Late last year, I discovered the space-based 4X strategy game Stellaris. In it, you take the helm of an interstellar empire as you explore, expand, exploit and exterminate your way through the galaxy, visiting alien worlds and either competing or cooperating with other empires. I’ve had a pretty fun time with it so far, but there is one part that stands head and shoulders above other games in the genre that I’ve played; empire customization.
Honestly, customizing a species and the society they live under is at least half the fun of the game for me. So far, I’ve managed to recreate the factions from the 1999 video game Sid Meir’s Alpha Centauri and a space opera novel that I have planned, and at some point, I intend to give the same treatment to the Civilization IV mod Final Frontier. But seeing as I have a fondness for Starbound’s universe, I decided to do the same with it and post the results here for all to see.
There is quite a lot involved in the creation process, but I’ll quickly describe some of the key elements involved to ensure we’re on the same page.
- Species Traits: These provide various bonuses and drawbacks to members of your species. You start with a trait score of 2, and can then add positive traits (which detract from the score) and negative traits (which add to the score) to ultimately balance it out at zero. For instance, making a species Extremely Adaptive (giving them a hefty +20% to planet habitability) would cost 4 points, meaning you’d need to take two -1 traits or a single -2 trait. Some traits are also mutually exclusive; a species cannot be Rapid Breeders (+10% population growth speed) and Slow Breeders (-10% population growth speed).
- Ethics: Determines the ideology of a civilization and its inhabitants, while providing civilization-wide bonuses, determining possible policy choices and affecting diplomatic interactions with other empires (which may share or oppose your views). Each civilization can have three moderate ethics, or one moderate ethic and a ‘fanatical’ ethic (which provides double the usual ethic bonus). There are eight ethics to choose from, each diametrically opposed to another that cannot be taken in conjunction; egalitarian vs authoritarian, xenophobe vs xenophile, militarist vs pacifist, and materialist vs spiritualist. Machine Empires and Hive Minds don’t use traditional ethics, and instead use the special Gestalt Consciousness ethic to signify that they operate as one entity.
- Authority: The style of government you operate, which alters gameplay and diplomatic relations. The basic options include democratic (full elections every 10 years), oligarchic (limited elections every 20 years), dictatorial (limited elections upon leader death) and imperial (designated heir takes throne upon leader death). Hive Minds and Machine Empires are selectable options here, while the MegaCorp DLC also adds the option to have a Corporate authority (which operates the same as oligarchic but has bonuses/penalties encouraging a smaller but more developed empire).
- Civics: Sociopolitical traditions that have a varying impact on your gameplay. Each empire can have two civics (and can unlock capacity for a third halfway through the game), but can change most of them by reforming their government. Which civics are available depends on ethics and authority; for instance, Beacon of Liberty (+15% Unity, which is used to unlock ‘tradition’ perks) requires an egalitarian democracy that is not xenophobic. Some civics can dramatically change the game; Post-Apocalyptic makes you start on a bombed-out ‘tomb world’ but gives your species’ leaders a longer lifespan and grants moderate habitability on all planet types (while most other species can only (initially) thrive on planets similar to their homeworld), and Fanatical Purifiers prevents any diplomatic activity and instead incentivizes the extermination of all other species in the galaxy. Megacorporations, Machine Empires and Hive Minds each have unique lists of civics separate from normal empires.
There’s a lot of stuff beside that, but it’s mostly cosmetic things like name lists, ship/city appearance, and flag. All pretty self-explanatory, and doesn’t really affect gameplay.
So, without further ado, let’s begin!
The Protectorate was probably the easiest to do. I made humans Charismatic (+20% Amenities from jobs) and Adaptive (+10% habitability) to present them as intrepid interstellar explorers and diplomats, but offset this with them being Quarrelsome (-10% Unity from jobs) and Wasteful (+10% consumer goods consumption) to acknowledge darker moments of their past. The Protectorate would obviously be very xenophilic given their dedication to interspecies cooperation, which I supplemented with egalitarianism and the requisite democratic authority. I gave them the Beacon of Liberty civic to reflect their position as the main force of freedom in the galaxy, which I supplemented with the Idealistic Foundation civic (+5% population happiness) on account of how dedicated they are to their ideology. I even managed to find a pretty similar logo to the one seen in Starbound!
