Happy New Year! 2015 was an exciting year for us. A few highlights: Universe Sandbox ² got a whole lot faster thanks to multiple physics refactorings, it was made a lot prettier thanks to a new user interface and a slew of eye candy upgrades, and we released on Steam Early Access with extremely positive reviews which haven’t stopped coming in.
The good news is that we don’t plan on slowing down. The following is a list of our hopes for Universe Sandbox ² in 2016.
It’s not necessarily a roadmap in the sense that we’ll get to these features in this order. But these are some of the big landmarks we are very excited to explore as we continue development through 2016 and beyond.
More Planetary Details & Interactions
Planets in Universe Sandbox ² will be visually more detailed and responsive to interactions, all part of a project which we are internally calling “automata.”
This works by increasing the spatial resolution of data. That is, instead of having one point of data for an object’s property, like temperature, there will now be a 2D grid of data. In the example of temperature, this means that collisions can impact values locally, so heat spreads from the impact site rather than just raising the overall temperature. In turn, this will make for much more dynamic visuals. This will eventually also factor in elevation, making possible more detailed surface deformation and a lot more. And along with the improved composition system mentioned below, this will form the groundwork for basic life simulation.
Oh, and there will also be lasers.
Improved Composition System
Currently we support four materials for a body’s composition: iron, silicate, water, and hydrogen. We’ve been discussing ways we can include additional materials to this list. We’d also like to improve the interactions between radii and compositions, as the results are sometimes a bit confusing right now. Another component we’ve discussed is atmospheric composition. This is a very tricky problem with no clear solution, but it’s often requested and we are working toward it.
a.k.a. The Feature No One Knew They Wanted Until They Had It
We’re not ready to give away too many details on this yet… but doesn’t “Space Megastructures” sound pretty cool? The answer is yes, they do sound pretty cool, because they are. Using physics based space tethers as the idea behind the basic building block, these structures can come in many shapes and sizes. We still have a lot of work to do on these, but you can start imagining things along the lines of space elevators, Dyson spheres, and ring worlds.
What more needs to be said? Internally we have basic support for this going already, but there’s still a lot of work to do in fine-tuning the experience of reaching out, grabbing the Moon, then hurling it toward Earth. Our initial efforts are directed at getting it to work with the upcoming Steam VR based HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
User Interface Rewrite
This is largely an under-the-hood rewrite, but it’s going to make it possible to scale the interface for larger and different-sized resolutions, and also allow for language localization down the road. Technically, we’re transitioning from our own internal system to the new native system in Unity (our 3D engine) that didn’t exist when we started on this project 4 years ago.
As mentioned above, the rewrite to the user interface will make it a lot easier for us to implement localization. Our next step, once we’re ready, is to start the crowd-sourced localization process so we can get Universe Sandbox ² running in as many languages as possible.
Stellar Evolution Rewrite
Universe Sandbox ² will support 16 evolutionary star types with the stellar evolution rewrite , versus the previous 5. The improved evolution model, based on these papers, is primarily a function of mass and age or metallicity, and will work for evolutionary types outside of main-sequence stars.
The result will be more dynamic and accurate properties for stars, as well as smoother transitions from type to type. The model also will now account for mass loss from solar winds, and be able to differentiate envelope from core. As a whole, this is also a stepping stone toward being able to illustrate stellar nucleosynthesis in Universe Sandbox ². We’ve hit a few snags in fully implementing this, but Jenn, our astrophysicist, has been making good, steady progress.
Total Body Fragmentation
This feature was partially implemented before, but was removed during the physics rewrite. Now we’re about ready to add it back in, and once we add some nice visual flair, this will make collisions and explosions even more epic and realistic as planets get completely broken apart.
We’ve been saying for a bit now that we’d like to give galaxies some love again, as they’ve been mostly overlooked recently while we work on other projects. Our plan includes completely reworking procedural galaxies, which tend to all look the same right now, and fixing a number of bugs which currently make galaxies a little difficult to interact with.
We often see requests from users that the view from the surface (press “C” when focused on a body) could be improved. We completely agree. One big step toward this is accounting for the atmosphere (if the planet has one), resulting in nice colored skies, sunrises, and sunsets, all products of atmospheric scattering. This will greatly increase the immersion when looking up from one of your planets.
Once we get the save/ooad mechanics even more solid, we plan to add in support for Steam Workshop. This will allow users to easily share saved simulations and objects with each other, which will be a very cool way of seeing what everyone is creating with Universe Sandbox ².
Steam Achievements are another common request for Universe Sandbox ². They can add a little incentive for exploring the simulation and trying things you wouldn’t normally try. Have any good ideas for Achievements? Let us know on the forum!
