Video games are known for taking their players into their own specific universe, with their own timeline and version of the world – or an alien world for that matter (see the classic Unreal games for one of the best examples). Games can take us into the past, the future, or to a completely different universe, and allow us to be somebody else for a while. Most games take us into their own finite, linear, limited universe, which is only as living and real as is necessary for the story of the game. But what if the story involved a virtually infinite universe, with countless planets with their own ecosystems and inhabitants? That’s what No Man’s Sky is about.
No Man’s Sky offers its players a complete, virtually infinite universe to explore. Virtually, because it has a finite number of planets – a bit over 18 quintillion, or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616, to be exact. If a player would spend one second on each one, it would take 584,554,530,800 years to see them all. (That’s way beyond the lifetime of our sun, by the way.) Each of these planets has its own ecosystem, with plants and wildlife, living its own life inside Hello Games’ computers.
Creating a universe infinitely smaller than this would be quite a challenge for any team of creative professionals – especially considering that they would have to eat, sleep and play (free online slots or whatever they desire) in the process. Hell, it would take a team of creative professional teams too much time to create. That’s why Hello Games left the task to a bunch of computer algorithms based on a set of pre-defined rules. The process that’s resulted in the virtually infinite universe in No Man’s Sky is called “procedural generation”. The first time I heard about such a way to generate things was in a science fiction short story written in the 1970s – a couple of astronauts (not too bright) invent the “shake it novel”, which you can shake up to get a new novel each time you read through it.
No Man’s Sky is not just a planet-hopping game; it involves quite a lot of exploring, gathering of resources and space flight – plus some dogfights both on and off planet. This already sounds cool enough for players to be eagerly waiting for the game’s release – but mix in an incredible variety of planets to discover and see, and you get a game that will offer something new whenever you sit down to play it: something new to see, to explore and to get to know.