Judging The Science Behind ‘No Man’s Sky’ And ‘Space Engine’

No Man’s Sky is beautiful and exciting but is its science sound and flawless?

No Man’s Sky debuted worldwide on PlayStation 4 and PC in August 2016, and everyone’s already captivated by the possibilities and the beautiful landscapes the game offers. No Man’s Sky provides an exciting space exploration action-adventure survival experience that boasts over 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets, which makes every player’s experience a unique journey in a limitless sandbox universe. Pair these picturesque procedurally generated worlds with a procedurally generated soundtrack, and you’re sure to have one amazing gaming experience.

One of No Man's Sky's procedurally generated landscapes
One of No Man's Sky's procedurally generated landscapes (via Hello Games)

But with such a diverse take on what is constantly dubbed “the final frontier,” when referring to the impossible to define concept of an ever-expanding universe, how sound is No Man’s Sky’s science? If you’re asking the same question as us, let us join our hands together and applaud Gizmodo, who went out of their way to play No Man’s Sky next to a real, breathing astronomer to separate No Man’s Sky’s science fiction from the cold, hard facts.

Playing beside the Royal Observatory Greenwich Public Engagement Manager, astronomer Brendan Owens, Gizmodo was able to draw the line between No Man’s Sky’s various science fictions and science facts.

Starting off in No Man’s Sky, everyone will begin on the surface of a random planet where you will have to repair your ship before shooting off to explore at your own pace. In No Man’s Sky, while every planet, technically, is a unique snowflake, there’s one thing that’s similar across No Man’s Sky’s 18.4 quintillion planets; they’re all biomes. This means that all of No Man’s Sky’s planets have a single climate and ecosystem over the entirety of that world.

Brendan tells Gizmodo that’s not scientifically sound because planet-sized biomes aren’t possible.

“In our own solar system we have very extreme places, like Uranus which sits on its side, and one side of the planet will seasonally experience permanent darkness, the other permanent light, with a very cold spring and autumn in between. That makes a big difference. So we would expect at the very least to see at the poles of these planets, depending on their tilt, an area of ice. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be water ice, it could be frozen carbon dioxide.”

No Man’s Sky’s landscapes are beautiful, or even too beautiful, but beautiful and colorful enough to catch almost anyone’s fancy. Apparently, while one can get overly-skeptical about the possibility of such an array of colors in the No Man’s Sky’s landscapes, Brendan notes it’s not entirely impossible.

No Man's sky's beautiful sky is actually possible (via Hello Games)
No Man's sky's beautiful sky is actually possible (via Hello Games)

“Some places, like Mars, have a sunset that’s a blueish hue, and the normal daytime sky is a dusky red-orange. Different colors are dependent on the particles in the atmosphere. White light comes from the sun, and different particles in the atmosphere will preferentially scatter different wavelengths of light, leading to different colors. So on Earth we get a preferential scattering for blue. Depending on the size of the particles, you could end up with different colors on different planets.”

In terms of evolution and wildlife, however, No Man’s Sky seems to fall a little short on scientific accuracy. One of the features of No Man’s Sky’s procedurally generated planets is its procedurally generated wildlife. This means that no two animals could look the same on two different planets.

Brendan examines a creature generated on a planet that’s estimated to be three times the size of Earth, and he notes that the change in the planet’s structure and gravity would make it impossible for a creature with such proportions to exist.

No Man's Sky's randomly generated creature (via Hello Games)
No Man's Sky's randomly generated creature (via Hello Games)

“If we land on a planet three times the size of Earth, its creatures would evolve to the planet that they’re on. There have been research experiments on the International Space Station recently to look at what it’s like to live in a micro-gravity environment, where your bone density weakens. I can’t see why an animal would evolve on a high-mass planet with very strong front legs and very weak back ones!”

It seems No Man’s Sky’s randomly generated creatures are indeed randomly generated with no regard whatsoever for other elements.

Brendan proceeds to tackle more elements of No Man’s Sky in Gizmodo’s post. Read his full assessment of No Man’s Sky’s scientific credibility on Gizmodo.

So, if you’re a rigid science person, and you have been convinced by Brendan to set your sights on more scientifically sound prospects, Space Engine could be a good alternative for you. It’s free to download to boot!

Space Engine uses real discovered scientific data to simulate space (via Vladimir Romanyuk)
Space Engine uses real discovered scientific data to simulate space (via Vladimir Romanyuk)

Space Engine allows you to travel aboard a ship around the entire universe, which is created and simulated based on scientifically accurate astronomical data of all known solar systems and galaxies. The rest is then procedurally generated based on that data. Space Engine is able to simulate all forms of spacial elements, such as galaxies, nebulae, stars, planets, moons, comets, and asteroids,and all of these are legitimate and accurately sourced data from scientific organizations.

Space Engine is also beautiful, of course, but not as beautiful as No Man’s Sky. However, it doesn’t fall short on the scientific details. As of now, Space Engine could be played via the PC. We’re excited to play it (and No Man’s Sky, too!) using virtual reality gear.

[Image via Hello Games]