Goodbye, Paul Steed

There is truly terrible news to report today: world renowned game artist Paul Steed has died.

Paul was best known for his work on the Quake franchise, but he got his start in the industry as a concept artist at Origin. One of his first assignments was doing gameflow storyboards for Trade Commander, later Privateer. His impressive ability to draw beautiful women, which would later be one of his well-known trademarks, was already apparent in some of those sketches.

He quickly developed a preternatural talent for low-poly modeling, a burgeoning skill suddenly in demand in the early 1990s as gaming made the transition to 3D environments before home computers had the horsepower to render truly complex objects. Paul was the best in the industry, using his genuine artistic talent to manipulate simple shapes and low resolution textures into believable--and beautiful!--fighter planes, spaceships and skyscrapers.

His credits at Origin read like a list of games you should play: Privateer, Strike Commander, Tactical Operations, Wing Commander Armada, Wing Commander III, Wings of Glory, Bioforge and Wing Commander IV. Faced with the prospect of losing him to another company, Origin offered him a chance to pitch his own project. The result was a never-realized racing game concept called Cyclone Alley.

Paul went on to create many other famous worlds for Id Software and a host of other developers. He wrote books on 3D modeling and served as Creative Director for Microsoft, where he helped launch the Xbox 360, and Atari. He founded and worked for Exigent, a 3D art outsourcing company, for five years. In recent years he had returned to game development in Austin. Paul was also a veteran, serving six years in the United States Air Force before becoming a game artist.

I corresponded with Paul on occasion and can say that he was a genuinely good person and always willing to spare time to answer questions about the early days at Origin. The industry has lost a truly great developer and the world has lost an incredibly talented artist. Paul was an essential part of Origin during its greatest days and we fans are forever in his debt that he shared his talent to help build our universe.

Chris Roberts provided the following memories, which best sums up how truly important Paul's contributions at Origin were:

Here's a story from the beginning of Paul's career that illustrates the impact he made in the video games industry. We hired Paul at Origin just out of the Air Force to work on Strike Commander. We didn't have the budget to hire a "proper" artist but we liked Paul's attitude and saw talent when he came in for an interview so we invented an art design assistant position for him.

Strike Commander was my follow up to Wing Commander and we were pushing the boundaries of what you could do on PCs. We had gouraud shading and real 3D texture mapping before anyone else had tried it in games. Originally we didn't think we could make the planes look cool enough in real 3D so we were going to use sprites rendered out from 3DS Studio, which is how Wing Commander 1 & 2 were done. We had built a utility so we could model and texture low poly buildings and objects for the ground terrain (this was long before such niceties as API and SDKs in things like 3DS Max and Maya to be able to import meshes into your engine).

We gave it to Paul to build objects as an early test. He came into my office a few days later and said "I want to show you something" and then proceeded to show a beautifully built 3D fighter inside our engine. Because of Paul's work and talent we decided to junk the Wing Commander sprite rendering and everything went 3D, including the cockpits - many years before anyone else had done any of that in a game. That's a testimony to Paul's talent and vision in our industry.

I'll miss you greatly.

Pete Shelus:

I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with Paul Steed and the privilege to call him a friend. Some of my best memories of Paul are working with him on designs and ideas for Privateer 2, before our version of that project was cancelled at Origin. Like many great artists, Paul lived his life hard, created amazing works of art, and left us too soon. I will miss him.

STEED!

Pete Shelus
Lead Programmer - Wing Commander: Prophecy

If you would like to share your thoughts or memories about Paul with the community, please contact us.


Wing Commander CIC - Visit the front page

Official news, fan projects and topics of particular interest to Wing Commander fans.

The Proof is in the Printing
2017-04-29 -- The Wing Commander Combat Information Center would like to officially congratulate Michael Winterbauer on the success of his Classic Game Covers Kickstarter! As reported, the printed book will include his Wing Commander SNES cover painting and some background on the process through which it was created. Roughly 20% of the pledges went to levels that offered Wing Commander-specific extras, so we can be proud of helping as a community!

Those Were the Days
2017-04-28 -- FredDude32 happened across an interview with Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts in the July 1995 issue of Computer Gaming World! In an overall review of space games, they sat down with Chris to talk about the future of Wing Commander... back when things seemed so bright for the series!

New Screenshot Found
2017-04-27 -- A new screenshot from the long-lost SNES port of Wing Commander 2 has been discovered! Like previous discoveries, this screenshot appeared in 1995 gaming magazine... but it is not attached to a review of the game.