Expanded Climate Change Exploration
Our climate models for Earth and Mars have been successfully implemented in Universe Sandbox ² for a while. But we’d like to strengthen our focus on this component to further help educate users on one of the most pressing issues we face today as citizens of the Earth.
Again, another common request for Universe Sandbox ². We haven’t yet moved beyond discussing this as a possibility, but we are very interested in a mobile version. Universe Sandbox ² could work extremely well with touch commands, and a mobile version would greatly increase the amount of people who could get their hands on it. With constant improvements to mobile technology, and Unity’s tools for building mobile apps (the 3D engine we use), this could be a reality sooner than we think.
We’re looking to hire a tester whose job is to rigorously test Universe Sandbox ², helping us find and fix bugs as we continue development. We’re a small team, and the nature of a massive space sandbox means that there are an extraordinary amount of things to test. Our community has been super helpful to this end, but we’d like to fill in the cracks a bit more with someone who is devoted to this task.
The Future of Universe Sandbox ²
This roadmap may seem ambitious (and it is), but we’ve already gone pretty far into unexplored territory. We’re committed to making Universe Sandbox ² better and better as we continue to create something that’s never been done before. We hope you’re as excited as we are about the future.
Get instant access to Universe Sandbox ² on Steam Early Access:
The discovery of a hypothetical ninth planet in our solar system was announced on January 20th, 2016 by researchers at the California Institute of Technology.
Universe Sandbox ² Alpha 18.2 features two simulations of Planet Nine. Run Steam to update, then check them out in Home -> Open -> Possible Planet Nine [and] Evidence of a Ninth Planet.
Or buy now for instant access to Universe Sandbox ² on Steam Early Access:
The announcement comes after years of research into explaining the peculiar, but very similar, orbits of six small bodies orbiting beyond Neptune. Many theories have been proposed, but none has been as compelling as a very distant ninth planet pulling these bodies into their highly elliptical orbits. Using mathematical modeling, the two researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, have shown that a ninth planet fits very well into the data we have about objects in the Kuiper Belt and beyond.
Planet Nine has not been directly observed yet by telescope, which is why it is hypothetical. But the researchers say there is a very good chance of spotting it in the next five years. It is suspected to be about 10 times the mass of Earth, similar in size to Neptune, with an orbit that’ll take it around the Sun every 10,000 – 20,000 years.
Of course, we don’t know how Planet Nine got there. Brown and Batygin propose that this planet was formed in the early days of the solar system, along with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Then it could have been shot outward by one of the gas giants, and instead of leaving the solar system entirely, it may have been slowed down by gas in the Sun’s protoplanetary disk, enough to keep it in orbit.
If the ninth planet does exist, then it will be the second time our solar system will have claim to nine planets… After, of course, Pluto was demoted in 2006. But Brown says there’s no question that the hypothetical ninth planet is indeed a planet. It’s likely much bigger than Earth, and has a large influence on other bodies in the solar system. And besides, Brown would know — his discovery of Eris was the reason Pluto was voted out.
Here’s a great discussion of Planet Nine by Mike Merrifield, an astronomer and professor at the University of Nottingham:
We’re hope you’re as excited about this possible discovery as we are! Make sure you check out the new simulations in Universe Sandbox ²: Home -> Open -> Possible Planet Nine [and] Evidence of a Ninth Planet.
See the complete list of What’s New in Alpha 18.2: What’s New
Additional links about Planet Nine:
Giant Army is looking for a part-time video game/simulation tester to join our team. You should be familiar with Universe Sandbox ², and interested in helping us find and fix bugs as we continue development. You will work independently to regularly test our builds and write up bug reports, then work with the team to ensure they’ve been fixed.
You will need a keen eye and love of science, the ability to write clearly, and a desire to rigorously test Universe Sandbox ².
This is an hourly, contract position.
Join us… we’re making something incredible that’s never been done before.
- Create a comprehensive list of features to test and their expected results, and update it as we add new features
- Use this list to regularly review our internal builds to make sure we haven’t broken anything
- Review the forums and feedback to identify user-reported bugs
- Verify that the bug occurs and write a clear description and reproduction steps (so it’s very easy for our developers to identify the issue without spending time figuring it out)
- Post bugs to our internal Trello board
- Communicate with our developers on Slack to help squash bugs
- Verify that tasks, new features, and bug fixes completed by our developers are, in fact, completed
- Has already spent many hours exploring Universe Sandbox ² and loves it… and has spotted a bug or two
- Has experience with/insight into software testing and methodology, and knows what developers are looking for
- Maintains a flexible schedule which allows for varying hours (depending on where we are in development cycle)
- Owns both a Windows and a Mac machine and maybe even a Linux machine
- Ability to write clear descriptions and reproduction steps for bugs in English
- Detail-oriented and an eye for noticing when things aren’t quite right
- Intuition about science and how our simulations should work
- Must own a Windows or Mac machine
Giant Army is the company behind Universe Sandbox ². Our headquarters are in Seattle, Washington, USA, with team members across the United States and in Germany and Denmark.
