Thursday, January 24, 2008

Starship Visual Design in a Star Trek MMORPG 2

Originally Posted by Captain Crowl:
Dang Flatfingers...This is the first time I've had to do a "WTF" where you're concerned. We're usually on the same page with most things, but I just can't believe you don't like all of those ships that I mentioned above. I also know you're not a fan of the Galaxy if we had it your way there would be what... only 3 classes of starships in Star Trek? (Constitution, Ambassador, and Sovereign) I'm sorry man, that's a pretty limited view IMHO.
I agree that that would be a severely circumscribed view of what seems "right." Fortunately, it's not my view of things at all.

Firstly, I did once mention that I find the Galaxy-class design boring and a bit unrealistic, but I don't hate the Galaxy design in either its form or its function. Like the Intrepid I find the warp nacelles of the Galaxy a little too stubby, but that's mostly a personal aesthetic reaction. And I'm certainly not opposed to the Galaxy having hundreds of science labs and quarters for non-Starfleet personnel (including children) -- I find that a refreshing change from the whole "warship" mentality. So give me a little credit for being open to a range of designs, please!

Secondly, where do you figure I only like about three classes? There's what I see as an idealized "Starfleet" aesthetic which I like my ships to approach, yes, but that doesn't mean they all have to look exactly alike with zero room for variation or flair.

In rough order (I mean very rough order; don't treat this as Gospel According to Flatfingers) of the most visually attractive designs that also showcase the idealized "Starfleet" look, I might rank the various classes thusly:

  • Intrepid
  • Nova
  • Constitution-A refit
  • Pandora (by kaden)
  • Legacy (by Galen/kaden)
  • Prometheus
  • Sovereign
  • Ambassador
  • Constitution
  • Yeager-type
  • Galaxy
  • Miranda
  • Nebula
  • Constellation
  • Saber
  • Elkins-type
  • Olympic
  • ------------------------
  • Defiant
  • Excelsior
  • Cheyenne
  • Centaur
  • Oberth
  • Akira
  • Norway
  • Steamrunner
  • Curry-type
(The ship designs I like or can tolerate are above the line. The ones below the line... not so much.)

This is obviously a highly subjective ranking. For 100-meter+ ships, "Starfleet" to me means saucer+nacelles-on-pylons (and the "50% visible" rule factors in here as well), while reaching the more difficult "attractive Starfleet" level requires a certain amount of streamlined elegance. (One of those "I know it when I see it" kinds of things.)

So a ship design can be more or less streamlined (like the Defiant), but still not rate too highly with me visually if (like the Defiant) it doesn't even make an attempt to fit into the defining motif of saucer+nacelles-on-pylons, which is how Starfleet ships are distinguished from Warbirds and K'Tingas.

Originally Posted by keptin:
Do we even know WHY they were shaped like that in the first place? Seems like it all stemmed from a 1960s "alien saucer" shape...great for entertainment, but terrible for all practical reasons (usable volume per materials) and filled with unnecessary stress points at the nacelle arms and 'neck' between the two hulls.
Granted, and the whole impossible-stress-points thing bugs me too (which is why I can't stand the Norway)... but the original Constitution is the spiritual template for all subsequent Starfleet capital ship designs whether we like it or not.

I don't mind busting out of that template for sheer aesthetic value; I can appreciate a pretty ship regardless of its fidelity to some design standard. But when fidelity to a visual design matters -- such as creating a ship that instantly tells us it's a Starfleet ship, whether in a TV show, a movie, or a computer game -- then pure beauty is not enough. It cannot break too far out of the visual mold; if it does, it will have failed to do its necessary job of helping to tell the story through characterization. (Big, complex ships are often treated as characters themselves; this was as true of Firefly as of Voyager.)

The case of the USS Dauntless is a great example. This was a ship that, because of the needs of the story, had to appear to be a modern Starfleet design. So while it took some liberties with the core concept (particularly with regard to the size of the "saucer" section and how the nacelles connected to the primary hull), audiences accepted the Dauntless as a Starfleet ship -- even though they'd never seen it before -- because it met their expectations of what a Starfleet ship ought to look like.

That, I think, demonstrates pretty effectively that good designers can be creative within the constraints; that it's possible to come up with interesting new looks without having to discard everything that says "this is a Starfleet ship."

Originally Posted by keptin:
Having a number of unique ship designs, many created for a specific purpose (ie exploration, assult, etc.) will make the game more interesting.....creating a game locked in cannon might be great fun for many of us, but tedious and tiresome for those who just want a fun space MMO.
I guess I have more faith in the creativity of my fellow fans (not to mention Professional Game Designers) to come up with new ship looks that are innovative while still being immediately recognizable as Starfleet designs.

Take a look at some of the great designs by fans. For example, check out the Pandora- and Legacy-class ship designs I mentioned above -- both of these break new ground within the established Starfleet design concept without ignoring it.

It can be done, and done well.

No comments:

Post a Comment