Starship Design with Thomas Marrone – Part Five

A quick late-posting update: Given that we’re posting this late today, I will extend the entries until 9pm Wednesday the 28th.  The usual bonus entries will be given to the first posters here, on twitter, and in the Cryptic Forums. 

This is part Five of a five-part series about Starship design in Star Trek Online with Thomas Marrone (@thomasthecat, @Cryptic_TtC) .   Previous entries can be found here: Part One, Part TwoPart Three, and Part Four

Thomas joined Cryptic in 2010 as a web designer working for Cryptic and Atari. He moved over to STO in early 2011 as a UI artist and in November of last year moved over to ships full-time.  Check out his portfolio, Tumblr, and many DeviantArt examples.

Q9: In the G&T podcast you talked about the challenges in getting canon ships ‘just right’ due the inconsistencies in the original materials, and to some extent the various fan-produced examples. Can you describe the process you went through with the Galaxy Class?

When we released Delta Rising, it was clear that the featured ship of that content was going to be the U.S.S. Voyager. Unfortunately our Intrepid class model at the time was relatively low detail and had many structural inaccuracies when compared with the model used on the show.

With such a prominent role in the missions and communication around Delta Rising, we knew that it was appropriate to spend time rebuilding the Intrepid class model to be much more faithful to what Star Trek fans were expecting. Captain JamJamz took on this task and set a new standard for how accurate canon ships can be in Star Trek Online.

So shortly after Delta Rising launched, players had a brand new, very high quality canon Intrepid class model, and then we released the tier 6 Pathfinder long-range science vessel that could also use the canon Intrepid-class parts. Many players were grateful to see a long-standing and iconic ship receive such an upgrade at the time.


Later, when it became clear that I was going to be building the T6 Galaxy I became very excited because the Galaxy class starship is one of my most revered childhood cultural icons. Getting to do an iteration on that classic design was an incredible opportunity that 12 year old me would have never believed adult me would have the opportunity to do!

But just like the Pathfinder and Intrepid, I knew people would be excited to use a canon skin for their newest T6 iteration of a classic design. Unfortunately the Galaxy class was not slated to be featured in a major content update like the Intrepid/U.S.S. Voyager was, but the Galaxy model we had was in a similar state as the previous Intrepid model. It just wasn’t up to STO’s current standard of detail and fidelity when it came to canon ships.

JamJamz had set a very high bar with his Intrepid model and the even if I had to do it on my own time, I knew that I wanted the T6 release of the Galaxy and the Andromeda to offer the same options and quality to players as the Intrepid and Pathfinder had.

To some extent I worked on both versions side-by-side, building the canon Galaxy after hours while using scheduled time on the Andromeda. Given the large amount of time it takes to model a ship I started on the canon Galaxy very early because I knew I would need to shoehorn this massive project into spare hours between my normal responsibilities and commitments. It’s a good thing I planned ahead because I ended up JUST finishing it in time for the Andromeda’s release. All told the project probably took 120+ hours.


The process of actually building the model wasn’t too different from the other ships we build. I found orthographic blueprints of the model and used those to block out the shapes and proportions. It was tricky because I had to make sure the “joint” where the saucer section meets the neck stayed exactly the same so that the new Galaxy saucer would mate well with the other “neck” options available, such as the Venture, the Monarch and of course the new Andromeda.

As I was building the new Galaxy, I would be constantly looking at photos of the studio models for reference. Yes, models, plural – there were two main physical models made for Star Trek: The Next Generations: a 6 foot version and a 4 foot version. Upon close examination you can see that they have subtle shape differences in various places, and as a ship artist you have to use your best judgement when you’re synthesizing all the various reference available to you into STO’s ship model. This can ruffle feathers as some people might prefer one version of the ship over another, but ultimately you just do the best you can to make it look great and hope people appreciate how accurate it is.

