It’s been a while, but I’ll have you know that I’ve slowly but steadily been drawing random bits of art for Starfarer. Some of said bits are about the same as before (ship sprites, revised weapon graphics, UI icons) while some are top-secret prototypes and experiments which I couldn’t very well reveal because that’d ruin all the fun of the surprise when you get new presents. Sorry.
For this written interlude I shall discuss some of my thoughts around drawing Starfarer faction icons. I shall give you my lore disclaimer right now: the story & background of Starfarer is not something I make up, though I have certainly contributed thoughts to Alex and Ivaylo on occasion. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, anything I say here about the setting of Starfarer is going to be what goes on in my head while I’m drawing rather than what is any sort of canon which will appear into the game and which you should read closely for overarching literary themes.
So: the factions in Starfarer need identifying symbols, colour themes, and a sort of general ambiance – and these all must support one another. One faction may be warlike and value strength; this must be shown in how they represent themselves. Another may be peaceful and value stability; likewise, it probably wouldn’t do if their icon was a burning red skull menacing with spikes. Pirates could be into that though, because they’d like nothing more than to appear scary and ruthless. I’ll say again, each faction has a few core themes that need to be shown with both symbols and colours which support said themes as well as the setting of Starfarer in general. It’s futuristic heraldry, if you like.
Now let’s have a look at some sketches and the process of taking a faction icon to a presentable state.
(Click on any image to enlarge it.)
Here’s where I threw down some ideas and pushed them around a bit. Some more than others. We’ve got a small set of factions to start with which I think Alex gave me a list for at some point as well as some background material floating around in a shared document somewhere. And of course you’ve met a few of these factions in the game already, so those were my starting points.
Some ideas feel right the first time you draw them. I’ll have you know that this is the exception rather than the rule.
I see the Hegemony as something like a lost Roman legion (which their background story resembles) – they are practical, aggressive, and value strength due to their military origin but also aspire to the glory of a lost empire. They’re not unlike any number of European nation-states that saw themselves as successors to Rome who borrowed the symbolism of said empire to identify themselves with its strength. Hence the eagle.
The circular element? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it looks futuristic, maybe celestial. Things divided into threes seem futuristic to me and I just realized that I used it all over the place in these faction icons. I also pulled the wings back a touch from the geometric look in the original sketch because I didn’t feel they were working very well there; too much geometric greebling (like any number of the ships I draw).
So there you go. Some kind of Eagle or Falcon — oh, hey, what are the names of the cruiser hulls that the Hegemony uses all the time? Right; you see what happened there.
… and I’ll probably touch up the talons a bit …
(Why orange? No one uses orange. Except the Dutch, I guess. Someone should use orange.)
These guys are The Company from Alien, one of the zaibatsu from Neuromancer or insert-cyberpunk-title-here. The ruthless corporation, profits above people, etc.
But it should be a bit more complex than that. They’re not stupid. They are wealthy beyond imagination, for what that means in a world of chaos. They value elegance. They have taste. To harken back to that 80′s-90′s theme in fiction of eastern corporations taking over the west (see again: zaibatsu, Weyland-Yutani), they have an almost zen corporate ruthlessness (as opposed to something much more crass and American like Enron).
I looked to Japanese Mon, the clan symbols which were the equivalent of European feudal heraldry but, to my eyes, much more restrained and sophisticated in design. Some are even corporate logos to this day — see Mitsubishi. (And the symbol of the Hojo clan may be a very familiar symbol indeed to gamers.)
So: Simple, elegant, restrained, cool, division into three, a round element, the implication of high technology and sophistication. This took a lot of iteration and maybe I’m still not happy with it, but there you go.
Ah, this is a new face, isn’t it.
Information is light, but these guys are basically a coalition of worlds that have joined together for mutual defense. They’re interested in trade, prosperity, trying to build something from the rubble. Maybe they can do it, maybe they’ll be torn apart from a strong enemy from without — or perhaps from fighting within, where one member puts their own interest ahead of the others to the downfall of all.
No doubt you, the player, will help determine this outcome.
The symbolism here is pretty obvious: shield, ring of celestial spheres, unifying star representing force/power/command. This design came pretty quickly. Plus rounded future-corners, of course.
And gold — why not? That’s what they’re all in it for.
Pirate flags are fun. And they’ve got a rich tradition of naively executed brutal imagery not so unlike metal album covers. (Not knocking them; I’ve got a few myself). Red and black are obvious colours for a threatening faction, maybe too obvious, but pirates aren’t known for subtlety.
The question boils down to how traditional do you go with a skull flag? This is space, not the high seas. So I tried for a skull-like space helmet, and oops, did the division into three again. And spikes. But not horns, that would have been too easy.
I’m actually not entirely happy with this one, just something about the lines and shapes of the bits at the top, the interaction of the eyes with the cuts, and the mouth-piece seems off. I’ll give it a few more goes. (And yes, I realize that I’m sounding like a typical perfectionist artist type by saying I’m unhappy with every single design as soon as I show it. Comes with the territory.)
And it should be said: Pirates are not known for being unified as one group. It may well be appropriate to crank out a big pile of variations on skull flags to represent all kinds of different pirates. (This will be fun!)
Cult of Lud
I’ll talk about this one even though I fully intend to revisit it.
The theme of this one gives me some trouble. I know what it’s going for, something like a faction of deep-green militaristic primitivists who want to return everyone to a state of nature – by force. Not quite the Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri Gaians, not quite the Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri expansion’s Cult of Planet, but they all probably hang out at the same coffee shop, with Lud being the creepy one that sits in the corner polishing their guns.
So with Lud I was thinking of something both natural and spacey, both hippy and Starfarer. The double-ended tree didn’t quite work (and is an existing symbol for something or other, I discovered), so that is out. I was finally taken with imagery that alludes to cosmic swirls, like galactic arms and nebulae. Though I’m sure no one particularly shares the viewpoint of Lud, I’d imagine the world as they see it being a whole interconnected being with its own greater needs whose importance outweighs the destructive hubris of human technophiles.
It needs more work to come together, probably needs to be kicked up a notch or three in aggression — hippies simply aren’t militaristic enough for these guys — and I think some of the contradictions in the faction need to be worked out in my head for a design to work.
… And then, after writing a draft of this post, I emailed Alex about all this and he said that rampant environmentalism was not an essential feature of Lud, so I’ve kinda been running with the whole idea in my head the whole time. Whoops. So for this design I’m going to take a step back, re-interpret the themes, and play up something that’s more about an apocalyptic cult lead by a charismatic messiah figure which holds the excesses of technology (and some other stuff, likely) to be the cause of the downfall of Humanity … and these are the End Times and so on and so forth. More cult, less nature.
So that’s an artists’ work and my work is cut out for me!
Hope you enjoy seeing your favourite factions in-game (and blowing up your most hated factions, at that). I’ll make sure they’re pretty, either way.