10 For the Artists - Episode 2

(Citizen Star News) - by Gerald Evans - 2015-05-18

1: In the real world fuel comes to aircraft instead of the craft traveling to a central depot? Will this be the case in SC? Will you be able to purchase additional fuel, store it in the hangar, etc?

You'll definitely be able to purchase fuel. The plan is for certain ships to be able to collect fuel by flying through nebulae, and then using it for propellant. And we've got ships dedicated to fueling entirely, such as the Starfarer.

Something like Space AAA. You run out of gas and push a button and they'll say "OnStar can I help you?" Help, I'm in a Nebula and I'm out of fuel.

I'm hoping we make it something like a skill challenge that both pilots have to maneuver and dock properly.

2: Since you're creating pieces for the far future, how do you come up with a good design that's not too sci-fi cheesy or too retro? Have you asked CR to send you into orbit, for research?

We joke about getting sent to orbit. I want to do the vomit comet for the parabolic flight.

CR we want to go to space. You know, for research.

We tend to start off with real life examples or what it is we're trying to achieve. So if a spaceship is being designed for a specific goal, like transporting fuel, dogfighting, (space AAA) mining, we collect as many references for the actual function before we start designing the aesthetics. So we start off with function and then go ahead and build the design around it. The rest of that comes from some of the style guides we've put in place for the manufacturers.  So if you've got an Aegis ship which is supposed to be a mining vessel. Well the Reclaimer isn't a mining vessel, but if there was an Aegis ship that was supposed to be a mining vessel, we would start off with mining equipment references then apply the Aegis aesthetic on top of that. So we'd have smooth curves and Space Shuttle paneling since that's part of the look for them. And we'd have the intakes on the top since that's an Aegis thing.  So we have style guides that define some of the elements that the ships are supposed to have. And then we'll make a couple of variations and pick the coolest one.

Just to add some color: The game takes place in 2900 and one of the things we kick around a lot, more as a form or entertainment for the new people that come on, is that the year 2900 is just a year that works for the story. It doesn't have practical implications for the designs of the future. There is technology being developed today that is far beyond anything we're looking at for Star Citizen nine hundred years later. People say in nine hundred years everything will be holograms and your dog will be nano-bots.  If you look at Rome for example, two thousand years ago it was a dominant culture on the planet and was hundreds of years ahead of other cultures.  But then they had plagues and wars and we sacked by the Gaul several times and were sent back to the Stone Age.  So nine hundred years is really... what does that mean?  Star Wars, is that nine hundred years? Star Trek, is that three hundred years? It's our timeline and how we choose to tell a story.  To take the ships, they take a nod from some of the things we grew up with. The aesthetics lend themselves to something we've seen re-envisioned, because we can't imagine what it should look like nine hundred years from now.

3:  Are we going to see more interior concept in the future?


4: Several ships in Star Citizen take design influences from popular ships in Sci-fi, and Covenant warships in the Halo series have some of the most iconic and memorable designs in video game history.  Could we expect to see a pledgable capital ship, such as the new corvette, have its design influenced by those of the Covenant?

That's hard to answer.  I try to keep my references as real world as possible. We do have other space ships we look at as reference and inspiration as well. But we're not sitting down and picking other ships from other universes and saying, "we want this ship." It really comes down to the purpose. What is it we're trying to accomplish with the personality of the vessel and its purpose. We may use some small design elements, but we're never saying that we need our version of that exact ship.

One of the things the design team is looking at is the frequencies of light. So if you're using a red laser it'll have a longer band so it'll have a lot less impact. If it's green it'll be somewhere in between. And if it's blue it'll have a shorter frequency and far more damage.  All the things in between all the various damage styles and range styles come along with that.  So the complexity is being discussed right now to incorporating a more real world style of future laser effects.  And with neutron weapons and proton weapons we're treating more like practical physics instead of traditional sci-fi. So that the weapon itself will provide -- well if you knock a couple of neutrons off an atom all of a sudden you have an accumulation of something with extremely heavy mass.  So instead of it being a beam weapon it's like getting hit by a bus.

5: What is the purpose of the bed and living quarters on smaller ships? It was originally thought of as the only way to save and logout in space. Many thought it was a balance between the single seaters.

Right now that's where it's still at.  You go out into space, hop into your little bed, go to sleep and that's how you can kind of log off in space and it might save your state out there. It's still something that we have to prototype and see if it makes it in as a game mechanic. So the answer is...maybe.

