I've been following this game closely since it was first announced, and I've also been following the reactions of interested gamers who were attracted to the notion of the 'infinite'. I too was interested but also had concerns regarding the idea of a randomly generated universe. Could it end up being chaotic? Could it lead to uninteresting gameplay? What's the point of an endless universe and planets the size of real planets if there was no real underlying narrative? But the one question that always returns is the question that makes every other question feel redundant: What the hell is the game all about?
We know now that it's NOT random as such but rather 'procedural' -- something the developers are keen on stressing at every opportunity. There are algorithms, mathematical equations designed specifically to avoid the pitfalls of randomness. If a planet is close enough to a sun then it could have an ocean, and if it has an ocean then it has an atmosphere, and the colour of the sky is effected by the density of the atmosphere. Everything in this world is generated using similar algorithms such as plants, trees, wildlife, minerals etc.
But what does that tell us about how the game plays and what the game 'is'? I think it tells us quite a lot actually. If I discover a planet, the equation for generating that planet is unique to me and only me, but even if I left that planet or someone visited the planet I'd discovered, everything would be exactly as it was the first time I visited because the maths are set for that planet. In effect, I am playing as God.
The only real piece of information we have is that your aim is to journey to the centre of the universe; although that isn't necessarily what a player will do. We also know that there is something at the centre of the universe but the developers will not say what that is.
So, onto the speculation and possible structure: If we are tasked with travelling to the centre of the universe then it follows we'll begin on the very outskirts of the universe. Imagine ever decreasing circles until we reach the centre, we being on the outer most circle to begin with.
I believe we will begin on a planet well into it's evolutionary stages with typically earthly like creatures and fauna, albeit a stylised view of 'earthly'. After we've gathered the materials to upgrade our ship, we'll then travel to the next ring of evolution. At each jump towards the centre of the universe, the creatures and atmosphere will get ever more prehistoric and the battle to get to the centre will become much harder. Instead of us hunting wildlife for food we'll become the hunted.
But what's at the centre of the universe? I believe we've seen a picture of it. It's the picture I've used for this article.
What is it ... or what do I think it is? Is the answer 42? That joke wasn't entirely meaningless because genetics, just like maths follows general rules and as such can generate predictable outcomes. If there was a God and he could code a universe then perhaps WE would be the result of millions of years of evolving code. What I believe is at the centre of the universe is THE algorithm, THE mathematical equation that lead to us existing.
The irony would be beautiful. Here we are as players (humans) travelling a procedurally generated universe and at the very centre of the universe we discover it is US who are procedurally generated.