By Jeremy Mattson
It's amazing to think that not too long we were just a handful of guys in a tiny run-down office with not much more than an idea: a super hero MMO called City of Heroes. Fast forward about nine years and Star Trek Online will be the seventh game I've been a part of here at Cryptic and the fourth game that I've helped ship. I have to say that I think Cryptic has really come into its own with STO; it's definitely the pinnacle of our achievements so far.
My name is Jeremy Mattson and I'm a Principal Artist at Cryptic and a member of the character team on STO. Working on Massively Multiplayer games is a little bit of a different experience for a game artist to say the least. We've got a few challenges you might not find in other types of games but our biggest challenge is the sheer amount of content we have to create. In STO we have hundreds of characters that players will see throughout the game. So we have to come up with ways to not only get the job done but also make sure that our artwork is competitive with all of the great looking games out there. One of the ways we do this is by building things modularly.
STO's Alien Gen: Start with a Benzite base, add a Denobulan forehead, Tellarite nose, Ocampa ears, a tattoo, color and some scaling and you've created your very own, never before seen Star Trek alien species.
We started making our characters modularly in the City of Heroes
days. Back then it was my job to develop the costume creator for that game. When we started the project I was making the heroes and Chris Chamberlain (who was the only other character artist on the team) was making the villains. While Chris was taking a more traditional one-off approach with the villains; I was building everything to go into a system. Set up similar to paper dolls: head, hairstyle, shirts, pants shoes etc. players could mix and match and change colors to get the look they wanted for their hero. It was a pretty fun system. About mid-way through the project we were realizing that the costume creator wasn't just fun to play with but it was actually shaping up to be a powerful development tool.
Soon just about every character we made was going through the costume creator. From then on we were making the majority of the characters modularly. So when a designer would say I need 'hero X' we'd look at the request and figure out what new assets we'd need and what existing things we could leverage. Most of the time we'd be able to give them what they needed by just creating a few new parts. The rest was done with scaling the body, adding a unique color scheme and things like that. It saved us a ton of time and that's basically how we do things for all of our games now. Although what we're doing now in many ways is light years beyond what we did then.