The starfighters in Sector 13 look a lot like real-world jet fighters. This is completely intentional and part of a carefully designed “look and feel” for the game. It does seem to come up fairly frequently when discussing the game’s design, especially the art, that wings aren’t needed in space. Well, I love the chance to explain the decisions behind the game’s art design and the history of the game, so please allow me to indulge a little bit of story time:
Sector 13 has been around as a concept for a very long time. Going back 10+ years ago, the starfighters in the game looked very different than they do now. The overall “feel” for each faction, including iconography, colors, and even the naming conventions have remained from the very first iteration of the game. However, the design of the starfighters and ships in the game have evolved as those early days showed us a lot about what people say they think is cool, and what people actually like and enjoy playing.
The early versions of Sector 13 featured fighter designs that I was very proud of for how “clever” and “unique” they were, while still conforming to the very strict low-poly constraints we were under. I received a lot of praise for the designs, and on how well they complemented the “look and feel” philosophy for the factions they represented. However, when it came time to play the game, we noticed a constant trend: two factions in the game featured fighter designs that were very relate-able, based on real-world fighter jets with wings and familiar silhouettes. These two factions were what players chose to fly when testing the game almost every time. The factions featuring “clever” designs were very rarely picked.
Over the course of the years as we demo’d various builds of Sector 13 at shows and events, we learned more and more about how our minds are drawn to design that is relate-able, familiar, and easily understood. It held true for every part of the game, from our fighter designs to our arena designs – the arenas that were instantly recognizable without the need to analyze what the environment was meant to be, these seemed to be the ones that players chose to play in the majority of the time.
So, the “clever” designs were cool and all, but in the end, fun is what matters and the fun seemed to be in the starfighters that “felt” right to the players. I saw this as my chance to create designs that would show off my favorite inspirations from my own life: shows I loved as a kid like Macross/Robotech, Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato and Battlestar Galactica. These shows featured designs grounded in “real world” fighter jets that were relateable while also inspiring the imagination.
As an artist, I still love and admire the “clever”, unique and ground-breaking vehicle designs that I see when browsing my favorite sites on art and design. What is paramount to me though, as art director on a game like Sector 13, is the concept of visual story-telling. The ability for the art to explain itself – its purpose, function, abilities – without the need for any additional analysis on the part of the player.
I also wear my influences on my sleeve and take it as a great compliment when people notice that the “look and feel” for Sector 13 was inspired by my love of Japanese-imported 80s cartoons, TV shows and movies. Those scenes from Macross as the pilots grab the controls in the cockpit and launch down the runway of the SDF-1; the pilots in Battlestar Galactica being flung back into their seats while blasting out of the launch tubes and into battle; these felt real, exciting, and inspiring because they were based on real experiences that our minds could quickly relate to without the need for exposition around the “why” of how these things worked. That to me has always been visual story-telling at its finest – something I hope to emulate in Sector 13 in all aspects of the game.
Oh, and Sector 13 will feature some in-atmosphere arenas as well to bring the practical side of wings on starfighters into play. In fact, the entire design of the ACMCs (Atmosphere-Capable Micro-Carriers) is based on the need for atmosphere-capable ship design even with space flight-capable vehicles… but really, let’s be honest here, it’s because it looks cool and feels right.