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Dutch Company's Questions To No Man's Sky About 'Superformula' Used To Generate Planets

Upcoming exploration sim No Man’s Sky [official site] could be using a “superformula” which already belongs to a company in the Netherlands to generate its alien worlds, according to a Dutch newspaper. While the claim is still being looked into, it comes as the developers enter the final stretch before its release on August 12th.

The company, Genicap, which began life as a software company for graphic artists in 2003, says that it has not given permission for Hello Games to use the mathematical formula (called the “Superformula”), which was patented by the company’s co-owner, Professor Johan Gielis, as far back as 2004.

“We have not licensed to Hello Games,” one of the company’s representatives told the Telegraaf. “We certainly do not want to stop the launch, but if the formula is used, we will have to sit at the table at a given time.”

“We are ourselves developing a gaming application based on the Superformula. It would be great if we could exchange knowledge with Hello Games. We have contacted [them], but received no response.”

Sean Murray of Hello Games has previously acknowledged the use of the “Superformula” to create geological formations in this interview with the New Yorker. In the interview, Murray is faced with the problem of creating geology that is varied enough for the game.

“The problem nagged at him, until he found an equation, published in 2003 by a Belgian plant geneticist named Johan Gielis. The simple equation can describe a large number of natural forms—the contours of diatoms, starfish, spiderwebs, shells, snowflakes, crystals.

“Murray, sitting before his monitor, typed the Superformula into the terrain of a test planet. He began simply, creating walnut-shaped forms that floated in an infinite grid over a desert. The image resembled a nineteen-eighties album cover, but the over-all look was not the point. Whenever he refreshed the rendering, the floating shapes changed. Many were asymmetrical, marred by depressions and rivulets. Game designers refer to lines of code that require lots of processing time as ‘costly.’ The Superformula is cheap.”

The formula itself was first described by Gielis in the American Journal of Botany in 2003. He has described it as having great potential to save processing power when used in computer programs.

“When I found the formula,” he told Nature, “all these beautiful shapes came rolling out of my computer. It seemed too good to be true – I spent two years thinking ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘How come no one else has discovered it?’”

The Superformula can be used to create 2D or 3D shapes with a huge amount of variation. The mathematics behind it are described in the patent (but don’t ask us to explain them to you), which also outlines some of its uses:

1. A method for the creation of computer graphics images, comprising:
a) generating at least one shape with a computer based on a parameterized formula;
b) having said computer suggest a plurality of variations of said at least one shape.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein said at least one shape is a two-dimensional shape.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein said at least one shape is a three-dimensional shape.

Creating the geometry of planets or the shapes of alien species might fall under these uses, but it is important to note that there has been no confirmation from Hello Games that the formula as it is described in the patent is being used in the game’s procedural generation. Neither is there any lawsuit underway on Genicap’s end. It is possible both parties are trying to discover exactly what has happened behind the scenes. We have reached out to both Hello Games and Professor Gielis for comment and will let you know just what the dickens is going on as soon as we can.

This hasn’t been the first upset for Hello Games. They recently had to settle a three-year dispute with Sky TV for using the word ‘Sky’ in their title. Lawyers gonna law.

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Brendan Caldwell

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Brendan likes all types of games. To him there is wisdom in Crusader Kings 2, valour in Dark Souls, and tragicomedy in Nidhogg.

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