuine impression on me. It doesn't look like they're only in it for money.

Unlike you, I want people to play my game and if I can even earn a living with it, what could be better? If someone's really behind something, I want them to get what they deserve. I feel like this is the case with Hello Games, too; that they're a small group of people who enjoy what they're doing. At the same time, I have plans for at least one game that I want to work on by myself in the future that I'm very interested in and won't be able to sell and I still want to put it out there and see what others think.

youngnamikaze
youngnamikaze

@uncompetative @vadagar1 @Gwarpup Reading your comment made me feel good inside. And not just about your (admittedly ambitious) game, either. I was unaware that people commenting on the internet were literate.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@jackoo88 @vadagar1 @Gwarpup :D omg can u imagine the religious nuts reaction when this finally happen, for real...


I have prepared finely selected pop corn for that glorious day :D

uncompetative
uncompetative

@gluuurak @uncompetative

I'd be quite happy for them to say "Do you get to meet other people?" and Sean Murray to reply "Space is enormous and everyone is flung apart at the start, so no." and then get the follow up, "But they travel in towards the centre of the galaxy, so there is a chance they will meet, or one will discover a planet and wait for their friend to meet them at its North Pole?" and for him to say "We have no plans for the game to include that kind of capability at launch, we are still in the process of working on ensuring it is a strong single-player space adventure with AI providing your main threat, although we do not rule out supporting some form of multiplayer in a later patch. It doesn't need all that."


My frustration with his indefinite remarks on this subject is that I am very curious to hear how they would tackle the huge technical problem of a massively multiplayer first person space adventure without the resources of Elite: Dangerous, or Star Citizen. Maybe they have thought of some clever way to give a sense of multiplayer without really providing it, maybe through only allowing one player to invade another's discovered world like in Journey, Dark Souls, or Watch_Dogs. I somehow doubt it will support all players turning up at one location and shooting at each other in a massive space battle, which is something even EVE: Online struggles to provide.


Anyway, this must be my 60th post in this thread, so I think I should shut up now and get back to work!

therealzorvan
therealzorvan

@vadagar1 @jackoo88 @Gwarpup I've always waited for the day aliens would finally reveal themselves to us, then show us how our ancestors were created from simian DNA fragments.

Just o watch the religious people all either have to realize how stupid they've been and finally join reality, or off themselves out of despair. Either result would be a boon to society as a whole.