Denis Loubet provied us a lot of awesome Kilrathi portraits, too. (I just would like to tell you how happy I was when I got his "like" on my fanart!)
I was going to mention Denis Loubet too as an example of artists having an impact beyond their field: he created the radar system used in all the games, and then copied by other series such as Freespace. It's still the best design I've seen, especially for a 2D game; the only other good ones are either 3D versions or small refinements.
I think this is where press interviews and reality divide a little... I don't think there's any genuine desire to make the story more clear-cut... it's more that he didn't like the 'cute' aspect that he felt snuck into the games when they weren't on his watch... big friendly cat people, aliens based on different human animals and so on (he very clearly feels the same way about the anime/Robotech inspiration for the visuals in the earlier games).
I've realized over time that the way Chris Roberts feels about Wing Commander is different from the way I feel about it. I think the ship designs in the first and second games are magnificent, the best in the series, and I would want the inspiration for a new game to come from that. The biggest thing that's frustrated me about Star Citizen is not the development or the pace of progress, but actually the art style ― it moved away from the subdued but colorful aesthetic of the initial prototypes to a more realistic but also more hodgepodge look that I can only describe as not having "color balance". I also think that the cartoon look of the early games is overblown, it's more distinct if you look at the game assets in isolation. It isn't something that I felt when actually playing the game, and I was actually surprised at how subdued everything looked. It felt a lot more like the RealSpace games than I expected.
As far as the aliens go, I can get where he comes from, even if the Firekkans only appeared in two scenes (and anyway, to bring up Star Citizen again, aren't there giant bird people in that?) But I don't think the solution is the way the movie or Star Citizen did it, to try to strip the "animalness" away, because then you still have a giant man-like creature, only now it doesn't have any kind of personality. Maybe try to keep the cat look, but take away the "man" part, try to break up the figure to something that would be adapted to the conditions of a different planet. Stockier and more hunched-over maybe? Above all I would want to keep the hair, because even if it's based on human perceptions and thus not "realistic" it's an important hook to the tribal aesthetic the Kilrathi have developed (although I think everyone agrees Wing Commander is not a realistic series).
But still, even if my favorite look of the main games are the first ones, I like the more brutalist look in III and IV (and the bright blue skybox in III, how is not cartoony?), the more angular look in Prophecy is interesting and the ships developed for Secret Ops are gorgeous. I always liked the movie designs even if they could have used more color. This is a series that has always reinvented its style every few years and I think that it's ended up stronger for it, because it doesn't fall into the trap some series do of having everything look the same at all periods all the time but also because it was able to bring in new people to redesign it. It reminds of me of what Johnson and Loubet did creating things that impacted the game far beyond their position, and also from that infamous quote of Warren Spector, the one where he says that games aren't created by one person ("says the creator of Deus Ex and System Shock"). I think having this mix of different designs and looks is a big strength of this series, and I wish that there were a way to capitalize on that.