Rather than build every ship, plant or creature by hand, the developers of No Man’s Sky created an engine that randomly (within specified boundaries) creates the world for them.
Ream pulls up a blue-ish menu with lines of code written across the screen and quickly clicks across it to pull up a very specific menu within their engine. Before I know it, he’s selected an option for trees and I’m staring at one. There’s a blueprint for a fairly standard-looking tree off on the right. He clicks a button that says “view variants.” Dozens of new trees—of different shapes, sizes, and colors—pop up on the left.
“This is our toolset,” Murray says as we scroll through the trees. “We built our own engine. It’s super crappy, but it’s kind of like Unity or something like that. We’ve written it all around procedural generation. And that’s kind of what we spent the first year, when it was just four of us, what we spent our time doing. And then the last month before the VGXs we built the trailer using that.”
We go through a few other objects that are procedurally generated in the game. Rhinos, space ships. Ream clicks “view variants” on all of them. And then he keeps clicking them and, sure enough, new variants keep showing up.
“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.”
“Why we’re doing it is because it’s interesting to us. My attitude has been, ‘Let’s just do something crazy and go bankrupt doing it.’ That’s what I’ve always said. But I don’t wanna just make games at the same scale as Joe Danger and still be doing that in 10 years. I just want to try one big thing. So that was the attitude and that was really freeing. As a genuine thing, not like we went into it like, ‘Sure! We’ll try this and this with the mindset of and it will probably go horribly wrong but we’ll go out with a bang,’ which we still might.”