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.


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.

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