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In one of our other dev journals, we showed the pipeline of how aliens came to be in Star Control: Origins.  The process started with the artists and the writers working in parallel.  The artists would sketch up lots and lots of alien shapes, and the writers would design the history and lore and roles of the aliens. From there, the process would begin to merge to ensure that the final alien visual expression matched up with the lore for them.

Today we're going to begin walking you through how the Star Control aliens that appear in Star Control: Origins were developed.

Do you have enough Jeff in your life?

We first have to separate the difference between a character and a species.  In the classic Star Control series, there was Fwiffo, the character and Spathi, the species.  For the most part, Star Control: Origins focuses on species but there are also a few characters and one of our favorites is Jeff.

Ironically, as far as I know, Jeff's species is not revealed in Star Control: Origins.  I won't spoil Jeff's personality but you can get an idea of what he looks like and how he evolved.

First, you have the inkblots:

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Which led to...

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alien_31

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And...done?  Nope, because we decided that this design would be used in the future for a different alien species.  So it was back to the drawing board for Jeff, because Jeff...isn't biological.  We also wanted to move away from bipedal forms.

Jeff became more abstract.

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And, finally...

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In the case of Jeff, his evolution wasn't tied to whether we "liked" the artwork or not, but rather how well it fit with his role in the story.

The Knowers of Knowing

The need for the expression of the alien to match with their role in the story sometimes requires a redesign of species already associated with Star Control.  For example, in part 1, we talked about the need to have an alien that would appear how we would expect an alien to look.  The Roswell style aliens have become a bit of a trope in recent years, as even Stargate SG1 appeared to have taken inspiration from the "this is what aliens are supposed to look like," concept to develop the Asgard:

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Little.Green. Friend.

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Early sketch of Arilou

Originally, we were going to keep the Star Control aliens from the classic trilogy separate from the new Star Control games.  Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion arose as to whether Star Control: Origins is associated with the classic Star Control games (the answer is, yes).  So while Star Control: Origins is a reboot, ala the recent Battlestar Galactica series, it is related to classic Star Control games. 

For the purpose of our story and lore (and because we can't expect most people to be familiar with 25 year old DOS games), the Star Control aliens have somewhat different histories, which fans of the classic series can understand because this is a different universe.

In the classic Battlestar Galactica series, Cylons were actually an empire that went to war with the humans in retaliation for the humans interfering with their conquest.  In the reboot, the Cylons were machines that had been originally built by humans and later rebelled. 

This brings us to the Melnorme. In the classic Star Control series, the Melnorme were a one-eyed species of information traders with a specific homeworld.  For Star Control: Origins, we went through a lot of iterations design work for the Melnorme and how they relate to the larger plot of the Mid Spur region of the Milky Way.

The Melnorme in Star Control: Origins are a species of spies who are about the size of your fist, and developed in a very low gravity environment.  But how do you depict that?

Like with the Arilou, the artist was only given a description of the Melnorme which started out as Orange, One-Eyed, Size of Fist, Spy race, Low gravity world.

And now the journey of the Melnorme...

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Doesn't look like a spy.

 

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Too scary.

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It's afraid!

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It's a robot!

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It's crazy

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Gravity is too strong here.

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Gravity is too low. Plus, star child. And he's naked.

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Better. 

Then the question comes up...why would he only have one eye? And we realized that this element didn't make sense. The reason was fan service (the Melnorme in SC2 had one eye).  But wouldn't a species that evolved to be excellent at spying likely be extremely good at seeing?

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And so, the Star Control: Origins Melnorme. 

Fan service is a tricky thing.  On the one hand, we knew that some fans would want the Melnorme expressed how they were in Star Control II. But on the other hand, we have to take into account that most players will have never heard of or played the original series and what worked then may not work now.

Computer Aided Aliens

Sometimes, you have symbiotic species that are made up of multiple species.  In Star Control II, there was the Zoq-Fot-Pik.  These were actually three species that worked together.   In Star Control: Origins, there are species that have adapted a symbiotic relationship with technology.  This isn't the first time that's happened in a Star Control game even as the Chmmr were the result of a symbiosis.  But we only had time to really develop one of these species for Star Control: Origins.  And so we have the Trandals...

