Bungie Developer: Building the Universe of Destiny

One of the most surprising games for me at E3 was Destiny. Going into the demo I expected another Halo like experience in a larger universe, butt what I got was a complex multiplayer experience with stunning visuals and fantastic art. Lucky for me I was given the chance to talk to Tom Sanocki, Character and Cinematic tech lead at Bungie. He was kind enough to inform us what goes into Destiny and how the full concept for the games style came to be

Comics Gaming Magazine: Where did the design ideas come from for Destiny?

Tom Sanocki: It came from multiple people thinking of ideas from a long time. It’s the primary direction from all of the games Bungie’s made. We want to build a living, breathing universe and when we talked about the art style, Christopher Barrett, our art director described it best as mythic science fiction. We want to take the science fiction that we know and love and all the inspiration we’ve gathered from Star Wars, and the sci-fi from the 60s and 70s,  taking that, and merging that with fantasy elements to humanize it or to soften the characters and some of the environments. That allows us to expand it to space magic. You’ll see some of those elements in things like the cloth of the characters, which is an important element of the fantasy, and while also feeling more human and not as sterile. So you’ll have cloth on the Rogue, on the Warlock, the Hunter has a long cape, even the Titan which is the closest to an armoured knight still has a little piece of cloth on their heads. So mythic science fiction is what we want to do to make something new for this new universe.

CGM: What would you say were your influences for the designs?

TS: You know, there are so many. We have a great team of concept artists, which are our biggest concept art team ever, and our lead concept artists pulled inspirations from all sorts of areas. One of our inspirations is because we’re building clothing that isn’t metal armor; we draw a lot of inspirations from fashion. We ask ourselves things like “What do soldiers wear now and across the ages?” We use that and we build their uniforms.

Our alien races have distinct styles based on their aesthetic. The Fallen were once a proud a noble race but now they’ve been corrupted, they’re now pirates or scavengers so their animations are more spider-like. You’ll see that they’re in their rich-royal robes that have been tattered over time.


CGM: I’m noticing that a lot of the concept art seems similar to early Star Wars concept art, by Ralph McQuarrie, such as Luke and Darth Vader’s battle, did that have any part in some of the designs in Destiny?

TS: Star Wars is a huge influence for us and the thing we really love about Star Wars is that they’re able to create a universe that’s both rich and living and is bigger than the stories that are told. So we love Star Wars, which is one of our influences, as well as science fiction from all sorts of places.

CGM: Do you think that the storyline design kind of dictated the art style, or did you do the art style and work from there?

TS: At Bungie, we believe very deeply in iteration. We believe in taking ideas, trying them out, looking at the results, testing the results and trying them out again. So when we did the early design exploration we wanted to make sure there were people from all these different disciplines thinking about these things, and iterating together so that the answers that they all came up with all at the same time and because they both fed on each other.

CGM: Will players be surprised with the way the story goes, or will it pretty much be a standard science fiction narrative?

TS: Well, we’re excited for folks to discover the story for themselves and to get their input in it. In Destiny, humanity had a golden age. In that golden age, man wanted to populate the planets in the solar system, then something happened. There was a collapse and man was driven back to Earth. The only thing that saved humanity was a mysterious thing called the Traveler. It sacrificed itself to save the one last city on Earth.

CGM: Will there be more about the Traveller as the game goes on?

TS: When you play the game, we’re excited for players to uncover the mysteries of Destiny. We’re going to let players discover the system and learn it for themselves. At the beginning of the game, you’re a Guardian who is now taking the fight back to the stars.  Humanity is going back to space again to push back the darkness and reclaim these planets for humanity.

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CGM: Will the storyline be as pervasive as you go though it, or can you experience if you choose to?

TS: We want people to be able to play the game the way they want. Folks who want to experience the story can go in and play the story missions by themselves or cooperatively. Even when they do that, they’ll be seeing players elsewhere in the game and crossing their paths. We want this to be a living, breathing universe. You can play the whole storyline at your own pace, you can also play more casually if you just want to explore. At any point a public event might happen, and you can pause what you’re doing and participate in the event with other people and then go back to what you were doing before, or join them and play competitively.

CGM: What were some of the challenges like making a multiplayer game that’s also story driven?

TS: We definitely wanted to have competitive multiplayer to feel like part of the game, and not a separate sidecar. We talked and designed and went through many iterations. The thing that we love about competitive multiplayer is in it you will have fun.  We will let you have fun. You’ll be match-made with other players in the same skill level as you. Any advantage you can get because you’re a much higher level will be equalized so that the damage you’ll get and take will be equal and fair. As you increase in level and find better gear, you will get perks and abilities and advantages from that, but they’ll be connected to your play style. They won’t give you an overwhelming advantage.  You’ll then be able to take the rewards that you earn in competitive multiplayer to improve your character.

CGM: Is there a narrative reason for multiplayer or will it be separate?

TS: It’s a series of gameplay modes that are designed for people who like competitive multiplayer. We want to make sure that the competitive multiplayer can be played by people who want to just play competitive multiplayer, and for people who want to jump back and forth.

CGM: Is there anything you want to tell me about that game that might not be well known that you have released? There’s been a bit of deluge of information about this game, is there anything that’s kind been lost in the media that you really want to get out there?

TS: The thing that’s really exciting is that we can finally show this game by letting people play it. We’re super excited about that. It’s hard for people to really understand the game until they play it.

I still remember the first time I had someone pass me and walk through my path. It was a really amazing experience, I felt that emotional connection even though that person just walk though, pause for a second, and then kept going. I knew right there that showing a video of that would not convey same kind of feeling to people watching it. I’m excited for people to really be able to feel that social connection in the game and to be able to find activities that match their mood and to see how they play.

CGM: In the demo they were taking about different people in the world and how you might cross their paths. Why the choice to do that rather than to have just the three-player-only co-op experience?

TS: That’s one of the key features we wanted to make in this game because we wanted it to be a living, breathing universe that was social. If I go to a coffee shop by myself to read a book, I will see all sorts of people. I will see strangers, maybe acquaintances, maybe someone will come by and say hello. That’s what makes it feel real, and that’s what makes you feel connected with people. That’s the feeling we want in Destiny, to feel connected to other people.

CGM: I have on last question, the concept of “the one” or the great warrior is prevalent in every game. How do you get by the fact that this is a multiplayer game and there’s hundreds of “the one?”

TS: Here, there are many Guardians in the universe. All of them need to work together to save humanity. We are all together working together and participating in this public event to save somewhere.

That still makes you your own hero, and you’re still your own legend. You can make choices that will let you play the game the way that you want. But making the connection between you and the rest of the Guardians makes it stronger, it feels like you’re with everybody else, and its more fun to do it with your friends.