Let’s face it, a Valkyrie pilot without a ship is like a plumber without a wrench… useless. Thankfully, we have people like Chung Wong, member of CCP's Newcastle development team and designer extraordinaire of space craft. For the latest in our series of developer focused interviews, we caught up with Chung to find out how one might become a spaceship designer in the first place and the process involved in getting our beloved Valkyrie ‘kites’ from the drawing board out into the void.
Let’s start with you, Chung. Admittedly we haven’t done the research but we’re pretty sure spaceship design isn’t on the average national school curriculum. What inspired you to follow the path to what you do now?
I’ve always been hopelessly addicted to videogames. At a young age, it was all about playing the latest games I could get my hands on. When the PlayStation launched, games got more mature and started to really hit the mainstream. Games like Resident Evil looked great at the time. I thought to myself "I’d love to have a career in this sort of thing." I had no idea what that involved back then, but the seeds were sown.
Did you always want to work in 3D design or are you from an illustrative/fine art background? What’s been your journey?
I always wanted to work in a creative environment. At college, I studied Illustration. I remember being surrounded by like-minded individuals. I realised that this was a realistic opportunity to really apply myself. After two years of traditional training, I decided that 3D was the route for me and went to University to study Digital Media. When that ended, it was all about portfolio building in between part time jobs. Forums such as Polycount and Gameartisans helped hugely as there is a great community that is always willing to lend a hand.
Where do you begin when designing a Valkyrie ship? Sketch? EVE blueprint? Just a flash of inspiration?
Like with most things, the ship designs start with the game designers. They design what the ship’s attributes are, talk about ideas and pass them over to the concept artist. The concept artist will then create block outs and drawings. There is always a back-and-forth element to this process to ensure the designs make sense. Once this stage is over, we (the 3D artists) turn concepts into 3D assets, which are then implemented into the game.
After the initial idea, what’s the next step in getting the design from paper into a workable form for the game designers? What are the tools you use in these initial stages?
When 3D artists get the concepts, this is where our main work begins. We start by blocking in the main forms with 3ds Max being our main program and that is where the bulk of the work is done. The asset (or ship in this case) is usually built to its most basic form, that’s minus all the small details. I tend to add the fine details in Zbrush (a super-fun 3D sculpting package), Substance or DDo. It all depends on the asset and the amount of time I have to spend. Afterwards, the asset gets unwrapped so textures can be created and applied. Textures are created in tools such as Photoshop, Substance and DDo. There are lots of processes in creating a final game asset.
Do function and capabilities of a ship inform the way it looks? Do you have to consider weapon placement, the bulk of the ship and its form?
Functionality is certainly something that is placed under consideration. I find designs that have purpose tend to create the better-looking ships. Take the Spectre (heavy class) for example. We wanted a ship that looked and felt heavily fortified. So we really focused on the armour design, we researched tanks and other similar vehicles and looked to incorporate elements into our own designs. The weapon assets had to be balanced to suit the ships, as well as follow the weapon designs. The Flak cannon (on Spectre) was head tracked. This meant that the weapon had to be mounted somewhere on the ship that gave the weapon enough leeway to aim at targets, but also make sense aesthetically. Of course, this process involves a lot of testing and can involve further design tweaks.
Finally, we’re sure you can’t reveal too much about what you’re working on next, but what are you looking forward to in 2017 in terms of design challenges?
Unfortunately, I cannot delve too deeply into what we are working on at the moment. We are constantly working on updates and content and have some exciting updates in the not too distant future.
So, watch this space. Many thanks, Chung! Your insights will, doubtless, inspire many other young designers to follow in your footsteps.
If you want to find out more about the fascinating processes involved in making a complex game like EVE: Valkyrie a reality, you should tuck into some of our other Dev Focus articles. A great place to start is our chat with Valkyrie concept artist Luc Fontenoy.
Fly safe out there pilots, and remember to enjoy all the sights and sounds of New Eden, a lot of work went into it.