One of the things in Destiny that I have always geeked out about was the series’ concept art. To me, concept art says a lot about how the stories and worlds and characters of the game developed through the production process. By looking at concept art, we can see what was, gleam at what could have been, and understand what is in the universe of Destiny. So that is exactly what I’m going to hope to help you through today.
In this article I hope to guide you, the reader, through a bit of artistic analysis of six works of concept art from Destiny. We are going to examine them as works of narrative art (i.e. art that tells a story) occurring in roughly sequential order. Thus, I will attempt to explain what the artwork depicts and theorise how these concepts might have evolved, been abandoned, or were accepted into the finished game.
(DISCLAIMER: I do not know the names of the artists for each concept art, so I decided against recognizing any single individual without being able to recognize them all.)
Our first image is a rather picturesque one. It is a snapshot of what looks to be a Golden Age city somewhere in Eastern Europe (you can see the golden onion domes of various buildings and spires). The air is possibly filled with mist or light rain as you, the viewer, are peering out from a nearby forest and resting on the scenery. Light is breaking out from the clouds onto the city like a glittering raiment, highlighting the whiteness and cleanliness of the city. Despite possibly being of the Golden Age, the city does not appear to be technologically advanced in any ways regarding machinery or electronics. Furthermore, its high towers and bridges, domed buildings and lowland towns, evoke images of Minas Tirith from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, amplified by the city’s apparent isolation from the rest of civilization. It is guarded on side by tall, snowy mountains that overshadow the clouds, while supported by a low lying river-valley on the other. You may even be able to distinguish small villages that seem to spot the valley below. Given the terrain and surrounding environment, is it possible that this is the First city that becomes the Last city?
The Pyramid ship design is something that we have become increasingly more familiar with since the Red War campaign of Destiny 2. While we first saw a pyramid silhouette during the Destiny 2 intro, and subsequently throughout the campaigns of Forsaken and Shadowkeep, the design originated with the above concept art. The image here completely epitomizes, in my opinion, the franchise’s affinity towards the cosmic or lovecraftian horror genre. There are several dozen, black tetrahedron spaceships passing by a planet or moon. These crafts bear a dark, jagged design that would appear to contrast the smooth, spherical design of the Traveler, one of the many design distinctions between the Light and Darkness. Ominously, it is unclear if these ships are coming out of cosmic fog or use it as a shroud as they move through the void of space (here I am thinking of Calus’ encounter at the edge of the Universe). One of the more curious features, I think, are the lights that beam down from the base of the ships. Are these meant to be some form of attack or abduction beams that we see in stereotypical flying saucer images? And what about the mass of the ship at the center of the image? It’s huge and made to look all the more terrible when put juxtaposed to the planet in the background, giving us some sense of scale in power. Doubtless, these ships have to be what caused the Collapse right?
Not much is known about the Collapse, and what little that is available gives us only fragments of what happened to pocket communities. The scene in this image seems to have taken place during the Collapse, presumably following the immediate cataclysm to our system and the Traveler, leaving both desolate and nearly devoid of life. While an observer may think that the ruins are the focal point of the image – these ruins sharing similar architectural traits with the Golden Age city we first spoke of – I would say that our focus should be on those orange/yellow dots that are spotted across the midground. These dots appear to be torches of some kind and, to me, reveal a roaming caravan of survivors trying to escape from danger. We can also assume that these survivors are departing from a settlement off in the distance, as the trail of torches stretches far out into the background where we might make out some buildings. The coloration of the sky also expresses this narrative. As the survivors move away from the dominance of those dark, ominous clouds and into brighter skies, they supposedly move away from peril and possibly closer to hope and safety. Note my skepticism as to whether they are actually moving to sanctuary. The survivors still walk among shadows and a rather desolate landscape, indicating that while they may have escaped from some horrors, there may be more waiting for them on their journey to salvation. One final note, but we do see a flock of birds flying in the bright sky above the ruins. If nothing else, it is good to know that not all life has been eradicated by the Collapse.
