Late last summer the STO Leads were sitting in a conference room with our licensing representative from CBS. As we discussed upcoming ships we wanted to add to the game, we posed the question - how do we introduce an evolution to the Enterprise?
We asked this because Star Trek Online takes place 40 years past when the “Sovereign” Class “Enterprise” (NCC 1701-E) was introduced in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact. At the time it was considered the most advanced starship design in Starfleet, but now that we’ve moved forward to the year 2409 the threats to Starfleet Captains are numerous.
After the collapse of the Khitomer Accords, the Federation was drawn into war once again with the Klingon Empire. The Romulan Empire is itself facing a civil war and rumors surface that they have been toying with a deadly new technology. As if that wasn’t enough, the Alpha Quadrant Dominion have been rebuilding their forces with help from renegade “True Way” Cardassians in direct violation of the Treaty of Bajor. And then there’s the Borg…
Needless to say, the Alpha Quadrant is a very dangerous place in Star Trek Online and it needs a flagship that can represent Starfleet in a time of war. It needs a new Enterprise.
That discussion is what directly led to the Design the Next Enterprise contest. Cryptic Studios believes in involving our players with the direction of the game and we are regularly listening for feedback and comments as we develop new features and content. CBS had previously had success with the Starship Titan Design Contest, and so it was agreed that we would allow our fans to submit designs as part of a contest to help us design the Next Enterprise.
From the thousands of entries submitted, the field was narrowed down by a critical selection committee to our final 25 finalists. From there, the difficult process of selecting the winning ship began. After several weeks we landed on four finalists, each of which had the qualities to be the next Enterprise. At that point the debate was intense over which ship should claim the honors. It is no easy task to select something so important to the Star Trek mythos. There is a strong history to follow. We were conscious of this fact as we entered the selection process.
There were key elements deemed critical for success. The design needed to show an evolution to existing Starfleet designs and in some way acknowledge that the Enterprise-J was coming in the future. There was a lot of deliberation about how much the next ship should take from the Sovereign (or any previous) class and how much it should evolve towards the “J”. Looking at the Enterprise A through E, every time the ship moved forward there were significant changes to the design, yet even when the ship evolved, there were key characteristics that stayed similar. We felt strongly that the next Enterprise needed to have two nacelles on pylons pointed upward, a rounded saucer forward of the hull, a large central deflector dish, and significant size. Our four finalists had most of these qualities already. It was really about how much to evolve the design into something distinct and different.
We all agreed that our four finalists felt familiar and strongly corresponded to established designs, but Adam Ihle’s design pushed the evolution of the ship in a bold new direction. From the side, the ship looked big and had that familiar silhouette; yet from the front, the dual necks moved the design into a concept that is reminiscent of the Oberth without a central neck. When we compared this ship to our other finalists, the Ihle sketch sparked the most creative discussions. We all wanted to know more about this ship. It conjured debates about why Starfleet had moved in this direction. We felt it had the potential to be an excellent new design. It was our winner.
Now that we had our winner, the first order of business was to create a 3D model that showed the ship at various angles. In our discussion with CBS, it become very clear that we needed something quickly that would act as a point of reference for the comments going back and forth about elements of the ship.
We needed to answer some of our many questions. What did the back look like? How big is the saucer? How exactly do the necks in the winning sketch angle forward and stay streamlined with the hull? Are elements of the ship in proper proportions? All of these questions were difficult to resolve without a model.
The task of creating the clay model fell on our Lead Artist, Jeremy. His goal was to take the original sketch and translate it into a 3D model that matched the two profiles that Adam drew as closely as possible. This would give us a better view for answer all of the questions above and allow us to tweak and tune the various elements into something that stayed true to the original, while allowing us to mold it into something that looked great at all angles.
Below is the final clay model that was used devoid of texturing or any minute details. It does give a general shape to the ship and allow you to see the sketch at various angles.
We would continue to tune and tweak this Clay Model until we were happy with the shape and proportions of the ship. Only then could we hand it off to our concept artist to start answering more questions about details and functionality.
In the next dev diary, Jeremy will be discussing how this Clay Model spawned weeks of iteration over the concept of the ship and how to finalize a concept drawing for the Next Enterprise.