Proc-gen ShipShip

By Paul Spooner Posted Tuesday Jul 9, 2019

Filed under: Projects 32 comments

So far in this series I’ve played with circles and squares in an attempt to explore the range of spaceship designs that look good. Well, maybe “good” is too strong a term. Look not terrible. That look, let’s say, unoffensive in the context of a low-budget star-field.

Let’s talk about the starfield, actually. It’s just a big sphere with a couple particle systems attached to it. There’s a “clumping” setting in Blender that gives it a little texture, and that’s it! Well, I also added a few smudgy galaxies too. I’d like to put some nebulae in as well, but who has time for that? We’re not here for stars! We’re here for starships in space! Spaceships among the stars!

Still could use some nebulae, but otherwise perfect. Okay! Let's never use this background again.
Still could use some nebulae, but otherwise perfect. Okay! Let's never use this background again.

Ideally, though, these ships would be recognizable in another context, like a planet or a hanger or underwater. So that’s what this article is about. We’re going to address the other half of the word. Being in spaceor in the context of stars isn’t enough. We’re going to need to look something like a ship. We’re going to need the stuff I was talking about at the end of the last article:

Hull Plates

As I’ve been attempting to demonstrate, there are a variety of shapes that work for a spaceship. Unlike terrestrialmaritime, for the technically minded ships which have to contend with fluids like water, or air-ships that have to contend with fluids like, well, you know. Unlike those kinds of ships, space-ships are in space! They don’t need streamlined hulls! They can be as tangly and drag-inducing as you can imagine, and it doesn’t matter at all!okay, yes, there is some material in space, and there are micro-meteors, and solar wind and such, but for the purposes of a fantasy fiction vessel powered by magic, it doesn’t matter. But even though they are completely unnecessary, we’re going to use them anyway.

It doesn’t seem like this would matter, but it transforms “open expanse of featureless geometry” into “precisely manufactured body panel” in no time flat.
This thing is so powerful in pursuit of the “starship” look, that I hazard to call it “indispensable.” I man, obviously they were a joke, but look at how much better the face-ships look with visible hull seams!

Okay, they're still goofy starships. But before they were just goofy, so this is clearly an improvement. Also, this isn't exactly the same background. Look. I don't have all day to make new backgrounds.
Okay, they're still goofy starships. But before they were just goofy, so this is clearly an improvement. Also, this isn't exactly the same background. Look. I don't have all day to make new backgrounds.

Why Hull Seams?

Because that’s how we know they are space-SHIPS.

I mean, we could just toss a streamlined wrapper over the whole thing, but then it ends up looking like a potato. The visible seams indicate something manufactured, something clearly artificial. Why not just show all the mechanical parts like a real spacecraft? Well, sure, we could, but I don’t want to leave them out entirely because there’s nothing quite like a few good hull panels to indicate “this thing moves fast” to the audience. The streamlining is ancillary, but we want it anyhow.

They also act in concert with window size to indicate scale. But there’s more! The size and complexity of the hull plates tells us something about the sophistication of the society that built this craft. Large contiguous panels indicate that there are large manufacturing facilities to make those panels. Complicated hull panels all curved and fitting together nicely indicate sophisticated methods of communication and organization to coordinate the whole design. Flush seams with no visible fasteners denotes careful construction and attention to detail. You can imagine this ship being put together in a cleanroom.

Without the hull seams, it's just a potato. But with the hull seams? With HULL SEAMS it's a SPACE POTATO!
Without the hull seams, it's just a potato. But with the hull seams? With HULL SEAMS it's a SPACE POTATO!

Conversely, many small plates, all rectangular, joined at angles and overlapping seemingly at random, with big knobby mismatched rivets and bolts everywhere indicates a slapdash, shoestring approach, probably in a dingy rusty grease-besmeared den of some space barbarian.

Could use some rusty textures, but I'm more interested in geometry.
Could use some rusty textures, but I'm more interested in geometry.

And finally, visible hull seams give us a convenient way to have panels where parts can open up, fold out, deploy, dock, or grant access for maintenance.

Gonna level with you. I wanted to make this whole series just animations of panels folding out. Sadly 'go go gadget procgen' didn't have the intended effect, so this meager example will have to do.
Gonna level with you. I wanted to make this whole series just animations of panels folding out. Sadly 'go go gadget procgen' didn't have the intended effect, so this meager example will have to do.

But because the hull doesn’t really need to be there at all for function, we’re not compelled to cover the whole space ship with a uniform plating. Instead we’ll use a:

Here's a spaceship I prepared earlier. Also on display, lack of symmetry.
Here's a spaceship I prepared earlier. Also on display, lack of symmetry.

Partial Hull

This does two things. First, it adds visual interest to what could otherwise be a pretty boring surface.complicated seams notwithstanding
Second, it helps the “space” part of the space-ship design, nodding to the fact that exposing the internal bits doesn’t really make a difference in space.
And finally, the partial hull lets us show off:

The Internals

There are a bunch of components on a ship that need to be exposed. We’ve already played with engines, windows, and guns, but radiators, sensors, docking ports, and landing gear also need to be exposed at least some of the time. Then there are all those fantasy parts that are covered in complicated bits and glowy doodads that just look neat! You wouldn’t want to cover those up with hull panels either! So, let’s not.

