It's one of the hottest debates surrounding No Man’s Sky right now: Are the planets flat or are they spherical? And if they are spherical, as they appear to be from space, can we burrow all the way through them and pop out the other side?
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Sean Murray, lead director of No Man’s Sky, has stated that the game does not only cater to the boldest of the brave interplanetary explorers, but it also tailors itself to the traditionalists out there; the more modest travellers who are just as content idly mapping land masses as they are fending off Sentinels with lasers.
This planetary based exploration is not restricted to just the surface. Players can dig down into planets discovering all new hidden ecosystems and underground cave networks.
But how far can we dig? The answer is 128 Metres, but why? How can this be considering we can explore outwards to infinite degrees but can only dig down 128 metres?
The answer is fairly simple; it all comes down to how the game's algorithm works. We can clearly see that the planets in No Man’s Sky are spherical but it all changes when we get within the atmosphere. Let me explain.
The break down
No Man’s Sky is able to facilitate the exploration of such a huge area because it utilises an incredibly complex algorithm to create the world around the player as they move through it, as opposed to the developers building the world in its entirety before the player even steps in it. So, as you pass through the environment the computer digitally constructs your surroundings – it’s ingenious, no really, it is!
Now, as far as planets are concerned each planet is split into segments, much like they are in Minecraft. Looking at the planet from above makes it appear 3D and the assumption is that you can, in theory, land on it and tunnel through - but you can’t.
When you are on the surface of a planet the algorithm will only construct the segment that immediately surrounds you. At this stage the world is indeed flat; there is no core to dig to because the computer has generated a cubic area to explore. The spherical planet you saw from space only exists in space.
If you think about the design of anything digital, everything is built using pixels or cubes, the planets that seem spherical are cubic, you just can’t tell.
But why is there this limitation?
Good question, No Man’s Sky is the most expansive exploratory game the industry has ever seen, it doesn’t make sense to have such a limitation. There are a few reasons why this is so, but mainly because it saves the player valuable time.
There is nothing, of real considerable interest, to be found underground after a certain depth and by constructing the planets this way, the developers were able to concentrate on more important aspects of the game.
Or, maybe it was simply too difficult to engineer such a facility into the algorithm. The program that has been built is astounding and the work that must have gone into it must have been immense. All of this coming from an indie studio as well, No Man’s Sky is a heck of an achievement.
These are just a couple of theories into why there is this restriction. I welcome all other theories, I have tried to keep this as simple as possible, but please feel free to add your computing knowledge to the comments below.