Designing the Shadow Marshal Stealth Ship

By January 25, 2016 Uncategorized

Guerrilla Games has some of the highest design standards in the industry – so designing the Shadow Marshal’s stealth ship was always going to be a challenge.

In the third mission of Guerrilla Games’ “Killzone Shadow Fall”, the Player must spacewalk and infiltrate a “black-site” space station. The crew has been mysteriously killed and the player’s goal is to remain undetected whilst investigating what has happened.

A ship was needed to operate as the player’s hub, delivering and extracting them from the space station. This post covers the development process of the ship – it does not represent the final in-game asset.

The post below covers a lot of detail, but I’ve edited together a little overview in the video below:


Specifications and Brainstorming

Roy Postma, the project AD, always has high expectations but provides the right information and guidance without unnecessary detail. He wanted the vehicle to be constantly contributing to the gamer experience, so emphasis was placed on animations that “communicate” the ship’s function to the player.
On the game design level, the only specs were:
  1. The design should hold the player and up to 3 ai’s
  2. The player must use an airlock to emerge from the ship
  3. The design should be completely functional, so it could be used elsewhere.

The design hadn’t been blocked out in game yet, so I had free reign to approach the design from the ground up. I started by putting down ideas and associations onto a brainstorm wall.

The mission’s intended mood was to be tense; the space station, with its dead crew, shares many qualities with a haunted house – I wanted the hub experience to provide a sense of anticipation for the mission ahead.

Certain associations such as divers leaving a submarine come to mind immediately. Given the secretive nature of the mission I resolve to have the airlock positioned on the underside of the vehicle – that allows for both a low profile, and a dramatic reveal of the station.

3D Development

I block in a basic skeleton – my first-pass interior includes “sleeping quarters”, but I quickly veto that idea on the grounds of theatricality; “going to sleep” and “preparing for a mission” are not in the same narrative family.

The bunks are ditched and equipment lockers are added. If the game design department chooses to send other AI’s with the player, this space will ideal for your squad to be gearing up.

I design a direct line of sight to the air lock entrance so the player understands his goal. This area should be about curiosity and anticipation – so anything that could cause confusion is removed.

The task is on a tight deadline, so I ask Viktor Jonsson to do a paintover of my production blockout while I wrap up the sequencing for the space,  his environment skills are perfect for getting great results quickly.

Boxing up the experience

With the interior locked down I turn attention to the external body. The player sequence has created a skeleton to work around, so I start molding a vehicle around that space.

I commit to certain “stealth” aesthetics for this faction; the primitive angles of early stealth bombers is very aggressive in nature, so I focus on the values of modern stealth fighters such as the F-35.

I make screenshots to remind myself of where the external body needs to go, both on a functional and an aesthetic level. This design comes from the same manufacturer as the Dropship I had designed previously, so I remind myself of the defining features of that vehicle.

The complex geometry would be difficult to concept out from every angle, so I do a very rough unwrap and concept a basic texture from various air force reference. The F-22’s fuselage is a major contributor to the concept texture.

I am constantly referencing back to the core of the design – making sure that the exterior holds the internal experience neatly. This image gives some context of the hub’s interior, including the bay door opening that the player will be leaving through.


The design needs to work both in and out of atmosphere, and those modes need a clear expression in the appearance of the design. I have built in space from the beginning to allow the necessary transformations, taking inspiration from the F-14 swing wing mechanism.

The design may be seen on the ground – so I configure proxy landing gear that supports the vehicles’ center of gravity. The front landing gear unpack following the visual language of a falcon’s talons.

With the fundamental features in place, I massage the topology at fairly low poly counts. The smooth groups are sufficient to explain the surfacing without needing Subdivisions.

Huge air intakes are added to mimic the language of the ISA dropship. All mechanical actuators are replaced by “muscle fibers”, moving the design away from the robotic nature of equivalent Helghast machines.

Presenting the Design

 The deadline for the design was extremely tight – so a “final” concept was not possible. The production blockout and texture concept was sufficient for the modeling team – but a few Corona renders show the Design in a primitive state.

A few years after the job was completed, I set up this scene, placing a few lights into a hangar configuration. With a little bit of compositing and texture integration the physicality of the final design is made clearer.

If you’re a fan of the Killzone universe and the amazing world that Guerrilla Games has created then check out this upcoming art book filled with art from the 15 years of development.

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Mike Hill

About Mike Hill