Several big-name titles were unveiled at E3 earlier this month, but none dominated the conversation more so than the upcoming PlayStation 4 game “No Man’s Sky,” which wowed players with its whimsical art direction and infinite procedural universe that guarantees an unique adventure for every gamer.
Many wondered how a game like “No Man’s Sky,” where you can seamlessly hop from planet to planet and explore every crack and crevice — all without a single loading screen — is even possible. But thanks to an interview with the game’s creators lovingly coordinated and compiled by Kotaku’s Tina Amini, we now have an excellent idea of how the tiny Hello Games development studio has been able to pull off this game of (literally) epic proportions.
If you haven’t seen the trailer — heck, even if you have — check it out below:
“The trailer, that’s real time,” David Ream, creative director at Hello Games, told Kotaku. “In order for that trailer to exist as it is we captured from real time. Everything in the game, that is the game functioning. In order to build that trailer, all the systems that we’ve been talking about have to exist otherwise it would be nothing. From the outside you go, ‘Wow, how can that be true?’ From the inside, in order to show anything it has to be true.”
If you’re trying to understand the concept of “No Man’s Sky,” here it is: There are no missions and there’s no general storyline. You start the game on a random planet and very few tools, and your sole directives are to explore, and survive.
All gamers play in the same universe, where you’ll run into unique flora and fauna on each planet you visit, but with an endless number of planets, where no two are alike, “No Man’s Sky” will offer an infinite variety of creatures and objects in the game — something never before seen on a major console, but currently being attempted by just a handful of talented British game developers (with the support of Sony, of course).
So how can one infinitesimal studio in Guildford, UK, build an infinite universe? According to Hello Games’ founder and managing director Sean Murray, the company worked for a long time building its own engine that instantly creates variants off a singular design based off the skeletons of each creature and object.
“You’re building a blueprint,” Murray said. “And that’s true of everything in the game. So say one of our artists will build something and that will take say a week. But what they get from that is 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.”
In other words, while all the different species of rhinos in “No Man’s Sky” are built on similar foundations, Hello Games can offer virtually unlimited variations of colours, sizes, and physical characteristics of what a “rhino” might look like — it gets particularly fun when you can alter and vary the animal’s muscular structure.
This sophisticated engine powering “No Man’s Sky” can also churn out male, female and baby versions of different animals, and this same toolset is applied to spaceships, trees, and every other object you’ll find in the game. The possibilities, according to the developers, are endless.
“So, you know when we started off on that first planet and it was like a jungle? And you saw actually kind of hundreds of different types of trees? All reasonably consistent within style and stuff,” Murray told Kotaku. “You know, say, Tony Hawk’s — the analogy I was using this morning — you know ‘Create A Skater’ and you’d move all the sliders and just…height, weight, skin colour, clothes, all that kind of thing? We kind of try and do that and the technologies to do that to everything. And so actually Grant [Duncan] — who was our only artist for the first year — everything in the VGX trailer is his. He would just build a tree like this but he wouldn’t texture it or anything like that because that’s procedurally generated. We build it out of voxels rather than polygons, which is how things are normally built.”
For the full interview, which is really quite the fascinating read, head over to Kotaku.