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Standard Alien Spaceship

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Alien ships are colorful and smooth, usually as a Foil to the Standard Human Spaceship.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Mitchz95 on Oct 23rd 2018 at 9:28:46 AM
Last Edited By:
Mitchz95 on Dec 5th 2018 at 8:40:37 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/2_94.png
Because a race of Cthulhumanoids aren't going to be content flying around in giant grey bricks.

"The human ships need to be angular and grounded and sensible, so by extension we must make the alien ships curved and sloping and colorful and strange."

In science fiction, especially Space Opera, it is common for alien-built spacecraft to have a flowing, smooth, organic-looking appearance, painted in one or two eye-catching colors. The main reasons for this are to set the ship apart from the Standard Human Spaceship (which usually looks more like a World War II battleship) and reflect the fact that its builders evolved under different circumstances and have their own unique history and culture, influencing their general aesthetic.

Some common traits of this look are:

  • The ship has a lot of curves and soft edges, and often what look like tendrils or tentacles. One could be forgiven for mistaking them for Living Ships at first glance, although usually they're made of the same kind of materials as their human contemporaries.
  • The hull itself will be fairly smooth overall, with few greebles if any.
  • Much of the ship's exterior will have a single dominant color, usually not a shade of grey. Green, purple, and tan seem to be the most common.
  • The ship is on a similar Technology Level to those of their contemporaries. If it's packed full of super-advanced technologies that other races can't understand, it's probably an Eldritch Starship instead.

See also Flying Saucer and Shiny-Looking Spaceships, which sometimes overlap with this trope. Contrast Standard Human Spaceship (this trope's opposite) and Eldritch Starship (vessels so strange they boggle the mind).


Examples:

    open/close all folders 
    Film - Live-Action 
  • In Battle Beyond the Stars, Sador commands a dark, boxy warship with a hammer-like bow. He's opposed chiefly by The Hero Shad from Akir, piloting the Sapient Ship Nell that resembles a flying uterus, and the other mercenaries' ships includes Nestor's (a glowing Flying Saucer), Space Cowboy's (which roughly resembles an overgrown Lunar Landing Module), Gelt's (which resembles a flying manta ray), and Cayman's (which has a design that makes it look like a flying mouth).
  • Independence Day: The invaders' ships all look like they were carved out of black stone, and look very smooth (from a distance, at least). Their city-destroying Flying Saucers and their planetoid-sized mothership have greebles in a few spots, but otherwise they fit the bill.
  • Star Wars:
    • While most of the ships used by the human-dominated Rebel Alliance are scrappy, blocky, cobbled-together and utilitarian vessels reflecting the Rebellion's lack of resources to devote to aesthetics over functionality — and most of the human-centric Empire's warships are wedge-shaped slabs of grey metal with the subtlety and grace of a brick to the teeth — the star cruisers built by the Rebellion's Mon Calamari allies are sleek, smooth-edged vessels with gracefully tapering outlines, globular outer details instead of the human ships' hard-edged greebling and similarly elegant internal designs. They are still, however, solid grey or grey-blue in color.
    • Ships in the "civilized age" of the prequels are closer to this trope than the examples above; the Republic's ships had lots of curvy segments with red and white coloration, while Trade Federation ships are round and organic-looking with grey and blue coloration. The Naboo N-1 fighters in The Phantom Menace are probably the best example of the trope in Star Wars, being solid yellow except for a silver bow and completely smooth throughout. By Revenge of the Sith, most of these ships have been phased out in favor of hard-edged designs more closely resembling the Used Future of the original trilogy.
  • The Nerdlucks from Space Jam come to Earth in a spacecraft that's very sculpted and colorful, modeled roughly after a 1949 Buick Roadmaster in front and a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado in back, replete with rolled edges and chrome galore. Since it came from Moron Mountain, this craft is the space-going equivalent of an Edsel.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Babylon 5: Zig-zagged with the alien designs, depending on the race. While some such as the Centauri and the Narn follow a design closer to the humans' own Standard Human Spaceship fleets, others such as the Minbari (and ships made of adapted Minbari tech, such as the White Stars) resemble flying pieces of modern art made of purple-white coral and the ships of the Shadows and the Vorlons dip straight into Eldritch Starship territory.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Romulan Star Empire uses a raptor as its emblem, and its starships ("warbirds") tend to resemble giant avians as well. They're usually green in color, but teal and brown are also seen on occasion.
    • Klingon and Cardassian ships skirt the edge of this trope: they're hard-edged for the most part, but their hulls are painted green-grey and yellow-beige in color, respectively. Star Trek: Discovery makes the Klingons a straight example, giving their ships a Gothic look with lots of curves and protrusions.
    • The Tholians, Silicon-Based Inscrutable Aliens whose hat is precision in all things, have blue or red ships shaped like tetrahedrons.
    • Dominion ships in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are blue-grey and vaguely resemble beetles, with glowing purple highlights on their bellies and nacelles.
    • Vulcan ships in Star Trek: Enterprise are red in color and ditch conventional warp nacelles in favor of a giant ring that does the same job.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Two of the major alien factions in the game, the T'au and the Craftworld Aeldari, both favor these sorts of ship designs. T'au vessels tend towards smoothly curved, flattened and elegant designs reminiscent of sea life, while the Craftworlders favor fusiform, streamlined hulls and prominently displayed, almost wing-like triangular solar sails. Both stand in sharp contrast to the blocky, angular, ruthlessly utilitarian masses of metal the Imperium uses; the cobbled-together junkers flown by the Orks; and the Eldritch Starships used by Chaos. Necron ships are much less angular than the Imperium's as well, tending to follow geometric curves and shapes, although they're not as colorful.

