The moon Aobandan Elemen is one of two orbiting Gapacazuso LR474, the sole planet in the O-class system Etenqintasy, about 140,000 light years from the center of the Euclid Galaxy (the home to all No Man’s Sky players when they begin the game). With warm weather, general sentinel presence, common flora, and bountiful fauna, plus its relatively small size, this moon seemed the best place to test archaeological survey/transect methods in version 1.1x, the so-called “Foundation Update” released by Hello Games in November 2016. This report summarizes the methods and research questions, followed by a detailed account of the transect’s finds, as well as notes on other discoveries located post-transect.
With version 1.1x, players can now place their own, permanent beacons, as well as “signal boosters,” which contain exact coordinates, allowing for proper record-keeping. I wanted to do a long transect of a small moon to see what non-natural discoveries I could find along the route. Having played the game for a few months, I knew that it is rare that things align exactly along a route, so I allowed myself the chance to zig and zag a little, deviating from the line by a maximum of one-minute’s walk from my current position in order to reach an area flagged on my head-up display (HUD). These areas appear as question marks, and hovering your pointer over them indicates travel time at your current speed.
Prior to starting the survey, it was important to mark a start- and end-point. I scanned the surface of the moon from space, and a “habitable base” and “abandoned building” were flagged as discoveries awaiting my arrival. These two structures mark fixed positions on the surface, and were roughly poles apart on the equator. Because planets and moons have no poles in the game, it is impossible to determine cardinal directions, so I let these structures serve as the poles of the moon’s prime meridian, creating the transect to walk along. In order to mark the poles, I landed at the Abandoned Building and planted a beacon and a signal booster, recording the coordinates prior to leaving. I then flew to the Habitable Base and planted another beacon and signal booster. By doing so, these two fixed points would appear on my display, and would allow me to see my distance traveled (in minutes and seconds), as well as the distance yet to cover (also in minutes and seconds).
Start (Habitable Base): VAER:05B9:007C:02C6:0118
End (Abandoned Building): ABST:05B9:007C:02C6:0118
Note that the coordinates are parsed into five parts, the first part containing local coordinates, the other sets refer to the moon, its planet, its system, and its galaxy. For the purpose of this report, all sites surveyed will be noted by just the prefix.
To calculate distance, I used both a stopwatch and my “distance traveled” Journey entry. The game records the total distance traveled by a player on foot, measuring by “u” for “units.” One unit = approx. one foot. I deduced this figure by checking my distance traveled before and after traveling for 60 seconds across a flat area on the moon. I traversed 276 units in one minute of walking. This equates to 16,560 units per hour. Assuming one travels three miles per hour, this would equal 5,520 units per mile (a mile on Earth is 5,280 feet). Unfortunately, I figured this out about two-thirds through the transect, so was unable to record absolute distance between sites. I did, however, time my travel between sites, and one can multiply time traveled by units to arrive at distance (D=rt).
I resolved to plant a signal booster only at any sites I found along the way. Planting a permanent beacon would have confused my north-south direction, cluttering up my viewfinder with other points of interest. Planting a signal booster would give me coordinates, however, permanently tied to a structure. I opted not to plant a signal booster next to deposits of trash, feeling it would add even more clutter to the landscape. I did, however note whenever I came upon more discarded boxes and jettison pods. For the next transect, I think I will plant a signal booster next to everything I find, not just permanent structures.
Whenever I reached a site (a non-natural feature in the environment), I took a screengrab that included the name of the moon as well as the coordinates provided by the signal booster. I occasionally shot video of glitches and of unique (to me) animal behavior.
How many built environments would I find on the transect, and of what type would they be?
Would these structures be tied to one of the game’s three races, or would there be buildings placed by different races?
How much trash would I find along the transect, and of what type would it be?
What kind of landscapes support different kinds of non-natural intrusions (trash, buildings, ruins, monoliths, etc.)? Can any conclusions be drawn?
Are non-natural finds (artifacts/sites) evenly spaced apart by time, distance, or both, or is placement more or less random?
Would there be any glitches, and if so, how would they manifest?
The climate of Aobandan Element is classed as “warm,” but daytime highs were in the mid-40s C (115 F), and overnight lows in the high teens C (60s F), with frequent dust storms propelled by excessive heat (70s C, 160s F) and wind. There was zero precipitation during the seven moon-days that it took to complete the transect. The day-night cycle is 20-minutes in Earth real-time, cycling between 10-minute days and 10-minute nights bookended by very fast dawns and dusks.
The moon is hilly, but not mountainous, with occasional flats that morph into modest canyonlands and simple rock arches. There is no running or standing water (or other liquid) anywhere, above- or underground. The geology is largely iron ore trapped in five kinds of rocks, with occasional crystal deposits of plutonium, and quite rare chrysonite and titanium (these latter two typically found together). Plantlife is limited to tall, isolated bi-leafed stalks or stalks topped with balls of vegetation. Scrub dots the landscape. Occasional plants bearing platinum or thamium9 signatures appear, typically in spaces of transition between the flats and sloping walls of red rock. Animal life varies between three types of megafauna (all peaceful), mid-sized quadrupeds (one type is carnivorous), several types of rodents (which the carnivore eats), and a human-sized “land-crab” with eight legs.