Team members enjoy a flexible, collaborative environment. We strive for work-life balance, and we pursue the features that get us excited about science. We do the work so that we can share that with others. We’re also committed to creating an accessible experience that can’t be found elsewhere.
Science is for everyone, and we welcome all qualified applicants.
Universe Sandbox ² is a space simulator that merges real-time gravity, climate, collision, and material interactions to reveal the beauty of our universe and the fragility of our planet. It’s more than a game; it’s a way of experiencing and learning about reality in a way that’s never been done before. Early access now available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
How to Apply
Email us: jobs at universesandbox.com
In the email please include:
- Relevant email subject
- Link to or copy of your resume or CV
- Answer to this question:
- What is the most appealing part of this opportunity?
- A description and reproduction steps for a bug which is currently in Universe Sandbox ² Alpha 18
- These don’t need to be long. Succinct and clear is best.
- Example description of an old bug:
- Loading a saved sim with a star in it causes a supernova
- Example reproduction steps:
- Open new sim
- Add Sun (seems to happen with any star)
- Save sim
- Load sim
- Star instantly supernovas
- Where you originally heard about this job posting
Native Physics Computation
Alpha 18 should show significantly better performance for Windows users, thanks to Thomas, our physics programmer, who has implemented something called Native computation. As explained in a previous blog post, Native mode essentially removes a layer from the physics computation, making the whole process much faster. It is enabled by default and effectively replaces the old Managed computation mode. Mac and Linux support for Native is coming in a future update.
The graph above compares the new Native computation mode with the older, slower Managed mode. The data is from running the “Solar System | All Planets & All Moons” simulation on a 2012 MacBook Pro.
As you can see, the physics computation by itself is heads and tails faster when run in Native mode — about 2.8 times faster, in fact. This raw difference in physics calculation speed doesn’t typically translate one-to-one for FPS (frames per second) gain, but in this instance there was still an increase of 17 FPS. This is a substantial difference which you will see and feel when using Universe Sandbox ². This new computation mode is essentially the only big change in this update, but we think you’ll agree that it’s a big change.
To see how much faster it is, you can switch back to the old Managed mode in Home > Settings > General tab > Computation Device > ManagedCPU.
You can also display the frames drawn per second by enabling FPS Info in Home > Settings > Debug tab or press Alt + F.
We’ve also added a simulation of the Wolf 1061 system, which contains a recently discovered potentially Earth-like exoplanet. At 14 light-years away, Wolf 1061c is the closest potentially habitable planet ever discovered.
Maybe you’ve seen an image like the one above going around the internet. This is because the researchers who discovered Wolf 1061c used Universe Sandbox ² to create a visualization of the Wolf 1061 system. Very cool! You can check out their video on Youtube.
We’ve also been working hard on some other exciting projects and have made good progress. Read more about what we’ve got planned for upcoming updates: What Are We Working On? | Alpha 17 & Beyond.
Run Steam to update or buy Universe Sandbox ² now for instant access to Alpha 18 on Steam Early Access.
Check out the full list of new features, improvements, & bug fixes in What’s New.
And as always, let us know what you think about Alpha 18!
If you already own Universe Sandbox ², just run Steam to update to Alpha 17.
Alpha 17 | Star Glows & the Likelihood of Life
Alpha 17 introduces better looking star glows, a new Halley’s Comet simulation, and two values which show how similar a planet is to Earth and the speculative chance of it forming basic life. There’s also a “Make Pulsar” tool, better crash handling and reporting, and some bug fixes.
For a full list of what’s new in 17, please see our release notes.
You can read about some of the other features we are working on for future updates in our last post: What Are We Working On? | Alpha 17 & Beyond
Let us know what you think of Universe Sandbox ² Alpha 17 using the in-game feedback or via…
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Our past few updates have been relatively minor releases. They’ve focused on fixing bugs and stability issues, and aside from a few minor features, haven’t introduced anything new. Fixing these issues is extremely important, but for those users who hadn’t experienced any problems, these updates weren’t the most exciting.
