Elite Dangerous uses NASA data to recreate the Universe

Elite Dangerous’ sprawling interstellar setting is so big it would probably make Matthew McConaughey sweat at sight of its dark depths, but how did developer Frontier Developments manage to create something so darn huge? In a new interview with Official Xbox Magazine, art director Chris Gregory reveals they use a piece of intelligent tech called Stellar Forge which uses actual data collected by NASA probes.

“It generates a simulation of the entire galaxy based, as far as it can, on NASA data and a whole load of thinking by a whole load of very clever people to make a convincing simulation of the known areas of the galaxy and then extrapolating from that for the rest of it,” he says. “What that then needs is some form of visualisation, which is what we had to do.”

The data enables Frontier to construct planets based upon the physical and gravitational factors around them, adding a rich layer of believability to a universe where players have even formed alliances and overthrown in-game governments. “So if it’s telling us that in this area of space, because of the gravitational pull, or because of the orbit from the Sun, that this planet is going to be icy, then we need to make sure that there’s an icy planet that can swap in there that’s going to suit it,” continues Gregory in issue 124 of OXM.

“It was a little bit of a wrench to relinquish control in terms of the art direction and the art style of that, and to trust that the Stellar Forge and the renderer would spit out convincingly pleasing and effective results.”

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