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Which became...

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At this stage, the direction was that the technology was supposed to be symbiotic, not as a use of it.

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This design went too far the other way (looked too much like he was literally holding an iPhone).

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This design ended up going for a different alien species in the future.  The Trandals aren't lazy.  

At this stage we were also trying to make sure players didn't think Star Control: Origins was intended to be "cute".  The Tywom are cute.  The Trandals are not.

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Much better. The Trandals.   

In many respects, the Trandals went through the same back and forth as the Melnorme.  That is, the battle between "cute" and hard sci-fi.  

 

The Commander

We couldn't end this journal without talking about the Commander.  She's gone through a lot of iterations.  Her design would affect everything else, which is why she was first. I shouldn't say "she," because even that had to be decided in the beginning.

The first question is, what is Star Control...within Star Control?  The organization called Star Control is an international organization tasked with the defense of Earth and exploring the solar system (and later, the galaxy).  So what would the people who worked there look like?

 

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Eventually the team decided that the Commander should be female.   From there, it came down to how she would be expressed:

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Relatively early on it was decided that humans by 2080 had figured out tech to reverse aging.  There was a lot of discussion on how to depict that.

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No species, let alone character, went through as much iteration as the Commander.

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Early on, we weren't going to have lip syncing, so the thought was to put a helmet on her.

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Once we decided to bite the bullet and develop real-time VO lip syncing, she changed to look more like this.

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As you can see, very early on, the white streak was in her hair  to indicate that she was in the process of de-aging.

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And so we had our Commander.

But what looks good in a sketch doesn't always translate well when in the engine.

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Even with all the work fully modeled and rigged, we kept iterating.

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Too cute.

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Better.

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In game.

Was it worthwhile to re-design the Commander? Let us know in the comments. We'd love to hear your input.

These aliens are just the tip of the iceberg of what we've been working on for the past 5 years.  Most people don't realize just how much time, effort and passion goes into creating just one of these species or characters.  It's a labor of love for us that we hope shows when you play the final game on September 20th, 2018!

That's it for now! More next week.

____________________________________________________________

READ THE SERIES

Prelude 1 of 13 - The Living Universe

Prelude 2 of 13 - So Many Planets

Prelude 3 of 13 - Creating Interactive Stories

Prelude 4 of 13 - The Mid Spur

Prelude 5 of 13 - The Aliens of Star Control

Prelude 6 of 13 - The Ships of Star Control

Prelude 7 of 13 - The Aliens of Star Control Part 2 (Current)

Prelude 8 or 13 - The User Interface of Star Control

Prelude 9 of 13 - The Lore of Star Control

Prelude 10 of 13 - The Art of Star Control

Prelude 11 of 13: The Environments of Star Control

Prelude 12 of 13: The Critters of Star Control 

Prelude 13 of 13: The Modding of Star Control


Comments
on Aug 13, 2018

still wanna know why Jeff has such a human-sounding name.

(Yeah, I know; kinna missing the point of the post, but that's been buggin' me...)

 

That said, yeah, SCO has been giving me a "cute" impression, but I was okay with it; Star Control has always had a kind of cartoonish look to it. I look at the Spathi, the Pkunk, the VUX, even the Shofixti (at least a little), and there is definitely a kind of goofy vibe. Not every alien had it, but enough that it wouldn't shock me to find it in SCO.

That there seems to be a bit of a balance is good; since I first became aware of it, it's been obvious that SCO is being made by people who liked--loved?--the original series; I've felt like we're in good hands, here. (I find it odd how close the Commander is to a character I built ten years ago, but it's also kinna cool.)

 

I admit, I wanted SCO to be an actually-good Star Control 3 at first; the reboot has grown on me. That has meant getting used to the new aliens, and while we only get to encounter two of them in the beta...well, like I said, we seem to be in the hands of people who dug the original series. I felt right at home right away.

