This guides describes how I think terrain editing works in No Man’s Sky. The findings are based on 2 weeks of study that utilized the NMS Save Editor to track edits. It is my view that terrain regeneration issues and, in particular, the wide spread belief that terrain editing is bugged, are the result of not understanding the limitations of the game.
Playing NMS on a PC allows one to view and edit the save file. Brendon Matthews (aka goatfungus ) has generously provided an editor called NMSSaveEditor (SE). It can be found on github.com. I used this editor to track edits and to provide me with some insights on how the Hello Games (HG) developers chose to treat edits. Many who have played a single save long enough have experienced terrain regrowing or respawning. This has led many of us to only build elevated bases. For those playing on another platform, you may have success accessing your save file using another editor called NomNom Save Editor, also found on github.com. This link gives further details [link].
My study approach was to take an existing save and delete all the terrain edit data. This reset everything and gave me a clean slate of zero edits. In one study I used two bases that already existed. These bases were in different systems. One planet (A) eventually had 861 edits, the other planet (B) eventually had enough edits for the combined to reach 14,874 total edits, just below the 15,000 maximum set by HG. These combined edits were stable (no terrain regeneration after several days). These edit configurations were my new starting point for investigating terrain regeneration.
The type of terrain editing I did included direct excavating with the terrain manipulator both inside the and outside the base radius. I also edited two mineral deposits (Copper and Paraffinium). In addition, I flattened terrain using the “flattening” mode as well as flattening simply by placing large floor sections. The floor sections must remain in place or the terrain comes back. Past versions of NMS did not have this behavior. I assume that HG made this change in order to not waste edits on deleted base objects. I give them credit for this minor improvement.
As I generated more edits, moving toward the 861 edits on planet A and 14,013 edits on planet B, I kept track of the base edit meter that can be seen when placing a building object such as a main room or floor piece. More on this below.
Edits are grouped into buffers and there is an upper limit of 256 buffers. No more than thirteen buffers were ever needed for my two-system study. The time span of these two studies was about two weeks.
A few updates ago HG added a section to the save file under TerrainEditData called BufferProtected. Buffers contain spatially grouped edits and by default are not protected (false). In contrast, edits within a base region are protected (true). This makes it easy to calculate how many edits are protected and compare this to the progress of the base edit meter.
As a reminder, there is an upper limit of 15,000 edits and 256 buffers. A single mining site will result in one buffer being used but easily dozens of edits. Likewise, digging up salvage data will need one buffer and several edits. A buffer has some spatial range beyond which edits will be placed in another buffer. I don’t know what this range is exactly, but seems to be a few 10s of units (in game meters).
Whether a player reaches the 15,000 or 256 limit first, or neither, depends on how long they play a single save as well as how they play the game. If a player excavates a hole in the ground to build a base, then they may soon reach the 15,000 limit without too much effort. If another player likes to mine for salvage data while running around on a planet, then they will use relatively more buffers, but not so many edits. Some players may never reach either limit and wonder what others are talking about when posting about terrain regeneration.
That said, once one of these limits is reached, something has to give. Either no more editing, or buffers and edits get overwritten. Whatever was overwritten will result in respawned terrain. If the respawned terrain fills in some hole that was dug to get salvage data on a planet never to be visited again, then who cares, or even knows. But, if it respawns in your favorite base, then you will know and you won’t be happy.
Findings so far
The base edit meter seems to max out at 10,000 edits. The exact number is uncertain partly because the meter is rather crude in its resolution. Nonetheless, I am confident that it is close to 10,000. Logic also suggests that HG would pick a “simple” value (not 10,019 for instance).