    Video Games 
  • While Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars doesn't take place in space, it nonetheless features the extraterrestrial Scrin as a playable faction, summoned to planet Earth by a premature Liquid Tiberium Explosion orchestrated by Kane. All their 'aircraft', including their MCV-equivalent 'Drone Ship', are thus spaceships, and they are all more sleek and curved than even the most aerodynamic designs of the two human factions of the Global Defense Initiative and Brotherhood of NOD can provide. The closest humanity gets within the series is the Brotherhood's Banshee aircraft from the previous game, and that was explicitly engineered using alien schematics.
  • Grey Goo (2015): Inverted with the Beta and their ultimate unit, "The Hand of Ruk", which is explicitly mentioned to be a repurposed starship and looks like a Diesel Punk Flying Saucer with a donut-like arrangement. In comparison, the aerial units deployed by the Humans and the titular Grey Goo are all very smooth, super-tech, and in the humans' case packing Tron Lines.
  • Halo: Covenant ships fit this trope to a T, being purple in color and having a smoother surface than their UNSC counterparts. This is meant to reflect the Covenant's technological and economic superiority over humanity: they're so powerful, they can afford to be Cool, But Inefficient.
  • Mass Effect usually averts this; standard starship design philosophy favors long and angular ships armed with mass drivers that run the entire length of the vessel. But there are two exceptions:
    • The asari are considered the most advanced race in the galaxy, and their ships are clearly built to impress. On top of being huge and blue-grey in color, their hulls are smooth and covered in blue lights, making them instantly-identifiable among a fleet of Citadel ships.
    • The kett from Mass Effect: Andromeda use beige-colored ships that appear to be composed of numerous large spheres and organic-looking green protrusions. Probably justified by the fact that they evolved in the Andromeda galaxy and therefore weren't influenced by the Reapers' mass relay technology like the Milky Way races.
  • Starcraft: Protoss ships are much sleeker and more rounded than the big boxy designs used by Terrans (who apply the same philosophy to their guns), their main fighter even falling squarely into the Space Plane category. The Zerg are also more bulbous than the other two, but they fall under another trope entirely.
  • Stellaris: The Avian, Molluscoid (pictured above), Humanoid, and Fungoid shipsets play this completely straight, as do the regal-looking Fallen Empire ships. The Reptilian, Plantoid, and Arthropod ships are less drastic examples, as they have colorful highlights but otherwise fall closer to Standard Human Spaceships in shape.
  • X: Boron ships resemble sea creatures, with flowing organic shapes and a mottled green exterior. Paranid ships are streamlined and aerodynamic-looking, again with flowing curvature. This contrasts with all four human factions, which tend to build blocky: Argon and OTAS ships resemble Diesel Punk aircraft or large blocky slabs, while Terran and Aldrin ships are bright white slabs and saucers. Averted with the Teladi and Split, though, whose ships are if anything even blockier and more irregular than the Argons'.

