From Concept to Cosmetic: Ship's Crests
We’re once again rummaging behind the scenes, causing chaos and hunting for the best nuggets of content. After our recent deep dive into the sinister Ravenwood set, we thought this time we’d broaden our horizons by investigating the keystone of any Captained ship: the Ship’s Crest! These little bits of furniture have been adorning purchased ships since the release of Season Seven, allowing Captains to frame their vessel’s chosen name in pride of place.
More recently, Season Nine brought the first new Ship’s Crest design to the Sea of Thieves since their inception. So for this From Concept to Cosmetic article, we decided to commemorate the occasion by diving into the thought process behind Ship’s Crests and how that ultimately coalesced into the shiny new Lodestar variant. So, without any further ado, let’s ask some people in the know how Ship’s Crests came to Sea of Thieves…
From the Sailor Ship’s Crest freely available to all, right up to the recently released Lodestar Ship’s Crest, all Captained ships come with a Crest. A range of unique designs allows players to personalise theirs and ensure that the vessel’s name will be remembered.
The idea of using Ship’s Crests to display ship names had been in the works for a long time, but when it came to readying them for launch, one of the first questions that needed to be answered was where to have them displayed on each ship. As Principal Environment Artist Andy Betts explains, the decision required some thought:
“I did a bit of initial R&D to see where the Crests would sit best on the three ship types. The Galleon was fairly straightforward, but the Brigantine was less so, and eventually we settled on the front-facing Crest placed on the wheel balustrade area. This was after initially testing it on the masts, but it obstructed the player view somewhat."
“Similarly with the Sloop and the rear-facing crest, there was a little bit of testing to find a good spot, what with the open canopy nature of the Sloop, and not wanting to place the Crest where the Rowboat would dock. We eventually settled on placing it just under the canopy, at the top so it could be easily seen, but there was still enough room for the player to exit the ship.”
With the location decided, attention turned to designing the very first Crest, available to all players who bought a Captained ship: the Sailor Ship’s Crest. As Senior Concept Artist Tom Mahon describes:
“It was important to keep the default Ship’s Crest quite neutral, and to feel cohesive with the default ship set, so there are few distinguishing features or motifs. The Crest was designed with enough width in mind for longer ship names, and we used this as a rough template for future designs.”
This Crest’s minimal design didn’t necessarily mean it was simple to implement, however. Senior Environment Artist Sophie Ingledew elaborates:
“Funnily enough, the original Sailor Ship’s Crest model was one of the trickiest to set up for Captaincy. Environment Artist Tim Burroughs had the delicate task of reworking the curved nameplate area to allow the text to run along the model smoothly, which is a particular challenge when the model has already been textured and has been on players’ Galleons since launch.
"This task involved tweaking the UVs, a process in which a 2D texture is mapped to the surface of a 3D model, somewhat similar to pattern-making in sewing. The name comes from the two axes in the 2D texture, U and V, used as coordinates to assign pixels to a position on the 3D model.”
Once the base Crest had been decided, the team had 33 more they wanted to bundle in with the launch of Season Seven: five in the Pirate Emporium, and 28 waiting to be unlocked by Captains progressing through the various Ship Alignment tracks. While the quantity meant that a lot of designs had to be put together, the Concept Art team weren’t fazed, as Tom explains:
“One of the most enjoyable assets to design are the Crests, because of the amount of flexibility we have. Capstans and wheels, for example, have a very specific purpose and mechanic, so we can't stray too far from their original form or else we break their function. Crests, on the other hand, are essentially just nameplates, so we can go a bit wilder with incorporating the different sets’ motifs and using interesting silhouettes. The space we're allowed to play with is a lot more generous than most assets.”
Even the more uniform Crests available through Ship Alignment progression offered their own unique challenges and twists:
“For the Captaincy Milestone Crests we used a similar base template for all of them, close to the original Crest. Introducing a placard attached to the top made sure we could incorporate different symbols for the different Milestones. We also added some model and design variation based on each Alignment you can pursue, as we wanted to give players a nice visual difference that reflects their style of play.
