No Man’s Sky allegedly infringes “super formula” patent

The fact that the unfathomably large universe of No Man’s Sky is conveniently available on a Blu-ray is known to be due to the fact that Hello Games procedurally generates it using a mathematical formula. The question now is to what extent the developers may have relied on a patented formula.

We are talking about a so-called “super formula” published by Belgian plant geneticist Johan Gieles in 2003. The formula describes a large number of natural shapes from snowflakes to crystals. Also see this video, in which the math and the benefits behind it are explained in more detail.

Now, 13 years later, the Tilburg-based company Genicap, founded by Gielis’ since then, speaks of Hello Games having used this super formula for No Man’s Sky and sees a need for discussion. The Dutch newspaper Telegraaf reported on the incident for the first time

Telegraaf quotes another Genicap manager, Jeroen Sparrow, that the company had not given approval for the use of the game, which was necessary because it was protected by a patent.

Prof. Johan Gielis, to whom the super formula goes back.

Contrary to what you would otherwise expect, the next step is not to shut down Hello Games or prevent the game from starting. Sparrow only wants to “sit at the table” if the formula has been used.

In fact, Murray spoke of the super formula himself in May 2015 when he spoke to The New Yorkers.

The article worries that Murray found the super formula and tried it on the test planet of No Man’s Sky.

Here is an abbreviated excerpt:

“One of the hardest things for us was creating coherent shapes,” Murray told me. To create varied landscapes, a formula has to deal with a wide range of arbitrary information without creating mathematical anomalies that cause glitches.

“That probably sounds ridiculous, but it’s hard to come up with a formula that you can rely on,” said Murray. The super formula seemed reliable. He points to a rocky ledge that looked like desert geology that was eroded by heavy erosion. “That looks pretty natural!”

He envisioned using the super formula throughout the game, especially in the center of the galaxy where the landscapes are becoming increasingly surreal.

So it seems that Gielis’ formula is actually used.

Since the patent also looks legal, the question is how to proceed.

Jeroen Sparraw said in a statement to our English colleagues:

Genicap is working on a project for a revolutionary software based on the super formula that can be used by both indies and large game studios.

With the superformal one can generate natural objects in endless, varied and independent objects from trees to rocks, beaches and planets to mountains. These are work steps that are still often done manually today. We are still in the concept phase and plan to discuss this in more detail in the autumn.

It would be great to exchange know-how with H**l Games. We believe No Man’s Sky is the beginning of a new generation of games. What the studio did with the formula is impressive. Johan Gielis, the founder of Genicap and discoverer of the super formula, is very proud.

Once Hello Games has used our technology, we have to come to the table at some point. We got in touch with them, but heard that they were busy at the moment. We trust that we can discuss this in the normal way.

When asked, Sony pointed out that it would be better to address questions about development processes to Hello Games. The developer has not yet commented on this.

The question, of course, is whether Hello Games is even obliged to license the formula. The question does not seem easy to answer, some claim that the application of an equation is not patentable in the first place.

We’ll keep you up to date if something changes.

If you want to see the super formula in Aktoin, you can do so on Vimeo.

Order No Man’s Sky from Amazon