No Man’s Sky infinite video game universe created with algorithms (VIDEO).

In This Surreal Space Game, You Can Explore 18 Quintillion Different Planets (Video)  

In This Surreal Space Game, You Can Explore 18 Quintillion Different Planets (Video)  

Slate in motion.
July 28 2015 3:21 PM

The Infinite World of No Man’s Sky

How a game created 18 quintillion planets to explore.

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Screenshot by Slate

No Man’s Sky, previewed in the video above, has just about everyone with a controller excited because of its beautiful and endless possibilities. The game features 18 quintillion planets in its universe—that’s 18 followed by 18 zeros. How does the developer, Hello Games, create so many worlds with only four digital artists? Simple: math.

The team used a method called “procedural generation,” similar to the strategy behind Minecraft, the astoundingly popular open source world-building game.

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Essentially, the developer has created a complex formula for each variable on a planet from the location of mountains and valleys to the number of leaves on a bush. When a planet is “created,” each formula runs and generates a random outcome.

The result? A vast and endless virtual universe full of planets that look nothing alike but are somehow each entirely plausible. Some are barren. Some host lush ecosystems full of familiar and exotic plant and animal life. Others are somewhere in between.

Players can choose to cooperate or work alone, trade fairly or plunder, create goods to sell or buy low and sell high on their way to the center of the galaxy.

Though No Man’s Sky is not yet finished, it has been an industry darling since the splashy debut of footage at E3 2014. It will be available for Windows and Playstation 4, but the team isn’t saying when.

Phoebe Gavin is a writer based in New York City.