But now we’re getting back up to speed after some good time off post-Steam release. Alpha 17 will be the first major release since Alpha 16 at the end of August, and we’re excited to begin showing off some of the bigger projects we’ve been working on.
At this time we can’t say for sure which features will make it into Alpha 17. Some will be implemented only in their early stages, and others will likely have to wait until later updates. These disclaimers aside, here are a few of the things which you can look forward to in Alpha 17 and beyond:
1. Rewritten Stellar Evolution & Classification
Previously there were 5 star types in Universe Sandbox ². Now, with the rewrite, there will be 16. The improved stellar evolution model is now primarily a function of metallicity, and will work for types outside of main-sequence stars.
The result will be more dynamic and accurate properties for stars, as well as smoother transitions from type to type. The model also will now account for mass loss from solar winds. It may take a bit of time to fully incorporate all of the changes, but now that Jenn has added in these new, robust evolution models, many new possibilities await.
2. More Planetary Details
Random planets in Universe Sandbox ² are going to be visually more detailed and responsive to interactions, all part a project which we are internally calling “automata.”
In the beginning, this will work alongside our climate component to increase the spatial resolution. That is, instead of having one point of data for an object’s property, like temperature, there will now be a 2D grid of data. In the example of temperature, this means that collisions can impact values locally, so heat spreads from the impact site rather than just raising the overall temperature. In turn, this will make for much more dynamic visuals.
This higher resolution of data will also apply to elevation, influencing water levels, pressure, and material states. Further down the line this could open up doors for better surface deformation and shaping, and even set up the groundwork for basic life evolution. It’s a very exciting project, but also highly experimental: it’ll be a work-in-progress for some time to come, even when it first shows up in an update, and we can’t say for sure what it’ll eventually be able to do.
3. Better Star Glows & Rendering
This one mostly speaks for itself. Star glows and rendering are going to look a whole lot better, with smoother fading and fewer clipping issues. Georg hopes to eventually add a little coronal animation, too.
4. Back-End Changes to the User Interface
Chris is busy porting over the current custom user interface to use Unity’s user interface system. At first this may fall into the category of “Not Too Exciting For Most Users,” as it won’t involve any design changes, but this rewrite of the user interface is going to make possible a handful of things for Universe Sandbox ² further down the line. Essentially, it’s future-proofing.
The biggest advantage of this is the support for multiple character sets and a scalable interface. This translates into support for languages using non-Roman characters, and an interface that works on non-standard resolutions, such as 4k or mobile. And while a mobile version of Universe Sandbox ² is not coming any time soon, should we eventually decide to take that path, this change will make it all the more feasible. Feel free to also use this as evidence that we are not planning on wrapping up development in the near future.
5. Native Physics Code
Alpha 15 introduced Thomas’s rewrite of the physics component in Universe Sandbox ², which made everything run a whole lot faster. That was only the first part. This second part is implemented as native code, versus the previously implemented managed code. Without getting too technical, this essentially removes a step from the process, making it run a bit faster. There will be more performance improvements to come after native implementation, but this one is a big step.
After all of this is firmly in place, then it’s time for VR… But that’s a blog post for another day.
Sign up to be notified whenever there’s a major update: Universe Sandbox ² Email List
Since our release on Steam Early Access two weeks ago, we’ve been seeing new videos and articles about Universe Sandbox ² every day.
But even better than the huge increase in exposure is seeing how much people are enjoying it. We appreciate each and every YouTube video and write-up that features Universe Sandbox ², but we can’t mention them all, so here’s a short list of some of our favorites.
Nerd³ made the most popular YouTube video about the original Universe Sandbox, and now he’s back to experiment with Earth in Universe Sandbox ². He “fixes” its axis, floods every continent, then hurls it toward the sun.
This is one of the more recent videos in ZeRoyalViking’s series on Universe Sandbox ². We had the pleasure of chatting with him in person at PAX Prime last week. Looking forward to seeing his future videos!
Have you heard of PewDiePie? No? He only has a small following on YouTube, with over 39 million subscribers. What does he have to say about Universe Sandbox ²? “This game is so ******* cool.”
Jacksepticeye, “the most energetic video game commentator on YouTube,” had nothing but good things to say about Universe Sandbox ²: “I just love this stuff. I could explore this game alllll day.” Jacksepticeye has almost 6.5 million subscribers, and right now this video is the most watched Universe Sandbox ² YouTube video with over 2.1 million views.
And this is one of our personal favorites — Justin and Griffin from Polygon have a blast playing through Universe Sandbox ² for the first time.
