Stellaris Dev Diary #202: Nemesis Ship Set & Art Direction

Hello, my name is Simon Gunnarsson, I'm the Art Lead and acting Art Director for Stellaris. I wanted to go through our process of developing a style for a new ship series that will be added to the game when Nemesis is released. I'll go through the steps from the initial meeting with our game director, Daniel Moregård, through the visual development (vis-dev), concept art production and finally end at 3D production, that includes animation and VFX.

Initial Art Direction

For this time around, we had a player fantasy to cater to, so our mission statement became our guiding star throughout the process. We sat down with the game director that resulted in the imperial thematic direction. Which was enough for us to start doing some word associations to kick off the creative process.

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The closer the top a word is, the more influence it should have in our direction. We held ourselves to these words even when we changed our visual direction in the middle of the vis-dev.

These first associations were part of the first brief we put together to the concept team. The theme invites for interpretations so it's important that we also define the initial art direction with supporting images, splitting the line between "what it is" and "what it isn't" is equally necessary.

With these things in mind, we curate an initial aesthetic that we think is worth exploring, so the concept team has some anchor to the vision. For the imperial aesthetic we wanted them to explore a bright and ornamental direction at first. We always enable our team to add their own touch to these curated directions, but also encourage them to also explore other paths.

Vis-dev
We had several people working with the vis-dev, all bringing their own unique take on the brief we gave them. This process is quite hard, closing doors on designs and actually drive the art direction forward is a difficult task, with all the viable options at hand, we have to be quite picky, and measure against the words that we came up with.

Asking questions like, is this conveying an imperial and dominant feeling, what works well with this specific design and what doesn't. These questions are crucial in driving the vis-dev forward.

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Concept-art made by Alessandro Bragalini

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Concept-art made by Ecbel Oueslati

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Concept-art made by Mattias Larsson

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Concept-art made by Simon Gunnarsson (me!)


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Concept-art made by Ylva Ljungqvist

There were concerns towards the mid-point of the vis-dev. The way the light works in Stellaris could make it so that white looks quite muddy. There's a chance that white takes too much color from the light and makes it look quite weird in some occasions.

So we iterated the curated art direction into a dark aesthetic. We made it more forgiving no matter what empire color the players chose, the ships will most likely look appealing in every instance.

The new aesthetic still had to hold true towards the associated words from the beginning. So we focused on more brutalist style, dark with silver details.

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Final concept-art made by Simon Gunnarsson

Style Guide
The end of the vis-dev should result in a style guide, a document that should communicate the vision and the aesthetic, with extracted details and breakdowns. It is used by the whole team, from animators to VFX so it needs to be quite descriptive.

For example, below is a breakdown of materials that 3D artists will use as a guide to creating them.

1614092771319.png


Production

The actual concept art production is the bulk of our workload. It's where we create actual blueprints for 3D artists to follow. But it's really just a linear but iterative process to get to a final result. We start with sketching some ideas, and we slowly commit more and more to certain aspects until we have a design we like, then we refine it, add materials and ultimately a final asset sheet is created.

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Initial sketches

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Concept artist use 3D to easier present the ship and get a better feel for the design

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Laying down material patterns, starting with a broad design then adding secondary and tertiary level of material details

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Finalized asset sheet, complete with materials and material ID for the 3D artists to follow

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In-game final asset


The end, but not quite!

This is our process with every new ship aesthetic, but the ships have a few more stops on the road before they're truly final, both animation, VFX and audio will get their hands on these before the full process is complete!

Thank you for taking the time to read this long post, here's a Nemesis (imperial style) titan! You will hear from our VFX artist, Erik Forsström, in a Dev Diary in a near future!

 
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Side observation: Is that a new T-class weapon on that Titan??? A white beam with rainbow-y effects rather than the usual orange Perdition Beam...
If so, YES!
 

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Thought about the new patch: With the introduction of Intel, it will no longer be possible to see all that is happening in the galaxy. This means that border changes, rebels and other things that we used to be able to see happening across the galaxy will no longer be visible to us. This means that potentially a lot of stories happening in the galaxy will go unnoticed by players, or be completely unknown.

With this in mind, it now seems a better time than ever to introduce some form of replay at the end of the game. Civilization V had this, with a display showing all changes on the map as well as graphs that show how well or badly each empire had fared in all aspects. Do you think introducing something like that is something you would like to do?

If that doesn't work, a more detailed pop-up telling the players how and why an empire has disappeared of the map, or something like "rumors tell us that X has won a war against X and annexed X systems" would be a good addition.
 
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We hereby approve the presented design for mass-production.

Signed: His Glorious Majesty Emperor Fersin, Second of his name, Sovereign of Nevellium, Velot, Nepheron, Athares and Rezia, overlord of Khazs-Thei people, the eternal protector of Khithar and Melida.
 
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If so, YES!

It's either that or they changed the visuals on the Perdition Beam. The new visual looks really cool either way, but I hope it's more than a replacement. We've been sorely needing new ship weapons for a long time, especially for the T-class which only has one type available to players(with another for Fallen Empires, but I think it's the same visually)
 

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With this in mind, it now seems a better time than ever to introduce some form of replay at the end of the game. Civilization V had this, with a display showing all changes on the map as well as graphs that show how well or badly each empire had fared in all aspects.
Europa Univeralis 4 also has it and yeah it would be quite nice to have it in Stellaris too.
 
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I have a question: Who will be getting this ship set? Will it just be for the GDF or the imperial armada, or can "normal" empires also use it?

The GDF and Imperial Armada will use the set, but you will also be able to select it during the Empire Creation screen as "Imperial".
 
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Many of those ship-designs look like guns. Cool Sci-Fi Laser guns though. Is that because your name is Gunnarson? :p

It's ok, I know where the door is.
 
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Its interesting that you have that step of trying not to be too like the Necroids, and yet that Titan to me looks very suited to a variant Necroid aesthetic LOL, I much preferred the pale and gold look for distinction, but as always interested to see where this asthetic goes.
 
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The GDF and Imperial Armada will use the set, but you will also be able to select it during the Empire Creation screen as "Imperial".

Something I'm curious about, is the Imperial Armada using the set a hardcoded thing or a moddable thing? Because I know that at least some of us will want to use a Star Wars shipset mod and I'm curious if that's possible.
 
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The GDF and Imperial Armada will use the set, but you will also be able to select it during the Empire Creation screen as "Imperial".
Does that mean there will be an imperial city set? Actually it'd be pretty cool to get the option to swap your city-graphics mid-game if you become Emp. sort of like your society entering into a Golden Age.
 
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I'm really sorry but I just can't understand how we jump from those super-cool concept arts that manage to convey very well the initial intentions to the... garbage looking final assets. It's grey, it looks like rapidly assembled ship parts. It evokes industry, is overtly evil. Makes me think of Remian ships in Star Trek...

It's like they only saw Alessandro Bragalini's concept art and decided to make it more like "exactly what we don't want".
Now I will regret forever that the Nemesis ships won't look like the original concept art. This dev diary manages to make me less hyped lol.
 
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The GDF and Imperial Armada will use the set, but you will also be able to select it during the Empire Creation screen as "Imperial".

I suppose it isn't possible to get two versions of the shipset? Perhaps a dark one for empire creation and a white one without a empire color for the GDF and imperial armada.

Just a thought.
 
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