    Webcomics 
  • Homestuck:
    • Troll spaceships are streamlined vessels adorned with numerous smooth, forward-pointing spines and painted bright red. The overall impression is one of a swift, sleek, aggressive predator... which suits the troll empire's culture quite well.
    • The "spaceships" used by the Prospitians and Dersites in their eternal war are a bit of an odd case — they're for all intents and purposes world wars-era warship designs capable of flight, but they nonetheless use tapered, slender designs (as a consequence of their real-life bases) and are painted bright gold or purple, respectively.

    Western Animation 
  • In Steven Universe, Gem ships are bright, smooth, colorful, and full of incredibly advanced technology. For instance, Yellow and Blue Diamond both have ships shaped like giant hands that are the same colors are their owners.


Feedback: 47 replies

Oct 23rd 2018 at 10:36:51 AM

  • Star Wars: While most of the ships used by the human-dominated Rebel Alliance are scrappy, blocky, cobbled-together and utilitarian vessels reflecting the Rebellion's lack of resources to devote to aesthetics over functionality — and most of the human-centric Empire's warships are wedge-shaped slabs of grey metal with the subtlety and grace of a brick to the teeth — the star cruisers built by the Rebellion's Mon Calamari allies are sleek, smooth-edged vessels with gracefully tapering outlines, globular outer details instead of the human ships' hard-edged greebling and similarly elegant internal designs. They are still, however, solid grey in color.

Oct 24th 2018 at 2:32:26 PM

Video Games:

  • X: Boron ships resemble sea creatures, with flowing organic shapes and a mottled green exterior. Paranid ships are streamlined and aerodynamic-looking, again with flowing curvature. This contrasts with all four human factions, which tend to build blocky: Argon and OTAS ships resemble Diesel Punk aircraft or large blocky slabs, while Terran and Aldrin ships are bright white slabs and saucers. Averted with the Teladi and Split, though, whose ships are if anything even blockier and more irregular than the Argons'.

Oct 24th 2018 at 3:02:14 PM

The media sections should be alphabetized — Film first, then Live-Action TV, then Video Games.

Oct 25th 2018 at 9:12:52 AM

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000: The two primary alien factions in the game, the Tau and the Eldar, both favor these sorts of ship designs. Tau vessels tend towards smoothly curved, flattened and elegant designs reminiscent of sea life, while the Eldar favor fusiform, streamlined hulls and prominently displayed triangular solar sails. Both stand in sharp contrast to the ruthlessly utilitarian masses of metal the Imperium uses, the cobbled-together junkers flown by the orks and the Eldritch Starships used by Chaos.

Oct 25th 2018 at 1:00:46 PM

Oct 26th 2018 at 12:47:15 PM

Western Animation

  • In Steven Universe, Gem ships are bright, smooth, colorful, and full of incredibly advanced technology. For instance, Yellow and Blue Diamond both have ships shaped like giant hands that are the same colors are their owners.

Oct 26th 2018 at 5:44:08 PM

How does this look for a page image? I like it because it also has a Standard Human Spaceship in the background for contrast.

Oct 26th 2018 at 6:55:31 PM

^No, because the Enterprise (any incarnation) really isn't a Standard Human Spaceship: it's too curvy.

What would work is if I could find or make a screenshot comparing an Argon ship to a Boron ship, or a side-by-side of an ISD and a Mon Cal star cruiser.

Oct 26th 2018 at 7:51:45 PM

I'd like that one better if the alien ships were more in the foreground. And maybe higher quality as well — are there any similar shots from more recent Starcraft games?

And I feel that the NX-01 is close enough to SHS to work here: it's got greebles and a gunmetal grey hull that clearly gives it a rugged "built-on-Earth" sticker, and the round saucer isn't really visible from this angle. Compare it to the warbird, which is both prominently displayed in the foreground and fulfills all of the criteria for SAS (curvy, smooth, colorful, and technologically equivalent).

Oct 28th 2018 at 12:34:38 PM

It's oddly difficult to get good comparison shots with the two ships at equal size. Too bad, because I feel like Starcraft Terran Battlecruiser and Protoss Carrier are pretty much the most perfectly illustrative contrast between the two standard ships.

