Seven Things About Writing For Stellaris

    1. That Iain Banks quote  – ‘the unlimited special effects budget [that] written SF hands a writer’. Man, I’ve never felt that so keenly. I keep being, like, is it okay if I blow that up? and the Paradox guys are all, sure, put a black hole in while you’re at it.
    2. But there are constraints, as always. I can’t move a planet to a different solar system, I don’t have an art budget at my disposal. That’s cool. I like constraints, and words are super flexible.
    3. There are almost no character arcs. There are very few specific characters never named. People can’t be centre stage. That’s a challenge. But not as much of a challenge as
    4. I’m used to writing about people with nonspecific gender. Now I’m writing about people that may in fact be bird people or spider people. I just gave a character recurring nightmares and then thought, can I assume fungoid macrocolonies dream? Well, hell, anthropomorphism.
    5. My writing background music: the Ender’s Game soundtrack; Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth; Ligetti’s Atmosphères, for that cosmic perspective of terror; and of course the Stellaris music itself, which does a fine job of being evocative without intrusive. I tried listening to the Mass Effect OST of which I’m also v fond, but it’s just TOO CONFUSING. Every game world has a flavour, but it’s a flavour like a cocktail, not a flavour like a spice. Good things rarely happen when you drip one cocktail into another.
    6. Content spreads thin. Everyone wants more content in the Stellaris mid-game. There is a lot of content in the Stellaris mid-game already, but it’s a big giant game already. Go poking around in the content files. It’s like falling into the monolith down there. I’ve said it before, this is what I think of when I think about the appetite of players for content:


  • 7. If you’re going to mod Stellaris / add content, then (assuming you’re writing on Windows) use Indexing Options to enable full-text search in all the files when you’re trying to work out how it all fits together. Otherwise it’s like someone put a maze in the monolith, and you’ll never get out.
  • 8. Watch for the Loop.


14 comments on Seven Things About Writing For Stellaris
  1. Glad you’re enjoying your wide canvas.

    On content quantity: it depends on the game design, I think. The reason Sunless Sea still needs more content is because it speaks to the main design problem. Most of the content seems to be backloaded instead of frontloaded. The game desperately needs varying storylines at the beginning of the game because the most punishing thing about death is repeating the same early stories every time. All you need is 5 to 7 near-London islands that each choose from one of 3 early-game stories, and interact with London, and the game’s chief design problem is solved.

  2. Very much looking forward to seeing your work in game! I’ve been writing and coding the events for the Star Trek New Horizons mod and recognise everything you mentioned here. I really think Stellaris offers a fantastic canvas for those with any interest in science fiction to work with.

  3. Was super excited to hear about you working on Stellaris! And though content to the midgame certainly may seem like adding to an abyss, It surely will be appreciated.

    Perhaps the game’s issue is less about the quantity and more about the ‘quality’. Or in this case, the fact that the event outcomes are pretty much always the same. No matter how many events/encounters there are, after multiple playthroughs, the player feels like there are less because they breeze over all the ones that they already know the outcome for.

    I wonder what it would be like if Stellaris took a page from King of Dragon Pass or FTL; in the sense that you can have the same event occur but its outcomes are uncertain. KODP is particularly good at this because you have the extra step of a set of advisers with their own personalities (and sometimes even agendas) to influence your decisions. they feel like their advice is worth taking, even over your own inclinations (or even to make a different choice despite having had favorable outcomes with an opposite choice in the past).

    Come to think of it, that might just be amazing; having the leaders form an adviser panel who report to the player about their experiences in events/battles, etc (also in KODP they age and die naturally or as a result of events/battle etc. and need to be replaced…just like Stellaris). Plus the current Stellaris leaders are already limited to a manageable number, yet severely lacking in character for players to care about them coming and going. I can picture an event popup screen, where my scientist also chips in his thoughts on whether he should risk his life or not…or a governor telling me he doesn’t trust those natives.

    Anyway, in a game like Stellaris where exploration is so strongly encouraged and rewarding, all of your work will no doubt be wonderful additions.

  4. Getting late to the party… I’d suggest you try, very easy to learn, very little fuss setting it up. Just add the Stellaris mods folder as a project and you’re set.

    And what Andrew wrote was just fantastic to read! Indeed, the pieces are there for a KODP like experience in Stellaris.

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