Art & the World of Destiny 2 with Jason Sussman
During a recent press event we had a chance to sit down at a roundtable Q&A with Destiny 2’s World Art Lead, Jason Sussman. What follows is a transcription from that group with a few select questions from the entire group.
Q: Did you work on IO specifically?
Jason Sussman: No I specifically was world art throughout, so I interfaced with a lot of groups because world art kind of touches everything - Nessus was my key destination. I worked on some spaces you guys haven’t seen yet and a little but of The Farm.
Q: What engine enhancements were made and how did they allow you to harness more power in the world?
JS: We embraced PBR this time, PBR being basically reflections and the specularity of the world, roughness… shader level stuff so all the textures have a better fidelity and respond better to the cube maps and the environment so we kind of hit across the board even our AI and lighting pushed different. As far as what made our worlds better, Grognok is our main editor so there’s a lot of enhancements to Grognok that just made our work flow faster, we also became faster because we’ve done this for a while so we had some efficiencies there. We always want to push things further and grow in certain areas and grow appropriately for what we are trying generate.
Q: Has that also allowed you to address bugs faster?
JS: Yeah, we push on basically all of our different pipelines and throughout, since D1 through now, every release, DLC, Taken King, we’re constantly having branched improvements as we move forward and D2 was a big jump. So we have integral improvements and D2 is a much larger jump. Everything across the board got enhanced so we can just be more efficient at what we build.
Q: Where’s the line between world art and level design. How much are you involved in that sort of thing?
JS: It’s both. World art is a discipline, world design is a discipline, there’s public space design, but we all work together as a group so it’s this circular conversation that you’re having with those guys and fiction, and cinematics because cinematics also happen in our space. Those are things that we’re trying to key in on and everyone has equal input in how spaces are executed.
Q: Destiny obviously has a very established art style - the style of each of the races and their ships - so how do you evolve that while still maintaining the same? But you want to make this a sequel, you want to make it new. Did you change a lot of that stuff or did you leave a lot of the fundamentals the same you know like the fallen catch doors and the way they work?
JS: I think across the game as a whole there’s a lot of stories we still wanted to tell and that goes from large scale to just the fundamentals of how an AI combatant works or how their ships work or how the spider tank functions and so there’s a chance to increase fidelity on all of it. There was a guy in here earlier talking about how he noticed the worm coming out of the hive when he shot it. Every once in awhile that would happen. And there’s some fiction coming back from the Grimoire and it’s calling back to that. There are people that hadn’t noticed that there’s a spirit that comes out of the fallen when they die and that’s more prominent so it’s an opportunity for us to dial that up and we’re doing that holistically across the game.
Q: What about designing new destinations and trying to with the Vex technology on IO but not making it look like Nessus - how hard is that balance, wanting it to be a new destination but still have familiarity for players?
JS: We want to throw back to that and I worked on Nessus so I’ll speak to Nessus too, we wanted to take the Vex that you knew and we wanted to evolve that pallet visually but we also wanted to start introducing some new architecture that the players haven’t seen yet and telegraph to them some history with that. It was a chance for us to explore that and go much deeper. When you’re dealing with any one pallet that’s very thematically tied to any one race and you want to continue that palette there’s always a challenge of balancing that so it feels no so for us we decided to go broader and give more history and more lore to this. And it’s a very brutalist palette. It’s pretty simple and that’s always been the challenge with vex in particular and each of the palettes have their own thing but vex is something in particular where it’s like okay how do we make this fresh? I feel like we succeeded; I feel like we tweaked it enough and also kind of called back to certain things like the black garden and how they build their architecture and what it’s used for.
Q: Is someone on the team really into milk?
JS: Dude that’s a story. That goes way back to Chris Barrett talking about what the Vex are… there were a lot of goofy jokes. When we first started talking about Nessus and what that was originally - when we start building these destinations there’s a fictional overtone and a story, but there’s also a crude level of architecture that you’re building anyway. So with the milk in particular, it hadn’t really come to our minds yet. We knew we wanted a hazard but a hazard that you could cross. We knew we wanted to separate things in certain ways. Then all of a sudden we were like, “dude this is milk!” And then we started talking about that, “oh my god are we going to do milk everywhere?” The evolution of that was really fun and Dorje Bellbrook did a whole series of concepts: is it corrupted milk like what you saw in the vault of glass? Are we going to go that route and make it hazardous or is it the milk we know and it’s actually the embodiment of the vex and the power that’s in that - what does that mean?
Q: How much did the openness play into the art development now? Before where you were responding to a story mission and you would be in an area that you really couldn’t access, and now you’re going through a lost sector and on your way there you’re going to the left and doing a public event - did that prove to be a challenge because you couldn’t section anything off into a load?
