Pargon: I'm curious about the development cycle for something like an armor set. Could you elaborate on the process you guys go through when designing and implementing that equipment?
Ryan Dening (Lead Concept Artist) and David Hunt (Systems Designer): This is a very good and timely question as we have recently been refining parts of our approach and inspiration in response to the feedback we have gotten from our players. The first thing we do when designing a new armor set is to look at which class it's for and what level or tier it is going to be. For instance, if it's for a Bounty Hunter we've established that Bounty Hunters wear heavy armor that should feel custom or at least modified (since he's not a uniformed soldier). Our strongest influences are going to come from characters like Boba Fett, Boushh, Dengar etc. Level of the gear is going to determine how visually impressive the gear should look and where it fits in the progression. This is the real tricky part because in Star Wars, a lot of the costumes are quite simple or hit one note and we have to extrapolate to create a lot of different, unique looks that feel like they progress from low level to high.
With this as our background we'll start sketching ideas to find and capture a look that is compelling. When the sketch is approved we make a model sheet which is a lot like schematics. Every piece of a set of gear needs to fit into the wearables system so that they can work with every other set of gear in the game independently. An outfit will also have different layers like a base (for a Bounty Hunter this would be his base armor) and attachments (the cool stuff like Boba Fett's cape, rocket pack, Wookie braids). From here it goes to the character artists who bring the concept to life as a 3D model. They start with high poly models and custom sculpt each piece. Then they texture the models and make lower poly meshes that can be imported into the game. It's a long process and takes a lot of hard, skilled work to make an armor set.
Once in the game, designers create a map between all the available art assets and the items that need to be distributed to cover the various roles. We utilize different attachment and color combinations provided by the artists to try to make as many armor sets as possible unique, even if they're similar to others. Those sets are named and distributed along similar content channels, with the goal of giving players gear that makes them naturally look cool as they progress instead of making you look like a clown. The related content bands are setup with the intent of making characters look good in mixed sets of the same band, while still providing variety between them. There are too many combinations to guarantee that you'll find the right items that look cool together, but we work to get you as close as possible so that it's easy for you to complete the last steps.
Wouldn't it be interesting if they just created a forum for fan-based works regarding armor sets for inspiration, I'm sure the community of a million knows what it wants more then simply a group of say 20 artist .... This would be a nice way to collaborate fan creativity with swtor concept artists 'unique game look'