Years It'd ACTUALLY Take to Visit Each Planet in No Man's Sky

This past week, No Man's Sky developer, Hello Games, mentioned that it uses a 64-bit seed to generate its planets. That got picked up by a few folks and they began saying things like "Seeing everything in No Man's Sky will take over five billion years." That may seem impressive, but it's inaccurate.

First things first, what is a seed and why does that determine how content is generated? A seed is a number that is used to generate other numbers. If you have one number, you can push it through some algorithms to generate lots of other numbers. It's the key to a lot of computer security features and is even used to synchronize things like GPS satellites.

When we say that Minecraft or No Man's Sky uses a 64-bit seed, we mean that the system can handle any number that is 64-bits long, given that each bit can be either a zero or a one that results in 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 different possible combinations. That's the number people are referring to when they say No Man's Sky has 18 quintillion planets, but it's also pretty deceptive. The idea of "quintillion" is so far beyond the realm of human comprehension, it's mind-boggling.

"Quintillion" is the scale we use for things like the number of grains of sand on Earth or total number of insects. Most people can't even begin to understand how many grains of sand are on a beach, much less a planet.

Apparently it's such a huge number that when people starting claiming it'd take 5 billion years to see every planet for one second in No Man's Sky, nobody decided to check that figure. It'd actually take more than 500 billion years – or 42 times the age of the Universe.

Minecraft also uses a 64-bit random seed (under certain conditions, other times it's 32 or 48-bit). If we assume every planet in No Man's Sky is roughly Earth-sized which isn't unreasonable by any means, then they'd be 500 million million square meters. Minecraft's world size being seven times that, Minecraft could theoretically generate seven times as big a playground as No Man's Sky.

Again, that sounds impressive, but if you've played Minecraft you know that there's not a ton of variety in each world map. With some exceptions, namely the really weird seeds that people have discovered, each world is largely the same. For many, that's also not the point of Minecraft. Each area is different enough to feel at least a little fresh. It's a playground that facilitates play.

I spoke with Sean Murray at Hello Games – he confirmed my figures, and in our conversation he mentioned that he didn't think we should become fixated on just the scale of No Man's Sky.

I just worry that some folks will be too focused on the tech side of things with No Man's Sky, and I don't want to make a tech demo, we're making a GAME. [One] I hope that will be really interesting and entertaining, even if we just have like 10 planets. Like just one solar system is something I can quite happily play around in for days right now.

Now that that's settled, here's some trivia I learned while crunching numbers for this piece.

  • To fill out one Minecraft world takes 921 million billion blocks. Storing all of that would require a minimum of 410 petabytes, which at current hard drive prices would cost more than $24.6 million.
  • If you took all of the blocks that can be randomly generated with Minecraft and made them into a sphere it would be .25% the volume of the Heliosphere.
  • If you took all possible blocks and made one long line, it'd be 10 billion times longer than the Universe is across. Yeah, something that fits in the Solar System could span the universe. Numbers are weird.

You're reading Numbers, a blog on Kotaku that examines games and culture through the lens of math and statistics. To contact the author of this post, write todancstarkey@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @dcstarkey.