NEIL MELVILLE Web Site
Star Trek Online Preproduction
To Explore Strange New Worlds...
When Cryptic Studios inherited the Star Trek Online project from Perpetual Entertainment, I was asked to lead the art team. Although I was already a big Star Trek fan, it seemed to be a pretty big step, but I decided to be like Kirk, and boldly go where I had not gone before.
There was a lot of good inspiration to be found in the concept art that we got from Perpetual, but a lot of the tech and pipelines we were using were not compatable with the art assets that they had built. It was just as well, because we felt it best to start the design from scratch. We could build a prototype pretty quickly using the proprietary engine and development tools created for Champions Online. I also made it one of my goals to set a style for the game that would help it feel distinct from Champions, and more true to the imagry to be found in the films and episodes. This direction required some additional effort, and was not met with universal acceptance. The comprimise was to create a caricature of reality, similar to what had been done with the animated Star Trek, but with modern computer rendering technology. Despite these efforts, I could only take the fight so far against the natural tendencies of an art team already predisposed to making superhero art.
As part of building the initial prototype, which was seen as the gameplay footage in Cryptic's first announcement trailer, I built the initial space environment, setting standards for scale. The first thing I learned is that space is really really really big. The engine could not handle coordinates of the magnitude that we had hoped, and so we used a relative scale system, along with placing each planet or other point of interest in a seperate game layer to be loaded in the same physical location. The planet surfaces where divided into types based on planetary class, and we began building environment sets to be blended together procedurally to create near limitless worlds for the players to explore.
I worked with our character artist to create the character customization system that enhanced and evolved the functionality found in Cryptic's previous games. I began building props for the characters, weapons and equipment for them to carry, employing specular maps, normal maps, and color masks. I began to build a library of visual FX to fill the needs of all prototype abilities, using Cryptic's proprietary FX scripting system that I helpd to design. A year and a half later, the style of the FX, if not some of the actual VFX I created, are still evident in the final product.
While I would have loved to stay to see the project to completion, when I discovered a new opportunity and challenge to explore uncharted territory, I decided to boldy go where I had not gone before.
The culmination of my work as preproduction art lead:
STO prepro images
Examples of the state of the game during the preproduction phase: