Monday, August 18, 2014

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Just How Big is Procedural Space Exploration Game No Man's Sky Going to Be? Well...

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It would take a person five billion years of non-stop exploration to spend one second on each of the possible 18 quintillion plus planets in the upcoming game No Man's Sky. At least, that's what Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray told IGN at Gamescom last week as he explained their choice to generate the game's universe based on a 64-bit number rather than 32-bit. 

That kind of scale seems jaw-dropping, but even more so when you compare it to something a little more familiar. For example, Second Life sims...

If we apply the same rules to the current total number of sims in SL (25,852 according to it would take just a hair over seven hours to spend a single second on every currently existing sim on the main grid.

Seven hours.

Of course No Man's Sky is a procedurally-generated universe, with every planet providing mathematically defined combinations of the game's assets. It's certainly not fair to compare that process to Second Life sims which are essentially bespoke. But, even so...

Seven hours.

Mixed reality iris 2013Janine Hawkins (@bleatingheart on Twitter, Iris Ophelia in Second Life) has been writing about virtual worlds and video games for nearly a decade, and has had her work featured on Paste, Kotaku, Jezebel and The Mary Sue.


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Adeon Writer

The thing with procedural generation on that scale is you'll see a lot if repetition. The raw number of planets doesn't mean so much as how much variety there is among them.

A Minecraft world is 8x the surface of the earth. But there's only 30 or so different biomes, and after exploring out about a 6000-diameter area you'll get a pretty good idea what the rest of the world, and every other world, is like, even if they are all technically unique.

The concept of No Man's Sky is fun, but how much variation there will be is what matters, not sheer size. :)


Considering how long it takes to teleport between sims in SL, visiting them at a rate of one per second is rather out of the question. At best, you get seven hours of in-sim time and a few weeks of staring at progress bars, or at avatars flying and spinning in that disconnected, physics-less state that happens during sim crossings, not to mention the lost connection dialogs and login screens as you relog every dozen sims or so. :/

GoSpeed Racer

Adeon has a point about repetition in procedurally generated worlds. I tinker around with Space Engine ( ) and keep seeing the same patterns in various solar systems. Every new update introduces a new planet type or some other phenomenon that makes it interesting after a while. We just don't know enough about the universe to make it come close to what's actually out there.

Arcadia Codesmith

There are only five major categories of terrestrial biomes on Earth (each with 2-4 subcategories). An expert randomly dropped in a natural environment might be able to determine the general region by differences in vegetation and insect life; a layman would likely be flummoxed until they spot some charismatic megafauna.

Procedural generation isn't a substitute for hand-crafting regions. It's an adjunct. If you're personally arranging every leaf on every bush and angling each blade of grass just so, good luck creating a planet in your lifetime.

If your procedural engine is exceptionally good, it will spontaneously generate some very interesting landforms that spark your imagination, and you can focus on hand-tweaking those spots. Or you can arbitrarily pick places to put handcrafted natural wonders and landmarks.

I think procedural generation is beside the point, though. If you give people vast spaces to work with for little or no cost, they will build wonderous things. If you give them tiny footprints at a premium charge inflated by middlemen, you get a wasteland of little pink boxes, with only the wealthy elite having the means to realize any sort of larger, coherent vision.

Virtual land wants to be free. Tax commerce instead.

Metacam Oh

Looking forward to this game. Thanks for bringing it to my attention Iris.

CronoCloud Creeggan

Hopefully they'll announce a launch date for the game...soon.

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