Another Free Space Pun: Space Engine

Planets are in all in love with the sun.
Lewie pointed me towards this pretty thing earlier today. It’s called Space Engine, and it’s a “free universe simulator”. Not exactly a game, then, but close enough to my general interests in space things and simulatory things to go up here. There are a bunch of other similar projects out there, but this one is particularly pretty and versatile, as you can see in the video below. Just need some recordings of Carl Sagan rambling about the size of the universe to play over the top of this and you’re in space-nerd nirvana.


  1. Unaco says:

    “Just need some recordings of Carl Sagan rambling about the size of the universe to play over the top of this and you’re in space-nerd nirvana.”

    Here you go.

  2. Giaddon says:

    Obligatory Noctis mention:


    • Wulf says:

      NOCTIS!!! :D

      Gods, I loved Noctis.

    • Caleb367 says:

      Obligatory Aurora mention:

      (Go google Aurora 4X. And expect the Dwarf Fortress of 4x games.)

    • daphne says:

      NOCTIS! I wonder if the new version will ever come out?

    • Harlander says:

      Gods, I loved Noctis.

      I bet you did, for two reasons.

      One of those reasons is that Noctis is amazing. As for the other… :3 ;)

      I wonder if the new version will ever come out?

      The new Noctis is like commercial nuclear fusion. Always x years away. It’s taking so long because the author first thought he needed his own programming language, then his own operating system.

    • P7uen says:

      Used to love Noctis.

      Aurora: woah! I think I need to check that out, though I barely had the time to scratch the surface of Dwarf Fortress.

    • Caleb367 says:

      Aurora: Expect an insanely complex Harpoon-style jewel. Yesterday I started a new game and in the first hours I’ve set up a mining colony on the Moon, to be operated by people living in a orbital habitat I designed, produced and towed in orbit. Then lent some government funding to a commercial shipping line which hauled minerals back on Earth. All the while I was prospecting the asteroid belt for minerals and Lagrange points for jump points.

    • Urael says:

      Ah, Noctis. I want desperately to love you but you’re just so darned old; my brain needs to turn itself practically inside-out to get used to the low-fi graphics, which are admittedly impressive for their era but they do hurt modern eyes.

      As for a modern update I’d say this is pretty much vapourware. It became a community-powered project at one point, with a few members dedicating themselves to producing it, but after they spent over two years arguing over which programming language to build it with I realised this was going nowhere. I think the original author decided to take it back under his wing again but it’s been a while since I visited the forums. I’m not hopeful there’s been any progress whatsoever, which is a shame because Noctis is very special, up there with the original Elite.

  3. Outsider says:

    Whoah! Thanks for highlighting this. I’ll pick it up.

  4. gorgol says:

    Hmm, the planets don’t look 3d? It seems they are “flat” spheres with textures on them. So not as awesome as the procedurally generating I-Novae engine that is being developed for Infinity: The Quest for Earth… Son, I am disappoint.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I think you are missing the point.

    • iainl says:

      The Earth is smoother than a billiard ball, as a percentage of radius. Outside the atmosphere you can’t measure mountains by eye. So full poly modelling heightmaps would be a spectacular waste of effort.

    • gorgol says:

      you haven’t got a clue. link to

    • opel says:

      The point is that one of them you can download and play with, and one of them you cannot.

    • iainl says:

      It’s doing different things. If you want to go into the atmosphere, you need terrain modelling, yes. If you’re a space engine only, what they have is fine.

    • Luomu says:

      The planets in SE are very much 3D, you just need to be low enough to see the bumps and mountains. Like this: link to

  5. lunarplasma says:

    Take Space Engine and mash with upgraded Elite game = win

    • Caleb367 says:

      Mind = blown.

    • vandinz says:

      ^ THIS! Someone do it please!

    • 7rigger says:

      That would be my dream game.

      I wish I was clever enough to make it happen… :(

    • MrBRAD! says:

      “You can go to every star you can see in the sky.” Sounds like Shores of Hazeron.
      Although in SoH I can ride motorbikes out the side of my spaceship and into the sun.
      (oh dear, this wasn’t meant to be a reply)

  6. Soon says:

    So this confirms reality is just a simulation on a computer somewhere, right?

  7. Oneironaut says:

    Looks really cool, I hope I can run it. I’m downloading now, but getting about 4 MB/minute so it will take a while.

  8. starclaws says:

    I remember looking at something similar to this… It had every asteroid/space rock/planet/star and such that has been spotted by us out there. I wish I could remember what the name of that other program was… It was pretty extensive. If you turned on asteroids then you could barely see anything else.

  9. Muzman says:

    Celestia is definitely the daddy. Load up the big texture packs and the multimillion star packs and recreate the opening of Contact.

    It’s mostly more interested in accuracy though, so far. This one looks a bit prettier.

    • Shark says:

      The only annoying thing about Celestia are the controls, as your not pressing forward with W but accelerating, which had me shoot at the speed of light when I only wanted to fly to mars.
      But Celestia has mods for almost every popular Sci-fi movie (Babylon 5 <3)

  10. Koozer says:

    Try Universe Sandbox. Throw the Solar System into a black hole!

  11. patricij says:


  12. Teddy Leach says:

    The funny thing is I need to code something like this. Wait. That’s the tragic thing. Oh god, kill me.