JS: Honestly that’s always a challenge. All of our public bubbles have always been a challenge because you have not only a story mission coming through there but you may have a strike, the raid, you have patrols and public events, and so there’s all these things competing for that real estate. So that’s always been a challenge and then you add lost sectors and now you’re getting adventures and patrols and story missions and those mean something and we need certain things tied into those areas. It’s always a balancing act. We have different phases like mass out architecting, finishing and polish, and round about architecting is when we’re starting to understand what that space is and identify key elements because before it’s just kind of clown town. Like hey there’s a big thing here and we know we need some rough cover here and we’re breaking sight lines in this way and we know that this is going to be a public space potentially. When we get architecting we’re actually carving out real estate for public events and we start rerouting how people are going to route through these things and most of the time intentionally route them through a public event because we’re going to be driving you towards that content. With the lost sectors that was a new thing because it was like hey we don’t have these hidden moments here that you’re always kind of discovering something. That was a balancing act because when I first made them on Nessus no one found them, even our testers were like they’re way too hidden. And then we revealed them too much and you could just walk right into these and you think you’re going into a bubble so it was finding a balance of those and making sure they were still discoverable but not incredibly difficult to get to.
Q: We were talking about palettes earlier - your color palettes - you guys were working off a similar palette but you might have tweaked the brightness a bit? The worlds definitely feel more vibrant and alive as opposed to in the first game when you’d be on mars and there’s nothing but desert around you. So how concentrated was the effort to make the world really come alive for Destiny 2?
JS: It’s always been our goal, even in ruins, even on Mars in D1, we try to have a beautiful aesthetic to it. Over the top. Like hey this stuff is in ruins but you want to be there in some way and like everything else we really doubled down on that. We wanted to make stuff look really beautiful. The trees on Nessus specifically was something we always wanted to do. We never got around to achieving that on the level that we did on Nessus and that conversation when it first started was Rob Adams and Jesse Van Dyke like, “hey man can we just do jungle world and you can climb in these trees and what does that mean for verticality?” We knew we wanted to add more verticality to the game. So how does that compartmentalize in one of our public spaces? Just going broader because we wanted to do the fantastic version of vegetation you’ve seen before, for example, and it presented a lot of unique opportunities. Challenges as well. But I think it worked out.
Q: There was a lot of concept art for D1 that wasn’t used and you’re starting to see some of that in D2. What some examples of things that ended up making it into D2 that weren’t in D1?
JS: Some of the vex architecture, the new stuff you see where we implemented the spherical structures and some of the main obelisks that we put in there, going deeper with the colony ship and saying here’s the entirety of a colony ship so you’re not just seeing compartment versions of that. It’s something that’s playing on things that we’ve always wanted to lean in on and go deeper with and explain to the player. EDZ (European Dead Zone) has always been a twinkle in our eye. We’ve always wanted to touch the architecture that harkens back to the PvP map that has some of the same architecture. We just love that style, really leaning in on that and making it its own destination. It’s fun. It has some of that fantasy element along with a sprinkling of sci-fi bits here and there. For me it was looking at the stuff we had done previously and seeing where we can pull from - missed opportunities. Like, “oh man it would be great if we would’ve executed this thing”. And people have their favorite concepts that didn’t make it and it’s like I just want to make this one day!
Q: You spoke before about rerouting players through the area and ways that you were improving upon that - what did you learn from the way people would harvest resources? When you would just go to the rocket yard and run in a circle over and over again - in terms of world building what are you trying to accomplish in terms of chests and where resources were hidden to make players not just always go to the same place?
JS: It was definitely trying to make it more random, finding better spots, finding spots that made sense and thinking about that earlier than we did previously. A lot of us watch twitch and watch youtube and we’re watching people play all the time and seeing their habits and that was the easy one, right, like ‘okay we just need to make these things more random’. And we actually sometimes intentionally put them right in your face so you get an easy win, but also not making it so redundant where it’s not just every five feet that’s what you’re doing. Because that becomes kind of monotonous after a while. So just putting a little more finesse on that. It’s about keeping the flow. We just want the player to be flowing to the destination and not having roadblocks or too many points of [distraction] and again that’s a constant challenge for us, especially in public spaces.
Q: In terms of the flow, how much did the production team’s direction factor into the art, or ‘I don’t want them to see that right away’ or ‘I want them to see this while they’re doing that’- did that play into at all in terms of your spawn points and your destination points?
JS: Oh yeah. Those guys are constantly playing the game and they’re constantly giving us feedback. It comes from the very beginning, the get-go of that like ‘this is what we want to build, this is experience we want’ and once we start fine-tuning that it’s then extrapolating that to other areas. Bungee is really good about this constant flow of communication, the constant play test, tweak, play test, tweak… those guys are definitely playing it all the time and providing feedback consistently. They’re involved with it and it works the other way where the teams are feeding back up to as they see things that are not efficient or are not working properly - it’s a two-way street, our circle of communication.