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Making starships requires a lot of communication and brainstorming between the various disciplines within design and art. This time a considerable amount of programming was needed as well to bring these ships to life in the form of Pilot Maneuvers. Literally all disciplines got involved in making these ships as cool as possible. You can tell by the quality of the art that a lot of passion went into making these ships. While I love making ships, the idea of making super nimble escorts that are capable of executing special maneuvers got me really excited. The pilot ships are quite special.
In ground combat captains are able to both sprint and roll out of harm's way. We wanted to integrate that same sort of gameplay into space for Pilot Ships’ unique mechanic. That’s how Pilot Maneuvers came into being. As mentioned in previous blogs, Pilot Maneuvers will allow you to rocket forward or backwards quickly or perform a roll to either side by double tapping in a desired direction. These four maneuvers are intended to be both useful (to avoid hazards) and fun to use.
One of the trickier parts of building these ships was coming up with a ship category that existed in all 3 factions that had capability for roughly the same stats. We knew that on the Starfleet side of things these ships should be escorts. Romulans are easy simply because warbirds can be anything. We imagined these being within the realm of the T’Varo as far as stats and maneuverability. Klingons were a little harder to pin down. Some of us gravitated toward having a Bird-of-Prey for the Pilot ship, but this wasn’t a great fit as they aren’t quite analogous to Escorts. Birds-of-Prey really are their own beast. For this reason we decided that the Klingon ship category should really be a Raptor.
Once we hammered down the ship classes, we needed to establish a visual language for these ships and what that meant for each faction. For the Starfleet Pilot Escorts we used the Defiant Class Tactical Escort as inspiration. For the Klingon Raptors we drew inspiration from forward swept wing fighter jets and then integrated that into the existing Klingon ship design language. Romulan Pilot Warbirds drew upon some concept art by John Eaves for the Scimitar. This early concept art was never actually put into production, but when scaled down it made for an awesome light warbird.
Like the Command ships, we wanted to make sure each faction had some minor tweaks to stats to make them unique, but keep the overall capabilities of the ships the same across all three factions. We gave Starfleet Pilot ships an average hull strength, but stronger shields and no cloak. Klingon Pilot Raptors have a higher than average hull strength, but average shields and a cloaking device. Romulan Pilot Warbirds have average hull and shield, but have a Romulan battle cloaking device.
Aside from this we wanted the 3 variants for each faction to have the same bridge officer seating and console configurations and be nearly identical outside of the minor variations outlined above. Lastly, we knew that we wanted these ships to have the same ship category that way they could have the same kind of gear (outside of Warp Cores).
We feel that players would appreciate knowing that each faction is on relative equal footing when it comes to comparing these ships against one another while at the same time delivering ships that have features that are expected by each faction (i.e.: Klingons have Cloak, Romulans have Singularity abilities, etc.)
Flying around sector space or joining queues made one thing very obvious, players enjoy the Command Battlecruisers. We attribute a portion of their success to how unique each variant is and the opportunities for customization that exists if you own 2 or more of them. We learned from this success and decided to carry this forward into the Pilot ships. Not only is each variant interesting, but components from each variant can be swapped out between other variants just like the Command Battlecruisers.
We hope you enjoy flying the new Pilot ships as much as we enjoyed creating them!
Phil “Gorngonzolla” Zeleski
Lead Systems Designer
Star Trek Online