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These Video Games Have REAL Sky and Constellations!

Updated: Jun 7, 2023


Dalia and I love astronomy and astrophotography... but we also both love video games! 🕹


When playing video games, we really appreciate when developers actually care about the night sky and reproduce the skybox true to life in their games. In this post, I'm going to go over a few of our favorite video games where the in-game night sky matches our real-life sky!


Some of these are really impressive and are extremely close to reality.. while some others are a bit disappointing, but deserve credit for trying anyway 😅 And yes, I kept the best of the end!


Watch out full video HERE!


Real Sky in video games
Scroll to the bottom to see our full video


Kid playing Playstation in the 90's

Dalia and I often play games together, some of our favorite co-op games include Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, Portal, Cuphead, and more.


Fun fact: I worked for 2K Games (NBA 2K, WWE 2K, Borderlands, Bioshock...) for 2 years before deciding to go full-time on Galactic Hunter.



The picture above is me playing FIFA (and even dressed for the occasion) on Playstation 1 sometime in the 90's. 😃



 

1 - Red Dead Redemption 2


Red Dead Redemption 2 logo

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an action-adventure game in an open world. You control Arthur Morgan (a cool cowboy) in the Wild Wild West of 1899.


This was probably the most anticipated game of 2018 due to how incredible the first Red Dead Redemption back in 2010 was.


  • Developer: Rockstar Studios

  • Publisher: Rockstar Games

  • Release date: October 26, 2018

  • Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Microsoft Windows, Stadia


 

What does the Night Sky look like in Red Dead Redemption 2?


The game has a great day-night cycle so players can enjoy hunting coyotes, robbing banks, or camping long after the sun has set.


If you take the time to look up to the stars, you should immediately notice the bright moon, but also the Summer Milky Way band!

The Milky Way looks very impressive! The developers packed a ton of stars in that area to make it look much brighter than the rest of the sky, and the Milky Way band itself is full of dark orange and blue nebulosity, similar to real life.


The Milky Way in Red Dead Redemption 2
The Milky Way in Red Dead Redemption 2. Credit: u/jshzczjskzbd on Reddit

The moon, on the other hand, looks... out of place. For some reason, the developers did not take the time to double-check where they placed our natural satellite, and so the moon appears to the north. Something to note though is that the moon cycles were taken into account, so you do not see the same phase of the moon every night!


Now, are there any recognizable constellations in Red Dead Redemption 2?

The answer is YES! Constellations like Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and more can be seen.


Finally, you can easily find Polaris in the night sky, and every star rotates around it, which is true to life!


The constellations in Red Dead Redemption 2
The constellations in Red Dead Redemption 2. Credit: u/astrodruid on Reddit

Overall, the night sky in Red Dead Redemption 2 is very immersive and I am sure is very appreciated by the astronomy community!

Key Points

Great cycle of moon phases, but the location of the moon is wrong (North)

Several constellations are visible

Milky Way is beautiful and impressive


 

2 - Forza Horizon 5



Forza Horizon logo

Forza Horizon 5 is an open-world racing game that takes place in Mexico.


It contains several hundreds of different driveable vehicles including hypercars, buggies, trucks, and everyday cars.


Racing can take place either solo or with other online players, both on a closed track and in the open world.



Forza Horizon is the "arcade" spinoff of the Forza Motorsport racing simulation series.


  • Developer: Playground Games

  • Publisher: Xbox Games Studios

  • Release date: November 9, 2021

  • Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox One Series S/X, Microsoft Windows


 

What does the Night Sky look like in Forza Horizon 5?


The game allows you to drive at night, but the night cycle is very short compared to the day cycle (it is not 1:1). Out of a full cycle of 1 hour and 40 minutes, only the last 10 minutes are complete darkness. When playing, those 10 minutes of nighttime feel like enough and it is understandable that the developers chose to have a much longer daylight section considering how beautiful the game looks when the sun is up!


Monoseat car at night forza horizon 5

When night falls, park your car on the side of the road and look up at the sky. It might be easier to go in either Photo Mode or Drone Mode so that you can hide the UI and look around faster. The sky at first glance looks... a bit messy from an astronomer's eye. I was not able to make out any constellation, without really knowing if this was because there was none, or because there were too many random stars added all over the place.


