Developed by tiny independent video game company Hello Games, the new science-fiction title No Man’s Sky features so many planets, it would take you five billion years - with no toilet breaks - to find every single one. And that’s if you can find each of its 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets in one second flat. Other than the obvious limitations of your puny human lifespan, the fact that the Sun is predicted to burn out in 4.6 billion years means this is never going to happen.
Each of No Man's Sky's 18 quintillion planets are procedurally generated by an algorithmic programming system developed by the engineers at Hello Games, and every single one is entirely unique, and entirely visitable. Cooped up in your tiny, weaponised spacecraft, you can zip through a planet without giving it so much as a second glance, or you can slow down, take in its mountains, oceans, caves, and yes, dinosaurs, and pick up precious materials to prolong your journey through space. The virtual area that each of these planets take up is as big as the entire playable area of most existing video games, and according to Simon Parkin at MIT Technology Review, the strange colours you see in the video above are all scientifically accurate - the quality of the light on each planet will be determined by the colour of its solar system’s sun.
“We are attempting to do things that haven’t been done before,” Hello Games founder Sean Murray told Parkin. “No game has made it possible to fly down to a planet, and for it to be planet-sized, and feature life, ecology, lakes, caves, waterfalls, and canyons, then seamlessly fly up through the stratosphere and take to space again. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
To help them out, the team has enlisted an army of automated computer bots to catalogue their planets, and has programmed them to visit each one they encounter and take screenshots to detect visual errors. This system allows the team to check the robustness of the game's algorithm, for example, it it needs to be tweaked because it's producing too many of the same type of planet.
No Man's Sky is set to be released some time next year on the PS4 and the PC.