2012: A Space Engine

SPACE: The Pink Floyd Frontier
There’s this… game? I don’t know how to describe it now, with my heart in my mouth. I am chewing my own heart. Space Engine probably isn’t a game. It’s… It’s a universe simulator. It’s galaxies and galaxies in a tiny zip file. And the most amazing thing is we live in it. And that it is so very beautiful.

Space Engine simulates our universe in the most beautiful, silent, slothful way, until you are delirious. It is free, Russian, and 699MB on your HDD. It’s everything in space in a little folder just there on your desktop. Jim mentioned it way back, but it’s had an interface revamp and white dwarfs, neutron stars, gas giants and black holes inserted, clouds cover planets, in spacecraft mode you now have motion control, gravity forces, collisions with planets. It just deserves more of a mention. Ste Curran pointed me towards it on One Life Left, and then flicked me towards it like a speck of dust in low gravity atmosphere. I floated, happily, towards a crash landing in a nebula.

I awoke on RS 8403-114-9-67729840-780 A5, a procedurally generated temporate terra with life. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, and places uncharted by human astronomy are  procedurally generated by an expert coder, Vladimir Romanyuk. From this generated terra RS 8403-114-9-67729840-780 A5 I looked out on millions of galaxies, more stars than can be counted. I brought up a map of the universe, clicked on a gas giant, and went on a journey at hyperspeed outside the known universe. It makes you feel so very small, and so very in awe of everything. It makes you feel like Star Trek cannot possibly be far from us (though Tribbles may indeed be a fiction, and how much I want a replicator for endless Aberdeen Rowies and they are never bloody going to invent them are they). There is no music or sound in this game, much like in the vacuum of space, but I defied, DEFIED space – and  put Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon on – as is tradition a la Freaks and Geeks’ “The Garage Door” episode. I highly recommend putting this on whilst you play, or perhaps my fully elated Liquor, Midnight, Tokyo as accompaniment. NO DRUGS. That would be irresponsible. Unless it’s flu medication. Go on. Get off your face on Calpol and The Great Gig In The Sky. Run along now.

The much touted New Interface is great – though you will stare at the command list in the menu for a long time, trying to memorise all the things you can do. Amongst many things you can press 1 to free-mode to fly through the universe, like God overseeing His work, or perhaps you’re an agnostic and you prefer to wander via spacecraft mode by pressing 2. Wave your mouse to the bottom left and you can select to Go To a selected planet, and you zoom through space at hyperspeed. Click to land on the planet, if you like, and press to fast forward time so that clouds roll past, and the sun rises on your part of the planet.

Oh yes, did I mention you can control time in the universe? From the ‘manual’ (a tome, a digital tome): “[L] key accelerates time to 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, etc. The [K] key slows time down. The [J] key changes the direction flow of time. The [Space] key stops and resumes time. The [\] key restores time to its normal (real-time) flow rate. Combination of [Ctrl]+[\] sets the current time to the computer’s system clock time.”

You are a god, a goddess, a supreme being. I spent time dreamily contemplating my role as this goddess over creamy purple and blue planets, regarding them benevolently. By pressing tab you can think of a planet – yes, Earth, or anywhere – scroll or search for it – and travel there via autopilot, drift in the skies of somewhere you are familiar. Or you can spin the scroll, click at random, journey to strange corners of the murk.

You can orbit, if you choose. Or you can just fly.  All the places you have visited, real or generated, are there in your own personal log. You can go back to any of them in your own time. Or look them up on Wikipedia and see for yourself that 130 Electra is a real place.

I can’t mention this enough: one man, Vladimir Romanyuk, has mapped out the known universe, and then procedurally generated further universe based on how ours already functions. He deserves our attention just for that.


  1. Captain Joyless says:

    someone just needs to hook this up to dwarf fortress so that instead of a single world full of dwarves, goblins, socks, catsplosions, etc, we can have an ENTIRE UNIVERSE full of it.

  2. Cara Ellison says:

    Oh! I should mention that it is super crash-happy under the weight of its planets. But a small price to pay.

    • Moni says:

      That should be “mass of its planets”. More massive, more gravity, more crashy space ship.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Planets do have weight, of course.

        • Droopy The Dog says:

          It’s a bit of a pain to have to define what that weight is relative to though.

          I prefer the mass version, because my PC is a spaceship in that analogy and I want a spaceship.

          • Victuz says:

            My physics teacher always told me that weight is a tool we use to measure mass. Not the mass of the object itself :).

            While she was saying that in polish I still think it applies…

          • SuicideKing says:

            Yeah, weight is mass(m) x acceleration due to gravity(g), where g is defined for a particular place.

            So the appropriate term to use is mass, the sum of all matter contained in a body.

