Questions And Answers: How Bungie Invented The Mystery Of Destiny

Questions And Answers: How Bungie Invented The Mystery Of Destiny

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Destiny is its mystery. So many questions waiting to be answered. We spoke to Bungie’s head of art Dave Dunn about that mystery: how is it made? And what does Bungie sacrifice in order to create it?

The awe that Halo inspired in players was hardly a mistake, but accidents often happen. Accidents that result in a complete shift in focus; that transform and redefine the direction of a project in development.

For Halo it was as simple as a single strip on the horizon.

“We learned an interesting lesson way back on the first Halo,” explains Bungie’s Dave Dunn. “Just putting a little strip that went up and over made people really believe they were on that ring.”

The sense of place — the inherent strangeness — compounded. No exposition needed. Just an image, a first person perspective. An unseen virtual neck stretching backwards towards the sky.

“We’ve invest a lot into this,” says Dave. “You make people ask questions. That’s where the mystery comes from.”

Bungie’s latest video game, Destiny, is all about those questions and reinventing that sense of mystery.

A strangely shaped object in the distance. It curves and stretches above the ruins of human architecture, it’s clearly alien. Where did it come from? Why is it here? What is its purpose?

Below that weird skyscraper, a tattered factory, with a faded logo representing some unknown company. What is this company? What does that company make? What role will they play in the story of Destiny as it unfolds?

“Oh, the colony ships!” Laughs Dunn. “The story behind that is awesome.”

Jesse van Dijk is a lead concept artist at Bungie. He is looking at images of what will become some sort of colony ship in Destiny. It doesn’t quite work for him; for some reason it doesn’t ‘pop’. So he gets to work. He invents something a little bit crazy and sets about convincing the Art Director that these strange shapes are important to Destiny.

“Most concept artists would have stopped there,” says Dunn.

But Van Dijk didn’t stop. Despite being a concept artist by trade he learned some modelling, he started adding animations. He began working backwards, thinking intensely about the ship he had designed. How does it work? How would something like this launch? Before he knew it, Van Dijk’s colony ship had developed its own sense of place and history.

This is how Bungie makes video games.

“We set out to do this from the very, very beginning,” explains Dave. “It’s about world building. You want to make your world mysterious so that people will want to explore.”

Now, about that faded logo.

“You’ll see a lot of this kind of thing in Destiny,” says Dave.

Destiny has an Art Director obsessed with graphic design. You might recall that Destiny’s E3 walk through was dotted with invented brands stamped on old buildings. A few concept artists and Art Director Christopher Barrett have a thing for old-fashioned swiss design. This was the result.

“They’re basically going through and branding every destination in relation to what corporation was there, what did they do? What are they doing now?”

And according to Dave Dunn, the deeper the team goes, the more questions gamers will ask — it’s that mystery thing again. “People will be wearing the names of these companies on t-shirts,” he laughs.

Questions And Answers: How Bungie Invented The Mystery Of Destiny

As the Head of Art, Dave Dunn has been at Bungie for over 16 years, and currently oversees nine different art teams. He has some stories.

Like the time one of Bungie’s mission designers, who studied to be an actual rocket scientist at MIT, sat down with the writers and spent a day trying to work out the precise speed at which the Halo rings would have to turn to be plausible in the game’s fiction.

“I was just like, ‘what are you guys doing’,” laughs Dave.

Or the line Dave regularly tries to impress upon new artists and designers coming to work at Bungie: “you may think you’re just working on a boulder but if you have to think about that boulder!”

Again, this is how Bungie creates video games.

“It takes time,” admits Dave, “and it takes commitment.”

I ask: for every question that could possibly be asked about Halo or Destiny, would there be some sort of answer to that question?


“There would be an answer somewhere,” he says. “Someone would have thought about the answer to that question.”

And that’s how mysteries are made.


  • That’s probably why Halo 4 felt so flat. No mystery, just unanswered questions.

    “Just dust and echoes”.

    • Yeah Halo 4 was the worst. Never have I felt such disappointment playing a game. I played the entire thing, but I don’t think at any point I felt like I was really having fun or being sucked into the world. I think they ruined it by revealing the Forerunners. Seemed like that game was all about removing the mystery, rather than creating it.

      And don’t even get me started on the multiplayer.

    • Also, Forerunners just walking around, talking n stuff. Now the Forerunners have no mystery and they’re not intriguing at all, they’re just a bipedal being, almost a typical Star Trek style alien, a person with a bit of prosthetic on and boom! Alien!

  • I hope not all the questions are answered. Settings tend to get boring when you know everything (I’m looking at you Halo 4 and Mass Effect 3; I did not need to know the Human-Forerunner relationship or the origin of the Reapers).

    • It’s not that Bungie answers all the questions, it’s that they have answers to them. They put enormous amounts of work into the details and create huge ‘bibles’ of information about their games so everything feels very deliberate and specifically placed. Which ends up causing people to assume that literally everything is there for a deep and meaningful reason. And that in turn results in people still talking about the finer details of some of their games nearly 20 years later

      • Look no further than the last word on the Marathon Infinity ending screen – MARATHON SEQUEL CONFIRMED!

    • I’m really looking forward to a Mass Effect without Shepard. Hopefully 4 will make you feel like you’re part of a universe again instead of just one man (or woman) travelling through set pieces. I always thought Mass Effect’s strongest asset was its amazing setting and history, and its weakest was Shepard.

      I don’t want to play as the saviour of the entire universe again, and i’ll be really disappointed if that is the case.

      • I think that after GIANT GALAXY EATING DEATH MACHINES FROM SPACE any kind of universe saving will feel rather boring in comparison, Bioware stuffed themselves for any sequels feeling as high staked due to that.

        Prequels are kinda the same because no matter how bad the big bad boss man is, you know what’s coming next is much much worse.

        I for one think the next game should be Mass Effect: Archangel, calibrations for everyone!

        • I was kind of sick of that whole idea during the trilogy as well. I feel like we have enough saviours in games. I think it’d be better to be sort of part of the universe rather than the exact centre of it. Almost like what Destiny is doing. Make a character of any race, Turian, Asari, Human, etc. and then sort of explore the galaxy and create your own stories.

  • This is a must have for me, big bungie fan all the way back to myth on PC….actually it was thank to them that i got an xbox and halo1 and i havnt looked back

  • Hey bungie if you read this I whant you to know im a big fan of destiny and I been waching videos and stuff and I have a question will grardins be able to weild sword because if they are that whould be amzing

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