UPDATE: Sean Murray from Hello Games posted on Twitter today about the patent allegations. Murray says No Man's Sky does not use the "superformula" in question, nor infringe on any patents. He goes on to say he and Gielis are going to "meet and chat maths" following the games release.
No Man's Sky is one of the most highly anticipated games preparing for release this year, but its development has not been without troubles. Only a month after finally ending a legal battle over a claim their use of the word "Sky" was copyrighted, and after being met with anger over postponing release, they have yet another obstacle to worry about. Professor Johan Gieles told Dutch news site The Telegraaf that he owns the patent on the algorithm developer Hello Games is using for world generation in No Man's Sky. Gieles told The Telegraaf that he did not license the use of the "superformula". Gieles, a member of tech company Genicap, submitted the original patent (patent number 20050140678) in 2004. The formula was originally published in the American Journal of Botany in 2002. The algorithm is used to procedurally generate 3D models. Unlike similar generators however, the proclaimed "superformula" generates the actual geometry of the world on a 2D or 3D plane, instead of simply randomly placing pre-made objects. Gieles has submitted other patents expanding on the formula's abilities.
While fans of No Man's Sky have questioned the claim, Hello Games lead Sean Murray admitted as much last year in an interview with The New Yorker. Murray talked at length about how he'd implemented the algorithm and found it did exactly as he had hoped at creating the world he had envisioned. Murray told the New Yorker "This sounds ridiculous, but it is hard to find a formula that you can rely on", but goes on to demonstrate how the "superformula" is exactly what he was looking for. The implication in the interview is that Hello Games continued using the algorithm as it was originally published, without a great deal of changes.
This may become a problem for Hello Games and Sony as they prepare for No Man's Sky's early August release. Genicap and Gieles are not looking to stall the release of the game though. Genicap gave TechRaptor a statement on the issue, stating they believe "No Man’s Sky is the beginning of a new generation of games" and that Gieles is proud of what they were able to create with his formula. Genicap says they have an official program still in the conceptual stages based on the algorithm. They would like to have a "normal discussion" with Hello Games and share knowledge and ideas on the world generation tool, but understand that with the pressure of deadlines, they may not have had time to reach out.
Patent law has been a hot button topic in the video game industry for a while. Currently, developers are at least protected from injunctions, which were originally given out frequently until a 2006 Supreme Court case which determined injunctions shouldn't be distributed on a compulsory basis. Fortunately, Genicap has not given any indication they plan to pursue legal action over the alleged patent violation, so most likely this will not result in any further delays for release unless that situation changes. No Man's Sky is slated for release on August 9th on Playstation 4 and Windows.
We have reached out to Hello Games and will update the article if we receive a statement from them or if any other new information becomes available.