What about the things you're working on right now like component swap?

Ultimately what we'll want to do is to build components, which will include beds and sinks, toilets, bathrooms, and things like that.  Build it so that we can just use them on every ship, and as many ships as possible so we can re-use the assets, and that bakes in the ability to customize the interiors.  Now don't take me at my word because the smaller ships are basically custom interiors.  You won't be able to take an Aurora bed and swap it with a Mustang bed.  It might be able to in the future. We're trying to get our assets so that's a possibility later on. 

The other components such as ammo boxes, fuel tanks, power plants, ballast (lots) all of those components can be swapped out between all ships of the same class and those components have heavy gameplay implications. If you have an ammo box only on one side of your ship that means that mass isn't on the other side of your ship and the handling is going to take a hit as a result.  The avionics will compensate to make it as unnoticeable, but as you start using the weapon you lose mass which changes the handling.  And every component depending on its location will affect the mass at that location, which then changes the physics in a major way. I'm not the best person to talk about physics but it's going to be awesome.

6: When in the PU will player ships be distinguishable from NPC ships? By not having a unique identifying color or symbol it could make players think twice before engaging a ship unprovoked.

Right now that has to be playtested. I'm a really big fan of not giving you an identifying element to distinguish the two because I do want the world to feel cohesive and I want there to be weight behind your decisions.  If you attack a ship you may not immediately know if it's a player or NPC ship.   The cool thing about not giving you obvious identifiers on a ship is that it means that you have to get a scanner. It adds to the gameplay loop. If you get one and scan a ship you may get the info that you need.  Ultimately it comes down to game design, and we'll make the best decision for the game once it's playtested. But my vote is 'Don't distinguish.'

To add color to that as well, I think that the lighting schemes on various styles of ships will play a minor part as well. When we get down to the pirate ships, their visible markers at a distance, based on the lights and any material use will show them as being potential enemy at a glance.  But to get to Daniel's point you may not get a sense of friend or foe, and you may not want that at a glance because you want that interaction.  There's a little more thrill to sit back and watch before you engage. Or if you're engaged or there's a marker or they start firing you'd know there's a bad guy.  That classic style gaming where you go to a nav point and there are four or five blips of red...it's kind of arcady. It's something we're trying to avoid.

7: Can the art team create cultural goods for the PU and might not have any inherent value to the player but would be highly contested by powerful and wealthy NPCs?

I don't want to say no. We haven't discussed that on the PU side. It might happen in the future, but I can't say it's happening now.

8: What will the art team's role be in uninhabited planets? Will you guys essentially create planet textures and then the procedural stuff will kick in? Can we expect to see planetside environments that require special equipment just to pay it a visit (such as different atmospheres with different breathing suits, temperature protection, gravity protection, visibility differences, etc)?

Right now the art team is focusing on building out the inhabited locations and we will have uninhabited locations as well. Further in the future once the game is released I know we're going to be doing R&D on potentially procedurally generated planets so that we can we can expand the number of locations.  And we will still have to create art for that as well even if it's procedurally generated. So the answer is yes. We will be building art for all locations. I don't know how else we would see art even if the programming...it's just not the way our game is built. So I'm pretty confident we'll have artists building art even for procedurally generated locations.

The methodologies we're working on right now is split between 90/10, and then 10/90. That means that the majority of the encounters that you'll have on a generated planet will be generated encounters.  On the other side, which is you go to a planet like Terra and the experience is very well crafted. So it depends on which planet you go to. An interesting part of the question is the breathing apparatus, and dealing with heavier gravity. Those conversations have been and and the details are to be determined.

Because of the way we're building our damage system, we may be able to leverage that in order to apply effects to the ship based on the experience the ship is getting. So if you go through an especially hot environment and it's peeling off the paint, we have the technology built in to leverage that. The foundation for doing that exists.

(Personal note: Wouldn't re-entry do that to you every single time? Or the Starfarer in the corona of a gas giant? Bad example Daniel.)

9: So far the art direction has a fairly Western feel to it (all amazing). Will we see more non-Western influences, such as Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, etc in upcoming locations?

