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No Man's Sky developer shares creative vision, development tricks bringing PS4 universe to life

on 19 June 2014

In an interview with Kotaku, Hello Games’ Sean Murray and David Ream go into great depth about the development spirit bringing one of E3 2014’s most stunning titles to life.

The game is No Man’s Sky, a procedurally generated first-person exploration game that drops players in different corners of a single, shared, endless universe. As players embark on their personal journeys across colorful planets and epic star systems, endless discovery awaits--the universe of No Man’s Sky is theoretically boundless, and will continue generating new worlds and content, without loading screens, as its boundaries are pushed.

Speaking with Kotaku writer Tina Amini, Murray explains that Hello Games’ impossibly tiny team of four people spent a great deal of time and effort building an engine capable of generating infinite variations of a single base model. Within the game’s information are models for trees, dinosaurs, birds, spaceships--basically everything that populates the game’s surprisingly detailed world. From those core blueprints (say, the skeletal structure of a cat), the engine creates variations in color, size, muscular build, and other parameters until you get “every possible variant of that. So if you build a cat, you also get a lion and a tiger and a panther and things that you’ve never seen--kind of mutations beyond that.”

While that means No Man’s Sky may never be fully explored (“. . . every time I play through this I’m seeing something that’s new and often I’m seeing something I’ve never seen before”), it’s possible for players to stake their claim and leave their mark on the universe. Anything generated for an individual is immediately established as something permanent in the game’s shared world. Planets new to you may have been discovered by someone else--in which case, you’ll see their PSN ID as you enter the world’s atmosphere.

When quizzed about whether developing an endless universe was worth the effort, and why more teams aren’t doing the same, Murray said:

"It's a weird thing. It took time. To me, it's not difficult. But having said that, no one's ever done it before, so presumably it IS a bit difficult. I guess there's an element to which, and this might sound really cocky, we wanted to prove something, I think. To ourselves. We wanted to do something quite ambitious.”

"There is this craft that goes into it and you can feel this warm feeling and that craft is being lost, I think, because of things like Unity and stuff like that. People don't really make custom games or custom technology. They make what they can make easily within Unity. Game designers are actually hampered by that, I think.”

Murray and Ream have plenty else to share, including thoughts on Ubisoft’s inability to add playable female assassins to Assassin’s Creed Unity, in the full Kotaku interview, which is a fascinating read. Give it your time and stay tuned to PSU for more on No Man’s Sky in the coming months.