I got really confused because I could definitely spot a famous cluster of stars... the Pleiades, but... that was it.


The Pleiades in Forza Horizon 5
The Pleiades in Forza Horizon 5

Can you make out any of the constellations? If so, let me know in the comments because I myself was unable to!


The Milky Way is sadly not visible, which is a bummer because it was implemented in Forza Horizon 3 back in 2016 and looked fantastic as you can see below! Forza Horizon 3 took place in Australia.


The Milky Way in Forza Horizon 3
The Milky Way in Forza Horizon 3. Credit: u/Amatertu on Reddit

Why does the skybox look better in Forza Horizon 3 (2016) than Forza Horizon 5 (2021)?


I asked myself this question for a long time and finally got an answer from an article by Microsoft.

In simple words: Because it takes a ton of time, and a ton of money.


In order to implement a real sky in Forza Horizon 3, the team at Playground Games had to take hundreds of thousands of pictures, as well as some videos of the sky all the way in Australia for several months. The team had to physically ship a terabyte of data each day back to the UK where the studio is located.


Playground Games spent about £100,000 building a 12K High Dynamic Range (HDR) camera rig, which no one had ever done before. They then shipped it to Australia to film real footage of the sky.



Because each installment of Forza Horizon takes place in a different country, and because the sky may look different depending on the country's latitude, the studio probably could not afford all that time and money for a "minor" improvement to the game like the night sky.


Sure, astronomers and astrophotographers like us care about that type of stuff, but let's be honest, 99% of gamers don't really pay attention to the in-game night sky that much.


Key Points

Moon looks great

The Pleiades look very real, but most other stars are randomly placed

No constellations, no Milky Way


 

3 - Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Logo

Let's use Odyssey as this is the one I played last when writing this post!


Assassin's Creed Odyssey is an action role-playing game set in 431-422 BC Greece.


You can either choose to be a male character (Alexios) or a female character (Kassandra).


The game follows real mythological stories, several of which are linked to astronomy.





What I really loved about the story of Assassin's Creed Odyssey is that you encounter several historical statues that are very popular in the Greek mythology aspect of the astronomy world.


For example, Zeus, Athena, Herakles, Hera, and more.

You can learn about how these are linked to astronomy by reading our book about the 88 constellations.


  • Developer: Ubisoft Quebec

  • Publisher: Ubisoft

  • Release date: October 5, 2018

  • Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Stadia


 


What does the Night Sky look like in Assassin's Creed Odyssey?


The game looks great both during the day and during the night. The moon seems to have its own cycle, which is something more and more games are doing these days!


The Moon in Assassin's Creed Odyssey

As for the stars, it's a complete disappointment! Just like Forza Horizon, Odyssey completely gave up on creating a realistic night sky even though they did the work in the previous installment (Assassin's Creed Origins).


If you own AC: Origins, you should quickly recognize the famous Pleiades star cluster, looking bright and very realistic! If you have some knowledge about the constellations, you might also realize that several of the popular constellations are indeed integrated into the skybox! When you spot the Pleiades, look nearby for the bright stars making up the constellation Perseus.


Although Ubisoft started implementing a realistic sky since the Black Flag edition of the series, it really started looking great in Origins but then not realistic again in Odyssey.


The Pleiades and Perseus in Assassin's Creed Origins
The Pleiades and Perseus in Assassin's Creed Origins. Credit: u/LynXelele on Reddit

Another constellation you can find in Assassin's Creed Origins' sky is of course the famous Orion!

I was unable to find Orion (or any constellation) when I was playing Odyssey, but someone on Reddit posted this screenshot of Orion below taken straight from AC: Origins. I'm not sure about Valhalla (the latest Assassin's Creed at the time of writing this) but if you own the game, please check if you can spot constellations and let us know in the comments!


In Assassin's Creed Origins, the constellation of the hunter is well represented with bright stars that look natural, and with the correct distance between themselves. Orion's Belt is obvious, as well as Orion's sword which is home to... the Orion Nebula! Of course, the nebula looks just like a star, but that's exactly the case when looking up at it in real life!