When I reached within a few edits of the 10,000 limit and placed another floor piece, no terrain seemed to be removed. The floor piece went in fine, but appeared buried. I was still able to excavate outside the base radius using the mining tool. While I had reached the 10,000 base edit limit, I was still under the 15,000 total edit limit. However, later I learned that I could continue to use the terrain manipulator to remove terrain within the base radius. Thus, the buried floor piece could be uncovered. These edits were listed as protected. So, it looks like removing terrain with a base building object is limited to 10,000 edits but excavation with the mining tool is not. It may be that all 15,000 edits can be classified as protected. What this really means is part of a third ongoing study. I will add to this guide when I get the results.
I now tested the 15,000 limit. The 861-edit planet (A) had 68 protected edits, 791 unprotected edits, and 2 edits from a Paraffinium deposit. My last save was on the other planet (B) and this meant that the buffer ages on the 861-edit system tended to be larger (but not absolutely the largest). Buffer age is confusing to me. On the planet with the other 14,013 edits I started a new excavation. I removed enough material to be sure I had exceeded the 15,000 edit limit. I then exited the game and looked at the save file. In this case, all the edits that would have exceeded the 15,000 were “taken” from the 791 unprotected edits used for the excavation made on planet A.
The buffer that had the 791 edits now only contained 312 edits. I expected to see this excavated hole partially filled in with “regenerated” terrain and, indeed, that is what I saw as shown in the Before and After images.
I don’t know how the game decides which specific buffer and edits to overwrite. In this instance the top is mostly filled in, while underneath still had large cavities. It may be that the first edits made are the first overwritten. Eventually further excavation on planet B reduced this buffer all the way to zero edits. The hole was completely filled in!
There were also 2 unprotected edits associated with mining Paraffinium, but I have reason to believe that these edits are treated differently by virtue of their edit type. Edits are of different types depending on what is being removed or added as well as the size of the terrain manipulator tool. An old post that I think still helps in understanding editing can be found here [link].
In a parallel study using another old save, I again deleted all the terrain edits to get a clean slate. This time I investigated what happens if all 256 buffers are used and then new edits are attempted. I ended up with 208 unprotected buffers and 48 protected buffers. I used colored coded save beacons and hand written notes to keep track of where the unprotected edits were.
The first new edit/buffer combination I added was of the protected type. Note, this would have generated the 257th buffer but only 256 are allowed. Comparing saves from before and after I could see which unprotected buffer had been overwritten. I then went to where the old buffer had been and could see that the hole I had made was gone, just as if terrain had regenerated – which, in a sense, it had. However, the “regeneration” was due to a limitation built into the game, not a bug.
The second new edit/buffer combination was of the unprotected type. Like before, an existing unprotected buffer was overwritten. As mentioned above, I was able to go to the buffer location and confirm that the hole I had made was gone.
For this second study on buffer limits, no more than 2267 edits were generated. Therefore, neither the 15,000 total limit nor the 10,000 base edit limit played any role.
I think HG put in the 10,000 base edit limit as a means of mitigating the dreaded/hated/feared terrain regeneration. HG tries to reserve some unprotected edits so resources can still be mined or salvaged data still dug up. My current findings suggest it is these 5,000 edits that get overwritten when the 15,000 limit is reached, not the protected base edits. However, a third ongoing study indicates that by using the terrain manipulator it should be possible to have all 15,000 edits protected. This begs the question “Then what happens?” No more editing? Protected edits lose their protection? I hope this third study will answer these questions. I’ll add my findings here when I have them.
There are ways editing can behave contrary to what the player wants. One example. If you flatten terrain with the flatten mode, or dig a cave via simple excavation, but BEFORE you place the base computer, those edits will not be protected. Now you place your base computer, build a spectacular base, post a picture, and move on. Later you make other bases and, in the process, create more edits that push you past the 15,000 limit, terrain regeneration seems inevitable. Where the regeneration occurs appears to be somewhat random and, of course, depends on how far the player went past the 15,000 limit. If some of the overwritten buffers/edits were unprotected and associated with your brilliant base, then your first thought might be: “Why doesn’t HG fix this &$!%# bug”.
