Behind the Art and Atmosphere of Destiny

Destiny, the live-service sci-fi shooter from Bungie—makers of games like Halo, Myth, Marathon , and the criminally underrated Oni—is having a moment. This week is the franchise's seventh birthday, and the announcement of Destiny 2's upcoming expansion, The Witch Queen, was met largely with praise from old-school Destiny fans and New Lights alike. But a franchise that's been around for this long doesn't just appear fully-formed. Its visual language and design have evolved over the years along with its story and its players, and WIRED spoke to the game's art team to learn how.

Early designs for a “rogue,” which look very much like today's playable Hunter class. Illustration: Shiek Wang/Bungie
First of all, let's back up a bit. For those who don't play, Destiny is a sci-fi "looter shooter," where part of the goal of playing is to level up your character, take on more challenging combatants and puzzles, and, of course, get better loot in the process—usually in the form of armor and weapons. The story of the franchise can be convoluted at times, to the point where game developer and speaker Rami Ismail wrote a 50+ tweet thread recapping the entire story. (He also turned it into a YouTube video, if you'd prefer to catch up that way.) And, full disclosure, I've made no secret about exactly how much I play Destiny 2.But part of having such a long-running story—to the point where, at some points, players weren't really sure where it was going to go next—is that the game's writers, artists, and developers have the flexibility to take you to places both slightly familiar, like the postapocalyptic overgrown wilderness of Old Russia or the European Dead Zone or the partially terraformed landscape of the Jovian moon Io, to the foreign and mysterious, like the gleaming but cursed Dreaming City and the always dark, always dangerous Ascendant Plane. Each of these destinations has to be fully fleshed out before they can be turned into places you can go in-game.

The interior of an unnamed Fallen facility or Ketch. Illustration: Ryan Demita/Bungie