Reddit as Public Archaeology: Peer Review of the No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey

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On March 2, 2015, I wrote a post about the possibility of conducting an archaeological survey of the upcoming game from Hello Games, No Man’s Sky, to be released sometime in 2015 for Sony’s PlayStation 4. The post was picked up on the game’s reddit page on May 7, and I have pasted the commentary below. For those readers who are new to reddit, the site is defined as, “an entertainment, social networking, and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.” Source: Wikipedia I think this marks the first time an Archaeogaming post has been picked up independently for discussion by the public outside of the blog, and therefore becomes perhaps the first example of an archaeogaming topic crossing over into public archaeology. On the day the thread appeared on reddit, Archaeogaming received nearly 600 unique visitors. Here are the unedited comments, and we see no trolls, but rather some excellent discussion about what a procedural game is, and how these worlds are created:

Submitted 18 hours ago by morboislegend

All 10 comments sorted by: best
tomothy37: This sounds like it could be very interesting!
DarthGrabass: “No Man’s Sky offers the first real creation of non-human material culture…”
It kind of sounds like you’re operating under the assumption that the planets and whatever may be found on them are created from whole cloth by the math. Everything we see will have been created from base models designed by the game’s artists. For instance, if we find a crumbling ruin made from green stones that features a subterranean network of tunnels beneath it, it will be because Grant Duncan designed and drew all the elements necessary to create those ruins. He wouldn’t be surprised by the green color of the stones, because he helped choose the color palette that made that shade of green an option. And he might not have any idea where those tunnels lead, but he wouldn’t be surprised to find them, because he designed them. This is where the Minecraft comparison comes in handy, because it’s procedural in the same way. It just has a more limited vocabulary of elements when it comes to the creation of its world and structures. The math is there to piece those elements together in a way that makes sense, just as it will in NMS. In that regard, a ruin in NMS is no more a creation of non-human material culture than a ruin in Minecraft.
Wulf_Star_Strider: You are right in what you say. However, it has been mentioned in interviews that there is a hidden lore to the universe and that trying to figure it out is one of the many things players can try to do. So, while all buildings and all associated textures, etc will naturally have been created by the HG artists and then modifed and arranged, within algorithim controlled limits, there may well be links between the architecture and the lore.
It is these kind of relationships that would be the focus of NMS archaeology. Naturally we dont know how complex the in-built lore is nor what kind of clues HG has put in to let players try to discover it but linking it to the buildings and other artifacts would certainly make sense.
DarthGrabass : I agree with everything you say. Uncovering the lore is one of the things that’s really exciting to me, and I’m sure the ruins will have a lot to do with the story.
But the way the op phrased it made it sound like he thought these things were created on their own (e.g. “…structures and artifacts that might appear on worlds created by math/algorithms.”)
Wulf_Star_Strider: Ah, yes. I assumed the op realised it was placement, adjustment, and other tweaks that were done by the procedural engine and that the art work it called upon to do this with was human made.
ElAhraira: “It kind of sounds like you’re operating under the assumption that the planets and whatever may be found on them are created from whole cloth by the math. Everything we see will have been created from base models designed by the game’s artists.”
This is partly correct. The part where you are wrong is the procedural part. and especially when you state: “For instance, if we find a crumbling ruin made from green stones that features a subterranean network of tunnels beneath it, it will be because Grant Duncan designed and drew all the elements necessary to create those ruins. He wouldn’t be surprised by the green color of the stones, because he helped choose the color palette that made that shade of green an option. And he might not have any idea where those tunnels lead, but he wouldn’t be surprised to find them, because he designed them.” Procedural coding can also create something entirely new. Look at it as throwing paint on a painting for each time a different predictable – unpredicted / intuitive non-intuitive result (see Youtube: A Behind-The-Scenes Tour Of No Man’s Sky‘s Technology ) .* Furthermore: rules have been set up to work together in layers. For example: Grant created different types of: tree bark, minerals and colors (color palette) as a code. The procedural system spreads every possible combination of these codes and the landscapes they can possibly create over a universe (so far you are correct). BUT….. these codes can affect each other. So green minerals will create green plants that (depending on the green mineral characteristics) can grow big or perhaps small around a tree trunk or on a rock like moss. Green plants will affect the type of biosphere, the biosphere will affect the type of gasses that can be found in the atmosphere and they on their turn will determine the color the atmosphere has and the etc. etc. etc….And this happens with EVERYTHING in NMS. Codes affect each other resulting in something TOTALLY new! So Animals will have a certain color because the evolution of the surroundings determined this! (maybe even the plants they eat), and not because Grant Duncan decided to put a couple of green animals on a green planet! My definition for this would be: Artificial reverse procedural geographical evolution. 😉
DarthGrabass: “Codes affect eachother resulting in something TOTALLY new! So Animals will have a certain color because the evolution of the surroundings determined this!”
Yes, everything from atmospheric conditions to the type of sun in the system will affect the colors of things, but that color palette has been carefully chosen by the game’s designers. The reason that the entire game has a cohesive visual look that evokes sf book covers from the ’60s/’70s is because its been designed that way, right down to the color palette. Sean didn’t come up with an algorithm that magically creates an artistically coherent universe out of nothing. He’s talked about laboring over the look of a single blade of grass. He’s talked about carefully selecting the colors and arguing with Grant over whether or not to allow green skies. Procedural doesn’t mean the computer is inventing things on its own. Think of it this way. In one video Sean starts to go into a cave system, and he says that he has no idea where it leads. What he doesn’t say is, “Wow look, it made a cave.” Because he made the cave. The math just shapes it from a menu of possibilities.
ElAhraira : They created rules that create rules..sean starts the seed without any specific command to create a cave but the possibility to have caves (at least the rules that can make cave building possible)-> code starts and creates 2000 planets with no caves and than 1 with caves…etc.etc…in the real scientific world some may refer to this as intelligent design..atheists refer to it as “information”
But I think we understand each other 😀
DarthGrabass: Agreed. I’m just seeing a lot of people lately who seem to think that HG have invented the video game version of technological singularity.
ShadowFlightBA: Sounds interesting!
I’m elated to see in the above thread the discussion about lore and story as informed by ruins found on some of the planets. I am also thrilled to see discussion about the underlying making of the game itself. With archaeogaming, the archaeology is done within the game, but is also *about* the game, too. How was this artifact created, by whom, and why? At this point, the makers (Hello Games) have been mute as they beaver away at the end-product. Unlike so many makers of the past whose stories have been lost to history, there’s better than a passing chance at being able to learn from the game’s creators while at the same time exploring their creation from many archaeological perspectives.
-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming
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