Many video games have focused on space exploration; this premise is hardly unique. The novelty with "No Man’s Sky", and the reason for so much excitement and anticipation over its imminent release, lies primarily in the ambitious size of the universe available for exploration in the game. In traditional video game programming, objects that make up the in-game environments must be created individually by writing numerous lines of code into the game for each asset or piece of art — a labor-intensive and time-consuming process limiting the number of objects that can be included in one game.
Hello Games ostensibly avoids these issues by using a programming technique known as procedural generation. Rather than drafting unique lines of code to create each game asset, procedural generation provides a computer with a system of rules and parameters for the game universe, and then relies upon the computer to create in-game assets in accordance with those rules. In other words, each object in "No Man’s Sky" is created not by individual lines of code written specifically for that asset by a programmer, but instead is created by the computer applying algorithms created by the programming team. These procedural rules could cover everything from the way interstellar and spaceship physics work, to the way vegetation looks on planets with particular climates, to the types and behaviors of wildlife. Using this technique, Hello Games has created an in-game universe of unprecedented size and scope, containing 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 accessible planets.
In late July, the media began to report that a company called Genicap had raised the possibility that "No Man’s Sky" might be running afoul of Genicap’s patent rights in the Superformula. The Superformula is a modified version of the equation that describes a circle, and it was discovered by Johan Gielis around the turn of the 21st Century. Changing particular variables within the Superformula causes the equation to describe all manner of geometric shapes and natural forms. Genicap (Gielis’ employer) received U.S. patent No. 9,317,627 (the “‘627 patent”) on April 19, 2016. The ‘627 patent’s primary claim describes the Superformula as “a method for creating timewise display of widely variable naturalistic scenery ... on an amusement device with minimized data storage and processing requirements ... ”