Hunting for The Awakening
2017-04-26 -- Earlier this year, we reported that the band Die Krupps has re-released the song they composed for the Wing Commander Prophecy OST, updated for a more recent album. This song, The Vampire Strikes Back, is one of three on the album that were 'inspired by' Wing Commander. What about the other two?

Visual Reference: Wing Commander I Rooms
2017-04-25 -- Following our gallery of Wing Commander II backgrounds, here is a smaller selection of backgrounds from the original game. There weren't as many places to go on the Tiger's Claw, but it's interesting to note they didn't 'double up' on similar places--the Hangar Deck and the debriefing area have separate backgrounds.

Goofballs Battle for the Enigma Sector
2017-04-24 -- Last year, I was lucky enough to take part in a 25th Anniversary livestream of Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi. Unfortunately, if you missed the live showing it has not been available... until now!

Wing Commander Makes History
2017-04-23 -- It's time for some serious history! The Digital Antiquarian has put together an excellent article titled From Squadron to Wingleader which follows the first half of the development of the original Wing Commander! It's a story hardcore fans are likely familiar with (much is sourced from Mike Harrison's Wing Commander I & II Ultimate Strategy Guide), but it has never been presented in so-compelling a form.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It!
2017-04-22 -- Happy Earth Day, everyone! There are certainly important issues facing the world today… but let’s take a moment to jump forward and see what disastrous await our home planet in the Wing Commander timeline! Soon Earth itself will be in our grasp...

Visual Reference: Special Operations 1 & 2 Rooms
2017-04-21 -- Earlier in the week, we collected all of the 'uncut' Wing Commander II 'sets.' Today we're following up that selection with the new rooms created for the Special Operations addon disks. A key consideration in that era of development was disk space; the mission disks could budget only a small amount of space to add new art content.

Got Any Brilliance?
2017-04-20 -- In honor of April 20th, here's a quick rundown on some of the recreational drugs of the Wing Commander universe! Blaze up some Arakh Leaves or swallow an Elysium capsule and let's get started...BrillianceBrilliance is probably the Wing Commander universe's signature drugs.

Visual Reference: Wing Commander II Rooms
2017-04-19 -- Wing Commander has, from the start, been called an interactive movie... and the team building the games embraced that in many aspects of the production process. For example, all of the 'talking head' scenes in Wing Commander, Wing Commander II and Privateer were constructed just like film shots, with different camera angles and purpose-built 3D environments (or sets!

Wing One Goes Mainstream
2017-04-18 -- Did you miss out on The Fatman's Wing Commander soundtrack, Wing One? Good news: it's now available via mainstream digital music storefronts including Amazon and iTunes. The 27-track album includes all of the music from the original Wing Commander recorded using a Roland MT-32 (plus a few surprises, including a lullaby version of one track and a live recording of the theme from CES!

Model Upgrade Pack Upgraded
2017-04-17 -- Good news for pilots who want to make their games especially pretty: DefianceIndustries has launched version 0.21 of his Wing Commander Prophecy Model Upgrade Pack. This is an unofficial update to the game that replaces the original 3D models with much higher quality, modern versions...

Wingmen Back from the Dead!
2017-04-16 -- Happy Easter, WingNuts! In honor of the holiday, we present a list of Wing Commander characters who (intentionally or--often--otherwise) came back from the dead! (Presented in the spirit of good humor rather than sacrilege.

Happy CIC Easter!
2017-04-16 -- Hope you all had an eggscellent Easter out there!

Japanese Translators Needed: Mega CD Manual
2017-04-15 -- Remember Lyle Starbuck? That's the name used for the player character in the Mega CD port of Wing Commander I's manual! It's one of at least three original Japanese-language Wing Commander publications that we'd love to explore further.

Pillow Talk
2017-04-14 -- One of my core philosophies is that you can always find a little bit of Wing Commander in the least expected places... and so I was not at all surprised when I happened across Raumstation Vokhila, a German-language blog that puts the author's DIY projects on display. It features what can only be described as a pretty cool pillow!

Classic Game Cover Arts Funding Imminent
2017-04-13 -- Mike Winterbauer's Classic Game Covers book Kickstarter has reached its funding goal and is rocketing (auto-piloting?) towards the finish line! The campaign ends in just four days...

Homeworld Mod Has Claws
2017-04-12 -- The Homeworld Remastered mod marches forward! L.I.

Dralthi Fun!
2017-04-11 -- Remember the TrainSim (aka Squadron)? The 'arcade game' in the Tiger's Claw was both your first step into the original Wing Commander and a fun way to learn to fight the Kilrathi. Under the hood, the game treats the TrainSim as its own series of four missions (in fact, this is likely why there are four 'slots' in each series for potential missions in the first two games.

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