The No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey

The No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey

Prepared by Andrew Reinhard, NMSAS Team Lead

May 16, 2016


What is No Man’s Sky:


Arguably the most anticipated video game of 2016, No Man’s Sky is a space exploration/survival game for Sony Play Station 4 and PC (via Steam) developed by indie outfit Hello Games in Guildford, England. What makes this game so special is that it is the largest implementation of collective procedural algorithms ever brought to market, literally a universe-sized sandbox with systems, stars, worlds, cultures, languages, artifacts, and more created on-the-fly. Data collected by players is uploaded to a shared, master database called the Atlas as everyone works their way in to the center of space, collecting resources and lore in order to resolve a to-date unknown mystery.


What is the No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey:


The No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey (NMSAS) is an attempt by real, trained, professional archaeologists and archaeology students to conduct the first archaeological survey of a procedurally generated universe containing procedurally created material culture (lore, artifacts, built environments, manipulated landscapes, modern buildings, ruins, etc.). We want to determine what machine-created cultures look like, applying archaeological methods used in the real world to a virtual space. We are also keen to see what kind of emergent behaviors are created through our interaction with this complex, boxed universe created from hundreds of thousands of lines of code.


What the Archaeonauts Can Do:


At first the team of archaeologists (there are 15 of us, and we’re using the term “archaeonauts” at least for now), will seek out new life and explore new civilizations by way of screen and video capture and live broadcasts via Twitch. The game allows for geo-tagging of geographic and built features to be explored later. We will begin collecting data via Excel, later upgrading to something more relational (Access or Filemaker), and will incorporate GIS. Survey narratives, data, and media will be exported to (Eric Kansa) as Open Access. We plan on crowdsourcing data collection once our in-game methods are honed and documented.


What the Archaeonauts Need Help With:


There are certain elements of the survey that are beyond the abilities of the core team members. We need assistance primarily with data-scraping and data visualization. At this time, it is unclear how modding within the game will work, but it’s likely that the Steam community will be allowed (or encouraged) to build mods to use in-game. The mods the archaeologists will need include deep-space probes that will relay back basic data regarding sentient life and evidence of past or present habitation. We will also need local probes that can be deployed by the archaeonauts on an individual planet to map it for recognizing non-natural artifacts on the surface. We also need ground-penetrating radar that will work in-game; there is proof that some of the worlds can be excavated, cavern systems explored. Lastly, we are wondering if it is possible to create an instant-data-collection tool that grabs all data from all points of the universe simultaneously. It is unclear now if all of the worlds and environments are already created and awaiting discovery, or if these worlds are created only upon arrival of explorers. If the former, maybe that data-collection tool is possible.

We are undecided on how to visualize the data we collect, but having a tool that can be fed data and can then grow and change in 3-4 dimensions with millions of colors that change during real-time data-collection/manipulation would be good.


Key Dates:


No Man’s Sky launches on June 21, 2016 in the US, on June 23 in Europe, and June 24 in the UK. The first NMSAS ships will launch on June 21 so we hit the ground running. We anticipate three months of active surveying while we refine our methods and workflows, as well as our vocabulary lists, typologies, etc. Following the summer, we will open the survey up to the crowd. It is our hope that by the first six months (certainly by the first year), we will begin to deploy some or all of the open source mods mentioned above. Also by the end of the first year we should have a very good idea about the game’s lore, about its emergent behaviors, and more about the end-game (if there really is one). Data collection will continue by those players who want to keep going for as long as the universe remains hosted and accessible. We plan on publishing a preliminary report after the first three months, and again after the first year, followed by a more full accounting to be published after two years of work.

 by Andrew Reinhard, NMSAS Team Lead