          • jrodman says:


  3. Brun says:

    I smell Noctis.

    • Shepardus says:

      First thing I thought of when I read “galaxies and galaxies in a tiny zip file.”

      • Dreforian says:

        I thought of Men In Black. “And the most amazing thing is we live in it.”
        Our entire universe actually just exists inside the a zip file in some being’s game folder…

    • Bahumat says:

      I put hundreds of hours into Noctis. Oh man. If this is basically Noctis HD… unf. There goes all my free time for a long time.

  4. John Mirra says:

    Yeah, this is brilliant thing, really meditative one. I should check these neutron stars, haven’t seen them in earlier versions.

    • Gap Gen says:

      There are some slightly weird features, like planetary nebulae outside of galaxies/clusters (link to en.spaceengine.org – someone want to correct me on this?) and I’m not sure if the lensing star is supposed to be unlensed, or if this isn’t what’s happening (link to en.spaceengine.org) but it’s still damn impressive. I’d love a game set in this, where galaxies genuinely are as big as galaxies, rather than being ten stars connected by wormholes.

      • John Mirra says:

        First pic is probably remnants of supernova’s explosion.

        • Gap Gen says:

          It’s a planetary nebula, which is more from stellar winds rather than supernovae. My beef with having them outside galaxies is that they’re made in part by sweeping up matter around a star, of which there is not very much outside a galaxy. But I’m not 100% sure about this complaint, and in any case it’s rather specific.

          • RobinOttens says:

            Nah. There’s also stars expelling their own gas to form nebulae. And supernova remnants.

            But your partially right I think, planetary nebulae shouldn’t exist outside the galaxy because the heavier (thus more short-lived) stars that create such nebulae don’t exist outside of galaxies. They would all already have died out ages ago without the molecular clouds (and interstellar dust you mentioned) to feed the creation of new ones. Not sure about that though.. Damnit, I should be sure about that, I studied this stuff for two years! : (

          • Gap Gen says:

            My main concern is the form that the nebula takes in different density environments. But you could be right that planetary nebulae are mainly made up of gas from the star, but I’d need to get better numbers to be sure. Certainly supernova remnants are dominated by gas from the surrounding medium (and can have masses of thousands of solar masses or more), but this is largely as supernovae are not pathetic, unlike stellar winds.

            EDIT: Also, planetary nebulae are intermediate to low mass stars, not heavy ones, as far as I can see. But yeah, they do tend to be clustered around the disk. Also, yes this conversation is nerdy, but for me it basically counts as work, so eh.

  5. Borklund says:


  6. Feferuco says:

    I disapprove the lack of caps and faces on the title. On another note, Outerra is similarly interesting but not as epic. It is “just” planet earth and you can fly around anywhere it is pretty beautiful. Also drive a truck. It is free but it is a limited version. It still isn’t finished.

  7. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    You lost me at the “Pink Floyd….NO DRUGS” bit

  8. Fullforce says:

    All we need to do now is combine this with Kerbal Space Program and we’ll effectively have the greatest game ever made.

    • TheThinkTanker says:

      I just wish we could hook up an MMOG-ish, Mortal:Online-ish, DayZ-ish, Freespace 2-ish SciFi experience to that engine and run amok.

      • Arona Daal says:

        Well, there is always the upcoming Final Frontier Remake,Pioneer:

      • sidoaight says:

        Did you just say Infinity: The Quest For Earth? (video) Yes, you’re welcome. :P

        I would like to point out that every star in the prototype video is clickable, created by the procedural galaxy engine. Combined with the solar system and planetary engine (yay 64bit precision!) and you’ve got an entire universe* to explore.


    • JiminyJickers says:

      Oh yes, this and Kerbal Space Program combined would be a dream game.

    • neonordnance says:

      I would argue that Kerbal Space Program is already on its way to becoming the greatest sim of all time. But Holy Crap that would be an incredible union.

  9. Low Life says:

    This is a great piece of software. Sometimes Iwant to feel completely insignificant, and what would be better for that than exploring the entire universe? Though what I really want is to experience the whole thing with Oculus Rift (or equivalent VR headset), I imagine that would be quite an experience.

    My soundtrack of choice is obviously Vangelis’ Albedo 0.39.

    • Ernesto says:

      Definately going to download this!

      If you really want to experience how unbelievably freakin’ huge our universe and how tiny earth is, get Celestia.
      WARNING: May cause Nihilophobia in some individuals (probably those with huge monitors ;) )!

      • HallowedError says:

        I tried to use Celestia again after playing around with this and it just isn’t the same. Space Engine has the pretty graphics and most of the same features. The only thing that I can remember Celestia truly excelling in was having satellites which SE doesn’t do. But SE more than makes up for it by having seamless surface travel.

