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:
Which led to...
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.
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:
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...
Doesn't look like a spy.
It's a robot!
Gravity is too strong here.
Gravity is too low. Plus, star child. And he's naked.
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?
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...
At this stage, the direction was that the technology was supposed to be symbiotic, not as a use of it.
This design went too far the other way (looked too much like he was literally holding an iPhone).
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.
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.
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?
Eventually the team decided that the Commander should be female. From there, it came down to how she would be expressed:
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.
No species, let alone character, went through as much iteration as the Commander.
Early on, we weren't going to have lip syncing, so the thought was to put a helmet on her.
Once we decided to bite the bullet and develop real-time VO lip syncing, she changed to look more like this.
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.
And so we had our Commander.
But what looks good in a sketch doesn't always translate well when in the engine.
Even with all the work fully modeled and rigged, we kept iterating.
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