Navigating the transect was not too difficult, but occasionally I had to choose a route around steep hills or to avoid the carnivore. The most challenging environmental aspect was the excessive heat and storms, which required constant maintenance of my suit to keep me from burning up. Fortunately, overnight travel did not require any mad scrambles to find iron or platinum for immediate suit repairs.
The following notes are organized by total time to each discovery. Whenever I stopped at a structure or rubbish site, I would stop the clock in order to make notes, restarting it only when resuming my journey. The total walking time taken to walk halfway around the moon was 140 minutes, although I spent about twice that long taking photos, video, and making notes. Time is presented in this report as hh:mm:ss. In order not to aversely affect the time between points, I walked the entire way, never engaging the “run” function, and only occasionally activating the jetpack to soften landings.
00:00:00: Start at the Habitable Base (image below).
00:00:39: Cargo drop (4 containers requiring Atlas Pass v1 to open, health box, green cargo box)
00:04:04: 2 damaged machinery pods
00:10:10: “The Okpod” waypoint (EWIX prefix). This waypoint contained one shelter building with a banner featuring an orange field topped by a black square from which dropped two black vertical lines, and three black horizontal lines at the bottom. The shelter contained a multitool tech station, restore shield station, and an encyclopedia station that displayed the Gek word for “beam.” The waypoint also had two “Atlas cans,” one damaged machinery pod, and one health pod.
00:19:23: one damaged machinery pod
00:23:00: “Mexiguerr Crossing” waypoint (ULDI prefix). This waypoint contained one shelter with an orange and black banner as described above. The shelter housed a multitool tech station only. Next to the shelter was a “quonset”-style hut, two jettison pods, and one crate.
00:25:57: “Ebuey Moor” waypoint (no permanent structures, so no coordinates recorded). This antenna was flanked by a cargo box and one suit upgrade pod.
00:28:05: one damaged machinery pod
00:33:56: one “Atlas can”
00:35:23: one jettison pod and one crate
00:42:02: “Naglet Desert” waypoint (CODIV prefix). This waypoint featured a platinum resource depot (a five-cylinder building), as well as an orange and black banner as described above. The structure was surrounded by three crates, two jettison pods, and three “Atlas cans.”
00:43:52: two health pods
00:49:19: one Knowledge Stone with the Gek word for “permanently”
00:49:58: one jettison pod and one “Atlas can”
00:50:11: one damaged machinery pod (image above, with the jettison pod and “Atlas can” in the distance)
00:55:20: one jettison pod
00:56:46: one damaged machinery pod
00:57:28: “Luysia Plains” waypoint (BUDUL prefix). One shelter containing a multitool tech station. Another orange and black banner hung outside. There was a quonset hut and a short tower.
00:60:00: cargo drop
01:02:00: “Ruzanna Crater” waypoint (LOTE prefix). Gek observatory, the “Ticssold Reflector.” There was also a Gek Knowledge Stone with the word for “Idiot.” Solving the observatory’s puzzle yielded the location of ruins approx. 30 minutes away and off-transect. I opted to ignore the ruins during the transect, returning to them after completing the survey.
01:24:00: “H-CF5 Interface” trading post (LUBB prefix). The trading post also marked the spot of one of three glitches I found, this one being three suspended spacecraft, unmoving in the sky. Other elements moved as normal, but these ships were stuck in the air, the first time I have seen this in the game.
01:32:24: “Mepare Desert” waypoint (ENJA prefix). This waypoint contained a single shelter with a multitool tech station, outside of which stood another orange and black banner. A small tower and a quonset hut stood nearby.
01:38:03: one damaged machinery pod
01:42:32: “Nodaya Plain” waypoint. No structures or crates to report, so no coordinates taken. There was an orange and black banner next to the antenna, however.
01:47:21: one damaged machinery pod
01:48:40: “Yevio Dale” waypoint. No structures or crates to report, so no coordinates taken. There was an orange and black banner next to the antenna, however.
01:55:39: “Lovars Moor” waypoint (MUPDO prefix). Two shelters and one quonset hut. No banner. One shelter had a research specimen station and a health station. The other shelter housed a multitool station and a shield station.
02:01:55: one damaged machinery pod
02:04:43: “Effit Moor” waypoint (ORBU prefix). Two shelters and one quonset hut. The banner outside the shelters was NOT orange and black, but rather a black chevron on a purple field. This was the only odd banner found along the transect. One shelter contained a multitool station and a shield station. The other shelter contained a research station.
02:07:34: “Indhaudley” waypoint (PAYEM prefix). Platinum resource depot next to an orange and black banner as described above.
02:13:00: Drop pod. This area was glitched, as moving forward caused me to spin rapidly, unable to move forward. Logging out and logging in resolved the issue, and I was able to proceed along the transect.
02:14:59: one damaged machinery pod
02:16:02: Gek plaque, “Donetuswe Landmark” (OKTI prefix). Activating the landmark revealed the Gek word for “Devastation.”
02:20:00: Endpoint of the transect reached.
