Cool Aliens

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squeehunter

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Cool Aliens

Postby squeehunter » 12.12.09 4:08pm

I'm kind of tired of "Rubber Forehead Aliens" where aliens are basically humans, with different heads. Think Greedo, or most of the aliens on Star Trek. (There is a backstory to explain some of these at least) I've noticed this before but I was starting to have enough of this when I saw the trailers for Mass Effect 2. They added two more Rubber Forehead Aliens (Mask is better but I don't know if there is a trope for that) and one that really grinded my gears which were the Collectors that had a totally non-human head, and wings, but had completely human bodies for some reason.

I like aliens that aren't humanoid. It feels more realistic. The Salarians and Turians from Mass Effect are about as humanoid as I think you could reasonably be without a common ancestor. Here are some of my favorite:

Image
Image
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These are done by Abiogenisis http://abiogenisis.deviantart.com/

What I espescially like are aliens like these, that are civilized and wear clothes. You see them much less often. Here are some others:

http://m0ai.deviantart.com/art/Scholar-111931361

Okay just one. DeviantArt is too bogged down with Xenomorphs when you search for "aliens".

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Sylux » 12.12.09 11:07pm

Behold: humanoid aliens done RIGHT.

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The creature design for District 9 went on the assumption that technology-using aliens would have a similar body shape to us (since that's optimal for tool use), but their physiology and evolutionary pedigree would be totally different. The D9 aliens are some of the most convincing I've seen in any scifi film to date. My one objection is their strikingly humanlike eyes, but according to an interview I read they only added those to help the viewer empathize with the aliens. Originally, they weren't going to have very different sensory organs.

I also appreciated that their culture and racial psychology were clearly inhuman. [spoiler]Hordes of belligerent, lethargic morons who rely on a handful of intelligent "command prawns" to give them direction. Also, they have a very confusing concept of politeness.[/spoiler] Another thing worthy of mention is that their eggs need to suck blood out of a freshly dead corpse in order to mature and hatch. That's ALIEN, folks.

...

Come to think of it, Metroid actually does a surprisingly good job of this too. Certainly unusual, considering that Metroid's level of scifi hardness would be best described as "a heavy vapor." Its hard to tell if the chozo and space pirates or endoskeletal or exoskeletal just by looking, and the chozo have a VERY creepy mix of hominid, simian, crustacean, and avian features. The kihunters (who are sentient and organized, according to the manuals) are getting into true Starfish Alien territory.

Of course, we have the polar opposite of that with the various "fuzzy, different colored humans" species introduced in the comics, as well as learning that the chozo are literally bird people rather than simply having superficially birdlike mouths (which is what I always assumed). Fortunately, said comics, despite their official canonicity, are easily ignored.

...

Now, if you want to move away from humanoids entirely, things get tricky. The problem is, we don't know what other body shape would be conducive to sapience and tool use while still being evolutionarily viable. The only example we have to go by, out of all the immense diversity of life on earth, is our own genus. Non-humanoid aliens are very satisfyingly alien, but its much harder to gauge their biological plausibility.

Plausibility aside, you want my favorite ones?

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The.

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Mother Fucking.

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Elder Things.

They're six foot tall, radially symmetrical invertibrates that walk on five taught, cartilaginous tentacles. They've got five OTHER tentacles further up the body, each ending in a bundle of-you guessed it-even SMALLER tentacles that they use for fine manipulation. Five membranous wings, which also serve as leaves (yes, they photosynthesize). Top this off with a head resembling a five pointed star, each point ending in a fanged, gnashing mouth (they like to supplement their photosynthesis by cooking and eating every goddamned animal they come across) and a single, bloodshot, semi-gelatinous red eye. In cold enough temperatures, they go dormant and enter a literally indefinite hibernation. Oh yeah, and their skin is like pliable wood.

The Elder Things are the originators of half the alien tropes you've ever heard of. Founder race, ancient ruins full of valuable technology, abandoned Antarctic colony on earth, and a real fetish for bio-engineering (they were invented by H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920's, making him the pioneer of many of these concepts). They are also probably the trope namer for "starfish alien," as the human characters who encounter them compare them to starfish.

Yeah, its really hard to not like the Elder Things. My one gripe about them is that there's no way in hell something shaped like that could fly. Not remotely aerodynamic. And yet, Lovecraft was clear about those wings being functional. Oh well.

Did I mention they build thirty-foot-in-diameter robot amoebas to do their heavy lifting? Kay, well they do.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby squeehunter » 12.13.09 4:05am

I was definetly thinking about the elder things when writing the origional post. I don't know anything about them though since I don't really read novels.