According to recent lore, the Collapse was not a single event but took place over several months. The Darkness arrived in Sol and sparked a wave of destruction that led to the loss of most colonies throughout the system. One area that was left in utter desolation and deformation is Old Chicago, shown in this concept art as having been reduced from a metropolis to a gloomy swamp. This image seems to depict a city that was not just destroyed, but one that is wholly and completely devoid of life. You can almost hear the silence of Old Chicago, as if the bogs don’t bubble and branches move in the breeze. Is there even a breeze or wind for that matter? And the fog that seems to envelope the entire area doesn’t just sit close to ground, but appears to rise even to the heights of the skyscrapers, trying to consume everything. This makes Old Chicago look and feel almost like a real ghost town – stare too long at the concept art and you may start to see shadows moving in the background. With that said, Old Chicago (and the North American Empire) has been previously discussed and explored in the lore. I wonder if Old Chicago is an abandoned concept for a Destiny patrol space, especially given that there is concept art for other unused places on Earth and around the solar system. Patrol spaces like these may have helped to better express the sheer magnitude of the Collapse and, of course, each would have held their own lost histories to be uncovered among the dead.
Here we finally come to what I consider to be one of the most “scientific fiction-y” concept designs of Destiny. Among the large, jagged stones and red dunes of Mars are the remnants, not only of undefined machinery, but also those of a giant mechanized robot. Standing in the foreground are two Guardians, presumably one Titan and one Warlock, overlooking wreckage along the dune sea. From this image alone, it is impossible to know whether or not there is an entire robotic skeleton buried beneath the sand, although there is accompanying concept art presumably drawn from a different vantage point. The hand itself, however, does seem to tell a story of struggle and suffocation, possibly indicating that its burying occurred during or immediately after the Collapse. So perhaps we might now want to consider who or what is really buried in this image. If we look back at the history of the game’s production, we may find some insightful clues that may help us come to a conclusion. Early story concepts speak of “a warmind of Mars” and the name Charlemagne that may have some connection to the buried city of Freehold. Is it possible that Bungie originally had different plans for the look and identities of the warminds? Might there have been some giant mechanized entity that attempted to fight off the Darkness during the Collapse and was defeated? And is it possible that there remains some hidden secret beneath the sands of Mars, some being still in dormancy? If Bungie were to reutilize this art for content following Beyond the Light, what might be (re)discover?
When you look at this image, what is the first thing that catches your eye? What jumps out at you? Or how about we try this a different way. Take a minute to really look at this image. Then, I want you to close your eyes and, keeping the image in your mind’s eye, use your senses. What do you see now in this image? What do you hear? What do you taste in the air? What do you feel on your skin? Now open your eyes. When we look at this image, or try to put ourselves in the scene, we are surrounded by a menagerie of objects and sounds. In the foreground we have the infamous space tiger (“Greetings Guardians, MyNameIsByf here . . .”) that has yet to make it out of concept art and into the game. Above it are a handful of skulls, some of which look awfully similar to Ahamkara skulls, and inside the tent we can find an assortment of armor, shields, and weapons. Couple that with the tents in the background and we have what looks to be a medieval-inspired camp. You can even make out some heraldry along the tents and banners, perhaps even on the armor pieces. I propose that the idea for the Iron Lords finds its origins in this image (and other like concept designs). The Iron Lords are characters that many in the community believe to have been inspired by the Arthurian legends and Medieval European history. Still, is that space tiger a familiar of the Iron Lords (consider the wolves that follow Lord Saladin)? Are the objects in the tent supplies or loot taken from enemies? Regardless, we can safely say that Destiny was always intended to be as much science fantasy as it is science fiction and lovecraftian horror.
I hope that you all enjoyed this article. I definitely enjoyed this opportunity to explore some Destiny concept designs and will continue to do so. There is so much to be learned from looking back at how this game’s universe was first being developed. If you want to see more of these, either focusing on a fewer number of images or some from Destiny 2, please let me know!
TLN AGENT: CMYT-257