As I warp into the system known as The Heart of Unity, it doesn’t seem as if anything special is happening. Five planets and a handful of moons slowly orbit a sun that casts an aquamarine light into the void between. My stellar guides have already entered the orbit of Terra1, a green and blue sphere that, from my vantage amid an asteroid belt, looks pretty Earthlike.
I’ve been invited to tour one tiny portion of No Man’s Sky’s infinite, procedurally-generated universe, where a community project a year in the making flung its doors wide open in a sudden gesture of goodwill. UNity1 is the brainchild of several disparate factions and communities. It originally planned to provide an in-game, faction-neutral meeting ground for politicking, ambassadorial discussions and the arbitration of disagreements. They chose a planet, spent months erecting infrastructure, and looped in the leaders of some of the playerbase’s largest civilisations, such as The United Federation of Traders and Galactic Hub, in anticipation of a big public reveal.
Then the coronavirus pandemic changed everyone’s lives. “In three weeks I met thousands at work, screened countless people and in walking outside the scarcity of human interaction was almost creepy,” says Lillihop. She runs the NMSCafé Discord server and has coordinated much of the planning on UNity1. Outside of No Man’s Sky, she works at a reception at a hospital. “There’s anger and fear, loneliness and loss, and that’s not even the day-to-day.”