Buffers also have age associated with them but, to be honest, they make little sense to me. Each time I saved, even if all I’d did was look around, some of the buffer ages got shuffled. It did seem to be the case that buffers associated with the planet I saved on before exiting the game ended up with “younger” ages. Maybe the game thinks the save planet is more important and gives buffers low age values. Perhaps HG is just keeping it semi random. At this point buffer ages are a big unknown to me.
Based on my work reported here I think the terrain editing feature in NMS is limited but not bugged. That said, I have not tested every combination and we all know the game can glitch from time to time.
I think the 256 limit on total number of buffers is not much of a limitation but, the 10,000 base edits is, and by extension the 15,000 cap. I am not a game programmer so cannot say if raising this cap would be a major undertaking. Still, raising the limit from 15,000 to say 50,000 or even 100,000 would be great. If 100,000 then reserve 10,000 for unprotected edits.
I think HG could do two things easily. First, make clear how editing works. I’m sure they could summarize behavior in a paragraph or two and make a sticky on Steam. If they had done this already it would have made my studies unnecessary. The other thing HG could do is to replace the base edit meter with numerical output. The meter would read 0/10,000 at first, climbing toward 10,000/10,000. This would really put players on notice that edits are limited.
As alluded to earlier, many players are convinced that unwanted terrain regeneration is a bug, that is, some sort of coding shortfall or error. I am not in a position to disprove this, but what I have learned in my studies strongly points to the terrain edits behaving within a known rule set. The big exception is the role buffer ages play. A strong case can be made that the number of allowed edits is too small for the way many would like to play No Man’s Sky, but changing that does not involve fixing a bug that isn’t there.
Another player, with the user name carig_mark, has made the strong argument that terrain edits can be made permanent if his directions are followed exactly. In a recent post he stated:
“All you have to do to make terrain edits remain forever is to upload your base before & after terrain edits. That’s it. That moves them from the temporary part of your save file, to the permanent part.”
I have not uploaded any of the bases that were used in this study. That is not to keep people from visiting, but rather because I don’t believe uploading plays any role in terrain editing.
I questioned craig_mark about edits being moved from a temporary to permanent part of the save file, since I had never seen the temporary save section. He replied that HG had changed things a bit and now there was the BufferProtected section. At one point I asked craig_mark why he hadn’t ask another player (who was having regeneration issues) about the 15,000 edit limit. He asked in return what the 15,000 limit had to do with it; that they hadn’t followed his directions. It is likely that terrain edits are held in a temporary location, but not in the save file. I suspect that while playing the game there is space allocated for recording changes ranging from terrain editing, mining resources, to “picking” collectibles such as Star Bulb. When the player creates a restore point these changes are written to the save file.
Based on what I have learned I think craig_mark is misinterpreting the successes he has had with his method of locking down terrain edits. When I new base computer is put down and enough items are added to make it uploadable, that upload creates a restore point. The same thing could be accomplished with a save beacon or save point. No upload would be needed. In fact, a restore point is created when the base is claimed, which makes sense. Uploads are for other players when they come to visit the base. I don’t think a special save is necessary, the player just needs to claim the base and, of course, save before exiting the game.
Once claimed, the real base building can begin that may well involve terrain edits such as occurs when a main room or floor piece is placed on uneven ground. Since the base has been established these terrain edits are protected. It is this protected status that keeps them around. If the player chooses to hollow out a cave first, then that should work in terms of permanent terrain edits. But making an artificial cave will use a lot of edits. My third study is looking at a cave-like base.
I’m am not trying to single out craig_mark but he was quite sure of his advice and one of the few posters I have read that, by implication, don’t think terrain editing is bugged, or at least not severely so.
Here is the link to a recent thread that craig_mark, ihleslie (that’s me) and others contributed to regarding terrain edits. Many other threads exist. [link]
All the above findings should be considered tentative and those of the author alone. Only HG is in a position to make definitive statements regarding the inner workings of their games, including No Man’s Sky.