  10. sinister agent says:

    Hopefully it will have a model that will allow for dynamic Space Argument situations.

  11. albeec13 says:

    But, are there simulated black holes?

  12. LazyAssMF says:

    WOW… This is f-kin AMAZING!O_O
    I looove space and this “game” is perfect. Been waiting a loooong time for something like this…
    Thank you very, VERY much, Cara, for showing me (and us) this and, yes, you are a goddess.;D

  13. juandemarco says:

    For a moment there I thought version .97 was finally out. Now I’m sad :(

  14. Jesse L says:


    I’m going to put on ‘That Home’, as seen in this video:

    This kind of thing – simulated flying through the universe – gives me a feeling nothing else does, and maybe that nothing else can. It’s an experience that goes beyond games, computers, entertainment – it’s something else.

  15. xcession says:

    If something like this and as infinite and detailed as this isn’t in the new Elite I’ll be incredibly disappointed.

  16. Cytrom says:

    I’d kill for a freelancer style game using this kind of technology, with lots of procedurally generated (but consistent per playtrhough) story elements, aliens, and completely freeform exploration and stuff.

    Or at least contribute to a kickstarter or something…

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      You will shortly be receiving a sealed package containing the name of an RPS commenter, a train ticket, five hundred miniature marbles, two pounds of black liqorice, and a stethoscope. You know what to do.

      You have 72 hours to complete the assignment. Good luck, agent Cytrom.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Someone on the other side of the planet is saying “Man, I’d sign up for dangerous space missions if it meant I got a decent Hitman sequel.”

        • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          You will shortly be receiving a sealed package containing a precisely calculated trajectory to a particular orbit apogee and perigee, an air ticket, four hundred blank dominoes, twenty sausage rolls, and a “Matchbox”-brand toy car. You know what to do.

          You have 72 hours to complete the assignment. Good luck, agent Gap Gen.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            ““Matchbox”-brand toy car”, Diecast, so it’s a RPG!

    • abandonhope says:

      Kind of why I’m looking forward to Kinetic Void and Limit Theory.

  17. MajorManiac says:

    They’ve inadvertently created an infinite desktop wallpaper generator.

  18. bkumanchik says:

    Also see: link to eyes.nasa.gov

  19. Gap Gen says:

    In other news, Infinity Universe is still not a thing yet, despite existing since the epoch of recombination.

  20. sockdemon says:

    I don’t suppose anyone super lovely could put the main zip on something….. Almost literally anything… Other than the three hosts provided (Why deposit files why?)

    • Gap Gen says:

      The middle one seems to be a direct link to the zip, or was for me.

      • sockdemon says:

        Yeah the middle one’s not working for me. I totally saw the torrents (peak time here torrents don’t work well). So yeah it’s lazy but for the sake of waiting around for hours I was just asking as almost any other DL service works really well. Mediafire for example

    • Aether says:

      There is a torrent link there as well, right above the mirrors.

  21. Niko says:

    So, it’s Star Maker: The Game?

  22. WladTapas says:

    Works nicely with my collection of Mass Effect soundtracks. And is pretty humbling. Thanks, Cara!

  23. TechnicalBen says:

    It is beautiful. Found out about it ages ago and gave it a try about this time last year. Wonderful to explore know stars (after checking out our planets of cause ;) ) then going further to the speculated, but based on real life, extremes of knowledge.

  24. Zeewolf says:

    Oh my God, this looks awesome. This is what I wanted computers to do.

  25. Numerical says:

    So you can’t shoot giant bugs? WTF!!!?

  26. Tuskin38 says:

    I’ve used this 0.93 I believe was when I started it. I can’t wait for 0.97, its adding Auroras (which are random, not just a looped animations) colored planetary rings and more variations of such. A Star Catalog which will allow you to see info off all the stars within a certain radius. there is a full list of change in the first post here

    link to en.spaceengine.org

  27. guygodbois00 says:

    It just needs friggin’ lasers attached to it’s head.

  28. trankzen says:

    Silly me, I thought : Imagine Kerbal Space Program with that engine.

  29. DRoseDARs says:

    I’m so glad you guys are covering this simulator again. It has only gotten more fantasical since the last time. There are certainly little niggles here and there, and it does tend to crash, but the scenes and worlds it creates are lovely. And often crazy. Double-planet gas giants (ex:Pluto-Charon)? Planets orbiting double-binaries (2 sets of binaries orbiting each other)? Ringed oceanic planets orbited by… ringed oceanic moons? This simulator makes me giddy with thoughts of how it could develop into a proper space game. I want to colonize ALL THE THINGS!

  30. Relnor says:

    I saw the Edit Planet button and hoped to cause some sort of solar system wide catastrophe by increasing Mars’s mass as far as the slider would allow me, unfortunately, Mars didn’t care =(

    Other than that, it certanily is gorgeous.

