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Post feature RSS Ship Design Series #1- General Ship Design

This article covers the basics of overall ship design art direction in Lord of Rigel.

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Designing a fleet for a whole new species can be a fun and daunting process at the same time; there are numerous factors to consider, and it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t just a matter of designing a single ship, but an entire design lineage and style for a species. There are lots of factors I consider when first starting a new species, and the very first step is to read everything I can about the species as it was imagined for the game, in order to get an idea of who they are. Are they honorable warriors, or perhaps brutes? Maybe they are more technologically sophisticated, or perhaps they are more secretive, and more geared towards espionage. What do they look like? What do they breathe – do they even breathe? What is their home world like?
I try to get to know these species as close as I can before I even start forming images in my mind, to try and figure out how these species would approach ship design. As they say, first impressions are important, so it’s important that a brutish, warrior species has ships that match that trait in their design, just as a more sophisticated species also needs ships that look the part as well.
The psychology of a species could determine what their strategy in combat is; some may just depend on brute force, others could consider retreat dishonorable and try ram the enemy should the tide of battle turn against them. What would their emphasis be on crew safety? Would they use escape pods or go out in a blaze of glory? All ships and species are put through this kind of a thought process before any sort of 3d modeling even begins, which enables us to create vastly different looking fleets for each species, that matches their way of thinking.
All this has an impact on ship design; and once I’ve got a fairly good idea of who these people are and what they’re all about is when the practical design phase can begin. I’ll often discuss them with team members as well, especially during initial phases, then throw together a few manual sketches, but the real design work does begin in 3d, where I will often take a sketch just as a basis and evolve the shape in 3d.
The first ship of a species is often the hardest – it’s the one that establishes design traits for the whole line of ships that are to follow. I usually begin with a small frigate and evolve the design traits over larger classes later; though in some cases I’ve started with larger ships. Both approaches have their advantages and drawbacks; starting with a smaller ship means not having some design features fully fleshed out yet, as they will come on bigger ships, while starting big runs the risk of having to oversimplify a smaller vessel later on.
Overall, I’ve found that designing styles for entire specie’s fleets is an interesting challenge, and it is my hope that all these diverse designs will contribute to the richness of the game world and how the player experiences it.

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