In this Early Access review from Rock Paper Shotgun, one of the most popular sources for indie game news and reviews, Marsh Davies writes: “It’s easy to use, beautifully tutorialised, and hugely fascinating.”
My favorite quote from this write-up, published shortly after our launch on Steam Early Access: “Within a minute of booting it up, I’d already smashed Earth into a second, identical Earth and watched both erupt into flame, blossom thousands of tiny volcanic flowers. ‘That escalated quickly,’ I said, realizing even as the words came out of my mouth that it was an understatement.”
At PAX we were able to talk to Mike LeSauvage, contributor for Geek Dad. In this article about Universe Sandbox ², Mike writes: “This was the first game I tried out after PAX, and my kids became instantly enamored with it, with my eight-year-old declaring it to be more fun than Splatoon!”
Dan Jackson writes, “This will leave you mesmerized only after 5 minutes of navigating the tutorial and once left to your own devices you will lose yourself in the vast expanse of our known galaxy. [...] I highly recommend this to anyone with a similar interest or if you’re just curious to see how the universe works. You will not be disappointed.”
This is amazing! Computers are now making me and my wrath obsolete: http://t.co/SSCg7NC6jZ
— God (@god) September 10, 2015
@UniverseSandbox I just finished playing and my mind is blown. I spent most of my time staring at the screen, smiling like an idiot
— Dan & Matt (@realmattanddan) September 9, 2015
And to top it all off, here’s a humble recommendation from the writer and director of the films District 9 and Elysium, Neill Blomkamp:
everyone should be playing universe sandbox2
— Neill Blomkamp (@NeillBlomkamp) September 10, 2015
Steam Early Access Release
After nearly 4 years of development, Universe Sandbox ² is now on Early Access and available for purchase directly through the Steam Store.
Today also marks the release of another big update, Alpha 16. If you already own Universe Sandbox ², just run Steam to download the latest version.
What’s New in Alpha 16
What’s new in Alpha 16? We’ve re-enabled and improved saving and loading and completely rewrote the rendering backend to implement logarithmic z-buffering, which addresses graphical issues and paves the way for some big visual changes.
We also made further improvements to the interface and fixed a bunch of bugs and stability issues.
Or if you’ll be at PAX Prime later this week in Seattle, Washington, stop by the Indie MEGABOOTH to say hello. The whole team will be there showing off the latest and best Universe Sandbox ² and celebrating our release on Steam. We look forward to all that is still to come.
The Z-Fighting Problem
Z-fighting is a graphical issue which occurs when a game tries to draw two layers at the same depth.
The results vary — sometimes one layer can appear to poke through another or they will flicker back and forth as they “fight” over which one should be drawn in front and which one in back.
From the Teapot to the Milky Way
If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably seen z-fighting before. But this issue mostly affects games which are working with very large camera distances. For example, open-world games may try to draw mountains and clouds in the distance, but because they both are designated as “very far away,” they fight over which is drawn in front.
Universe Sandbox ² handles camera distances on a scale even larger than this. The camera may be a few meters away from a teapot, and lightyears away from a galaxy. And somewhere in between there may be a whole bunch of planets. The issue here would be distinguishing which planet should be drawn in front when, relatively, they’re much closer to each other than they are to either the teapot or the galaxy.
This is where logarithmic z-buffering comes in. In non-technical terms, log-z is a programming technique which opens up more “options” at which layers can be drawn. For example, instead of all planets being grouped together at depth 5, they can be drawn at 5 as well as 5.1 and 5.2 and so on. And with their own personal space, they no longer fight!
Here’s a great interactive example of logarithmic versus standard z-buffering: http://threejs.org/examples/webgl_camera_logarithmicdepthbuffer.html
Using this technique in Universe Sandbox ² has been a long time coming — its implementation had been held up by a bug in Unity (the engine we use for development), which has now been fixed.
It won’t be an obvious change for users, but now that Georg has added it in, we’re ready to move forward with a whole bunch of other visual improvements as well, not to mention the small performance increase we expect.
Thanks, Georg! Now there’ll be no more of this:
You can buy Universe Sandbox ² now for instant access to the alpha via our website: universesandbox.com/2
Universe Sandbox ² will be on Steam Early Access later this summer.
Dan sits down for an interview with Zach on The Zachtronics Podcast, a series which explores indie game development.
They start out by talking about the humble beginnings of Universe Sandbox a long time ago as Dan’s personal project throughout middle school and high school. Then they get into discussions about the ideas and passions driving the current development, the limitations which present interesting problems and require creative solutions, and the future of Universe Sandbox ².
Listen to the full interview at the Zachtronics website: The Zachtronics Podcast: Episode #4