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A geneticist’s ‘Superformula’ made ‘No Man’s Sky’ real, but can Hello Games legally use it?

No Man’s Sky is scheduled to hit PlayStation 4 and PC in just a few weeks, but new concerns have been raised that could cause problems for the much-anticipated game and it’s developer, Hello Games. It’s not over bugs or polish, however, but a “Superformula” credited to a Belgian geneticist.

Using an algorithm to randomly generate trillions and trillions of planets, not to mention wildlife and other hazards, is the foundation on which the rest of No Man’s Sky is built. But it now appears the algorithm wasn’t actually written by Hello Games. Rather, it was borrowed from geneticist Johan Gielis, according to a New Yorker story spotted by Eurogamer.

The piece says that director Sean Murray initially tested the Superformula using floating shapes that changed every time he refreshed them. The formula was then applied to the rest of the game, and its small size drastically reduced processing time.

The potential to create with the Superformula is staggering. Here you can see examples of the formula in action with just simple 2D shapes, creating everything from a lemon to a starfish and a guitar pick seemingly at random.

So, what’s the problem with Hello Games using the formula for the game? It turns out Gielis owns a patent that includes language related to “3D images and/or animations.” Genicap, an institute in which he is a board member, claims that the developer must pay a licensing fee in order to use the formula for No Man’s Sky, with the company’s research officer Jeroen Sparrow telling Eurogamer that Genicap wants to “get to the table” with Hello Games and “exchange knowhow,” but it doesn’t sound like he intends to stop the release.

“We trust that we will be able to discuss this in a normal way,” Sparrow adds.

With so little time until the its launch, we doubt that Genicap or Gielis will actually attempt to stop No Man’s Sky from hitting store shelves, but it will be an interesting story to keep an eye on in the coming months. Hopefully, the two companies can work together to create new content for the game, rather than lapse into a patent licensing war.

No Man’s Sky is out on August 9.

Pre-order No Man’s Sky on Amazon

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