Real Stars Skybox

Real Stars Skybox Plus

Note: Real Stars Skybox Plus is now available at the Unity Asset Store and HDRIs and full star maps are available at BlenderMarket

So, I’ve made a thing, and am very proud of that thing and am going to shout about it a bit! Actually, I’ve made two things.

The first thing I’ve made is a skybox of the celestial sphere. Skyboxes are 360 degree panoramic images used in computer games to easily create a distant background. Usually they’re pictures of pretty skies and distant mountains. I’ve made a 360 degree panorama of (almost) all the visible stars in the sky using real astronomical data.

I took a giant star catalogue, found the 5000 brightest, and used my favourite 3D modelling program (POV-Ray) to simulate their positions, colours, and brightness. With a lot of tweaking, I tried balance realism with the beauty of the stars. Finally, I added names to some of the stars and drew outlines of the constellations to help find your way around.

The constellation of Orion
The consellation of Orion with a slightly reddish Betelgeuse

I was really pleased with the end result and made a few different things out of it.

One interesting feature of YouTube is the ability to upload 360 degree videos, used in Virtual Reality so you can look around. You can check it out here: Star Skybox 360 degree VR Video.

I also shared it on the Unity Asset Store. Unity is a popular program for making computer games, and the Asset Store has lots graphics and special effects that you can buy or download to drop into your own games to save on the legwork. I thought a few people might like my stars, so I made them available for free.

That was last year. Then I noticed my stars were getting hundreds of downloads a month! This was something people were really interested in. So I decided to spend some time on a major upgrade.

Over a pretty intense week, I added a special feature to the skybox. This is the second thing I’ve made: programming code that orients the skybox based on your location on Earth and the time of year so that it shows the correct position of the stars. I thought the effect was really good and that people could use it in their games so, for example, players could truly navigate a ship by the stars.

Orion as viewed from a flat Earth
Watching Orion go by as you walk around the world

I put a demo version up on the Newgrounds website. You can walk around the world on a giant map and see what the stars look like from every vantage point. There are plenty of planetarium apps that allow you to look at the stars from different places, but I’ve never seen an interface quite like this before and am really proud of it.

The program code and image files are again all available on the Unity Asset Store as Real Stars Skybox Plus. This time, though, I’m charging a $5 fee for my work. Hopefully the bonus features will make it as attractive as the original skybox and at least pay for my website hosting costs!

To be briefly downbeat: with so much shit going on in the world, I’ve needed some creative projects like this to focus on. I’ve already started on another one: I’m making a digital version of Trippples, an old strategy game that I’ve written about before. It’s a fascinating game where the location of your opponent on the board (and the arrows drawn on their space) controls which directions you are allowed to move.

Trippples digital version
Digital Trippples early screenshot

I’m working on making it look as pretty as possible, to get a real premium feel to it. Here’s an early screenshot, with blue and purple colours for the position of the two players and the green squares revealing blue’s available moves based on purple’s position.

It’s already possible to play against a friend. Next job is to craft some AI so you can play against the computer. Then I might consider a demo release to see if it’s something people are interested in.

Hopefully, this project will continue developing nicely and I’ll be able to blog more about it soon!

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