Those good people at Reddit have pointed us in the direction of Outerra , an indie project to create a new game engine. It pitches itself as a “3D planetary engine for seamless planet rendering from space down to the surface.”
The latest video on the site (above) shows the engine's impressive water rendering effects, with waves lapping on the shore and and an Orange Tango-shaded sunset. The engine incorporates vehicles and aircraft, too.
The engine uses “arbitrary resolution of elevation data, refining it to centimeter resolution using fractal algorithms,” according to the website. Which presumably means it can take map information from real-life locales and create an game world based on it.
With games like Just Cause 2 and ARMA II giving us increasingly large environments, it's inevitable that one day we're given a whole planet to trash. Outerra could be a step in that direction. You may have noticed that there aren't any human beings anywhere, but apparently the engine will support 3D Collada files for importing Maya and 3DMax models and objects.
That's only just the start, though. According to the game's technical FAQ, the engine “is designed to allow” interplanetary travel. If a Mass Effect MMO needed an engine, this could well be it.