Deep Space Settlement is a 4X real-time strategy game focused on empire building and grand-scale space battle.

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This week there's epic nebula skyboxes and the lab station.

Posted by explr on Apr 12th, 2014

I've got a lot of things done this week and have been mostly doing two things in parallel: experimenting and refining my workflow of creating skyboxes featuring massive nebulae and building a new station asset.


Let's start with the lab station first. Like all other stations in DSS, there's a central hub, where different modules are added, which in turn provide a specific function.

If you ware familiar with the previous stations, you'll notice that's I've chosen a different surfacing approach here. This was done intentionally for a couple of reason: To differentiate and stand out, to communicate a higher sophistication and because I like to challenge myself :)

One of the earlier images I posted led people to believe it may be a station of the enemy faction, which is a reasonable assumption, but not the case.

This is still the human player faction. If you are worried about continuity and consistency of the visual language of the human faction, don't. I'm going to tie it all together nicely in texturing.
The arc in the model above is a rough block in for the science lab, which will generate Tech Points which can be spend in the tech tree. There will be other modules that produce high tech resources like the computer lab and the bio lab.

Here is another work in progress shot, after I started greebling/kitbashing.

And here's a quick render of the greebles I've used. All of these were created for previous DSS assets.

I'm currently working on the lowpoly hub model, which will be UVed and prepared for baking a normal map from the highpoly source. More on that, next week.


The tricky part about skyboxes is making it look not like a box. This is why you usually can't just paint on the individual sides of the box. Everything needs to be properly distorted towards the sides of each side, to give the illusion of a continuous 3d environment.

My solution was to do it in 3d, create a fluid simulation, put a camera on the inside, light the particles in 3d with a couple of light sources and render out an initial skybox. Rendering particles tends to be very noisy and will look something like this:

The noise is a real problem because it kills the illusion of soft nebulae and on a skybox with 6 sides of 1024x1024 each, the individual particles are shown even bigger (in-game) than on the image above.

But, it's a great start. It's seamless and has all the major volumes and light sources established.

The next step is converting the skybox to a longitude/latitude projection. This makes it easier to paint on it because you have to deal with much fewer texture seams. Once the noise has been painted/smudged out, this is what I had after some additional color balancing:

And in-game:

Another one:

And finally, combining my nebula with a texture created using spacescape I got this:

Space scape brings in some higher frequency details, stars and more color variation.

What else, well, here's a cruiser on a really dark background, being careful not to go too dark to avoid the shadow sides of the ship fading into the background. I want it to read dark on light, as well as light on dark.

As a bonus, here's a purple cruiser.

And a Homeworld homage :D

Hope you enjoyed and maybe learned something. As always, comments, critique and questions are appreciated. Don't be shy :)

Post comment Comments
ThePaladin Apr 12 2014 says:

Well, I have to say that it is obvious that you love what you are doing ( and probably can't wait to play your own game, happens to me all the time with my board games :D ) because it shows on the detail and effort that you are putting into it :) great job again especially on the station I agree that research lab should have some hi tech touch to it :)

+3 votes     reply to comment
explr Author
explr Apr 13 2014 replied:

Thanks mate! I do love what I'm doing :D

+1 vote   reply to comment
nightovizard Apr 12 2014 says:

This is amazing, tracking!

+4 votes     reply to comment
explr Author
explr Apr 13 2014 replied:

Thank you!

+1 vote   reply to comment
CapnDan Apr 12 2014 says:

Looks great, the nebulae in particular (especially before adding the stars) give the impression of being truly expansive.

+1 vote     reply to comment
explr Author
explr Apr 13 2014 replied:

Yes, it feels incredibly vast and huge, especially when you can move the camera around and look wherever you want.

+1 vote   reply to comment
Hell_Diguner Apr 13 2014 says:

Megaliths. In your skyboxes. Do them. Because they're awesome. And humbling. And mysterious.

I really like the "purple cruiser" background. It looks like the star's light is also reflecting off the nebulae, which helps give a sense of depth to your skybox. A "stars" texture with greater differences in star sizes would also help make all your skyboxes look less flat.

+1 vote     reply to comment
explr Author
explr Apr 13 2014 replied:

The problem with the megaliths is, it's been done in Homeworld it's one of the things that if you do it, people will say DSS is a HW ripoff. I have some other ideas for how to fill the backgrounds though. The above nebulas were only a test of the workflow, a proof of concept. The really cool things will follow in a while.

Except for the one attempt at the purple bg, I haven't done any work on stars yet. But stars illuminating the nebula is one of the main reasons I'm doing all the volumetric fluid simulation stuff. I agree about the differently sized stars!

+1 vote   reply to comment
Joeliosis Apr 14 2014 says:

I keep finding myself coming back to this site to check for your updates. You really know how to make pretty space-things. Cant wait to buy this and play ittttttttt XD

+1 vote     reply to comment
TKAzA Staff
TKAzA Apr 14 2014 says:

Please don't render your lovely models on black backgrounds it makes them so hard to see. Try dark grey or gradient :)

+1 vote   reply to comment
explr Author
explr Apr 14 2014 replied:

Black bg = higher contrast = easier to read. Those are all wip shots, not beauty renders.

+1 vote   reply to comment
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