Speaking at a talk titled ‘Building Worlds Using Math(s)’ during this year’s Game Developers Conference, No Man’s Sky director Sean Murray talked about some of the trials and tribulations the team at Hello Games had during the game’s development. The game's famous procedural generation actually started out as a hobby for Murray, eventually ballooning into the game which we see today.
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According to Murray, No Man’s Sky started as a side project born out of his love of creating unique game engines. “I just wanted to sit down and write something completely different”, said Murray when talking about the impetus for creating No Man’s Sky planet generation engine. Rather than it being part of a greater game that the team was planning to ship, Murray “was coming home from coding all day and would write [his] little engine,” just as a fun side project in his spare time.
It was only once the team at Hello Games started to publicise the game and its unique engine that things started to take a turn. After releasing that infamous first trailer for No Man's Sky, it was like “being fired into the sun with the skin burning from our faces” according to Murray, becoming a real “rollercoaster ride” as the game started to gather steam.
With the impossible task of balancing potentially infinite numbers of planets, the team at Hello Games attempted to test the game based on the user figures of popular games on Steam at the time. Using Far Cry Primal and Inside as baselines (which had user numbers of around 14,000 and 3,000 respectively), the team were massively off the concurrent player count of 250,000 during No Man’s Sky’s first weekend of play on PC. When you consider console numbers were also around that figure, it’s no wonder there were teething problems during the week following the game's launch.
When asked for an interview by PC Gamer at the end of the talk, Murray declined and said he’ll talk to the media again when “there's something interesting to say.” The recent announcement of Hello Labs, a incubator program for experimental projects that use procedural generation, means we’ll probably be hearing from the team sooner rather than later.