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How Bungie shaped Destiny from fantasy to 'mythic sci-fi' world

When Bungie set off on its journey to build an all-new universe for Destiny, the mythic science fiction, "shared world shooter" it unveiled earlier this year, it started with a more traditional fantasy concept starring wizards, grub lords and giant frogs battling in ancient settings.

Bungie also wanted to further explore science fiction, design director Christopher Barrett said at GDC today, still enticed by "possibility of a cool future, space ships, different worlds and, of course, shooting aliens, which everybody loves."

"Ancient ruins are cool, but so are derelict spaceships," Barrett said. "Both powerful mysteries begging to explore. Then we asked ourselves 'Why can't we have both?' What does a buried tomb look like next to a sci-fi setting? What does gold look like next to an assault rifle?' It looks awesome."

Bungie set about building the "idealized reality" of Destiny by exploring the combination of fantasy and sci-fi by creating hundreds of visual "touchstones." One image in particular captured the essence of Destiny, that of a cloaked space soldier standing next to a white space tiger — an animal responsible for the game's codename, "Tiger."

Destiny's visual direction drew inspiration from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, director of Solaris and Stalker, and in an effort to not "take ourselves too seriously," the work of Terry Gilliam, specifically Time Bandits. Bungie tapped '70s sci-fi art for inspiration, Barrett said, including the work of John Harris, Zdzislaw Beksinski and Peter Gric. Destiny's visual language also draws from anime and Japanese sculptors Takayuki Takeya and Kow Yokoyama.

"The challenge was to unify these influences and change them to a concrete art direction they could follow," Barrett said. Bungie's artists established a limited color palette in an effort to give Destiny's artwork a "slightly aged" look and followed a unifying theme: "nature ascendant over lost human civilization."

At GDC, Barrett and writer Joseph Staten showed off dozens of concepts from Destiny, some of which they called "postcards" from the game's worlds.

The duo also explained the process behind player character and race designs, which Staten said covers "a spectrum of choices for race, from familiar to exotic to strange."

For humans, Bungie looked at athletes, actors and military personnel to design characters both relatable and uncomplicated. Destiny's Awoken race blended imagery of ghosts, angels, vampires and elves, referencing Twilight's Edward Cullen and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow's Soma Cruz. For Destiny's Exo, Bungie turned to Appleseed, the Terminator and its own Master Chief to create a race of "sinister, powerful, tireless war machines."

One proposed race that didn't make the cut? Tiger Man, a "noble, bestial and wise" species that was part tiger, part man... all silly looking. "This was a dire time for the concept artists," Barrett said, "but we did get some funny images out of it."

For character creation, Bungie said it paid close attention to modern and future-looking fashion, make-up and hair design, a challenge given the armor-encased characters its artists were used to designing.

For a look at some of the concept art showed during Bungie's GDC session, check out the gallery of more than 30 new concept images from the game. To see how some of those concepts are being turned into the characters players will face in Destiny, watch the character development video screened during the panel below.

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