The Tywon were goofy like Spathi, the Scryve were deadly like Ur-Quan, and their look reflected that quite well.

on Aug 13, 2018

BionicDance

I admit, I wanted SCO to be an actually-good Star Control 3 at first; the reboot has grown on me. That has meant getting used to the new aliens, and while we only get to encounter two of them in the beta...well, like I said, we seem to be in the hands of people who dug the original series. I felt right at home right away.

The Tywon were goofy like Spathi, the Scryve were deadly like Ur-Quan, and their look reflected that quite well.

I know how you feel.  

I regularly go with the Battlestar Galactica reboot analogy.  If I were approaching Battlestar Galactica it would be difficult (for me) to invest years of my life in the lore created by someone else unless that lore had immense value unto itself.

For example, the reimagining of the Cylons in BSG allowed for a lot of interesting plot points that would have been much harder if they had simply tried to retell the Cylon Empire destroys the colonies story.  

In the case of Star Control, in my opinon, the story climaxed with SC2: Ur-Quan Masters much the same way Mass Effect climaxed with ME3.  In ME4 they went to a different galaxy entirely (it might as well not have been called Mass Effect really -- again, just my personal opinion).  We saw what happened with Star Control 3 where they tried to continue that story.   So how do you solve that? Use a different galaxy trope? Alternative universe trope? Time travel trope?  So to continue that story without resorting to a trope like SC3 did, I think you'd need the original writers who know, I presume, what they wanted to do next.

So like Battlestar Galactica, Star Control has a considerable amount of awareness that it was great.   But only a small group (like me) who were very familiar with the lore.  That makes a reboot much more appealing.

I've written this before but it just wouldn't be commercially viable to try to retell Star Control II (you can almost see the Steam reviews "Go download UQM, it's free!") and the super-fans wouldn't accept a continuation of that story that wasn't written by Paul Reiche who is credited with the story and lore of Star Control II.  And that's if we had permission to use that lore, which we don't. So it's a moot point anyway.

Another benefit of rebooting and having 5 years is that we could plan out a game that has years and  years ahead of it.  So for example, we made sure that we didn't trivialize the size of "the galaxy".  500 or so stars with thousands of planets is massive and yet only a tiny tiny part of the Milky Way galaxy.  So there's so much more out there that we won't have to do the "and now we'll just go to another far away galaxy".

 

on Aug 13, 2018

I regularly go with the Battlestar Galactica reboot analogy.

Don't even get me started. (I could have liked the reboot, except they decided to go dark. I HATE dark. My life is dark enough; my entertainment is supposed to be relief, a distraction. (I have other reasons, too, but that's the big one.)

In the case of Star Control, in my opinon, the story climaxed with SC2: Ur-Quan Masters much the same way Mass Effect climaxed with ME3. ... So to continue that story without resorting to a trope like SC3 did, I think you'd need the original writers who know, I presume, what they wanted to do next.
 

Well...yeah...I guess.

I'm sure there are things that could have been done with where SC2 left off, but I'm having a difficult time thinking of what off the top of my head; given enough time, I might'a come up with something good. But it also might have come out forced, I suppose.

I've written this before but it just wouldn't be commercially viable to try to retell Star Control II

Oh, gosh, no! If you'da done that, I'da found you and smacked you!

and the super-fans wouldn't accept a continuation of that story that wasn't written by Paul Reiche

I flatter myself that I've a super-fan; I started with the original, played SC2 to death... but I don't need a specific author, not if it comes out good.

500 or so stars with thousands of planets is massive and yet only a tiny tiny part of the Milky Way galaxy.

Well, that's another thing I've been wondering about. I mean...that's a lot of universe to put together. And I know that planets can be built by hand. But were they all built by hand? 

I seem to recall it being said that the SCO scene was not fractally-generated, but was there any randomness to it, or did you have a team of creators making worlds for a couple of years...?

I'm dying to create my own story with the Adventure Studio, but I'm worried about how much work making my own galaxy might be.