The only thing I wish Ubisoft did for Orion is to make Betelgeuse red, but hey, let's not be too greedy now. 😅


The Orion Constellation in Assassin's Creed Origins.
The Orion Constellation in Assassin's Creed Origins. Credit: u_ChandlerHouchin on Reddit

The Milky Way in Assassin's Creed Odyssey


The Milky Way in Assassin's Creed Odyssey
The Milky Way in Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Lastly, the Milky Way in Assassin's Creed Odyssey looks great and impressive! It is similar in texture to the Milky Way in Red Dead Redemption 2, but lacks any of the orange tones.


As I mentioned earlier, I was unable to spot any specific constellation in the sky, and could not make out the Big Dipper asterism either. Because of that, I could not locate the North star Polaris.


What I also noticed while playing the game is that the moon moves across the sky nicely, from East to West. You can see this as a timelapse in our full video on YouTube.


The stars on the other hand do not move at all. This is of course expected, as it would be a tremendous amount of work to make the skybox rotate. Although.... the next game on our list did a tremendous job at that!



Scroll down to find out which game we are talking about!


Key Points

Great cycle of moon phases

The Milky Way looks great

​The stars are not real in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and do not move at all



 

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4 - Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)

Flight Simulator Logo

Microsoft Flight Simulator is, like the name implies, a flying simulator! In this game, you can select the plane of your choice and take off, fly and land anywhere in the world. The 2020 edition of Flight Simulator is actually mind-blowing due to the fact that the entire Earth is modeled realistically.


In case you were wondering: Yes, you can find your house in-game! 🏠


  • Developer: Asobo Studios

  • Publisher: Microsoft / Xbox Game Studios / Dovetail Games

  • Release date: August 18, 2020

  • Platforms: Xbox One Series S/X, Microsoft Windows


 


What does the Night Sky look like in Microsoft Flight Simulator?


The night sky in Microsoft Flight Simulator is just incredible. The developers went above and beyond to recreate the exact stars, constellations, and moon in the sky. Not only do the stars and moon look awesome, but they also move across the sky in real-time!


The night sky in Flight Simulator 2020 with the Milky Way
The night sky in Flight Simulator. Credit: u/Jayteauk on Reddit.

Oh and on top of that, the weather is also in real-time and matches your location, so you literally can know if it's clear or cloudy above your city as you are playing the game. Is your telescope imaging in the backyard right now and you are passing time by flying around your neighborhood in Flight Simulator? If you see some clouds or rain appearing in the game, be sure to run out in real life and check the sky!


Flight Simulator Night Sky with Pleiades and Orion
The southern sky in Flight Simulator with the Pleiades, Orion, and all surrounding constellations visible

The moon in Microsoft Flight Simulator



The size of the moon in Batman Arkham Knight
The size of the moon in Batman Arkham Knight

The moon has the correct phases and cycle in the game, and can be seen moving across the sky just like in real life!


Unlike many games, like the excellent Batman Arkham series as seen here on the right, the moon here appears to have a true-to-life size and hasn't been enlarged just for the "wow" aspect!


Remember when I said the night sky in Microsoft Flight Simulator was very realistic? Well, that also means that you can experience both lunar and solar eclipses in real-time! This is very impressive in-game and makes you realize how beautiful these events are as seen from the sky. This is the closest you'll get to experience these as a "pilot", unless of course you are a pilot in real life and have been lucky enough to fly in the path of an eclipse. 😃


The game allows you to pick any day and time, so you can see any past or upcoming eclipse as long as you are flying from the correct location on Earth and have your time set right! Be sure to check our guide about all upcoming solar eclipses and pick one from there!


A partial solar eclipse as seen in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
A partial solar eclipse as seen in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Credit: ExplorerST.


The Milky Way in Microsoft Flight Simulator


The Milky Way in-game looks very natural. Unlike most other games, like Assassin's Creed or Red Dead Redemption 2, the Milky Way here is not grossly overblown but is rather faint just as you would expect in real life.


It's also great to see that the brightness and details in the Milky Way band will look more obvious when far from large cities. This reflects how light pollution emits from cities and washes off the stars in the real world.


