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No Man’s Sky Faces More Potential Legal Troubles Over Formula That Produces Its Beautiful Visuals

And not completely frivolous like before.


No Man’s Sky, the procedurally generated exploration game that looks downright stunning, has faced delays and (ridiculous) legal troubles before, but this new hurdle seems to have sprung up suddenly right before the finish line. A “superformula” that the game uses to generate the rolling terrain and other objects of its nearly innumerable worlds is protected by a patent, which could give developer Hello Games a bit of a headache so close to the August 9 release date.

I say the formula is “protected by a patent” specifically because patenting mathematical formulas themselves isn’t really allowed. As attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars Technica, only the applications of a formula can be patented—not the formula itself, which you can play with online—and it’s actually a little unclear whether the formula used by No Man’s Sky violates the specific uses claimed in the patent held by Johan Gielis and his company, Genicap.

The patent doesn’t specifically mention using the formula to create a game, but the specific legal wording of the patent is certainly open to interpretation, and it makes very specific claims about using the formula to generate images or sounds using the formula. One look at No Man’s Sky‘s incredible visuals, and you’re definitely looking at a very nice image as a result of the output of the formula. Since there’s no question as to whether Hello Games used the formula (they most certainly did, although they mentioned it plenty long ago for this to have been resolved by now), they might just be at Gielis’ mercy.

Thankfully, it sounds like Gielis doesn’t want to make us wait any longer to play the game—we just don’t know what he will want. As Genicap’s Jeroen Sparrow told the Dutch publication 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 any given time.” It sounds like they may want compensation, but in a statement to Eurogamer, Sparrow clarified that Genicap is currently working on middleware based on the formula that would allow other game studios to make use of it, and it sounds like they may just want to “talk shop” with Hello Games about how best to put the formula to use.

This close to the game’s launch, though, they’ve got a lot of leverage to ask for licensing fees, so we’ll have to keep a close eye on how this plays out and hope it doesn’t devolve into more delays for the No Man’s Sky.

(image via Hello Games)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.