from The New Yorker
World Without End – Creating a full-scale digital cosmos.
By Raffi Khatchadourian
No Man’s Sky will let virtual travellers explore eighteen quintillion full-featured planets.
The universe is being built in an old two-story building, in the town of Guildford, half an hour by train from London. About a dozen people are working on it. They sit at computer terminals in three rows on the building’s first floor and, primarily by manipulating lines of code, they make mathematical rules that will determine the age and arrangement of virtual stars, the clustering of asteroid belts and moons and planets, the physics of gravity, the arc of orbits, the density and composition of atmospheres—rain, clear skies, overcast. Planets in the universe will be the size of real planets, and they will be separated from one another by light-years of digital space. A small fraction of them will support complex life. Because the designers are building their universe by establishing its laws of nature, rather than by hand-crafting its details, much about it remains unknown, even to them. They are scheduled to finish at the end of this year; at that time, they will invite millions of people to explore their creation, as a video game, packaged under the title No Man’s Sky.
The game’s chief architect is a thirty-four-year-old computer programmer named Sean Murray. He is tall and thin, with a beard and hair that he allows to wander beyond the boundaries of a trim; his uniform is a pair of bluejeans and a plaid shirt. In 2006, frustrated by the impersonal quality of corporate game development, Murray left a successful career with Electronic Arts, one of the largest manufacturers of video games in the world. He believes in small teams and in the idea that creativity emerges from constraint, and so, in 2008, he and three friends founded a tiny company called Hello Games, using money he raised by selling his home. Since then, its sole product has been a game called Joe Danger, about a down-and-out stuntman whose primary skill is jumping over stuff with a motorcycle. Joe Danger, released in several iterations, earned a reputation for playability and humor. (In one version, it is possible to perform stunts as a cupcake riding a bike.) But it was hardly the obvious predecessor to a fully formed digital cosmos. No Man’s Sky will, for all practical purposes, be infinite. Players will begin at the outer edges of a galaxy containing 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 unique planets. By comparison, the game space of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas appears to be about fourteen square miles.
From the moment Murray unveiled a hastily built trailer for No Man’s Sky, in late 2013, on the Spike TV network, anticipation for the game has taken on an aspect of delirium.
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