“My favourite out of the Milestone Crests is The Rogue and how the banjos are incorporated, a treat for the shanty lovers out there!”
With the release of Season Nine, the first new Crest design was added to the pool via the Pirate Emporium: the astral Lodestar Ship’s Crest. With a regal purple-and-gold design, it’s the latest addition to the fan-favourite Lodestar set. Tom explains the challenges involved in incorporating pre-existing design motifs:
“With Captaincy we wanted to return to some of the popular ship sets and give them their own Crests. Whenever we make a new asset for an existing set, we try to incorporate the colours and motifs of the original set as much as possible. In this case we felt the crescent moons and stars were important to include, as well as the beautiful starfield shader!
“We always want to explore a range of ideas, so we did include an option where the ship’s name was on wood like a more traditional Crest, but the starfield was just too cool to not use. This is one of the only ship sets that uses floating elements, so we had a lot of fun incorporating those floating moons into the design. Overall, I love how it came out and it’s very satisfying to see it on players’ ships.”
As the designs for Crests started to take shape, the modelling team turned its attention to the challenge of bringing them to life in the game…
With 34 Ship’s Crests to build ahead of the release of Season Seven, the team had a lot of designs to work through. While Crests in the same set share similar designs, the more unique ones required their own finishing touches and flourishes, as Sophie recalls:
“The Crests unlockable through Captaincy such as the Emissary Crests or Gold Seeker Crests were relatively straightforward to bring into 3D, as they are all based on the original Sailor Ship’s Crest with a bit of variation thrown in.
“The Big Game Hunter Crest was quite a tricky one due to the wooden board where the ship’s name is being a unique shape from the rest of our Crests. It took a bit of trial and error to fit the name onto the plank in the middle. The Kraken bones protrude a fair bit too, and went through some iteration to ensure they didn’t get in the way too much as you were walking around the ship.
“One of our biggest priorities outside of making the Crest look great is to ensure that its presence doesn’t interfere with gameplay. On all three ships we try to minimise how much of the Crest you can see from the helm of the ship. Another aspect we’ve had to be mindful of across the team are elements that go above or below the nameplate, to avoid clipping with the deck of the Brig and the canopy on the Sloop.”
On a technical level, a lot of work went into ensuring that the Crests were always able to blend into the ship as a whole, as Lead Technical Artist Andrew Catling discusses:
“For the Tech Art team, the main challenge was ensuring that Crests with painted areas are able to pick up changes to paint colours from the rest of the ship livery. That meant incorporating all the livery functionality from the ship hull shader into the material for the Crest.
“Here’s a little more technical info on how we handle the Crests: to allow the ship name to follow the curve of the Crest, we map the UVs so they are aligned in a straight line in texture space. We found the best way to do that was to transfer a clean set of UVs from a curved plane onto the UVs of the base mesh."
“This results in UVs that allow us to render the ship name to an off-screen texture and have it display curved on the in-game model.
“Once we have a black-and-white render of the ship name, we run a few passes over that to produce additional textures for the subtle darkening around the text and the normal to make it look carved into the surface.
“The other contribution from Tech Art was to set up the magical reveal effect when the Pirate Lord first applies the name to your ship. This is using a wipe from left to right in texture space, with noise added to break up the gradient.”
After the sheer volume of Crests involved in Season Seven, putting the sparkling new Lodestar Ship’s Crest together gave the team a little more breathing room to perfect the model. Focusing on a single Crest in this instance, they were able to bring all their experience from Season Seven to bear in ensuring that the new design lived up to the rest of the Lodestar collection.
One of the core facets of this Crest’s design had to be perfecting the parallax effect. All items in the Lodestar set feature this effect, setting them apart from other cosmetics with similar colours and granting them an air of cosmic beauty as the stars within seem to move independently from the item itself. As Andrew Catling tells us, implementing the effect wasn’t simply a matter of copy and paste:
“From a Tech Art point of view, most of the Crests work the same way – so once we had one working how we wanted, it was straightforward to apply that to other Crests. The Lodestar Ship’s Crest has been the main exception to that because it has a different treatment, using floating text rather than carved. For that, we needed to make a new material and also apply the starfield effect to the background.”