Anyway, here's the Tau, from Battlefleet Gothic Armada, and the (human) Space Marines from the same game. A Warhammer 40K spinoff, in case it wasn't obvious.

...There's actually a more directly mirrored shot of the Tau, but unfortunately it has one of their blockiest ships as the most prominent part of the foreground. Meanwhile the Eldar are a little too sharp and batlike to be the platonic example, I think.

Another Warhammer example. The alien ships are too small for this TLP, but possibly a good contrast between the two for Standard Human Spaceship.

Oct 28th 2018 at 12:09:07 PM

I like that second Tau picture. Maybe if we crop it to focus on the left-most ship?

Oct 28th 2018 at 12:52:13 PM

  • While Command And Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars doesn't take place in space, it nonetheless features the extraterrestrial Scrin as a playable faction, summoned to planet Earth by a premature Liquid Tiberium Explosion orchestrated by Kane. All their 'aircraft', including their MCV-equivalent 'Drone Ship', are thus spaceships, and they are all more sleek and curved than even the most aerodynamic designs of the two human factions of the Global Defense Initiative and Brotherhood of NOD can provide. The closest humanity gets within the series is the Brotherhood's Banshee aircraft from the previous game, and that was explicitly engineered using alien schematics.

Oct 28th 2018 at 9:46:13 PM

Of course, the series that Spacedock references more in that video needs be mentioned:

Live-Action TV example: Babylon Five: Zig-zagged with the alien designs, depending on the race. While some such as the Centauri and the Narn follow a design closer to the humans' own ISO Standard Spaceship fleets, others such as the Minbari (and ships made of adapted Minbari tech, such as the White Stars) resemble flying pieces of modern art made of purple-white coral and the ships of the Shadows and the Vorlons dip straight into Eldritch Starship territory.

Oct 28th 2018 at 11:03:01 PM

My main beef with the cropped picture is that there's a lot of empty space in the bottom-left corner, although that may be remedied or at least somewhat managed by further cropping, if some of the bottom ship can be sacrificed.

Just to make sure we have all bases covered, I'd like to submit a couple of shots of Mon Calamari ships from Star Warsone and two, both heavy warships designed by Mon Cal shipwrights for use by the New Republic.

Oct 28th 2018 at 11:56:14 PM

I also have three images I'd like to submit for the discussion:

and

Both images floating around the respective wikis, so there should be no legal troubles using either.

Oct 29th 2018 at 12:22:24 AM

^^ That was my concern at first, but looking at the image sized down I think it works. It's balanced by the business of the upper right corner and gives it a sense of motion. It's empty, but it doesn't feel empty.

Oct 29th 2018 at 10:56:21 AM

The Mon Cal ships are grey, so I dunno if they'd make a good trope picture.

Protoss carrier could work, but the Scrin mothership looks more like an Eldritch Starship to me.

I croped the Tau one a bit more to just include the left-most ship. How's this look?

Oct 29th 2018 at 2:17:53 PM

^Looks good. I'm thinking one could make a collage of sort, as seen on other tropes. Here's an Avian-style battleship from Stellaris, and here's The Ark from Transformers

Oct 29th 2018 at 2:32:18 PM

See, the reason I brought up the Tau examples was because they had several different examples of this ship style — the hammerhead style on the left, the kind of single-wing vehicle below that, and in the background that slightly more elongated style and the sort of umbrella-shaped station or probe. Collages are generally better for examples where there isn't much consensus across different works, but the name of the trope is Standard Alien Spaceship — you should really be able to get away with just one image if it's sufficiently representative.

Nov 3rd 2018 at 12:32:09 PM

^ Thing is, you can do "Colorful and smooth" as per the trope description in many, many ways without deviating from the standard of "Colorful and smooth".

Nov 3rd 2018 at 3:57:00 PM

Of course, but trying to fit them all into a single image tends not to look as good as a standalone image, if you can get away with the latter, because of all the shrinking you have to do to make the collage fit on the page. My fear is that in trying to fit every ship everyone likes into a single image, we'll end up losing a lot of the detail on any given ship.

Nov 3rd 2018 at 5:22:07 PM

I like the collage idea. Maybe the Mon Cal, the Romulan warbird, the Tau, and the Protoss?

