Procedural generation is a method in computer game programming where content or media is produced algorithmically on the fly. This is usually achieved by use of pseudo-random number generation with a seed and a set of rules to create the desired content.
In Elite: Dangerous more sophisticated techniques are used, based on solid rules and science with artist directed input. Variation is achieved by parameterizing the algorithms, kinda like having Photoshop filters and 3dsmax modifiers directly embedded within the game engine.
In Elite: Dangerous, when generating a system procedurally, each planetary system is formed from first principles. Bodies are gradually aggregated over a very long simulated time from available matter, taking into account its chemical composition. Depending on the angular momentum, this might begin to form into a single central body, or into multiple co-orbiting bodies.
Properties like star types, mass, planets, orbits and space stations are created from the same seed for all players, so that they all see the same content.- David Braben talks about procedural generation and how it is being used in Elite: Dangerous
- David Braben's talk at TEDx Albertopolis
- In this Elite: Dangerous Fiction Diary Michael talks about the process of putting together the galaxy for the game.