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Designing the procedurally generated universe of No Man's Sky

"We have people that will fly down from a space station onto a planet and when they fly back up, the station isn't there anymore; the planet has rotated. People have filed that as a bug"
"We have people that will fly down from a space station onto a planet and when they fly back up, the station isn't there anymore; the planet has rotated. People have filed that as a bug."

- Hello Games managing director and No Man's Sky chief architect Sean Murray speaking to The Atlantic.

What's the main difference between procedurally generated space explorer, No Man's Sky, and its nearest rivals?

According to the game's chief architect, Sean Murray, speaking to The Atlantic, the biggest difference is that No Man's Sky's incomprehensibly large universe is, above all else, authentic. 

Murray and the rest of the Hello Games team have spent years playing God; shaping a vast digital starscape in their own image -- learning to strike a careful balance between order and chaos, so that, when the time comes, they can let players explore its depths. 

“The physics of every other game—it’s faked,” explained Murray, speaking to The Atlantic. "When you’re on a planet, you’re surrounded by a skybox—a cube that someone has painted stars or clouds onto. If there is a day to night cycle, it happens because they are slowly transitioning between a series of different boxes.”

"Our day to night cycle is happening because the planet is rotating on its axis as it spins around the sun. There is real physics to that. We have people that will fly down from a space station onto a planet and when they fly back up, the station isn't there anymore; the planet has rotated. People have filed that as a bug."

The universe of No Man's Sky might be procedurally generated, but its rules are set in stone. So, it doesn't matter whether a planet, creature, or star is directly in front of a player or light-years away; they still exist, buried somewhere in the game's countless lines of code. 

"Creatures on a distant planet that nobody has ever visited are drinking from a watering hole or falling asleep because they’re following a formula that determines where they go and what they do; we just don’t run the formula for a place until we get there," Murray continues. 

"Whatever is around you, it actually doesn't matter whether it exists or not, because even the things you don’t see are still going about their business."

Head on over to The Atlantic for the complete interview.

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