Space, Video

A Game Without An End

In Isaac Asimov’s “Prelude to the Foundation,” Hari Seldon tells Eto Demerzel:

The universe, as a whole, in its full complexity, cannot be represented by any simulation smaller than itself.

If one were to make a scale model of the solar system, and the Sun were represented by a yellow tennis ball, then our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, located 4.3 light-years or about 25 trillion miles away, would be a red golf ball, 870 miles from it.

The center of the Milky Way, which is 50,000 light-years from the Sun, would be five million miles from it. And Earth, which is 93 million miles, would be a mere 15 feet away.

Indeed, a brick-and-mortar replica of the universe would be impossible to build. But can it be done in pixels? “No Man’s Sky,” a new video game, to be released at the end of this year, creates a small section of it: one galaxy.

[But] for all practical purposes, [the game will] be infinite. Players will begin at the outer edges of a galaxy containing 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 unique planets.

Every player will begin on a randomly chosen planet at the outer perimeter of a galaxy. The goal is to head toward the center, to uncover a fundamental mystery, but how players do that or even whether they choose to do so, is open to them. People can mine, trade, fight, or merely explore.

As planets are discovered, information about them (including the names of their discoverers) is loaded onto a galactic map that is updated through the Internet … As they move toward the center, the game will get harder, and the worlds—the terrain, the fauna and flora—will become more alien, more surreal.

What distinguishes this video game is that it creates the visual terrain with codes, not graphics.

Nearly all video games rely on digital façades, drawn by artists, to give the illusion of an explorable world that is far larger than it really is, but “No Man’s Sky” will contain no such contrivance.

The terrain for eighteen quintillion unique planets flows out of only fourteen hundred lines of code. Because of [its] algorithmic structure—with every pixel rendered on the fly—the topography would not be known until the moment of encounter.



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