No Man's Sky Tech Shows Off Infinite Variations
by Bryan Vore on Jun 15, 2014 at 07:00 AM

Hello Games came to E3 to accomplish two things: show off No Man's Sky at Sony's press conference and prove that the team's procedurally generated universe is real.

For the first time, we got to see No Man's Sky's universe running outside of trailer form. The demo starts within a dim cave full of stalactites, rock formations, and strange plantlife. Every player will begin inside their own unique cave on their own planet at the edge of the galaxy at the start of the game. The general goal of the game is to make your way towards the center of the universe, heading toward increasingly rare and powerful upgrades and, alternately, enemies. A bright, sunny landscape awaits outside. We look back and see another opening about a kilometer away. Heading outside we see abundant wildlife consisting of everything from deer to massive dinosaurs. A group of ships zip across the sky above, sending the wildlife scattering.

We hop in a nearby ship and soar into the sky toward a planet hanging in the distance. A.I. wingmen (a later upgrade) fly to our aid as we blast up asteroids. A convoy of freighters and fighters drops out of hyperspace nearby and we peacefully cruise through it in the opposite direction. We pass through the atmosphere of a barren, red planet, and set down for a landing.

Now we jump over to the behind-the-scenes tech. Hello brings up tools that visualize the game’s engine generating the environment on the fly. The debug camera soars over a seemingly neverending landscape that’s constantly changing. Yet, it’s all part of a specific blueprint rather than randomized on the fly. Like the Big Bang Theory, the team makes the whole impossibly massive universe in one procedurally generated instant, and it’s locked in for the life of the game. If you discover a cool planet, fly ten thousand light years away, and come back, every rock and tree will be in its right place.

Next, we saw a taste of the engine’s procedural generation powers. Hello brought up a standard palm tree and then put the game to work. An endless stream of sizes, shapes, and colors of trees appear. Then we see a fighter-style ship and its multitude of paint schemes and body builds. A triceratops changed horn amounts, color, and at times looked more like a rhinoceros. Hello says these pages of animals can range from the size of a gecko to a huge dinosaur.

All players will be encountering these infinite variations in the same massive galaxy, but No Man’s Sky isn’t an MMO. The universe is so massive that even if you wanted to find your friend, you’re probably thousands of light years apart, and, at least in the early parts of the game, won’t have the hyperdrive capabilities to reach each other. If you do find other players in the universe, it’ll be more like Journey. You can run around and interact with them for awhile, but eventually you’ll part ways and probably never see that person again.

It was highly interesting to pop the hood and see this quick slice of No Man’s Sky. Even in this early state, the universe begs to be explored. I’m looking forward to the time where I can sit down and boldly go where no one has gone before.

For more on No Man’s Sky, read our feature in the new July issue of Game Informer.