Entering a black hole in No Man’s Sky (opens in new tab) is the sci-fi equivalent of free fall cave diving; a leap of faith into a seemingly ceaseless void, punctuated by the added thrill of not knowing what awaits you once on the other side. Inspired by the known unknowns of black holes in our own galaxy, players who venture through Hello Games’ digital rendition of the cosmic phenomenon are treated to a dazzling show of sound and light, before their ship is spat out at another random corner of No Man’s Sky’s infinite universe.
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Long term veterans of the game even coined the term “Black Hole Roulette” to describe the risky gamble of using one of these gravitational anomalies as a means for quick transportation, fully equipped with the knowledge that they could be jettisoned light years away from their intended destination. But, at some unknown point in 2018, Hello Games quietly changed the nature of their black holes in a way that would go on to transform how people played the space exploration simulator.
In October of last year, a player by the name of Jeff (known as Husker (opens in new tab) in the NMS community) was partaking in a Black Hole Roulette of his very own, in the hopes of finding one of the game’s elusive Paradise Planets, only to discover that the entry and exit points of the black holes he took appeared to no longer be randomised. Upon repeatedly entering the same black hole by reloading his saves, Husker found his ship popping out at the same exit location each and every time.
This revelation gave him an idea: “If black hole exits are now fixed and I hit the same exit point every time, that means that I can start writing down the results. If I started writing down the results, I can actually scan my list of results and data and determine whether or not a specific black hole can help me get from one point to another.”
A hole-y crusade
Husker quickly reported his findings to the No Man’s Sky community on Reddit, and while early responses were tepid, it wasn’t until he created a dedicated subreddit, BlackHoleSuns (opens in new tab) (“I’m a big Chris Cornell fan”), that players started to coalesce around the idea of mapping these natural portals of the universe to create a “Distance and Route Calculator (DARC) that takes the user's starting position, their intended destination, and outputs a route based on the best black holes to use.”
According to the subreddit’s FAQ page (opens in new tab), the BlackHoleSuns project is dedicated to “researching and cataloguing known black holes in an effort to record and share where they place the traveller in relation to other known areas and places of interest in the NMS Galactic Map”. Indeed, since its inception in December, BlackHoleSuns has already recorded over 4000 black holes, now averaging about 100 new data entries every day thanks to the work of its numerous volunteers.
This has already been a huge help to travellers looking for the best way to get from one end of the galaxy to the next without having to spend hours crawling at light speed, with BlackHoleSuns’ DARC calculator (opens in new tab) now live and operational as an easy-to-use tool for charting the best route for their journey. That said, BlackHoleSuns’ Project Administrator, ARiC, still recognises that there’s challenges for the community to iron out, and a huge amount of work still left to be done.
“We have a little joke that goes ‘Playing No Man's Sky is great – but have you tried playing The Spreadsheet?’”, he tells me, explaining that “the hardest part has been actually finding time playing the game after working every day and getting the foundations of this project locked in place. Every day brings ten new ideas that we obsess over.”
As for the end goal of the project, ARiC envisions a system that’s “fully automated, so in five years we can check on it and be amazed that it's still being utilised by the community, and have millions of mapped locations. It's all about the community, we're doing this to help everyone out and hopefully enjoy the game even more.” To that end, BlackHoleSuns can already be considered a huge success.
Husker proudly boasts that the project has “literally changed the nature of how to cover vast distances” in No Man’s Sky and, for a game that often uses travel as a prerequisite for accessing some of its best features, that’s not to be sniffed at. Already, players have expressed their gratitude for drastically speeding up the pace of their adventures in space, with popular trips like the journey from the Pilgrim Star to The Galactic Hub (opens in new tab) reduced from 600 hyperjumps down to 9.
To infinity and Beyond
Alas, there remains the lingering possibility that a future update to No Man’s Sky from Hello Games could unravel all the good work done by BlackHoleSuns so far. The developer has a history of unintentionally dismantling the plans of its own in-game communities, such as when it forced an entire federation of players to find a new home last year (opens in new tab), while further big changes are set to arrive later this year with No Man’s Sky Beyond (opens in new tab), a triple-pronged update that’s just as (if not more) ambitious than 2018’s Next (opens in new tab). Huster remains cautiously optimistic when asked about the prospect, though he admits that Hello Games has not publicly or privately acknowledged the project as of yet (we reached out to Sean Murray for comment on this feature, but didn’t receive a response).
“It's absolutely true that black holes could change completely, whether it's their locations or how they behave. I don’t want to stir the bee's nest as it were, but I'm less paranoid about that now, because my theory is that they are going to leave the mechanics of the universe alone (for now) and that they can introduce environmental changes without resetting the entire universe, which has happened before. I think they have done the heavy lifting in previous updates where that's no longer a concern, but I could be wrong.”
For now, Huster, ARiC, and the rest of the BlackHoleSuns team are content to spend their days charting the mysterious spacetime vortexes of No Man’s Sky’s procedural expanse as, for them, the work itself is just as satisfying as the results. When NASA revealed the first photographic image of a real-life black hole on April 10, BlackHoleSun’s Reddit page was filled with posts in awe of the news. It was a poetic reflection of the fact that, from the very beginning, this project has always come from a place of collective passion for science, fiction, and weird wonderful space that No Man’s Sky occupies in between. The cuts to the spacefaring commute is just a handy bonus.
Check out the best No Man's Sky bases (opens in new tab) that people have built in the universe so far, or watch the video below for tips on how to make money in the game as we wait for Beyond.