Now, once we start exposing the internals of the spaceship, it would be great if those internals made some sense. Some components generate power, and nearly all of them consume power. Some need life-support, which needs to be connected to backup power. There should be hallways for the crew to reach the different parts of the ship, and pipes to carry fuel and coolant. And if there are machines that need to move around the inside of the ship there should be corridors for those as well. So, I guess what I’m saying is:

Here are some internals I prepared earlier.
Here are some internals I prepared earlier.

Tubes Are Back!

Just, mostly on the inside. I think one of the things that made the external tubes look so bad was the way that we think about machines. Which, is that we don’t. Not really. I mean, how long have machines been around? A few hundred years? Maybe a few thousand? We don’t have mental structures built in to consider them, so we end up using whatever is most analagous, which in this case is animals. Living healthy animals have all their tubes on the inside. If the tubes ever get on the outside, it’s bad news. Which is why the big arcing hoses, while they may be appropriate in a purely technical sense, are deeply inappropriate for a “cool starship” design. They don’t say “This is an optimized machine.” They say “This animal has been eviscerated.”

Now, there’s certainly a place for this school of design. As I’ve noted before, Warframe seems to have an “animals turned inside out” aesthetic that, while I don’t like it, is apparently somewhat appealing. And veins and muscles showing through the skin could work, I guess.I wanted to make an example, but I ran out of time. Maybe you can suggest one in the comments?

This way of looking at space-ship design, as a rough analogy for an animal, brings us full circle. We have the head, which is the part with the crew and the windows. The arms, which are guns and manipulators. The torso, where all the storage, cargo, and complicated internals go. And the legs, which are the engines. Crew, engines, cargo, and guns are back, but now in the company of the all important bit that is so easy to overlook. The fifth component is the skin, which is the segmented hull plating. And this final insight, the segmented skin, gives us the hook to finally understand where spaceships most comfortably fit in the human psyche. They aren’t really animals.

Space-ships are insects

So next week I’ll be exploring those few remaining components that prefer to be exposed, specifically landing legs, radiators,perhaps like wings? a variety of ports, and those most insect-like of appendages, antennae.

 

Footnotes:

[1] or in the context of stars

[2] maritime, for the technically minded

[3] okay, yes, there is some material in space, and there are micro-meteors, and solar wind and such, but for the purposes of a fantasy fiction vessel powered by magic, it doesn’t matter.

[4] complicated seams notwithstanding

[5] I wanted to make an example, but I ran out of time. Maybe you can suggest one in the comments?

[6] perhaps like wings?



From The Archives:
 

32 thoughts on “Proc-gen ShipShip

  1. Jeff says:

    I have to say, those star-circles are really distracting.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Those circles are from the light reflecting off the inside tube of the body of the telescope that’s being used to photograph all of this. I’d eliminate them with a Vantablack coating, but the term is trademarked.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Black 3.0 from Culture Hustle has you covered! It’s marketed—not without merit—as the “blackest black paint artists can actually buy”. I’m waiting for my Kickstarter reward bottle to come in any day now…

  2. BlueHorus says:

    I dig the title. Your proc-gen ship-ships are beginning to look pretty ship-shape to me. Regarding the faceship, I ship it with the starship from the spaceship article, and could totally see it in a spaceship shipping lane.

    1. Lino says:

      Hmmm, yes – I think he’s almost ready to ship this project!

      1. BlueHorus says:

        This does remind me of a Mass Effect 3 fanfic I once read, in which – after defeating the Reapers – Commander Shepard retires from the Alliance to run his own used spaceship business.
        It was called ‘Shep’s Shipshape Ship Shop’.

        Unfortunately, his sales pitch of ‘I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite ship in the lot’ got overused, so his customers eventually lost faith in him.

    2. Jabberwok says:

      I expected the title image to say ‘Proc-ship Genship’.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I really have to start referencing the comments when I’m writing these.

  3. Confanity says:

    …Insects are a kind of animal. Was the lead-in to the wrap-up, perhaps, supposed to say something like “spaceships aren’t mammals (with veins and muscles and so on that we find intuitive and easy to identify)”?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Maybe what I meant was “spaceships aren’t vertebrates“? Since reptiles and birds would fit. Though, birds are a pretty good analog for a lot of anime spaceships. Hmm, another avenue of investigation.

      1. Confanity says:

        Good thought. I’ll be looking forward to it! 8^)

      2. Adam says:

        Molluscs too, perhaps? though more along the lines of space-nautilus than space-slug. And what are tentacles, if not an animal tube on the outside?

        1. Joe says:

          Shells and tentacles are getting into Spelljammer territory. Which is space opera without the SF trapping. Still, I’m not opposed.

          Now I think of it, Tyranid ships have tentacles too. And possibly Chaos, for that matter.