So there's so much more out there that we won't have to do the "and now we'll just go to another far away galaxy".

Well...technically, SCO is an alternate galaxy, so...it's kind of like that. But I know what you meant.

 

And STILL wanna know about Jeff's name, darn you!

on Aug 13, 2018

BionicDance

I still wanna know why Jeff has such a human-sounding name.

No spoilers, you'll have to play the game to find out.

on Aug 13, 2018

Rhonin_the_wizard


Quoting BionicDance,

I still wanna know why Jeff has such a human-sounding name.



No spoilers, you'll have to play the game to find out.

 

Actually, knowing that it's in the game and not just something goofy is plenty. Thank you.

on Aug 13, 2018

Does anyone share my opinion that BionicDance more than deserved to get into closed beta? I think that her feedback and insights are very interesting, and she seems to have a lot of experience in everything where SciFi is concerned...

 

on Aug 13, 2018

You gave the Melnorme three eyes?  Because spy realism?    

Does anyone else feel weird about Final Jeff's ... well ... how do I say this ... PENIS?  I don't care how "abstract" he's supposed to be; that is a uh genital accessory.  Try to unsee it now, I dare you.

I love this art so much.  I don't care about the other versions - to me this is canon.  High resolution scan please for use as desktop wallpaper.

on Aug 13, 2018

Hikami

Does anyone share my opinion that BionicDance more than deserved to get into closed beta? I think that her feedback and insights are very interesting, and she seems to have a lot of experience in everything where SciFi is concerned...

 

I like you.

on Aug 13, 2018

Bionic  why are you not on the Discord?

 

on Aug 13, 2018

Taslios

Bionic  why are you not on the Discord?

I am...I'm just busy. A lot.

on Aug 13, 2018

Well, that's another thing I've been wondering about. I mean...that's a lot of universe to put together. And I know that planets can be built by hand. But were they all built by hand?

There's a lot of procedural generation involved.  We give broad directions to the engine and it generates what we want.

However, every adventure, every mission is hand crafted.  We don't simply take a bunch of random story parts and mash them together randomly.  Our focus has been on making it easier for writers to contribute unique stories rather than finding ways to spread a little writing a long way.

But yea, it'll take many years to expand out.  

 

on Aug 13, 2018

Okay. Thanks. I was curious about that for quite some time.

Would I be right in assuming that the procedural-generation system will be available for the Adventure Studio?

 

I notice that there is a Building Crafting feature; there doesn't seem to be a tons of parts--or weren't, the last time I checked--but it got me thinking: the one thing we never saw in SC2 was an inhabited planet. Even when we got to a homeworld, touching the planet brought us to a talk-screen and we never landed on the planet.

But if we have buildings, now...might we run across a planet full of cities? I mean, I'm not picturing Coruscant, here, but perhaps something relatively close to Earth, circa, well...now-ish?

Our focus has been on making it easier for writers to contribute unique stories ... it'll take many years to expand out.

Now, see, this is something I've been wondering about, cuz the answers have always been a bit ambiguous when asked: will there be user-submitted adventures built into the canon? Not just available, but actually part of the lore?

I mean, we can definitely create our own universes from scratch; I got that. And I certainly get the impression that there will be Stardock-created DLC integrated into the base game. Plus, I figure people can download and play user-made adventures that take place in the SCO galaxy. 

My question is about that last bit, there...the user-created adventures. Is there any chance that Stardock might look at some of those submissions and go, "Oh, yeah...that's goin' into the lore. Congratulations, kid...your writing and design is now part of Star Control Origins officially." Is that a thing that might happen?

on Sep 07, 2018

have you used Niklas Jansson by any chance for concept art?

on Sep 07, 2018

By the way I've been waiting what feels like my whole life for a Sc 2 sequel well done! i could not be more excited for this game!

on Sep 09, 2018

s3ntnt

By the way I've been waiting what feels like my whole life for a Sc 2 sequel well done! i could not be more excited for this game!

We are too.  It's amazing how it's all come together!