I'm not anatomy expert but I wonder if an animal has an endoskeleton, that four appendages just work better than six or more meaning the humanoid shape would be common. An animal with two legs and four arms would have some complicated shoulders for the second pair of arms. We're built like that because fish are built like that but why do fish have four appendages? The ancestors of fish look to be some kind of eelly things but I don't know why four appendages popped up out of no where.

Being that a long skinny eelly thing is a simple enough body type, with a mouth and a butt, and life forms an endoskeleton and four appendages (since it seemed to work for whatever reason here) I don't think that if those conditions were met, that life would end up looking all that alien to us. It's likely a fish shape would be next, since it happened three times (the fish, the dolphin, and the ichthyosaur), then BAM it comes out of the water as a salamander.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Reconite » 12.13.09 7:17am

The Star Trek "aliens" suck.

This is an Alien if I ever saw one:
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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Sylux » 12.13.09 9:15am

Reconite wrote:This is an Alien if I ever saw one:


The xenomorphs aren't a sentient civilization, though. And they're quite possibly a created species. Not sure if they count.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Reconite » 12.13.09 11:31am

Hey, the title said "Cool Aliens", so I'm contributing. :awesome:

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Will Keaton » 12.13.09 6:24pm

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Ra is no longer amused by this thread. Your failure to include the Goa'uld in this discussion has doomed your planet! The earth shall burn and the pitiful survivors will become servants of the Supreme System Lord!
As soon as I find a body. Little help here guys?

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby MaiAriSquee » 12.14.09 12:19am

Pretty much all the aliens from Star Control 2/The Ur-Quan Masters.

You've got gas bags, sentient fungus, silocon based crystal life forms, funny oyster tentacle things, lumps of weird flesh, interdimensional fingers, spiders... and so much more!

Yeah. I've never finished this game. But it's crazy awesome!
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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby ph00tbag » 12.14.09 1:37am

Sylux's point about sapience is one of the major determining factors in how I approach the whole intelligent aliens question. If you want to have an alien approach human forms of sapience, you need to have self-awareness, other-awareness, problem solving--and a whole mess of other mental things, plus a way to communicate while using a tool and moving around.

Incidentally, given a few tweaks, there are actually a lot of surprising possibilities in the realm of species that can do that. Octopods and certain squids, given more precise control over their skin pigmentation could move with several limbs, use a few others to grasp a tool, and communicate using skin pigmentation. In fact, it's a surprise humans happened before some kind of sapient octopus, since humans had to evolve specifically for those three physiological necessities, and the octopus had pretty much stumbled on them hundred of thousands of years ago, but never used them in the way we do.

So yeah, if there's some squid-like or octopus-like race out there, that's what I'm voting for.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Sylux » 12.14.09 1:43am

ph00tbag wrote:Sylux's point about sapience is one of the major determining factors in how I approach the whole intelligent aliens question. If you want to have an alien approach human forms of sapience, you need to have self-awareness, other-awareness, problem solving--and a whole mess of other mental things, plus a way to communicate while using a tool and moving around.

Incidentally, given a few tweaks, there are actually a lot of surprising possibilities in the realm of species that can do that. Octopods and certain squids, given more precise control over their skin pigmentation could move with several limbs, use a few others to grasp a tool, and communicate using skin pigmentation. In fact, it's a surprise humans happened before some kind of sapient octopus, since humans had to evolve specifically for those three physiological necessities, and the octopus had pretty much stumbled on them hundred of thousands of years ago, but never used them in the way we do.

So yeah, if there's some squid-like or octopus-like race out there, that's what I'm voting for.


The problem with cephalapods, though, is that they're pretty useless outside of the water. Octopi can drag themselves across the ground reasonably well, but they can't really use those floppy tentacles to pick things up or carry them outside of the water. And a sentient species that's waterbound won't be able to use fire, which would make technological progress difficult.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby squeehunter » 12.14.09 1:54am

1) Some sci-fi things explain the humanoid appearance of aliens by having a common ancestor who spread the species around far in the past and then evolved into different (but similar) species. Star Trek had it. http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/memor ... enitor.jpg

Star Wars had it too possibly. I don't know much about Stargate but they had it too I think. I hope that Mass Effect will use that to explain the similarities to the Asari and Humans.

2) Anyone can make a jellyfish alien and say "It's really really alien looking." but I have more respect for an artist who can make something like the images above that I posted that don't look like anything on earth, but don't look like a jellyfish either.

