When designing a ship class what comes into mind? What inspires each design?
First thing that comes into mind is scale. This is depicted mainly through the size of the cockpit and size of the engine glow on the back of the ship. Next, we try to determine a silhouette (with the art style of that Nation) that reflects the class. A shuttle/scout may be thin and agile in appearance as opposed to a heavy fighter, which may appear more bulky and armored. Transports are all designed with an on board cargo haul in mind while haulers all have the distinct "TRI" containers attached.
Once we have a basis for silhouette we add the style of the Nation to the design. Some Nations have more organic designs while others have an angular aggression about them.
What challenges come into mind when designing ships?
The main challenges are simply "does this ship look cool?" "Would you put in "X" amount of effort to buy it?" "Is it cooler than your last ship?" After that we have to determine if the ship looks the way it fly's and vice versa. This is important. If someone gets an awesome looking new light fighter and it flies like a hauler then its game over. Likewise, if you obtain a ship that looks terrible and it fly's amazing, what fun is that?
How do you design the ships for each different Nation? What inspires the different forms?
When we first started designing the Nation ships and their art style we looked to the fiction of each Nation for inspiration. The Solrain have this highly industrialized, efficient commercial history that inspired us to design sleek, organic curves - they kind of combine naval vessels with futuristic concept car designs.
The Octavian Nation is very militaristic and has a lot of Roman influence. For them we decided to make the ships appear to have smooth outer armor over an angular, heavily armored inner hull. Almost like a "battered soldier in polished bronze battle armor" idea.
The Quantar ships were our hardest to nail down. The Quantar fiction describes them as very heavily immersed in theology and the universe. They're a mining Nation that has long ago left behind their home planet and decided to never return to a terrestrial lifestyle. We thought that maybe they should have an art style that was wildly different from the other two Nations. That's how we landed on a more vertical ship styling. At first the ships were very angular and mechanical and this made them seem kind of crappy and not as tuff as the other Nations. Finally we decided to add in Mother Nature and we looked at referencing fish. Angel fish, lion fish any fish that had a vertical design helped. In the end we smoothed out the hulls and added some "spines" which gave us a look that we liked very much for Quantar. How long does it take to design a ship? What's the process?
Right now, designing and implementing a ship (not including cap-ships) takes about five days. We start with thumbnails and refine those into a finished concept which takes between one or two days. Then we model the low poly followed by the high poly for the normal map which takes approximately two days. Finally we finish up with the texture and export of the mesh to be used by the games engine which adds the final one day.