I realized dumbly that after finishing the transect I would have to walk back to my ship, or at least to a building that would allow me to summon my ship to my location. I decided to walk to the ruins I’d located via the observatory, about an hour’s walk away. As I walked (about 30 degrees off-of-transect), I stumbled upon a few things, which I have recorded here.
“Oennyidu Tower” (Korvax transmission tower). This was the only non-Gek site/artifact/feature I discovered on this moon. Activating the tower collected a distress signal to a crashed ship. An empty quonset hut stood next to the tower. No coordinates taken.
“Iwaiduc Station” waypoint (RUVA) prefix. This was a massive area featuring a Gek landing pad and Gek observatory. The landing pad connected to a commercial office crewed by “Trade Envoy Hilau.” The office contained a stock transfer station, a multitool tech station, a sales terminal (“K-C-IXO”), and a weapon terminal featuring the gun “Shaodw of Yakodawaj.” After speaking with Hilau, I discovered it was a “SynthetiGek”, a Korvax representative wearing a Gek disguise. I opted not to interfere, thus increasing my reputation with the Korvax. Solving the neighboring observatory’s puzzle point me to the same set of ruins earlier revealed to me. I summoned my ship and flew to the ruins.
“Ruins” (ULKI prefix). As with all ruins in the game, this set featured three Knowledge Stones. Words learned were all Gek for “rare,” “dampening,” and “slug.” The ruins themselves were a complex elevated on lofty pillars of carved rock atop which sat a Gek monumental sculpture head, a gold sphere knocked off its plinth, a flag pole topped by a triangle, and a spherical Gek plaque, “Remnants of Maviande-Aiam.” Activating the plaque yielded the Gek word for “ammunition.” Note that none of the above features of this ruin are unique to this ruin (other than its name). I have seen these features in various combinations in other types of ruins.
“Koriguchi S31” abandoned Gek ship (LUPBA prefix), as identified by the Korvax radio antenna discovered earlier. The ship’s banner was yellow on a blue field (see image below).
As I prepared to leave the moon, I accidentally flew over a monolith, so I landed to record it:
“Urtetuus-Foss Landmark,” Gek monolith (UUJJ prefix). As with other monoliths, three Knowledge Stones were present, these offering up the Gek words for “speech,” “emergency,” and “balarian.” Correctly solving the monolith’s challenge yielded the Atlas word for “leave.” This monolith was of the “sphere” type, with a blue eye open to the horizon.
Future transects should plant a signal booster (containing coordinates) at every non-natural feature/artifact/site.
Record not only time between points, but also distance in units by way of the Journey feature in the menu.
Upon finishing the north-south transect, fly to the midpoint and then plant beacons to mark east-west termini for a second transect.
Immediately upon finding a banner, research it on the game’s reddit pages to see if similar have been found, and in what context.
Record letter-forms and sigils that mark some buildings, and compare these against what others have found and have placed online.
Determine how to read the coordinate prefixes given by the signal boosters. Learn how to map these on the world’s surface to look for placement patterns.
Completing this short transect allowed me to do some “slow archaeology,” and I was able to learn much more about this moon and its features than I otherwise would have through just a flyover. One cannot see the small crates and canisters from the air, and cannot appreciate the landscape and how it affects where things are. By far the most common non-natural find were the damaged machinery pods, followed by dump sites of crates and boxes. A handful of building types also occurred along the transect, but not all building types were discovered (when compared to others I have seen on other worlds). There seems to be no pattern of placement or of how far things are from something else, although I was never ten minutes’ walk from something of archaeological interest.
The most intriguing things to me when playing No Man’s Sky as a game are the subtle differences in the procedurally generated shapes of buildings, in the words discovered, and in the names given to sites. Are these truly random, or are they tied to specific races in the game? How does the morphology and phonology work? I am also keen to learn more about the intersection of the game’s three races; seeing the Korvax banner on a Gek moon was striking.
The fact that I found this much stuff over about seven Earth-miles of actual walking was also surprising, and reflects the artifact/site/feature-density I have seen on other worlds (but have not measured with as much precision) in v1.1x of the game. The density of structures was much higher in v1.0x. After visiting nearly 100 worlds, only a handful have been devoid of non-natural intrusions/structures. Everything, however, appears to be about the same age, appears not to age, and appears to be largely unaffected by the various climates/environments on different worlds. The ruins are certainly different, appear to be older, and are actually ruined. It remains unclear who put them across the galaxy. These, too, share architectural morphology, perhaps seeded by an earlier spacefaring race.
When viewing No Man’s Sky as its own built environment, there are still “holes in the roof,” or gltiches (aberrant behaviors). Observing these, one is immediately taken out of the space of the game; the illusion of immersion breaks. Seeing ships frozen in flight, seeing animals scrambling over the ground while getting nowhere, and being personally able to walk forward without spinning made an interesting walk more so. My presence on the landscape allowed me to observe these behaviors, and likely caused them just by being where I was at a certain point in time. I did nothing out-of-the-ordinary to trigger this odd behavior, yet there it was, the residue of the complex construct of the gaming environment.
—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming