No Man’s Sky Is Powered By Beautiful Maths

No Man’s Sky Is Powered By Beautiful Maths

No Man’s Sky has to be the game I’m most looking forward to in 2015. We’ve only seen bits and pieces of the game so far in brief trailers, during which the game’s procedural nature has been emphasised. In this behind-the-scenes tech demo, Hello Games’ founder, Sean Murray, steps through how the small team managed to create an ambitious space game that banishes loading time using brilliant maths.

The folks from Game Informer sat down with Murray to talk No Man’s Sky a few weeks ago, and during their demo they noticed a few things about the procedurally generated galaxy of No Man’s Sky.

First of all, it’s beautiful and detailed. Secondly, there’s no loading time, and third of all, there’s almost no content for the worlds themselves being stored on the disc, the system you’re playing on or in the mythical cloud.

So how has the tiny team at Hello Games managed to create one of the most ambitious gaming galaxies we’ve ever seen? By layering formulae on top of each other to create something beautiful.

Murray explains in the tech demo that these worlds which you fly around and between aren’t built by hand in advance. Instead, each pixel, voxel and polygon is constantly changing and re-generating based on the X, Y and Z position of the player camera in the world. By using that input, the formulae in the game world can figure out what each rock, tree, creature and mountain is meant to look like.

As you fly around the world, the formula gradually changes with the player camera input and draws the world in front of you. Everything fades into view through a light mist which disguises the edge of the world, so the player never gets the sense that they’re about to outrun the game world.

Murray adds that none of this is particularly futuristic or game-changing so to speak. He said that the idea for a space game came first, and the procedural tech to power it came second through some smarts.

What is really unique about No Man’s Sky and how it develops a procedurally-generated universe is how it harnesses the next-gen capabilities of something like the PlayStation 4 to do it. Never before has a console been able to do maths of this magnitude so quickly, to render a game world so fluidly.

If you’ve got a few minutes, check this tech demo out. It’s the nexus of maths and gaming at its most beautiful.


  • these worlds which you fly around and between aren’t built by hand in advance. Instead, each pixel, voxel and polygon is constantly changing and re-generating based on the X, Y and Z position of the player camera in the world. By using that input, the formulae in the game world can figure out what each rock, tree, creature and mountain is meant to look like.As a programmer myself I find that absolutely amazing and also completely insane, in equal measure. Just wow. Some extremely talented people there! I’m really excited for this game, it looks absolutely gorgeous.

  • I am quite afraid that given the amount of interest this game is getting, their server might overload by the amount of players on launch. Hopefully they will do some open beta to gauge the server load.

  • I’m so glad that procedural tech is back, it has held this kind of promise since Rescue on Fractalus back in the mid 80s.
    I’m hoping that the pop-in can be solved with faster math processing, i.e. like adding an extra GPU on the PC version.

  • So what is this game about? the last few pieces about it on Kotaku have been very… short
    is it a limited exploration game that you just fly around and look at things? or is there a plot, goal or story?
    All i’v heard thus far is ‘its pretty’

    • Not much has been released on it, but it’s an exploration game. As far as we know, there is no plot, goal, or story.

      It’s pretty, but what makes it impressive is the scale: this game procedurally generates everything, and if you play online, every player is in the same universe. But the universe in-game is so big that you might never run into another player.

      I think it looks amazing, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

    • There are no quests, if that’s what you mean. There is a goal – to get to the center of the gaxy. But there are no NPCs or AI voices or on-screen instructions telling you what to do, the “plot” is meant to be largely emergent.

      You start out alone on a planet at the outer edge of the Galaxy, with a basic ship. If you want to explore any further than the local star system, you need to get a new, better ship, which means you need respurces. You can find resources by exploring planets, or you can attack AI controlled ships and steal their stuff, or protect them from AI pirates and they will pay you. However you get your resources, you can spend them to buy new ships and to upgrade your suit and your weapons, and explore deeper into the Galaxy. The closer you get to the center, the more dangerous it gets and you will need to continue to upgrade your stuff.

      That’s the core gameplay cycle, though obviously you’re free to not do any of that and just wander the Galaxy if you want to. Though they’ve promised there is something worthwhile at the center that players will want to strive for, and it won’t be something lame like a “congratulations for making it to the center! Thanks for playing! *roll credits*”.

      It’s also been stated that there is some sort of antagonistic force in the game, but they haven’t given any details on what it is or how it will fit into the goal of getting to the center. They’ve said they have done a lot of worldbuilding and developed lore for the universe, but they are not going to spell it out for us. There will be subtle clues we may or may not be able to piece together, but nothing directly stated.

      If you need a lot of structure and direction to enjoy a game, No Man’s Sky will not be for you. But it’s not “just” going to planets and looking at pretty things, it is an actual game. Just one that is committed to the idea of emergent story and gameplay.

      • cheers,
        that puts it into a bit more perspective for me
        Hope the next kotaku article about it has more content now

  • Destiny should have used that tech for their spaceships. Staring at your ship in the countless loading screens would have been so much more interesting if they were randomly constructed. You could show your friends and it would keep you buying more ship engrams to see what you get.

  • If there is a plot or point to then and, then I am intrigued. But most of what I’ve seen is the player just flies around, discovers planets and explores. If that’s all they’re offerin, I can see boredom setting in after a short period.

    Yes it’s extremely impressive. The technology behind the games is amazing. But gameplay is what counts in the end. They need a hook beyond mere exploration

    • I see what you are getting at, but isn’t Minecraft essentially where there is no plot nor point – just exploration, mining and making things? I’ve played a little of Minecraft and I don’t personally see the attraction, but millions of players love it.

      • Agreed but minecraft has meaning you build craft and explore, so far with this you just well I not sure what the point of it is yet.

      • Never played Minecraft because the hook of creating and building is useless to me (I don’t have a creative bone in my body). But if there is resource gathering, economics and such – as well as exploration – I’m all for it.

  • So, if you turn around in a circle inside the same planet, things will be different? You cannot cause permanent change in a world that other players will find?

    • No. The formulae that generate your surrounding environment are deterministic. So every time a player goes to a specific point in the playable space, the game will generate the surroundings the same way. The input in the formula is the player’s location, and the output is what the player sees around them. Every time it receives the same input, it WIL produce the same output, so if I go to a spot, leave, and later come back to the same spot, I will see the same surroundings every time I’m in that spot. If someone else goes to that spot, they will also see exactly the same surroundings I saw in that spot. But if there’s no one in that spot, there’s no need for the game to render the things that can be seen from it, so it throws that all out to save on processing. Until the next time someone comes to that same spot, and then the game’s formulae render the same surroundings in the same way again.

  • A great video that has single-handedly made me much more excited beyond seeing the initial trailer and thinking, ‘oh, this looks sort of interesting’ (and I’m glad it’s coming out for PC sometime after the PS4 release). Sean Murray did a really good job at explaining how it all works, and did so in a very modest and down to earth manner. I hope their efforts pay off.

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