This is no video game. This is an image of a gigantic baby star inside a galactic bubble 4,300 light-years from Earth, captured by Europe's Herschel space telescope. Has video game space ever been so beautiful?
The small white spot on the bottom edge of the ethereal-looking galactic bubble RCW 120 is actually an infant star, only tens of thousands of years old, before its nuclear furnace ignites. Even as an infant, the star is 8 to 10 times the size of our sun.
Interesting statistics, but what drew me to this story was how advances in astronomy help shape the way our games depict outer space. Granted, the Herschel space telescope works in the far-infrared and sub-millimeter range, so the picture isn't an accurate visual representation of what we're looking at, but it's pictures like these that shape the way game creators shape their universes.
Here are a few examples of how outer space is depicted in video games.
We've sure come a long way, haven't we?
Homeworld is one of the first games I played that made outer space look truly appealing. There isn't much in the way of detail, but the color palette brightened up the normally inky depths considerably.
If there's one thing EVE Online has always done right, it's gripping, edge-of-your-seat adventure.
No, of course not. It's the game's depiction of outer space that lures many unsuspecting future EVE addicts into the fold, promising countless colorful star systems to explore, mine, and eventually die within. Graphic updates in recent years have made the universe of EVE Online more beautiful than ever.
Mass Effect 2
You don't really spend too much time freely exploring space in the Mass Effect series, but the few free-roaming space faring moments you do enjoy take place on colorful star fields filled with various nebulae and gas pockets. Not bad for what is essentially point and click space exploration.
Star Trek Online
Star Trek Online is another game that nails space, presenting distinctive and colorful spatial phenomena at every turn. Some would even say it outdoes the television shows and movies in terms of capturing the alien beauty of the airless void.
It's interesting to see how scientific advances color the way we experience the final frontier. As telescope technology advances and we push further out beyond the bounds of our tiny solar system, our view of outer space will grow more complete, allowing us to experience more of the beauty of the universe in real life and the games we play.