The Milky Way as seen from the ground in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The Milky Way as seen from the ground in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Credit: u/Placyde on Reddit.

The stars and constellations in Microsoft Flight Simulator


Now let's talk about the constellations and the overall stars in the game. The stars look exactly like you'd expect them to look in real life. They seem to have the correct brightness, location, and number. It is hard to say if the entire sky perfectly matches real life, but it sure looks like it when playing!


Because the stars are in their correct location, the constellations are also visible! A great challenge for anyone playing the game would be to see if you could spot all 88 constellations while flying around the world, because yes, both the northern and the southern skies are mapped! You'll also see the correct sky for each season. Want to see Orion? Fly in Winter. Want to see the bright Summer Milky Way band? Fly in Summer!


Polaris is easily located, thanks not only to the compass telling you where North is, but also to the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia which allow you to star hop to Polaris. I wanted to see if the game was super realistic and used the Time options to make a timelapse of the night sky (check our full video for that!), and of course, the stars do properly rotate around Polaris just like in real life.


Key Points

Real-time rotation of the Earth

Every star and constellation is true to life

​Real moon cycle and phases

Real-time weather

The Milky Way looks realistic and great

The stars and Milky Way will appear even brighter as you fly away from the big cities


 

5 - Kerbal Space Program



Kerbal Space Program logo

Kerbal Space Program is, like Microsoft Flight Simulator, a flight simulation! This time though, the focus is on outer space and your characters are... silly frogs.


Don't think that controlling a frog means the whole game is silly though, this is in my opinion the best rocket simulator ever made, and the game teaches you so much about gravity, rocket launches, and how space flight actually works. The game became so popular that the studio was acquired by Take-Two (Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, NBA 2K...) and a Kerbal Space Program 2 is now planned!


Kerbal Space Program is probably the one game that encouraged many gamers to pursue careers as SpaceX or NASA engineers!


  • Developer: Squad

  • Publisher: Private Division

  • Release date: April 27, 2015

  • Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac


 


What does the Night Sky look like in Kerbal Space Program?


The first thing you need to do to see the stars is to actually manage to launch your rocket to space! If you are able to leave the planet Kerbin, you will then be able to feast your eyes on the beautiful night sky the developers implemented in their game.


The realistic sky was not available at launch but was instead added during a later update. You will quickly be able to spot some familiar constellations and objects when panning your camera around in space. For example, the picture below shows the constellation Orion (near the center-left) with the Orion Nebula circled in orange. You can also see the Pleiades star cluster, circled on the right. The Hyades are also visible, as well as the faint Winter Milky Way.


Famous deep sky objects in Kerbal Space Program.
Famous deep sky objects in Kerbal Space Program. M42 (left) and M45 (right)

What about the planets and moons in Kerbal Space Program?


Orbiting the mun in KSP

Despite having a real-world sky, Kerbal Space Program actually takes place in a made-up solar system (called "Kerbol System"), or rather in an alternate universe.


The planets are very similar in looks, distance, composition, and size to some of ours, but all have different silly names.


The "Earth" looks like our planet overall but is called "Kerbin" in the game. Jupiter (called "Jool" in the game) is absolutely massive compared to the rest of the celestial bodies.


As for the moon, it also is very similar-looking to the moon we all know, but it is called "Mun" in the game.


Pictured on the left is my space craft orbiting around the "Mun". You can see the many craters on the surface, as well as the bright Milky Way band in the background.





KSP celestial bodies size comparison
Celestial bodies in KSP. Real scale comparison.

The list of planets you can land on and visit in Kerbal Space Program is:

  • Moho (Mercury)

  • Eve (Venus)

  • Kerbin (Earth)

  • Duna (Mars)

  • Dres (Ceres)

  • Jool (Jupiter)

  • Eeloo (Pluto)




On top of that, you can also land on several moons (Gilly, Mun, Minmus, Ike, Laythe, Vall, Tylo, Bop, and Pol).


The Milky Way in Kerbal Space Program


The Milky Way in the game looks so good! The developers most likely created their design from an actual photo which they carefully blended in the skybox. The Miky Way looks very real, with both blue, orange, and dark hues just like you see in real life in photos taken from dark sites.


