“We looked at a wide range of artists for in­spi­ra­tion, both for sub­ject mat­ter and tech­nique”

Des­tiny’s colos­sal sta­tus is equalled only by its size. We speak to the art di­rec­tor and key con­cept artists on cre­at­ing the big­gest game of the next ten years

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Des­tiny lead con­cept artist Jesse van Dijk

Ev­ery­thing about Des­tiny is huge. From the am­bi­tious in-game world that melds mas­sively mul­ti­player on­line en­vi­ron­ments with role-play­ing game dy­nam­ics, to the heavy-handed head­lines of for­tunes in­vested and re­couped, de­vel­op­ers Bungie want it to eclipse the company’s pre­vi­ous bil­lion dol­lar-mak­ing fran­chise, Halo.

And by all ac­counts it should, with Bungie set­ting aside the next decade to ex­plore and ex­pand Des­tiny’s uni­verse. For now the game is set 700 years in the fu­ture, in the Last Safe City on Earth. It’s some time after a cat­a­clysmic event ended a golden age of space colonis­ing, made pos­si­ble by The Trav­eler, a white spher­i­cal, ex­trater­res­trial gate­way. A be­lea­guered hu­man­ity is gear­ing up to re­claim its plan­e­tary outposts and aban­doned tech­nolo­gies over maps that reach two kilo­me­tres in size. It’s a sto­ry­line that lends it­self to oo­dles of cool art.

That art is a bub­bling gumbo of cul­tural cues, of fic­tional and re­mem­bered his­to­ries. For a big, blis­ter­ing AAA game, the de­vel­op­ers have pro­duced a visual space with the po­ten­tial to sub­tly (and not so sub­tly) en­gage the player. It may be loud and fast, but art di­rec­tor Chris Bar­rett and his team def­i­nitely didn’t make the game dumb.

Our team looked at a wide range of artists for in­spi­ra­tion, both for sub­ject mat­ter as well as tech­nique

“We’re al­ways try­ing to im­bue th­ese places with all kinds of in­ter­est­ing ques­tions, and a lot of them we won’t an­swer,” says Chris. “‘How did those cars get there? Why are they there? Where were they go­ing?’ You have to think like you’re a viewer [in front of] a paint­ing. That’s more pow­er­ful than us be­ing ex­plicit about what some­thing is and why. Those kinds of mo­ments raise ques­tions about the world that we can po­ten­tially pay off five years from now, when you re­visit that space. Plant­ing those seeds, that’s re­ally ex­cit­ing for us.” Lead con­cept artist Jesse van Dijk loved drop­ping those visual bread­crumbs around his art. “What the in­flu­ence of spe­cific cul­tures is in the world of Des­tiny is an

in­ter­est­ing ques­tion,” he says, “be­cause if you pay at­ten­tion to de­tail you’ll stum­ble across ref­er­ences. In the Tower you’ll find sig­nage isn’t uni­formly in English – be­cause this re­ally is the Last Safe City on Earth, which ob­vi­ously isn’t just pop­u­lated by English-speak­ing in­di­vid­u­als.” As far as which mod­ern, real coun­tries played a part in Des­tiny’s past, that’s up to you to fill in the blanks.

Name any civil­i­sa­tion, past and present, and chances are you’ll see its residue some­where in the con­cept art. But what’s stop­ping this ap­proach from tip­ping into chaos? “There’s a con­stant bal­anc­ing act be­tween the need for a uni­fied ap­proach to all art, and of­fer­ing as much va­ri­ety within that ap­proach,” says Jesse. That’s ul­ti­mately up to the art di­rec­tor, Chris. It’s of­ten im­pos­si­ble to fully grasp the en­tire pic­ture,

which is why it’s so im­por­tant to have good and holis­tic art di­rec­tion.”

Back to the fu­ture

Once you’ve got your bear­ings on Earth circa 2700 AD, some of it may seem fa­mil­iar. Hov­er­ing over the Last Safe City on Earth – a planet un­der at­tack by alien races (The Fallen from above, The Hive from be­low) – is The Trav­eler. In the game it’s an alien sphere that en­abled hu­man­ity to thrive, colonis­ing space. It then hov­ered over Earth, pro­vid­ing shel­ter for hu­man’s last strong­hold to flour­ish. As a visual, it’s a trans­par­ent homage to the clas­sic sci-fi art of the 1970s.

“Our team looked at a wide range of artists for in­spi­ra­tion, both for sub­ject mat­ter as well as tech­nique,” says Jesse, “and John Har­ris and John Berkey are titans of old-school il­lus­tra­tion, and their work heav­ily in­formed the feel­ing we wanted

I love the di­ver­sity of Des­tiny’s world, be­cause it means that no two

as­sign­ments were alike

to get from many of our mood con­cept pieces.”

Go­ing un­der­ground, “Pol­ish artist Zdzisław Beksin­ski´ strongly in­flu­enced the look of the Hive en­vi­ron­ments. Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Lebbeus Woods was an in­spi­ra­tion when we were cre­at­ing the Vex pal­ette,” Jesse says of the aliens at­tempt­ing to take over hu­man colonies on Mars and Venus. “Craig Mullins is, of course, an all­time favourite, in­struc­tive for his dar­ing use of stroke, noise, and com­po­si­tion, and his as­tound­ing body of work is al­ways use­ful when you need in­spi­ra­tion.” Jamie Jones started on the game in 2008, when the art depart­ment was a fourper­son team. “I spent two years work­ing on it ex­clu­sively and then

con­trib­uted in­ter­mit­tently un­til its re­lease,” he says. “I love the di­ver­sity of Des­tiny’s world, be­cause it meant that no two as­sign­ments were alike. I’m happy when there’s va­ri­ety and room to ex­per­i­ment. Des­tiny of­fered both.”

For this artist, whose early con­cepts of The Trav­eler be­came some of the most iconic when re­leased last year, it was a mat­ter of luck who in­flu­enced him the most in his artis­tic choices. “The big­gest in­flu­ence for me was Ralph McQuar­rie. Around the time I was start­ing on Des­tiny, a gi­gan­tic book of his work had just been re­leased. I wore out the bind­ing on my copy, I looked through it so much.”

Flick­ing through the art­work of Des­tiny is both a new and fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ence – like walk­ing the halls of an art gallery in the fu­ture. A bar­rage

Ru­mours that the game cost $500 mil­lion to make were fol­lowed by es­ti­mates of it tak­ing $500 mil­lion in its first 24 hours.

Some ar­eas are open for Fireteams to ex­plore, while in oth­ers you can play against the AI to your heart’s con­tent. Artist Jamie Jones painted this character, who’s the queen of the Reef, which is one of the few set­tle­ments out­side of the city.

The de­vel­op­ment team at Bungie work out the kinks dis­cov­ered dur­ing

the beta tests, months be­fore Des­tiny’s re­lease.

The team cre­ated images to get a sense of what the ac­tion should feel like vis­ually. Above, Kekai Ko­taki paints a War­lock fight­ing The Hive. Ini­tial game­play will take you to Earth, Venus and Mars.

Des­tiny en­ables you to play as one of

three pri­mary races: The Awo­ken, Hu­mans, and the ma­chine-like Exo. Lead con­cept artist Jesse worked on Des­tiny from his first day at Bungie – ac­tu­ally, from his job in­ter­view!

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