Together with its floating gold frame, the effect works to create a unique, stunning addition to the range of Ship’s Crests available to players. Once finalised and built, the Lodestar Ship’s Crest was ready for release with the Season Nine update, hitting Pirate Emporium shelves in March 2023.
The release of Captaincy was a defining moment for Sea of Thieves, granting players the ability to really make a ship their own and take to the waves as a true Captain. Within that, Ship’s Crests were the framing for how players could immortalise their carefully chosen names and display them to all as they ventured out across the sea. Producer Louise Roberts tells us:
“Ship customisations are very popular in Sea of Thieves generally, and Crests have continued that trend. Ships tell other players a lot about who you are as a pirate: are you scary and tough, are you fun and colourful? Whatever you like! Crests add to that, both as another part of your ship you can customise and how you present the all-important name of your ship to the wider world.”
The Crests aren’t only shared in-game either, as our Social Media Lead James Bowden points out:
“Whenever we see pirates sharing their Captained ship names across social media (which we always love seeing, by the way, so please keep doing it), it seems quite clear to us that a Ship’s Crest can often be a strong source of inspiration for what gets etched onto the plaque.
“DraconLevia’s upstanding Royal Coronet Ship’s Crest used for their ship The Arrt Gallery. Drazx2’s use of the Lodestar Ship’s Crest for their referential moniker The Orville. The Crest we see more than any other, the skull-mounted boards earned by increasing a ship’s Milestones in The Feared (which doesn’t surprise us, given how many cannonballs you all tend to shoot off on any given day on the seas), used to hold intimidating titles such as Broodmother, Redcap’s Revenge and HMS Interceptor. It’s clear to us that an elaborate nameplate can often be the ornate cherry atop a whole ship’s designation.”
As the first new addition to the Crest selection since they were introduced, and a new element of a very popular set, all eyes have been on the Lodestar Ship’s Crest to see if it can live up to people’s expectations. Fortunately, initial reactions have been very positive, even amongst the Rare team, as Louise tells us:
“The Lodestar Crest is proving to be as popular as the rest of the set from our early sales information. It’s a mesmerising set, we spent quite a while in our playtests just going ‘oooooooh’ and panning around to see the stars move.”
So, with the first new Crest release since Season Seven a success, is the Lodestar Ship’s Crest indicative of more designs to come? We checked back in with Louise to find out:
“We do have plans for more Crests! The initial set of five in the Pirate Emporium were designed to cover a broad range of styles, while not committing us to adding a Crest to every set we do in the future. But we will be revisiting some of our most popular sets, including Dark Warsmith.”
And while you await future Crest developments, we’ll leave the last word for now with Lead Designer Shelley Preston…
“The empty Crest has sat awaiting a name since Sea of Thieves’ launch and has always felt like an invitation to players’ imaginations. That’s because we always knew that one day, players would be able to name their own ship and have it show on the Crest, and it’s been exciting to finally be able to fulfil this promise.”
That wraps up our exploration of the world of Ship’s Crests! The next time you purchase a ship and set its name down, take a moment to appreciate the combined work that went into making sure your vessel looks its best. Thank you to all the team members who helped offer this enticing peek behind the game development curtain. Anyone who’s interested in snagging the new Lodestar Ship’s Crest for themselves can just pop over to the Pirate Emporium and take a look in the Captaincy tab.
If you’ve got more questions about how cosmetics come to life, make sure you check out previous entries in the From Concept to Cosmetic series on our News page. And, of course, if there are any cosmetic items you’re particularly interested in, let us know and they might end up in an article just like this one! In the meantime, catch all the latest news, updates and happenings within Sea of Thieves by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok or dropping into our official Forums or Discord server. See you there!