Studio Insider – Starship Creation
In every Studio Insider, we take you behind the scenes to give you an exclusive close look at the development of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. This week, Senior Concept Artist Ryan Dening and Senior Environment Artist Christopher Reeves give us a detailed look at the design process for the Agent Starship, the X-70B Phantom.
We also gathered questions that the community posted in the most recent Community Q&A thread and sent some of them to Senior Producer Blaine Christine. We hope you’ll enjoy this month’s answers. Have a burning question about The Old Republic? Don’t miss out on this month’s brand new Community Q&A thread!
Agent Starship: Concept Design
I’m Ryan Dening, and I’m here to give you some insight into how we created the player ships in The Old Republic™. The first stage for all the player ships was a document from the design team that contained the gameplay goals for the ships and listed all the rooms and access points that each needed. For reference once we began creating concepts, we took a look at a version of the Ebon Hawk from the original Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™ game that we scaled to be consistent with room sizes that we use in The Old Republic. Because our camera can be higher than in the original, ceiling heights and room sizes needed to be larger, but we wanted to maintain the perception that our ships are the size you'd expect. For the first ship, the Sith ship, I did a rough layout based on the new scale and design's requirements.
From here on, the process for the ships was very similar. We’ll focus on the Agent class starship.
Concept stage 1: Exterior Design
We knew that we wanted the Agent's ship to look advanced, like something you wouldn't know was in the Imperial fleet until decades later, but something that still fit within their current ranks. It couldn't be overtly Imperial, since we didn't want to blow the Agent's cover. The SR-71 Blackbird was a natural reference, especially since it related to Queen Amidala's ship in the Phantom Menace. We also wanted to evoke the feel of something that a certain British spy might drive. The first thing I created was a bunch of thumbnail sketches which the team reviewed, and from there we narrowed it down to a few ideas. Once it was narrowed down, I created a rough sketch of what the final ship might look like.
When we agreed on the sketch, I did a final rendering from one view of the ship. The trick was keeping the design sleek but adding enough details to add scale and keep it within the classic Star Wars™ universe. This was especially hard for the Agent because it pushed that envelope the most out of all our player ships. With this view approved I did orthographic views (top, bottom, side, front, back) to help Chris in building the 3-D version and did drawings from other views to cover all the angles. I also highlighted details like flaps, moving turrets, the ramp and landing gear.
Concept stage 2: Interior Design
The first step for the interior was to take the top view and design a floor plan. This was dream fulfillment for me because usually the interior and exterior designs of ships for games don't have to line up, or there is no interior at all. It was really fun to figure out where to put everything. For the first time, we were making these ships exist in real space and giving the players the experience of owning their own Starship. From the top down view, I sketched the room volumes over the exterior concept.
Now that I had my layout, I needed a style. I wanted to capture the exterior feel - sleek and advanced - but the writing for the agent required a living space where he/she could entertain important guests and charm possible lovers. Once again, rough sketches were done and reviewed.
Once we settled on a design, I did color and material studies, settling on something that wasn't too evil-looking but was more like a fancy space yacht.
I carried this design through the rest of the ship. The rear and cockpit of the ship use a version of the style that is more metallic and tech in feel while the lounge and captain's quarters carry the yacht feel from the concept. This part of the process was the most time-intensive as a lot of layout issues were worked out and a lot of detail was needed.
Once this was done and approved, a few more concepts remained before the ship went out to be built in the game. A lighting and propping pass was done on the interior concept, then ceiling structures and details were added. I also did a cockpit sketch. From here, Chris takes over and the magic happens for real.
Agent Starship: Production
I’m Christopher Reeves, and I’ll be explaining how we take the ships from the concept stage to real, in-game ships for the players to enjoy. Honestly, the hardest thing about working on player ships was living up to the quality of their concepts.
Production Stage 1: Exterior
The transition from concept to 3-D for the player ships is very similar to most other art assets in our game. Once we have the concept in hand, we begin with the creation of a working stub model. Though fairly simple, this stage is one of the most important. The stub model is not only a basic starting point for us to build from, but also a way for us to quickly test how the asset will interact with both the environment and a player's character in-game before we invest too much time in its creation. Ultimately this saves us from "Uh-oh..." moments down the line.
For the ship exteriors, the stub modeling process is fairly straightforward; create a quick rough model that matches the proportions of the concept and fits comfortably into our existing hangars without scraping the paint. We also model the entrance to the ship interior and test that the player can easily access the door. Once we’re happy with how the stub looks and feels, it's off to full production!
With the stub as a template, we create a high-poly model that will be used to project the normal and ambient occlusion (self-shadowing) texture maps. This is by far my favorite step. You get to see the ship model at its full potential without being hindered by those pesky game engine restrictions.