The short answer is yes. The way we're approaching the planets right now is through our sci-fi influences. So we're talking more desolate places we're looking at Star Wars and Luke's home planet to Hoth.  But we're also looking at components like Blade Runner. Basically we're drawing from all of our experiences and a lot of those are going to not just feed back into the persistent universe, but we're going to have to continue to build out the persistent universe.  Style, the structures, the environments, because you do want to show a cultural influence and how it's impacted. That said the way we've been approaching a lot of these things is through as much modern reason as we can. So a hundred years from now what happens with human space exploration?  We colonize the moon; we colonize Mars. Two hundred years from now what does that look like? Okay well maybe we've reached out to Ganymede or somewhere else.  What happens after that? Well two hundred years from then maybe we've reached out to the edge of the solar system? What happens with planets like Mars is the next wave of construction, so the additional cultural influences is going to be based on whoever is providing the finances to that location. But more importantly they'll be building on top of the structures that are there. So if you look at a colony on the Moon or a base on Mars in the next hundred years you're going to find it's a very modular or very container-style system; it's more akin to Cowboy Bebop or the movie Moon than anything else.  But two hundred years from now you don't just scrap the existing structures; you build on top of it so it starts to look a little more modern.  The art director who is driving that, Mark Skelton and Corton in Montreal, they're spending a lot of time focusing on what those rings are.  And then what happens when the humans leave our system and then move out to the next system and that fist system is a terraformed planet and you have jump capabilities that planet is now a complete overhaul of something we've seen before. So it may not have any of the flavor that you're used to but it may take suggestions from Dubai or a couple of other completely modern cities.  But a lot of those things are  being explored and a lot of the art direction that we've gotten is that we might be taking nods from all those components, but it won't be exact. A good way of looking at that would be something like Naboo. Naboo had a kind of Renaissance style architecture to it, at the same time it had a lot of the same kind of modern day Star Wars techy stuff as well. It depends on the lens you're looking at the environment from.

We have several locations on Earth so we will draw directly from the cultures in those locations. We have landing zones in Russia, China and I would expect that those are influenced by those cultures.

10: Are there any plans to allow custom coloring our ships using RGB sliders on various layers/channels of the default ship skin?

Right now we actually have our shader set up so that you can theoretically tint stuff with the diffuse channel, or specular channel. So we can do really big significant material changes or color changes but it has yet to be implemented in programming, and a lot of the older ships have yet to be updated with physically accurate textures, and still need to be brought to that system. But once that's all in place you should be able to take the M50 for example and make it black. Or if you have a Constellation and you want to make it blue you should be able to do that. It has yet to be pushed through design but you should definitely be able to do that in the future.

Would you say it's a lot like buying a car? This person wants full RGB control, but as a manufacturer or as the artist for the style guide you want to limit that range. Can you talk about that in regards to like material types, gloss or pearl and so on?

It's a little bit complicated with physically accurate textures. And you want to keep design consistency throughout the game. It would be a little bit distracting if someone flew through the universe in a pink Retaliator. That would be weird. But what we will probably end up doing is giving you different surfacing types and different gloss values, and maybe different color values as like swatches you can see.  Almost like if you look at car paint they have orbs you see the surface on before you get your car coated. And you'll be able to see your ship. And we'll give you a really wide range so it's not like limiting you too much. But...no pink Retaliators in our universe.

11: What photographs or other sources do you use to inspire the space artwork in Star Citizen? For example how do you determine the colors and shading used in star types and the various planets?

Planets are a little bit..  I can talk about what I use when I'm doing surfacing on ships and one of the things I use.  One of the most popular resources for a lot of artists in our company is Pintrest. We have running galleries of a lot of stuff, and I'll look at a lot of galleries of planes, tanks, cars. And whenever I see a surface I like I grab it and put it in a folder for later. So I have a library in my head, and if I was going to go build an Aegis ship, I'd think militaristic, scary, industrial: Panzer. That black, slightly glossy paint. That kind of thing.  It's not so much a texture reference from a source, it's like building up a reference.  One of the things I keep catching artists doing is constantly looking at other computer graphics as a reference, and the key to making believable materials is drawing all your reference from real world things.

To add to this and to round out the persistant universe is that we're building a universe that's meant to be accurate.  So if there's a red giant or a brown dwarf or a white dwarf that we're shooting for it to be as believable as possible. I think that from the concept creation side, the concept artists come up with a look that they want based on a feeling they're trying to capture, and then the production artists get their hands on it and dial it in to the real world.

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