Nov 3rd 2018 at 11:41:51 PM

Western Animation

  • The first episode of Star Trek The Animated Series is "Beyond The Farthest Star," where the Enterprise discovers a lone planet at the extreme edge of the Milky Way galaxy. In orbit around that planet is an alien starship composed of ovate purple nodes connected by slender greenish conduits. The craft was used by ancient Insectoid Aliens and dates to the beginning of the Permian Era. Its smoothness is explained by Chief Engineer Scott, who exclaims: "... this metal, it isn't rolled or cast. It's been drawn into filaments and spun!"

Nov 4th 2018 at 8:06:02 AM

In Warhammer, Necron ships are much less angular than the Imperium's as well, although not that colorful.

Nov 4th 2018 at 11:56:48 AM

The insectoid ship from TAS looks more like an Eldritch Starship to me.

Nov 4th 2018 at 6:46:13 PM

^ Close, but not quite. Mister Scott also recognized one part of the alien ship's design was to collect and store energy, which is why it's still partly functional after millions of years. Also, First Officer Spock figured out how to access the Apocalyptic Log on the alien bridge. Pretty good for three guys on one brief away mission.

Nov 4th 2018 at 9:33:57 PM

It is, but based on those screenshots I do think Eldritch Starship is a better fit for that example (it's on the page already, in fact, though I think you could replace it with your writeup). Note that it's not about the inhabitants of that ship being particularly eldritch or Starfish Aliens, just the outward appearance of the ship looking a specific way.

Not sure how many examples we'd get, but there might be another TLP for cases like WH40K's Necrons or Stargate's Egyptian-themed ships. Maybe just starships that resemble ancient, normally stationary buildings?

Nov 5th 2018 at 9:54:49 AM

Film Live Action

Nov 9th 2018 at 1:54:23 AM

Film Live Action

  • The Nerdlucks from Space Jam come to Earth in a spacecraft that's very sculpted and colorful, modeled roughly after a 1949 Buick Roadmaster in front and a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado in back, replete with rolled edges and chrome galore. Since it came from Moron Mountain, this craft is the space-going equivalent of an Edsel.

Nov 10th 2018 at 8:32:37 PM

Alternatively, this image from Halo comics.

Nov 13th 2018 at 9:19:38 PM

I do like that second image.

Nov 15th 2018 at 1:45:28 PM

Those are good, but they might work better on an Image Link page than for a trope picture. I'm leaning towards the collage idea; we can put a Minbari ship in there for sure.

Nov 15th 2018 at 5:24:53 PM

  • Grey Goo 2015: Inverted with the Beta and their ultimate unit, "The Hand of Ruk", which is explicitly mentioned to be a repurposed starship and looks like a Diesel Punk Flying Saucer with a donut-like arrangement. In comparison, the aerial units deployed by the Humans and the titular Grey Goo are all very smooth, super-tech, and in the humans' case packing Tron Lines.

Nov 20th 2018 at 8:38:33 AM

I rewrote the description, does it seem like an improvement to you guys?

Nov 28th 2018 at 5:16:10 PM

I think maybe there needs to be a brief description of what this trope is, first thing. As it is there's a whole paragraph re-describing Standard Human Spaceship, but we do need to be able to define this, like its opposite trope, in such a way that it can stand alone.

For the Laconic: "Alien ships are colorful and smooth, usually as a Foil to the Standard Human Spaceship." The form of foil we want here can't be used as a verb.

Nov 28th 2018 at 9:16:17 PM

I'd like a caption identifying the pictured ship, and then I think this is ready for launch.

Oh, and it needs a foldercontrol markup. I'll just add that.

Nov 29th 2018 at 10:43:53 AM

I made some tweaks to the 40K entry.

Nov 29th 2018 at 2:54:50 PM

Webcomics

  • Homestuck:
    • Trolls spaceships are streamlined vessels adorned with numerous smooth, forward-pointing spines and painted bright red. The overall impression is one of a swift, sleek, aggressive predator... which suits the troll empire's culture quite well.
    • The "spaceships" used by the Prospitians and Dersites in their eternal war are a bit of an odd case — they're for all intents and purposes world wars-era warship designs capable of flight, but they nonetheless use tapered, slender designs (as a consequence of their real-life bases) and are painted bright gold or purple, respectively.

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