The Milky Way can be seen both during flight and also from the map. It is such a great feeling to float in space during an EVA and see the incredible Milky Way band just in front of you.


The Milky Way in Kerbal Space Program, visible from the map.
The Milky Way in Kerbal Space Program, visible from the map.

Key Points

The Milky Way looks very good

Several constellations and real stars are visible


 

6 - Elite: Dangerous



Elite Dangerous Logo

And now comes the big dog! Elite: Dangerous has a realistic 1:1 scale simulation of our Milky Way with real star names, nebulae, and planets. It is a legendary space travel/combat simulator game for anyone who likes astronomy!

Do you have a favorite star in the sky? Go visit it and learn about the system in the game! The developers gathered real scientific data for everything known in our Milky Way and used theoretic data to complete the galaxy.


Elite: Dangerous holds the record for the largest map ever in a video game (along with some newer procedurally-generated maps like in No Man's Sky or Star Citizen).


  • Developer: Frontier Developments

  • Publisher: Frontier Developments

  • Release date: December 16. 2014

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac, Xbox One, Playstation 4


 


What does the Night Sky look like in Elite Dangerous?


Where to even begin...

This is as real as it gets. Sure, the night sky looks absolutely fantastic and realistic in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but that is just a 2D layer added to the skybox. In Elite Dangerous, you can not only see that same sky (if you are observing from planet Earth), but you can also take your spacecraft to space and go anywhere in the galaxy!


Milky Way and ship in Elite Dangerous

This allows you to see every star and constellation from different angles! After jumping from our solar system to faraway stars a few times, you'll soon realize that you cannot make out the constellations anymore, which makes sense since your point of view changes depending on where you are in the Milky Way.


A red giant and a neutron star in Elite: Dangerous
A red giant and a neutron star in Elite: Dangerous

Not only are the stars in Elite Dangerous exactly where they should be in our sky, but they also have the correct colors! Indeed, each star in Elite Dangerous has the correct classification (class O, class B, class A, class F, Wolf-Rayet, Neutron, and so on...), type (giant, supergiant), size, and more. This data is taken from scientific sources (when possible) and gives each star its real color. So here, Betelgeuse does appear red! 🥳



A black hole in Elite: Dangerous
A black hole in Elite: Dangerous

You can also find black holes in the game, including the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A at the center of our galaxy.


Just be sure to not get too close or else... I'll let you find that out for yourself.






The Milky Way in Elite: Dangerous


The Milky Way band is the best I have seen in any video game. It is vibrant in colors and texture, and it always feels fresh to the eyes as it will look more or less impressive depending on where your space travels take you.


Left: The map in Elite Dangerous, showing the entire galaxy. Right: the map when zooming in all the way. All these tiny orange dots are star systems you can set a course for.


Another great thing you can do is go either all the way to the "top" or the "bottom" of our galaxy. This will of course take hundreds of jumps from your start point, but it is such a unique sight to be able to see the entire galaxy from there. That's as close as you'll ever get to being on top of the world.



Deep Sky Objects in Elite: Dangerous


Several deep sky objects are present in the game, which you can visit! Here are some examples of nebulae you will find in Elite: Dangerous:




At the time of writing this, you can physically visit more than 110 nebulae in Elite: Dangerous. It is very interesting traveling around the galaxy and seeing the popular nebulae become unrecognizable due to your point of view slowly shifting around.


You can also travel to just one star cluster: the Pleiades (Messier 45). This means you can visit Merope, Maia, and the other star systems including some planets!

Key Points

Best realistic galaxy ever made in a video game

Stars and constellations are as real as it gets

​The Milky Way band looks fantastic from anywhere in the galaxy

Several deep sky objects can be visited

​Only one cluster is available (M45)


 

Honorable Mentions


We believe the games below also have a somewhat realistic night sky. Maybe we'll check how close to real-life they are in the future and add them to this post! If you have ideas of other games that have a realistic skybox, let us know in the comments and we'll add them to the list!


  • Horizon Zero Dawn

  • Arma

  • Mega Man 2

  • Pokemon GO

  • Metal Gear Solid V

  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

  • Far Cry 6

  • War Thunder

  • DayZ