    2. Ramsus says:

      I just assumed he meant that to mean they aren’t “this huge category of thing, but this more specific group of thing”.

      Though I don’t think this is completely correct. Some spaceships have a very identifiable crustacean-like design more than an insect-like one. (I also feel like maybe I’ve seen a few arachnid-like ones too, but can’t recall any specific examples.)

      Also, now I’m really worried some day I’m going to find an insect that’s a cube. =P

      Edit: Though now that I think about it I’ve seen spaceships that looks mostly like giant flowers too. *shrug*

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I was going to say, I personally think more “crustacean” than “insect” when thinking about spaceships.

  4. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Space barbarians? We’re called Minmatar ya jerk.

  5. Hector says:

    I like where this is boldly not going.

    Although I think the tubes floating around, and exposed components, are still questionable design elements. You would want to limit radiation exposure and flexible materials or delicate stuff tends to be the first to fail. Also, it will still get flexed by movement of the ship which means wear and tear – and you really don’t want some critical part suddenly failing in space.

    1. Jones says:

      Also the tubes / guts of your ship are weak-points. Armor should be the outermost layers, except for places on the ship which matter less, or if you’re only plating a couple sides to cover the expected attack vectors.

  6. Bubble181 says:

    I can easily tell these are all slow space ships, because none of them have red stripes painted on them.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I was thinking about adding spoilers to make them at least a little faster, but you know how the internet is about spoilers these days.

  7. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Please put this on github! Don’t underestimate the laziness of the casual observer.

  8. Jabrwock says:

    Partial hulls may also tell you about shielding or attack strategy. Honorverse ships, for example, have very streamlined flanks, because that’s where all the armour/gunports/sensors are. Top/bottom can be a bit more spikey and less smooth, because in-universe if your top/bottom shield is gone you’re toast anyway, so stuff there doesn’t need energy-deflecting smooth armour plating. Some New Republic (SW:EU) ships had very heavily armoured top/front since that was what was facing the enemy fleet.

    Now, there’s certainly a place for this school of design. As I’ve noted before, Warframe seems to have an “animals turned inside out” aesthetic that, while I don’t like it, is apparently somewhat appealing. And veins and muscles showing through the skin could work, I guess.

    Partially sunken conduits maybe? Not completely outside the ship, but not completely unarmoured either. “This is bulky enough to run outside, but still exposed enough that some shielding is needed.”

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yes, exactly! The partial-paneled sunken-conduits style looks especially neat for interiors, but it works for exteriors as well. It’s just a ton of work to do, which is one of the motivations for using procedural techniques.

  9. OldOak says:

    I wanted to make an example, but I ran out of time. Maybe you can suggest one in the comments?

    Obviously, the example you wanted to make is “guts” :) Both in the sense of “ships with guts” and “the guts of the ships”.
    Oh, and the “space barbarian” part? No-no, these are the non-official repairs (e.g. made for/by outlaws, pirates, & co.) You’re not flying a spaceship too much, lately, it seems …

  10. Mephane says:

    Now we are getting somewhere. The ship in the top left of this image is the first in this serious that I really like, in particular due to the pair of vertical glowy bits on the left side, which seem to be facing forward and a bit to the side – they immediately remind me of the retro-thrusters that ships have in Elite Dangerous. Utilizing a large gap in the partial hull adds to the impression.

  11. D-Frame says:

    I’d love to read about the algorithms that create these ships.

    Also, the whole “tubes on the outside of a creature” thing makes me think of the bio-mechanical appearance of the xenomorphs in the Alien franchise. That would be a cool ship design as well.

    1. Drathnoxis says:

      I’d love to read about the algorithms that create these ships.

      Wait, have we moved onto algorithms already? I thought he was still making these by hand to get a feel for how the algorithms should work.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        It’s true. I should do a little blurb at the start of each article (A starticle?) to remind people of what is going on, especially since I’m not numbering the article titles, which is another thing I should start doing.

      2. D-Frame says:

        Sorry to have caused confusion. I just checked the first post and realized I missed something.
        So, correction: I can’t wait to read about the algorithms that will create ships like these.

  12. Tim Keating says:

    They don’t need streamlined hulls! They can be as tangly and drag-inducing as you can imagine, and it doesn’t matter at all!

    This isn’t ENTIRELY true. Terrestrial ships/planes are streamlined to reduce their drag coefficient, it is true, but those shapes are also relevant in space, because they are better able to accommodate the stress of high G-force. Unless you posit the tech to completely counteract the gees from acceleration and maneuvering, most ships are still going to be spheres, ovoids or cylinders.

  13. methermeneus says:

    <pedantic>
    I realize I’m a week behind, and that realism can always be sacrificed for coolness, but just fyi, radiators don’t actually work in space. Radiators work by exchanging heat with the outside environment, and you can’t exchange heat with vacuum. Spaceship cooling systems are more likely to be part of the engines, dumping excess energy into propulsion, which is pretty much the only part of a spaceship that releases energy into the environment. (The lights do, too, but that’s negligible in comparison.)
    </pedantic>

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