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Post feature RSS Dev Diary 2 - Art Vision

Spaceships, alien designs and environments. The vision for Stellaris puts a large emphasis on exploration and the fantastic things you can find out there in the vastness of space. With the art we wanted it to complement this wherever possible.

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Hello Everyone!

Today we will talk for a bit about the thought behind the artistic choices we’ve made in creating Stellaris. I will briefly touch on several subjects; spaceships, alien designs and environments. The vision for Stellaris puts a large emphasis on exploration and the fantastic things you can find out there in the vastness of space. With the art we wanted it to complement this wherever possible.

Establishing the art style we of course rummaged through all the Sci-fi imagery we could think of, from classical Sci-fi like Ralph McQuarrie and Star Trek, to the latest productions like Mass Effect or Halo.


A theme that soon emerged in the references we liked, that we felt reinforced our vision the best, was images with high contrast, and strong colors. Like an amusement park at night, or a city at sunset, very visible in last week's dev diary image. Or the image above. The dark areas generally have an air of mystery, and the strong light and saturated colors give a sense of wonder about the whole thing, which is exactly what we are aiming for. We felt that this would hopefully evoke a sense of awe in the player, and an urge to explore and seek out the mysteries of our galaxy.

Among the many images we collected, an artist we in particular liked was Kentaro Kanamoto, the style in many of his images very much had the feeling we wanted to convey. So we contacted him and had him create 10 different images which covered the various themes in the game, such as colonization, alien cities and planets, space combat, resource extraction etc. These would work well as a guiding star for art reference, as well as inspiration for the team in general. Any new artist on the team, or a member of management could look at these images and feel the type of game we wanted to make.

Though we embraced the darkness of space and a galaxy full of fallen empires, we did not want sadness. And though we very much wanted realism, we wanted to avoid gritty and dirty Sci-fi. So much of game art recently has achieved realism and detail by adding dirt and damage to everything, and in general it does a good job, but this worn down style was not what we were aiming for. We wanted detailed and realistic, to have a large sense of scale, but without resorting these tricks.

Clean art can be really hard to make since it easily ends up looking like plastic toys. This was one of the things I very much wanted to avoid, I did not want it to end up looking like toy armies in space. One of the things that really helped out here was us adding PBR to our engine. (Physically Based Rendering, all the cool kids are using it!) This was implemented in Runemaster, and with this we were able to get more detailed and realistic looking ships by having a large range of material properties to the surface, it adds a lot of detail, and it helps keep ships from having too much of a plastic feeling.

Another artistic decision that deeply affected the visuals of the ship designs was the choice of having visible turrets on the ship. Since we want them to be visible to the player if they are zoomed out a bit, they also have to be a fairly large, and mainly placed on the top of the ship. The turrets aim towards their target and gives a satisfying broadside at times.

But the decision was not primarily an artistic one, the combat is not just some pretty light show while the game crunches numbers in the background. The lasers and missiles you see are the same ones the game uses to determine the outcome of the battle. So if a laser misses its target, you can see that it goes past it, and the last missile to hit, really was the one that landed the final blow.


Even though we wanted realism, the world and the environmental objects are more of a stylized realism most space games go for. Scale and distance between objects is quite a ways off, adapted to a reasonable size as the scale and distances of real world space objects are so absurd. We also don't have planets moving around the sun. But we do keep it realistic wherever possible, with different star types being fairly accurate. Different planet types that makes sense. Frozen planet at the edge of the system etc.

Here is an example of the Sol system, and though it’s got a little bit more planets than most systems, systems being randomly generated and all, it does give you an idea of what solar systems may look like.


For the alien creature designs we aim fairly high in terms of scope. We wanted as much variety as possible, and for the player to find many new aliens each new session they played. We have tried to make them as varied as possible, but there are of course some constraints. For instance, they all are sentient creatures who in the end were able to one way or another develop tools, technology and finally spaceships. So they probably have some sort of extremities with which to grab items, be it tentacles or fingers, but it is rather hard to get around this of you want to escape your planet. You can of course be a mind controlling parasite which has farmed a slave race to do your bidding, which we do have, but those are not in the majority.

Another constraint was that we do need the races to participate in diplomacy, and have leaders and populations, so they did need to fit a certain format. That said we have done our utmost to avoid the Star Trek of just having different foreheads.

If art dev diaries are something you want more of, let us know, and we might get more in depth about this in future diaries.

Fredrik Toll
- Art Director

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