3) Maybe we are being too hard on these humanoid aliens. Maybe they're actually quite common because they make sense biologically. Two legs make sense since it's the least amount you need while still being stable. You need two eyes for depth perception. Two ears to help you figure out what direction a sound is coming from. I can't find a good reason two have only two arms but if it's going to match up with your amount of legs, then alright.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Sylux » 12.14.09 3:22am

squeehunter wrote:1) Some sci-fi things explain the humanoid appearance of aliens by having a common ancestor who spread the species around far in the past and then evolved into different (but similar) species. Star Trek had it. http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/memor ... enitor.jpg


So did Dr. Who, I believe. Anyway, Star Trek desperately needed an explanation for that, so I'm glad they did it.

I hope that Mass Effect will use that to explain the similarities to the Asari and Humans.


Eh, I'd rather the Asari be wiped out in a screaming orgy of destruction and never mentioned again except to spit on their tombstones. I really, REALLY hated that species.

2) Anyone can make a jellyfish alien and say "It's really really alien looking." but I have more respect for an artist who can make something like the images above that I posted that don't look like anything on earth, but don't look like a jellyfish either.


Well, jellyfish are some of the simplest and oldest multicellular organisms on Earth, so it would make sense for other planets to have similar creatures. Of course, that would make them the LEAST alien part of the ecosystem, from our perspective.

Anyway, on the topic of creatures that don't look remotely earthlike but still make biological sense:

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The movie Cloverfield had its flaws, but creature design was NOT one of them. This is one of the few movie monsters I've seen that I can't describe by comparing it to an earth animal. It walks like a grounded bat, its body perpetually leaning upward due to the anterior limbs being so much longer than the back ones. Two giant, membranous sacks on its face act as EXTERNAL LUNGS, pulsating as it inhales and exhales. According to some deleted footage, the two arms hanging from Clover's underbelly are actually articulated esophogi that end in toothy mouths, allowing it to pick up small animals off the ground and eat them as it walks, without even having to look at them. Its truly Alien.

And yet, aside from its size (at least twenty stories tall. I doubt any motile organism could get that big, too many circulatory issues), Clovie is pretty biologically sound. The external lungs make a lot of sense; a monster that big has a LOT of mass for internal lungs to push against, so it would be easier to stick them on the outside. I wonder about the main mouth on its head; if it uses its underbelly esophogi to scrape foot off the ground below, what's the big mouth for? This suggests an omnivorous creature, feeding off of similarly huge megafauna with its head and also grazing on smaller plants and animals with the bellymouths.

I also like how much thought went into the fleas:

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Again, its hard to compare them to any one earth animal. They're mostly insect or crustaceanlike, but their body shape and movements are more like a dog or cat, and their wall-climbing suggests a reptilian foot structure. Also, the mouth is of mammalian appearance, despite being exoskeletal, and the distinctive chattering sounds they make don't sound like ANYTHING.

I wonder about the nature of their symbiosis with Clovie. They didn't seem to be feeding off of him (their mouths are all wrong for bloodsucking anyway). Maybe they're like barnacles, attaching themselves to wandering megafauna and waiting until it scratches them off, dropping them off in fresh hunting grounds. A rather ingenious method of getting from place to place, assuming they can avoid Clovie's suckermouths (which they probably can, since they're fast and can climb). I also thought it was a nice touch how their poison reacted...oddly...in humans. I suspect that their venom is designed to kill animals from their native ecosystem in a more mundane way, but reacts with some human chemical to cause...err...expansion. Probably an evaporation reaction, turning blood plasma into gas or somesuch.

So yeah, Cloverfield was a good example of convincingly alien fauna. Would like to learn more about the ecosystem they hailed from. Or if there are sentient species there.

3) Maybe we are being too hard on these humanoid aliens. Maybe they're actually quite common because they make sense biologically. Two legs make sense since it's the least amount you need while still being stable. You need two eyes for depth perception. Two ears to help you figure out what direction a sound is coming from. I can't find a good reason two have only two arms but if it's going to match up with your amount of legs, then alright.


Again, the prawns of District 9 say hi. Human shaped, but from a crustacean-like invertebrate ancestor. Humanlike in the same sense that a pterosaur is batlike; both evolved to fill the same niche, but came from totally different directions.