    Fortunately, it doesn’t have to have quite as many gubbins as this.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Simulations are fun! Try writing Windows drivers and GUIs in plain old Win32 for a couple years while attempting to avoid suicide and/or madness.

    • Koozer says:

      Ah, the three body problem, how I loved/hated you.

  13. Urthman says:

    Speaking of Celestia. Anyone here tried the freeware mod Memory of the Waves?

    link to

    It’s not exactly a game. More like a fictional solar system that you can explore forwards and backwards in time to see evidence of four civilizations interacting over thousands of years.

    You notice a spacecraft orbiting a planet. You follow it back in time and space to see where it came from. This gives you clues to find other spacecraft, space stations, landings and settlements on planets, and mysterious cosmic events.

    It feels a little bit like Myst in space, where there are worlds to explore and a backstory to discover, but the only interaction is finding spacecraft or cities or artificial asteroids, zooming in to examine them, following their orbits forward and backward in time to see where they came from and what becomes of them. It’s beautiful and surprising.

    Familiarity with the Celestia interface is essential. You’ll need to be able to “follow” planets and satellites, know how to find all the satellites of a given planet, know how to move in space and time. But if you’ve already played with Celestia before, or if you’re interested in giving it a spin, you might find in Memory of Waves some science fiction sensawunda in ways you won’t find in any other game.

    • squareking says:

      Myst in space, you say?

      *rubs chin*

    • Hugehead says:

      Oh my… This sounds awesome, I’ll be back in a few hours after figuring out Celestia and exploring this.

  14. Metonymy says:

    Embedded cubes within embedded cubes, at a scale of about 1/1000, (ad nauseum) would give a better impression of just how large the scale of the universe is, with the virtual lines fading in opacity as they reach the level of a mesh.
    100 mile cube, 100,000 mile cube, planet-to-star distance cube, trillion mile cube, light year cube, 1000 light years, width of a galaxy, etc.

    These simulations never come close to really revealing just how much empty space there is between stars. The scale just isn’t portrayed accurately or impressively.

    • Urthman says:

      Also, things get really weird and fictional if you start jumping to other stars and looking at the night sky, because I don’t think any of these space simulators are capable of computing how the stars would look with their various lightspeed delays from any arbitrary star at any arbitrary time in history or the future.

      I don’t know if Space Engine will draw constellation lines between the stars or not, but Celestia will. See if you can imagine what those lines would look like seen from a star 2000 light years away from ours.

    • opel says:

      It seemed like a lot of the stars had smaller stars orbiting them, but the average distance between star systems seems fairly accurate for dense galaxies (0.25 light year). I think the spiral galaxy’s arms have star distances that we’re used to (4-10 light year), but I can’t actually get there without the program crashing.

  15. Zanchito says:

    Sweet! I love astronomy, thank you for posting, even if it’s not strictly a videogame.

    Again, for a similar thing with ships, combat and trade:

    link to

    And of course, droolicious videos: link to

    • Harlander says:

      And for a similar thing with spaceships, combat and trade that you can actually download and play (though it looks nowhere near as pretty):
      Shores of Hazeron

      (No, I’m never going to stop sporadically pimping this)

  16. robotco says:

    meh. looks exactly like celestia, which came out like 10 years ago.

    • Tuskin38 says:

      Yes, in celestia can you have procedural everything and land on the surface of planets with mountains and craters.

  17. Xercies says:

    I hope this is run by a nice hot cup of tea

    • 7rigger says:

      But then it would only be a finite probability!

      This does look awesome. Downloading now, hopefully it will be close to the level of accuracy of the Starry Night series

      *Edit* I got italics working!

    • passingstranger says:

      Perhaps by something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a cup of tea.

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      Oh I missed out on the tea gag- I’m late. The late PoLLeNSKi.

  18. oatish says:

    Want to say thank you for the sci-fi / outer-spacey good shit you have all linked above…

    Now I need to be both unemployed and without human relations for a significant time to really explore this…

  19. The Tupper says:

    This is utterly awesome.

  20. Sonny B says:

    Oh god I saw a potato in that picture curse you valve! But in general this looks sick! :D

  21. Killer6 says:

    That is pretty insane, but I also can’t quite understand the point of it all.

  22. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I Didn’t see any Nebula’s in there :< They are what makes space so good to look at.

  23. Pointless Puppies says:

    I am disappoint. The “game” (engine? program?) crashes every two minutes for no real reason. I’m on an i5 750 and GTX 460 too.

    Boo >:|

  24. mod the world says:

    Sweet, was looking for something like this a week ago and ended up with google space maps.

  25. Cinek says:

    but… exactly… WHAT’S THE POINT? Other than featuring programming skills (which failed miserably, considering the amount of crashes)

  26. yurusei says:

    For the life of me, I cant seem to find Mars.

  27. Baggypants says:

    How is this any different to Celestia?

  28. Lyon says:

    My god, it’s full of stars!

  29. TheAncientGoat says:

    Gah, my blog covered a bunch of “games” like this, all open source sothat people /can/ actually make games with them, and all just as promising.

    But if I link, I’ll be spammy! Oh, the humanity

  30. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. says:

    This looks awesome but it spends it’s entire time crashing for me.