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Star Trek Online

Art of Intelligence Ships

By LaughingTrendy | Mon 15 Sep 2014 12:00:00 PM PDT

Designing a unique aesthetic for our all-new Intelligence Ships was a great creative opportunity and an exercise in fusing a bold, new style with more traditional design elements. Our unique and thematic Intelligence powers inspired us to define an aesthetic to visually communicate the specific themes and properties of Intelligence for a new cohesive subset of ships. Embracing this theme, we could design outside some of the normal tenets and considerations we adhere to with our other 2410 faction ship designs.

I’m Brad Stokan, Art Director of Star Trek Online, and in this article I’ll explain how we set out to achieve our goals: creating a unique, new thematic style for our Intelligence ships while adhering to certain fundamental design principles that anchor those ships in the Star Trek universe.


We began our discussion of visual design goals using the information we had for our Intelligence ships. We knew the number of ships we were going to make, their roles, stats, and general abilities. We also had a broad understanding of many of the Intelligence powers. Our first step was to define a new aesthetic language to visually communicate the Intelligence theme. Then, we would apply this aesthetic language to each ship we planned to make, using an existing ship in a similar role to each new Intelligence ship as a template or inspiration.

Our goals were as follows:

  • Visual language – define a unique aesthetic language to visually communicate the theme of Intelligence
  • Cohesion – to apply this uniform visual language to all Intelligence ships regardless of role, size or faction
  • Fusion – to achieve a blending of originality and familiarity; to take a familiar starting point for each ship and apply our Intelligence language to create a merger of something unique and familiar

Visual Language

Our first challenge was to define our unique and cohesive Intelligence visual language. A detailed assessment of the Intelligence theme and powers design gave us a list of very specific properties we wanted to communicate:

  • Stealthy
  • Agile / maneuverable
  • Aggressive
  • Compact
  • Ability to gather intelligence
  • Ability to expose and exploit weakness

With this is mind, we set out to identify specific stylistic choices to communicate these properties. We began with visual reference gathering and brainstorming, using both modern day and futuristic inspiration to search for shapes, materials, colors and more to tell the story of ships that could appear without warning, scan their foes and exploit their weakness with a lightning-fast alpha-strike.

When exploring shapes, we gravitated to a language featured prominently in modern stealth aircraft and fighter design – sharp-edged planes meeting in angular lines and tapering to sharp points or thin blade-like edges. This helped us to find aggressive and dangerous looking shapes evocative of swift, silent edged weapons. We also investigated the lines and shapes of angular, low-profile racing cars – capturing the sense of speed as well as the idea of low-drag, aerodynamic shapes. While our ships wouldn’t be concerned with drag in the vacuum of space, the minimal profile helped to evoke a sense of a ship so sleek and with such a miniscule energy profile it could swiftly and silently ‘slip’ past foes undetected.|

Having begun to nail the shapes we were looking for, we turned our attention to materials. We selected dark colors to denote invisibility and stealth and build a sense of danger or menace - evoking a silent warrior cloaked against the stillness of space. Yet, we also needed to preserve visibility. To this end, we explored unique patterns and areas with high-gloss finish to accent parts of the hull. Also, we utilized thin strips of glowing spill-light to call out the shapes against dark materials; this was especially useful given the relative absence of windows, which were intentionally minimized to underscore the ships’ heavier focus on stealth and combat.

Our final goal was to develop a visual way to denote the ships’ ability to actively gather Intelligence on an enemy’s weakness. First, we proposed and developed unique ‘sensor’ arrays embedded in the hull. To avoid breaking up the sleek hull surface, we embedded these behind translucent panels.

However, we still wanted something more dynamic, so the idea of an active launched Intel-gathering probe or drone emerged from another brainstorming discussion. This would take the form of a click power, deploying a drone which flies to its target, scanning for weakness and sending this Intelligence back to the ship for exploit via unique attacks.

In summary, these were the stylistic elements we chose to communicate each Intelligence property:

  • Stealthy – hard edges and angled shapes reminiscent of stealth fighters; dark and uniquely patterned material treatments
  • Agile / maneuverable – swept back and tapering lines; slim silhouettes
  • Aggressive – hard-edged, blade-like shapes; few visible windows; visible weapons
  • Compact – stripped-down look; negative space; lack of bulky ‘extras’
  • Ability to gather intelligence – visible sensor suites
  • Ability to expose and exploit weakness - visible and active sensor pod / probe

Balance – Applying Language to Familiar Templates

Having decided on our Intelligence visual language, we selected for each new ship a familiar touchstone or template to which we would to apply that language.

We would design three Federation ships and one ship each for Klingon and Romulan factions. With their roles and stats in mind, we used a familiar ship or class to serve as a template or starting point for the new designs:

  • Federation Escort – Inspiration: Defiant, Tempest
  • Federation Cruiser – Inspiration: Sovereign, Prometheus
  • Federation Science – Inspiration: Luna, Horizon
  • Klingon Battlecruiser – Inspiration: Negh'Var, Vor’cha, Vor'Kang
  • Romulan Warbird – Inspiration: Dhelan, Dhael, T'Varo

In each case, we used certain fundamental elements of the inspiration ships, while applying our Intelligence language for a unique twist. For example, we applied the Intelligence language of negative space and compact design to the Science Vessel’s hull and saucer to make it feel more maneuverable and agile. To the Klingon Battlecruiser, we applied thin, blade-like shapes to the head and nacelles for a more aggressive look, and long, tapering, angled shapes to evoke more agility and maneuverability.


In the end we achieved our goal of blending a visually evocative new Intelligence aesthetic with elements of more traditional designs.

Yet, we also wanted players to be able to further customize these ships to fit their own preferences. To that end we have been creating numerous configuration options for each ship as well as enabling traditional faction materials.

In the end, players will have the option to fully embrace our new Intelligence aesthetic, complete with its aggressive and stealthy style, or tweak components and materials for a more traditional look.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the art of our new Intelligence ships and hope to see you in-game this October for Delta Rising!

Brad Stokan
Art Director
Star Trek Online

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Click here to learn more about Delta Rising, our free-to-play expansion for Star Trek Online. Explore the Delta Quadrant & rediscover the allies & the enemies the Voyager crew made during their exodus from distant space back to Earth & the Federation. Prepare yourself & your crew with an Delta Operations Pack now available for purchase! Click on the logo below to learn more about it.

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