  31. ass wasp says:

    “get off your face on calpol”
    when i was a kid, this was my big dream
    why the fuck did they make that stuff taste so good?
    also space engine is such a wonderful concept but my pc’s never been able to run it, even following a gpu upgrade last year it still runs like shit and i’m left jealous of all those bastards on youtube

  32. RonnieBoy says:

    I couldn’t be the only who saw that video and thought of Infinity?

    • Prime says:

      I wish people would stop thinking of Infinity. It’s very lovely, sure, but it’s taken about 94 years to get to this stage, hasn’t released anything playable beyond a weak combat prototype, and has been largely silent for years now. Meanwhile, Space Engine is being steadily updated and you can download it now, today, this very instant. Further, with stuff like Elite IV and Limit Theory on the way I think Infinity has become largely irrelevant. It had it’s chance.

      TL:DR – Life’s too short to be wasting it pining for something that will never see the light of day.

      • RonnieBoy says:

        Yes, it has largely gone the same way Black Mesa went, lots of pictures, videos and news at the start, which tapered off for several years until we heard nothing about it. Hopefully it will also mimic Black Mesa, so that one day it’ll suddenly be released out of nowhere and be a great game.

        Judging from the news released recently, they’ll put out a kickstarter very soon, which’ll make the ICP something more like an actual game rather than a glorified tech test. They’ll then be using a lot of the code and assets from the IBS (horrible acronym BTW) for their actual MMO. Which seems a more sensible stepping stone than going the straight to MMO route.

        I’ll admit it has mostly lost its thunder though, as at the time there was little in the way of space games, with the exception of EVE, the X series and maybe a few others. Now if it releases in the next year or two, it’ll be facing a lot of competition from the likes of Elite, Star Citizen and a bunch of other games.

        TBH I’m not pinning all my hopes on this either, just every now and again checking back on its progress. If it gets released, great! If it doesn’t, that’d be a shame as it did have potential but not the end of the world.

  33. Bart Stewart says:

    Never mind the occasional annoyances.

    When the RPS hivemind denounces always-connected stupidity; when it insists that the greatness that was Looking Glass not be forgot; when it is the first to show me immersive wonders like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Minecraft and Space Engine… sometimes, RPS just gets me. It knows what I like.

    I’ve had many enjoyable hours because RPS finds the games that best showcase the PC as the natural home for worlds. Thanks!

  34. frightlever says:

    There’s also Universe Sandbox for not much money on Steam:

    link to store.steampowered.com

    Let’s you play marbles with the Earth, should you be so inclined.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      While that game lets you change things, and Space Engine just lets you view them (in motion, past or future), Space Engine is universes apart from Universe Sandbox.

  35. FloorBelow says:

    I love space engine. THE ENTIRETY OF THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE makes for a good setting for a game.

  36. Prime says:

    Cara, my life is now complete. I can head to my eternal rest content in the knowledge that the Rowie, Aberdeen’s infamous “surely this can’t be food” bakery item has been mentioned on RPS. Salt. Butter. Doric. The Ingredients of Legend.

    Also, Spaceengine is one of the reasons to own a PC. It’s what people should be told in Comet and PC World when deciding what to buy. “It plays Spaceengine, a literal universe you can explore from the safety of your swivel chair. Don’t get a Mac. They don’t have Spaceengine.”

    Finally, the developer himself wants this to be a game much like fabled Noctis. I, for one, welcome the Creator of the Universe I am soon to be spending the rest of my life within.

  37. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Just finished playing with it for some time. This is definitely going places and may become an interesting alternative to Celestia. I haven’t tried any of the addons yet. These “games” live or die on those addons and how the engine copes with the usual huge size of the textures involved and what tricks the developer has up his sleeve. I hope he borrows from Celestia’s decade old experience in the matter.

  38. mrd says:

    You mentioned 3 of my favourite things in this: rowies, Pink Floyd and rowies.

  39. Groove says:

    I have a story about butteries.

    At my school we had two geography teachers, they both thought butteries were the best thing the world had created. They seemed to live off them to the point of being made of butter(y). They sat together in their little geography shed happily eating butteries every day. Until the day they left the school, and their wives, to run off with each other and eat butteries and have magical, lardy sex.

  40. deadly.by.design says:

    Despite it appearing as a niche sim/sci/art title, I would argue that it has universal appeal.

  41. mutopia says:

    Are the magnet links for the hi-res addons working for anybody?

    Downloading them from pay-sites like depositfiles would take the better part of a week, if someone would just have torrent links for them you could get them in a few hours. This is what torrents are there for.

    edit: Never mind got the magnet links working with a newer version of uTorrent (2.2), finally downloading addons at normal speeds.