Of course, there were also two CG (computer Generated) Galaxy class models made – one for Deep Space Nine and one for the series finale of Enterprise. So when looking for reference a ship artist needs to be acutely aware of the source of the images they are gathering – simply saving images off from a Google search won’t really do it, you need to follow through to the website and investigate the nature of the images. This is especially important when trying to distinguish between the canon studio and CG models and the thousands of high quality fan-made models that are out there. They are all great work, but should not be used as reference if the goal is to make something accurate to what was seen “on screen.”

Studio Model, primary hull being fine-tuned by Bill George.
Studio Model, primary hull being fine-tuned by Bill George.

Most of my reference material came from photos that people had taken during the Christie’s auction from a few years ago. There were lots of great close-up shots that helped inform detailed elements of the model. I also heavily relied on the bluray screenshots of TNG from the website to confirm things like lighting and window placement – some things you just need to see while the ship is “in action.”

Q10: Criticism is tough in any design job, and I know the response of Star Trek fans can be at times extreme. Given the beloved nature of the ships you get to work on, how do you process the feedback (both good and bad)?

With ships the most important thing to understand is that you can’t please everyone. And I think if you try, you’ll fail because it’ll be really hard to bring something new to the pantheon of Star Trek ship designs by playing it safe. As someone who adores the tenants of canon Star Trek ship design this is something I have to remind myself constantly – it certainly doesn’t help that Star Trek fans have been designing their own Star Trek ships for the last 50 years. So the pantheon is crowded with lots of great ideas and what we do with STO has to tread that line as being recognizable as an official Star Trek ship that COULD be canon vs also standing out as something cool and original that makes people excited to play the game and brings something new to the franchise.

All that said, we certainly do internalize feedback and help that inform new ship designs. For example, the Manticore and the Arbiter were both ships made based on designs that were controversial, and in both these cases we tried to take player feedback into account with the new variants to provide a version that addressed concerns that some players had while also retaining the option to use parts from the original version that some people liked. (The Arbiter provides a sleek alternative to the Avenger’s stoic bulk while the mission pod I added to the Manticore helps to shift the ship’s center of mass up, away from the large deflector that makes the design of the Chimera contentious.)


I guess that in the end we do try to please everyone, since we offer such robust customization options, and always want to give people a chance to fly the ship they love from the show if we can. So I think the important takeaway is that while we might not react to feedback by changing an existing design, we will definitely consider it when we make new designs and always want our new ships to give players something new so that they can settle on something that appeals to their individual taste.

-The End-


Next Week and Beyond: Back to normal postings – Reviews of the new ships, new episodes and I working on my first State of the Game Report – more to come soon.

Lastly I want to offer a huge thank-you to Morrigan (@LaughingTrendy) for shepherding this though the review process and for supplementing the prizes with Zen, and especially Thomas Marrone for his in-depth replies to my many questions.  Learning about how much effort goes into the process, and the attention to detail paid to these projects is one of the reasons we love this game so much.  I can’t thank you enough.

If you’ve read this far, you are also know that we’re giving away some cool ships and Zen at the end of this blog series on October 30th 2015.  Full contest rules can be found here.  We’re accepting entries after we post each blog for 24 hours only this final post until Wednesday, October 28th.


Question One: What is the name of the Artist who brought the revamped Intrepid class to life in Star Trek Online?

Question Two: Of the planet types visited in The Original Series – which type has NOT been seen in Star Trek Online? (Foundry Missions not included)

Question Three [Unofficial Bonus Question]: What is the name of the ‘race we have not seen yet in Star Trek Online‘ that could be an antagonist this Season.  Speculation is encouraged, however there’s a little hint visible on the sector maps starting tomorrow;) 

How to Enter: 

  1. Subscribe to this blog, or to my twitter account. (pretty simple, 1 entry per, automatically every week)
    1. For BONUS entries: Post the answers to question one and two either on this weeks blog announcement, or in the official thread on the STO Blog.
    2. Or, Tweet you answers, including your in-game handle to @Lootcritter.