No Man’s Sky starting positions

nomansskycoverSometimes my brain gets stuck on weird things.

Today the No Man’s Sky launch date was revealed (June 21st) and it got me thinking about the game again. In case you’ve not bought a ticket for this particular hype train, No Man’s Sky is a space exploration/combat game (for PS4 & PC, at least initially) that features a huge procedurally generated universe. In theory it is multiplayer but the devs have said that the universe is so large that it’s unlikely you’ll run into other players accidentally until far into the game.

The goal, as far as I can tell, is to reach the core of the universe. I think it’s a pretty ‘loose’ goal and the game is all quite sandbox-y. As you discover planets they will be tagged as being discovered by you, so there is at least some vague perk to finding a planet first.

In order to make reaching the core at least somewhat plausible, your initial spawn has to be a finite distance from that core, right? So we can imagine a kind of fuzzy sphere with the core in the center and that is, generally speaking, the play-space of the universe. Players will start somewhere on the surface of this sphere.

The radius of this sphere will determine how many unique starting positions there are, right? As a sphere expands its surface area increases and we’re all going to start on the ‘surface’ of this conceptualized sphere so that we’re all starting on more or less equal terms, with regard to how long our trip to the core is going to take.

So here is my concern (and to be clear, it’s not a major concern, just something to muse about). A Day 1 player gets his/her starting spot and heads core-ward and every planet s/he encounters is a discovery for him/her. This is the pioneer player.

Six months after launch it’s Christmas and a gamer gets a PS4 and a copy of No Man’s Sky. When this new player starts, will there be a ‘fresh lane’ for him to follow to the core? Or will he wind up following in the footsteps of a gamer who started the game earlier? This player is more like a settler, following in the footsteps of those who came before.

I need a math whiz. We need to estimate the sales numbers of No Man’s Sky, calculate the desired amount of time it takes to reach the core, and the average velocity core-ward of a typical player. From there we can calculate the radius of the play-field and from that, the total ‘starting area’ available. Once we know sales estimates and the area of the surface of the play-sphere we can finally know if this is a concern or not. It may be that the No Man’s Sky universe is so large that every player, no matter when they start, will have a fresh, unexplored path towards the core. But if that is the case, I wonder how feasible it’ll be to actually reach the core? Alternatively the universe may be restricted in starting positions which would make playing early desirable so you have a ‘fresh playing field’ to explore.

I told you my mind gets stuck on weird things…


7 thoughts on “No Man’s Sky starting positions

  1. Right now, even X number of months after the launch of Elite: Dangerous, there’s TONS TONS TONS of systems that haven’t been visited by any player. TONS.

    However, A) people do generally start in the same extremely rough area, I think, and B) I don’t know how NMS population will compare to Elite’s population.

    Elite has a discovery system that tags the discovery to the player as well; it IS difficult to find something unspoiled, but I guess it’s not super impossible. With Elite, players are interested in commerce and combat, and some are interested in far travel. So I’d expect it to be a bubble within a bubble.

    NMS might be more like the spokes on a wheel. If the point is to head to the core then could we expect a more straight line from a starting point towards the core? If someone starts in a system just one system to the left of where someone else started, MAYBE that 6 month player will actually take a route no one else has taken!

    The mind boggles!

  2. In elite dangerous as I work towards the core witch thousands of players have done…I hardly ever see a system claimed by other players once I get about 1000 ly out. If no man’s sky starts you off in a wheel around the core the odds will be even less.

  3. So first, I want to re-iterate that this isn’t really a major concern. This whole post came about as a spin-off of thinking about how they designed the game and the things they had to control when generating the universe procedurally.

    That said, my understanding is there are 2 differences between Elite and No Man’s Sky.

    First is sales numbers. I don’t know for sure but I get the feel Elite is fairly niche, while Sony is pushing No Man’s Sky hard. Maybe it’ll be a million-seller, who knows? And do the PC and PS4 players play in the same sandbox? I’m not sure about that. So there could potentially be a much bigger audience of players in No Man’s Sky (or it could totally flop)!

    But the more substantial issue is game design. As I understand it, Elite doesn’t have a single goal that everyone is traveling towards. That means the starting locations could be much more diverse since everyone doesn’t have to be an equal distance from some fixed point. It also means the Elite universe could be much larger than that of No Man’s Sky.

    This is all really speculative. I have no idea the scale of the game yet. Maybe they don’t expect anyone to reach the core until 2020 our time. Maybe they expect someone to reach it in 6 months. They have said it should take “a long time” but that’s pretty vague. I’m guessing not 6 days though. 🙂

    Like I said, this mainly came from me pondering about the things they had to consider while designing the game. Though if I had an answer it might impact whether I bought at launch for $60 or waited a few months to get it for $30.

  4. In a Polygon article (, they state: “There’s a robot that lives inside No Man’s Sky that nobody outside of the development team may ever see, because its entire purpose is to fly to each of the game’s 18 quintillion worlds, take short videos and document its interstellar travels as a series of animated GIFs.”

    There’s more detail at another article ( that states: “it was revealed in December, creates worlds on the scale of two to the power of 64. In numerical terms, that’s 18.4 quintillion planets, or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 if you want to see all of the digits. Visiting that many planets in the game at the rate of 1 per second would take about, oh, 584 million years.”

    There was another article that I can’t find now that said something like “If you start immediately going towards the core and play all day every day it’ll take you a {couple|few} weeks to get there.” And that’s upgrading your ship along the way to get there with faster and faster drives. But it’s unclear to me if, once you reach the core, you’re going to want to spend all of your time there or not. They’ve been pretty secretive about that part of the game, though they teased it as having more of a “traditional multiplayer element” to it.

    So from a maths perspective a sphere that contains 2^64 planets all packed together would have a radius of 1.6million planets, and would have a surface area of 3.3×10^13 planets. (I’m ignoring the space between planets since in-game you’re just going to “hyperspace” between them anyway, so the distance is effectively zero.” 3E13 is more than enough to keep starting players separated from each other for the beginning of the game. Assuming the game sells 1 million copies, a sphere with a surface area of ~1mil planets has a radius of just 282 planet-widths, so you’ve got approx. ~1.5997mil planets to explore all to yourself if you are intent on avoiding everyone else.

    Staggeringly big, assuming my numbers hold up.

  5. And THAT, dear friends, is the maths I was hoping for!!

    Thank you @wohali!

  6. Aha, found a quote in ( which is an AP wire release from today:

    “When you reach the center, there’s a reason why you would want to keep playing, but for most people, that’s probably the point they’ll put down the pad,” said Murray. “It will probably take hundreds and hundreds of hours.”

    And another quote (but this one from 2014, possibly before they expanded from 2^32 to 2^64 planets,

    “For those who wish to get to the center of the galaxy will have to play No Man�s Sky for 40 to 100 hours.”

    So I figure 100-200 hours minimum, which is a good amount of value for $60.

  7. Thanks again! Also, not sure why you keep getting put into moderation. My apologies for that.

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