September 17th 2012
For the second in our series on the developers who helped create Chris Roberts’ worlds we are remembering Paul Steed, a world-renowned artist and 3D innovator who sadly passed away earlier this year.
Paul Steed was 27 years old before he even used a computer… but once he did, the techniques he would pioneer would change gaming forever. In 1991, after serving six years in the United States Air Force, Paul answered an Origin Systems advertisement looking for artists. Already a gifted sketch artist, he joined Chris Roberts’ team doing 2D work for Strike Commander. Feeling that 3D polygons like those used in the Falcon series and others weren’t adequate to the level of detail he wanted, Roberts had initially decided to use pre-rendered sprites like those in Wing Commander I and II for the game’s aircraft. The ground and less detailed objects like buildings would be done in actual 3D. Paul was assigned to test the software for the 3D portion… and within days was using the software intended for the low resolution background models to craft detailed fighters, tanks and ships.
The result was so impressive that on his work alone 2D sprites were thrown out entirely and the game—and most games that would follow to this day!—went fully 3D. Paul had invented low-poly texturing. He went on to build every single object in Strike Commander and then to train Origin’s artists on the system themselves. As such he was responsible not only for Strike Commander’s stunning graphics, but the 3D art seen in Wing Commander Armada, Heart of the Tiger, The Price of Freedom, Pacific Strike, Wings of Glory, Bioforge and others.
After leaving Origin, Paul joined id software where his name and art style became synonymous with the massively succesful Quake series. In the 21st century, Paul published three books on the now-industry-dominant 3D modeling techniques he helped create. He served as Creative Director at Atari and then went on to help found Exigent, a game art clearing house company that assisted projects on contract. Paul died unexpectedly in August, 2012, leaving behind a body of work and an impact on game design for which he will be long remembered.