In my scifi musings (particularly my metroid fan fiction), I've recently been giving a lot of thought to the morphology of sapient species. Something that bothers me in a lot of scifi is that aliens are either humanoid to some extent, or lolrandom. Take Star Trek for instance. There are a vast majority of species that are humanlike (ranging from "look identical to humans" to "prawnish"), but then those few that aren't humanoid look absolutely nothing like one another. So, I came upon the idea of their being multiple baselines for sentient life. As in, humanoid is one of two or three different body structures conducive to tool use and sapience. Some races are humanoid, some are X, and some are Y, with a few being oddballs who don't fall into any of the more common categories. What would be really interesting (though unlikely) would be for humans to be an oddball race; most aliens fall into two or three morphological types, but we're one of the crazy exceptions.

Anyway, four morphotype categories I've come up with, some more biologically sound than others:

Humanoid: like us. Two legs, usually two arms, usually a cephalized head with a brain and sensory organs inside. These guys tend to evolve on more earthlike planets (duh).

Tauroid: four to eight legs, with manipulator limbs on the anterior body. The most common limb distribution is four legs and two arms. May have a cephalized head. Some species have a raised forward body, giving them a centaurlike outline. Tauroids tend to evolve in rocky environments with high gravity.

Cephelapoid: pod-on-tentacles. No external head. Most are amphibious, if not fully aquatic. Those that aren't water-based generally evolve on low-gravity worlds where mere tentacles are enough to support their weight. Aquatic species seldom progress beyond stone age technology (no fire), so cephelepoid spacefarers are less common than humanoids and tauroids.

Icthyoid: eel-like creatures with one or more manipulator arms. Sometimes cephalized. Always aquatic, and thus least likely to develop advanced technology.

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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby Quadraxis » 12.14.09 8:08am

District 9 is goddamn awesome.

But on topic, I remember once reading a book that had descriptions of what an alien species would have to be like to actually live in Venus, Jupiter, Pluto, etc. Some of the designs were pretty fascinating. For example, I can only describe the Jupiterians as "living blimps". Sentient gas balloons. I don't know if that makes any sense biologically, but that's what I call "alien".
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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby CapCom » 12.14.09 10:12am

Yeah, the D9 aliens were excellently done. It isn't diminished any by the fact that the story was originally supposed to be Halo. And of course the Xenomorphs, which are probably the most definitive and influential alien ever designed, aside from Grays and Spock. (Metroids go without saying.) My other favorites have to be the Shadows from Babylon 5:

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Here is the basic creature, which is all evil and spindly. They have psychic powers. Their minions are normal people who's brains have been rewired by the Shadows. Their main question is: What do you want? Their goal is to fulfill desires in order to spark conflict among the races. Through that conflict, they hope to improve civilizations through evolution. Sheridan blew up their home planet, Z'ha'dum.

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This is the capital ship, the 'battlecrab'. These things fire out huge lasers that demolish anything they hit. They can also spit out smaller crab things that act as fighter craft. They fly out in a giant ball that explodes into these things. Definitely fantastic design.

The Vorlons also deserve mention. Their spaceships are like giant squid, and they spend all their time inside biosuits. Their true character is a creature of energy, but they have modified the psyche of any species they have come into contact with so they recognize the face of God when they see their true forms. The only ones who see nothing are the Narns, who also lost all telepathic abilities when the Shadows systematically destroyed them. The Shadows fled the Narn homeworld and seeded their ships across the galaxy to be awakened in time for the next great battle.
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Re: Cool Aliens

Postby -ChozoChild- » 12.14.09 11:20am

I remember watching a show on the Discovery Channel a while back called 'Alien Planet'.
A team of scientific experts created concept ideas and animations to show the viewers what they thought animals from today would look in the future with evolution.
They also discussed ideas and questions about extraterrestrial life.

Here is website from that show: http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/al ... plash.html
I brought this up because I thought they had some pretty creative ideas to what alien life might look like.


But on topic, I remember once reading a book that had descriptions of what an alien species would have to be like to actually live in Venus, Jupiter, Pluto, etc. Some of the designs were pretty fascinating. For example, I can only describe the Jupiterians as "living blimps". Sentient gas balloons. I don't know if that makes any sense biologically, but that's what I call "alien".


Much like what Quadraxis typed, I think that not all aliens have to be human shaped.
I like the idea of the balloons aliens, that might work. All living things, adapt to the environment they live in.
I'm assuming that if most of our planets in our solar system are gaseous then maybe in other solar systems that might have alien life that live in harsh climate.
Maybe it only survives in those toxic atmospheres.
Even the most harshest places on Earth, such as the arctic tundra has small microscopic organisms living beneath the ice.

I also think that not all aliens have to be big huge monster-sized creatures as most sci-fi movies depict them as being.
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