No, that number is not the result of a cat prancing across my keyboard — it's the real deal. No Man's Sky creator Sean Murray has touted this number in a couple different places.
Every time he says "18 quintillion," all I can think is "really big number," because I can't comprehend a single quintillion. There's something a little awe-inspiring that most of the planets won't actually be discovered.
The implications behind that enormous number and the way the game creates all of those planets are quite overwhelming when you put it into perspective. So today, we've decided to do exactly that: put the game's expansiveness into perspective. Let's start with some math!
Oh, and for those worried, that number has no bearing on your computer's ability to play the game, since its system requirements are pretty forgiving!
1. Discovering one planet every second would still take 585 billion years
For the record, our actual Sun is estimated to have some 5 billion years left in it. So if someone manages to keep No Man's Sky going after that happens... it'll still be a while.
Still not impressed? Let's pretend the impossible were possible — that instead of one planet discovered every second, every person on earth (let's say 7.5 billion for the sake of ease) was discovering a planet every second. In other words, even if Earth's entire population discovered one planet per second, it would still take 78 years to discover them all.
I guess technically this means there's hope we could see them all in our lifetime, right?
Okay, fine, it's not happening.
2. You won't know what you look like until you run into someone else — and that could take a while
You know how humans have been searching for extraterrestrial life but it's taking a bit of time because of that whole "can't go faster than the speed of light" thing? Running into other people in No Man's Sky is kind of like that.
See, unlike most video games that give you a designated starting point (or at least a set of specific options), No Man's Sky plops you down randomly in its seemingly endless universe. Because of this, you will find running into people a very, very rare occurrence. Moreover, without the help of those other people, you won't actually know what your avatar looks like.
When thousands of players descend on the game during its launch, we'll be able to test exactly how little the chances of running into someone else are.
But for now, the goal seems to be to make the game more like a single-player experience than anything else.
3. The game is still constantly surprising its own creators
Because of the way No Man's Sky procedurally generates literally everything, the combinations of flora and animal life are virtually endless. With so many planets, all kinds of life are going to develop independently and lead to new surprises each time you visit someplace new.
And those surprises extend to more than just you and me. The game's creator Sean Murray has said on multiple occasions that he'll visit a planet and be surprised by the sort of creatures he encounters. With the creators themselves surprised at what the game creates, there will no doubt be scores of players sharing their unique finds and comparing all the subtle and not-so-subtle differences.
Personally, I can't wait to find the creature most deserving of the spectacular "Mitchasaurus" title, or the planet most deserving of "Mitchtopia."