Starship Design with Thomas Marrone – Part Three

Special Note: As this post came out late, we’re going to be post-heavy this week with releasing parts Three and Four Today, while extending entries for both until Tuesday October 20th!  Why?  I’m going to be on a plane next Monday for work.  And Yes, you can enter on both posts 😉

This is part Three 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 and  Part Two.

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.  


Q5: Tools – for the 3D phase of the project, do you use development tools outside of the Cryptic engine? What are they?

Is what you use industry standard?

All the 3D models done for STO are created in external 3D programs such as ZBrush or 3D Studio Max. These programs are widely used in the industry, but 3D software is not nearly as monolithic as 2D software. EVERYONE uses Photoshop. Not everyone uses 3D Studio Max, and might use Maya or Modo or something else instead.

We have special scripts and processes that take the models from Max and translate them to proprietary file formats that can be displayed in the Cryptic engine.

Q6: Model planning – animations and swappable parts. Recent releases have enabled us to swap parts with similar designs, whether is was an older version or the different model from a group of ships. How do you approach the planning of these elements?

From the very beginning we know if a given ship is part of a larger “family” of ships in terms of customization. When we’re designing a brand new set of ships like the pilot or command ships, we’ll hone in on one variation as the flagship version and then pick some of the elements we like from previous iterations to use when we model the other variants.

Bundles of ships that are variants on the same class, like the Command and Pilot ships, are intended from day one to be customizable. Typically the task of modeling all three of these bundle ships is scheduled for 20 days, all done in one continuous stretch by the same artist. Usually the ship artist will build one version of the ship to completion first, and then take those parts and use them as a basis for the subsequent variants. This saves time while allowing for significant variation – but it also helps to ensure that all the parts of the different versions of these ships fit well together. This was the process I went through when I built the Klingon Pilot ships.

It’s a little trickier with new variants for pre-existing ships, like the the Andromeda Exploration Cruiser. In that case the style and level of detail of the new variant is much different from the older geometry that it will be able to customize with. So, typically, the artist will build a brand new model from scratch using an agreed upon concept, and then load in parts of old designs that the new design will customize with. The ship artist will then swap out parts there in 3DS Max, making sure that the new geometry customizes fine with the old geometry. Some massaging might be required, but at the end of the process all the pieces, both old and new, will be able to customize together.

As we continue to release more T6 versions of beloved canon ships we will of course make sure that these new ships can customize with their classic look. It is necessary to do so that players can use the high powered T6 stats with classic canon designs if they choose. Players have also really supported the specialization ship bundles and enjoyed their customization, so that is something we are likely to continue to do as well.


Next WeekA lengthy description of the 3-D modeling process.

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.


Question One: What tool does everyone use?

Question Two: Which ship is your ‘go-to’ ship – the one ship you enjoy the most?

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.