# How can I convey a sensation of speed in space?

I'm making a game where you see a spaceship (in 3rd person) travelling at high-speed between planets (it takes 2-3 seconds move between them).

What effect could I use to convey the effect of extreme speed? I already know about the usual effects, change in FOV, white lines around the subjects, etc..

I'm asking about some things that are more space-like, I mean even if it's not how it would be perceived in real physics, I need it to look like it's fast and it's in space.

Don't hesitate to ask for clarification, my English is nowhere near being perfect, maybe I didn't convey my thought perfectly.

• Perhaps the starwars hyperspeed look by having stars speed by very fast. Or even show a wormhole? just ideas Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 3:07
• Is it full 3D, high-detail space simulator or just kind of arcade game in simplified space, with planets as textures, etc?
– Mars
Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 10:52
• I would consider something kind of abstract or surreal instead of trying to make blurry stars. Like you see the blurry image of the ship at the destination and then WHAM a huge amount of blur motion from where the ship starts and then it is solid. Just an example really, I am sure there's many things you can think of if you get creative. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 10:59
• Good thing that you're not asking for "real physics", because your space ship is already travelling at a speed measured in hundred times the speed of light. The distance from the Earth to the Moon is 1.2 light-seconds, the Earth to the Sun is already over 8 light-minutes. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 11:09

The thing is, in space nearly everything is so far away so will naturally look stationary. The things you could do to imply speed are

1. Use loud engine noise to simulate thrusters working extra hard.
2. Shake the cockpit to simulate thruster stress on the ship.
3. Have visual indicators of some kind of rate of acceleration (not speed, speed is relative so there is no absolute speed in space).
4. Make sure you have a suitable deceleration phase, to instil the idea that the built up velocity is very powerful and needs a lot of effort to counter (perhaps with visible exhaust matter exiting from the front of the ship)

I think though that the best way to simulate speed is to make your game unnatural. You can't hear far away explosions through space, but movies will put them in because humans expect to hear the explosion as that is what life on Earth has taught us to be excited by. So, ignore the fact that in real life the sky would look stationary and go for an effect like one of these

1. Star field streaking in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon hits top speed.
2. The tunnel effect on Star Gate or the start of an episode of Dr Who.

Having the ship have to make very slight and very fast course corrections to avoid obstacles like planets would be good too. Perhaps some kind of visible + audible alert to the captain, with some little screen calculating impact etc. You could even show the occasional planet shoot past really close in your field of view (obviously motion blurred).

Finally, why not go for the Futurama approach? A spaceship can't move that quickly through space, so move space instead :) Press the warp button, the entire universe (except your ship) squishes down really small, then expands back to its normal size with you in a different place :)

Space is mostly empty and much of what you see while in it is very far away. So there isn't much you really do visually; fundamentally you're mostly going to be working with variants of "white lines around the subject" (speed lines, possibly elongated as the ship's speed increases, the occasional bit of "space debris" or dust particles zooming by) and FOV changes. In addition, you can play with subtle camera shake or distortion effects as the ship's speed increases. If it is thematically appropriate you can use a "hyperspace" like tunnel or wormhole (or really, anything) effect when you're traveling at super-light speeds, maybe. But that's basically it; there are very few other objects that both provide a visual frame-of-reference and are also regularly close enough to a ship in most space games to really illustrate the magnitude of the ship's velocity.

However, you can also work with non-visual cues. Specifically audio, physical and gameplay cues.

Audio effects such as engine whine or rumble can give a sensation of a powerful engine being put into gear, especially when paired with screen effects like a camera shake or FOV animation. Fly-by sounds for those rare cases where the ship does pass near something moving at a significantly slower relative speed.

Physical effects (mainly, force-feedback) can be fed back to the player during acceleration or when nearing "top" speed, if the player has the appropriate hardware.

Gameplay-wise you can alter the maneuverability or responsiveness of the ship based on its speed. Maybe it reacts more slowly to attitude adjustments at higher speeds, for example, or "fights" the player via force-feedback or slightly less smooth controls.

Most of the above are wholly unrealistic, so depending on the level of realism you're going for in your simulation you may not be comfortable with including some of them.

• Absolutely. As we know: True art is giving out only a clue, and let the user imagine and build up the rest him/herself :-). Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 22:56

An option is to adopt an alternate paradigm for travel, rather than trying to convey the nonsensical1 speeds you'd require.

Since you're traveling FTL anyway, the playbook goes out the window, and it's time to get creative. For instance, instead of travelling through the space between the planets, you could take a page from Battlestar Galactica (2003)'s playbook, and have the ship spool up the drive, blink out of existence, then pop back into existence at the destination, complete with whatever visual and sound effects you'd prefer. (The ship shrinking to and growing out of nothing, a flash, a woop and a poow, whatever floats your boat.)

1: Anything traveling in excess of c leads to all sorts of nonsense and causality violations, and essentially invalidates physics2. Once you introduce FTL, you can basically do whatever you want, unless you're extremely careful, to the point of declawing your drive entirely.

2: I assume here that your planets are more than a few light seconds apart, and that the ship is actually travelling fast; that it's not just a contrivance.