The much-anticipated new video game No Man's Sky sets players loose in a massive, full-scale universe of more than 18 quintillion worlds, each roughly the size (virtually speaking) of a real-life planet. The planets and their star systems are generated procedurally, meaning they were built by an all-controlling algorithm rather than individually hand-coded. A consistent, universe-wide physics affects every object in the game's cosmos.
Calling No Man's Sky a "game" may be a misnomer. It's more of an interactive universe simulator. The main activities are seeing the sights, gathering resources, and moving on to the next system; it's less about conflict and winning than traveling and learning. The algorithmically generated landscapes are frequently stunning, but there's not much to do in this massive simulated world, which lacks the focused objectives of most video games. Exploring the universe turns out to be beautiful but also a bit boring.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Virtual Universe".