This is the second in a series of articles about the visual look development of Star Trek Online. This article discusses our exploration of starship rendering. The first part, discussing visual look development, can be found here.
How We Went About It
The starships are one of the most recognizable characters in Star Trek. To make sure we faithfully reproduced the look, we began by selecting a segment of footage to reproduce. We chose a sequence from Voyager.
We created an external sample application as a test bed for our ideas. We felt this would keep iteration time down and allow us to try lots of different things. Properly integrating new graphics techniques into an engine including the export pipeline is not trivial. It can also lead to dead code as ideas are tried and abandoned. An external test application is a place to quickly test out ideas with throw-away code.
Once our test application was up and running, we began conducting a series of experiments. Each experiment pitted one technique against another. We could toggle different effects on or off at runtime. We could control the strength of each effect so we could composite them together. In this way we built up a good picture of how the techniques stacked up against one another and how they complemented one another.