No Man's Sky Dev Runs Into Copyright Trouble With World-Building Algorithm [UPDATE]
There's no word yet on if this will affect release.
Update: Sean Murray has spoken out on the situation, saying in a tweet, "No Man's Sky doesn't actually use this 'superformula' thing or infringe a patent. This is a non-story... everybody chill."
A subsequent tweet adds, "I wish Johan Gielis, the author, all the best in future. We're going to meet and chat maths once the game is out."
Original Story: No Man's Sky went gold recently and it's supposed to finally launch next month. But developer Hello Games might have one more obstacle to overcome before the game can actually go on sale: a Dutch company that owns the patent to the so-called "Superformula" that informed a lot of No Man's Sky's development has objected to its unapproved use in the game.
University of Antwerp professor Johan Gielis developed the formula back in the early 2000s, patenting it in the European Union in 2002 and the US in 2009. The formula is incredibly powerful: it provides a cheap (that is, it uses limited computer resources) way to create landscapes, which means that 3D modelers and, as it happens, game developers like Hello Games can use it to quickly and easily generate land.
Hello Games' Sean Murray doesn't hide from the fact that the Superformula helped No Man's Sky development. Last year, a feature from The New Yorker described how Murray utilizes Gielis's formula: "Murray, sitting before his monitor, typed the Superformula into the terrain of a test planet... 'This sounds ridiculous, but it is hard to find a formula that you can rely on," he said. The Superformula appeared to be reliable."
As reported by ArsTechnica, however, Gielis and his corporation Genicap are now objecting to its use without their input. Although patenting a formula itself is nearly impossible, Genicap has leverage because it has the patent to the applications of that formula. Its patent doesn't specify game design, but it covers "graphics programs (e.g., 2D, 3D, etc.); CAD software; finite element analysis programs; wave generation programs; or other software."
Genicap provided a statement to Eurogamer that explained that at some point, it will require Hello Games to negotiate with it about the Superformula's use. "It would be great to exchange knowhow with Hello Games," Genicap's Jeroen Sparrow stated. "We believe No Man's Sky is the beginning of a new generation of games. What Hello Games did with the formula is very impressive. Johan Gielis, the founder of Genicap and the one who discovered the superformula, is extremely proud.
"If Hello Games used our technology, at some stage we will have to get to the table. We have reached out to them but understand they have been busy. We trust that we will be able to discuss this in a normal way."
Even though this would likely be a hard claim to win for Genicap, especially in the US, even filing a claim at all would give Hello Games problems. Defending against patent suits can cost in the millions of dollars.
Hello Games has yet to comment on the matter. We've emailed the studio for a statement, and we'll keep an eye on the situation and report on any developments that come up.
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