Next, we create a lower-poly model with UV mapping. Ultimately, this will be the model you see in the game. The main goal here is to keep polygon count relatively low without sacrificing too much of that sexy form.
Now that we have a high- and low-poly model, it's baking time! We take all that high-poly goodness and project it down to the game model via the normal map and ambient occlusion map we created earlier. The outcome allows us to see if we were efficient in our texture layout before moving onto our final paint job.
Last but not least, it's time for the final touches of color. We finish up our ship by painting the diffuse, specular, and emissive texture maps (for lighting effects). Now we can move on to the interior!
Production Stage 2: Interior
The ship interiors put a lot more emphasis on the stub model. With a much smaller interior space than seen in the rest of the game, it was important that the doors were wide enough for players to enter and that the ceilings were just high enough to avoid problems with the camera.
After the stub model was approved, we attacked each room individually, starting with the lounge. Each room went through the full process of modeling and texturing before moving on to the next room. This allowed us to have a texture pool which we pulled from for each room to keep the interior appearance consistent.
Once the last room was textured, production transitioned into the game engine where we light and prop each room. Top everything off with some polish and we're all done! The agent ship is all set to be handed off to design team for spawning and the cinematic team for stages.
We took some of your questions from the last Community Q&A thread to Senior Producer Blaine Christine to get answers, and here they are!
Q: How diverse can I expect the enemies to be? (asked by mattjorgdbb)
A: Our Design team and Artists have been putting a lot of time and effort into ensuring that each world has a very distinct look and feel; even specific areas within each world receive this attention. A big part of this is the diversity of the enemies you will encounter as players. We’re confident that as you move through the game, you will be pleased with the progression of enemies – not only from a visual standpoint, but also in the variety of attacks and challenges that they offer.
Q: Will players of one allegiance be able to visit the opposite allegiance’s planets? (asked by DarkLots)
A: There are certain planets within the galaxy that are only available to one allegiance or the other, but the majority of planets are open to the Republic and the Empire, allowing opportunities to - ahem - ‘encounter’ the other side should you so desire.
Q: Will there be specific quests and/or chains within the class quests for Advanced Classes? (asked by ROFLBATLECOPTER)
Advanced Classes do not have a direct impact on quests or storyline. They obviously have a huge impact on your character’s progression and abilities in addition to the weapons and armor you are allowed to use. Rest assured that, this being a BioWare game, there will be plenty of opportunities to make significant and impactful decisions throughout the course of each Class story. So much so that I suspect many of you will want to play individual classes more than once.
Q: What will BW/EA do in combating cheating in-game with the use of Bots/hacking? (asked by Draigon)
A: Everything within our power.
Q: Is the Trooper armor progression gonna be awesome? (asked by valkyor)
A: Oh, YES! As someone who has had the privilege of seeing the armor progression for each class in the game, I can say without hesitation that you will be blown away by the high level goodies for all of the classes. LucasArts has been great at allowing us to really push the envelope here to make sure that the players that put in significant effort will be amply rewarded. I can’t wait to see the diversity of characters in the game after we have a full server that is live for a while. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…
Q: Can you miss acquiring a companion without realizing it during the game? (asked by DarthPrecious)
A: Generally speaking, these opportunities are all pretty obvious to the player, as they occur along the main path of your Class Quests. We do, however, reserve the right to put some goodies out there for the particularly ambitious player to find.
Q: Will characters from Knights of the Old Republic be mentioned and will events from Knights of the Old Republic II have an impact on the game? (asked by Forcemachine)
A: All I can say for the KOTOR and KOTOR II fans out there is you will not be disappointed. The Old Republic has been written from Day One of development with the idea that it was a true sequel to the original Knights of the Old Republic games. For folks that have not played those games, you will certainly feel right at home as well, but to get the full backstory we do encourage players to play KOTOR I and II. Or maybe at least read the Wookieepedia entries!
Q: Will we be able to queue an entire group for Warzones? (asked by kbrury)
A: Yes! You can queue solo or in an existing group and our dynamic matchmaking system will do its best to find suitable opponents accordingly.
Q: Will you be able to receive special quests via conversations with your companions? (asked by twistern)
A: Yes; as in previous BioWare games, Companion Characters do indeed have quests of their own. Completing these quests can result in changes to the affection level of that Companion and can uncover rewards for both you and your party that may not be found anywhere else in the game. Each companion also has a distinct personality as they interact with you and other characters you encounter throughout your personal Star Wars saga. We have some great personalities that have been designed and written for The Old Republic!
We know that you have lots of questions about The Old Republic, and we’ve opened up a new Community Q&A. In every Studio Insider, you’ll find answers to community questions that we take directly from the Q&A. Please keep your questions courteous. We ask that you only post one question, and that you try to avoid duplicating questions that have already been asked. Keep in mind that we can’t talk about everything just yet, so please don’t feel offended if your question isn’t selected.