Although in my headcanon (and my fanfic, Protectorate Rising) I prefer the old Starbound lore that had the United Systems as humanity’s government – thus making the Protectorate a nonstate peacekeeping organization – I decided to make use of the recent MegaCorp DLC to make the newer lore’s United Space Corporate Military. Naturally, I went with the two most militaristic civics possible to reflect their business, Private Military Companies (+20% army damage and -20% army upkeep) and Naval Contractors (+15% naval capacity). In terms of ethics, I went with moderate xenophobia on account of their pro-human agenda and fanatical militarism due to their line of work. Since I’m not aware of a canon USCM flag, I decided on one that vaguely resembles the flag of the Federation from Starship Troopers.
Starting with the Apex, I had to start getting creative with the species appearance and go with whatever looks closest. In this case, I went with the most simian-like species portrait available. The effects of the VEP have made them Intelligent (+10% research from jobs) and Strong (+20% army damage and +2% worker output), but also Wasteful due to increased caloric intake. Their long history of oppressive rule have also made them Communal (-10% population housing usage) and Sedentary (-15% immigration and +25% resettlement cost). They live under a dictatorship that is fanatically authoritarian and quite materialist, making their society both a Police State (+5 stability and +1 Unity from Enforcer jobs) and something of a Technocracy (+1 Unity from Researcher jobs and replaces some Administrator jobs at capital buildings with Science Directors). Their flag is based on the one seen in Starbound.
The Apex rebellion gets its own empire as well. Contrasting with the MiniKnog is their fanatical egalitarianism, while their status as an armed rebel group grants them a degree of militarism. Given that they oppose the highly stratified and exploitative society built by the MiniKnog, I decided to give them the new Shared Burdens civic (+5 stability, equal consumer goods consumption by all population stratas and faster demotion from higher stratas), while their militant nature meant I thought they’d be suited to the Citizen Service civic (+15% naval capacity and +1 Unity from Soldier jobs). I decided to go with the classic upraised fist as their logo, as fitting of a rebel group.
Once again, my options were limited for the appearance of the Hylotl, given the lack of an amphibian portrait category. Instead, I had to go with the closest analogue in the molluscoid category. Given their focus on tradition, I made the Hylotl Traditional (+10% Unity from jobs), Communal, and Sedentary. In accordance with the lore surrounding them, their relatively shorter lifespan is represented by them being Fleeting (-10 years to leader lifespan) and their adaptive genetics is represented by… well, Adaptive. Their largely peaceful nature makes them fanatical pacifists, but their arrogance gives them some xenophobia. In fact, this unique mix of ethics made them ideal for the Inward Perfection civic (available only to pacifistic and xenophobic empires), which disables most diplomatic options while providing sizeable internal bonuses to promote a ‘going it alone’ gameplay style. I rounded this off with the Environmentalist civic (-10% consumer goods consumption), given that A) the more traditional parts of their societies likely shun consumerism and B) the consumerist parts of their society exist in underwater cities where resources are limited. For their flag, I couldn’t replicate their three-eyed logo, which wouldn’t matter since their portrait has four eyes. But I managed to find the next best thing.
The Glitch were probably the hardest to replicate, seeing as medieval robots aren’t quite possible with Stellaris. Still, I was able to make them Recycled (-20% assembly cost) and Custom-Made (+15% assembly speed) to match the lore about them being assembled out of spare parts by their ‘parents’. Their status as wannabe sapients also grants them Emotion Emulators (+20% Amenities from jobs) and Bulky (+10% housing usage). The Glitch Empire – representing the non-aware Glitch – feature Unitary Cohesion (+15% Unity) due to their hive mind and Zero-Waste Protocols (−10% robot upkeep) due to their tendency to recycle materials for reproduction (and, presumably, maintenance). Their flag is based on the one seen in Starbound.
The Awakened Glitch Republic is based on the self-aware Glitch. Unfortunately, I can’t reflect this directly in gameplay, since Machine Empires have to have a Gestalt Consciousness. Still, I did manage to cheat a little with the civics; the Introspective civic (+20% engineering research speed) is based on their awareness that they are machines, while Factory Overclocking (+1 leader level cap and +10% leader experience gain) reflects their attempts to overcome their core programming. Their flag borrows a similar theme to the Glitch Empire, albeit maintaining a noticeable difference.
