“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
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!