Although there is a small DLC for Stellaris that adds a dedicated plantoid species type, I don’t have it and thus had to make do with some fungoids. Their unusualness makes them be viewed as Repugnant (-20% amenities from jobs), but they are still Communal, Rapid Breeders and Natural Sociologists (+15% society research from jobs), with the latter being due to society research encompassing biological sciences. In order to make them an assembly of clans, I gave them the Warrior Culture civic (+20% army damage and -20% army upkeep), which itself requires some degree of militarism ethically. However, since Florans aren’t complete warmongers, I gave them fanatical xenophilia to reflect their adventurousness while rounding out their civics with Environmentalist. Their flag is, once again, based on the one from Starbound.
Avians, thankfully, were a little easier than the others to pull off visually. They not only have their own category of portraits, but also styles of cities and ships as well. Given that both the Stargazers and Grounded maintain largely traditional ways of life with minimal technology, I made the Avians Traditional. Their adventurous spirit makes them Nomadic (+15% immigration and -25% resettlement cost), while the tendency for Avians to turn their backs on Stargazer dogma and consider ideas from other cultures makes them Deviants (-15% governing ethics attraction). They are also described as being Intelligent in the lore, so I passed that trait onto them. I also decided to make them Weak (-20% army damage and -2% worker output) due to their hollow bones. Stargazer society is naturally fanatically spiritualist due to their dogmatic belief in Kluex and authoritarian due to their grip on Avian society. In light of this, they have the Exalted Priesthood civic (+1 Unity from Priest jobs and replaces some Administrator jobs at capital buildings with High Priests), as well as the Functional Architecture civic (-10% cost and upkeep for buildings and districts) on account of their traditional yet often simple architecture. For their flag, I just had to go with a phoenix-like logo to represent Kluex.
In order to reflect their aversion to Kluex or religion in general, the Grounded are materialists by virtue of opposing spiritualism. They are also very xenophilic due to their acceptance of and curiosity about other cultures (to say nothing of the flirtatious dialogue from older versions of the game). Given that many Grounded have fled from persecution, their society warrants the Free Haven civic (+15% immigration and +50% immigration pull), while relishing in their newfound freedom from oppression leads to them having the Meritocracy civic (+1 leader skill level and +1 leader pool size). And yes, their flag is indeed based on the Avian flag seen in-game.
I’ve since created two additional factions based on other organizations seen in the game.
As you’d expect, the Occasus cult is fanatically xenophobic and militaristic besides, while being headed up by a single absolute leader. They’re prime candidates for the Fanatic Purifiers civic (major military bonuses, no diplomacy + major diplomatic penalties, required to purge alien populations and is rewarded for doing so), plus a bit of the ol’ Nationalistic Zeal (-10% influence cost to make claims on systems, -10% war weariness). Their flag is vaguely eye-like, and is tentacle-y enough to vaguely resemble the Ruin.
The Letheia Corporation represents a less xenophobic branch of Hylotl society, replacing xenophobia with materialism. I was tempted to go with xenophilia or egalitarian instead, but I think Letheia doesn’t hold the lives of its workers (especially non-Hylotl) in high enough regard, and probably do a lot of R&D to justify the research bonus materialism offers. Their civics include Media Conglomerate (+5% happiness and -5% war exhaustion) on account of it being a major field they operate in, while the diversity of their offerings gives them Franchising (−33% subject power penalty and −25% empire sprawl from branch offices) as well. Their flag is completely original since the canon ‘L’ logo isn’t possible, but the new one does have a jellyfish look that I think suits the Hylotl.
That just about covers it. I considered adding a Fenerox and Alpaca race to make use of the vulpine and equine species portraits, but Stellaris suffers from performance issues when you have too many empires on too big a map. Even so, I’ve set up a game consisting solely of the Starbound races to see how it goes. I’m playing as the Apex Rebels; partly because I want to see how an empire with Shared Burdens works, and partly because I recently finished a game with my novel-inspired factions in which I played a human faction very similar to the Protectorate and thus wanted something different. If anything interesting happens in the course of the game, I’ll be sure to post some updates.
Original Link – Continuation of discussion