Last week Twinfinite attended the Destiny 2 Gameplay Reveal event in Los Angeles where we got to experience the keynote and trailer live, in person, as well as get some hands-on time with the upcoming sequel (you can check out our preview here). After playing around with the new classes and checking out some of the features Destiny 2 has to offer, we sat down with Michael Zak, the Art Director for Destiny 2, and asked him some questions about development, gameplay, new features, and the dark story Guardians can expect to be thrust into.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
New Features, Graphical Improvements, and Development
Ishmael Romero from Twinfinite: I would like to start first with the development. I know that the first Destiny was a very high profile game and it received both praise and criticism for some of the design choices throughout its life cycle. Could you give us some examples of how criticism and player feedback factored into both the development of new features in Destiny 2 and the reworking of features that we see are returning?
Michael Zak: Sure, I mean, we’re all very active listeners when it comes to our community, and honestly we play with a lot of people in our community, too. So I think one of the big, big things we talked about today were clans and guided games, you know? And that’s huge for us. I was actually just telling a guy before that I had this awesome experience in Destiny 1 where I’m a dad, I don’t have a lot of time. I get to play in the office and have designers telling me how to get through it, but it was really hard to coordinate for me in Destiny 1. My raiding was greatly enhanced by getting involved with a clan that their whole goal was actually to help dads, you know? [laughs]
Twinfinite: Yeah [laughs]
Zak: And they’re called the Dads of Destiny and they carried me through my first raid you know, and it was awesome. It was totally all organized outside of the game, right? So we wanna support that and lean into that in Destiny 2 so we’re bringing clan support into the game. We’re gonna give clan leaders tools, and we’re gonna give clans identities with banners and slogans and names. They’re gonna get their own clan page and it’s gonna be awesome.
On the flip side, we want Destiny 2 to be a welcoming experience for brand new players who didn’t play Destiny 1, right? So we want to leverage that community. The same way that it was there for me in Destiny 1 as a new player, we want to give that experience to them and I think we really are. Because from what we saw from a positive community like that in Destiny 1, we feel like using the clan system in Destiny 2 to drive guided games where a player like I was doesn’t need to just get lucky and happen to match in with some guy who was like super awesome and part of a super awesome clan. The game will actually facilitate that for me. I can actually say like yeah I’m by myself tonight and I’m in the mood to play a cooperative activity, I can go to the guided games page, I can log on, and I can also get choice. I can see what the clan is, I can see what their motto is, I can see what their vibe is, and I can decide if they seem like a fit for my style.
Twinfinite: Aside from the new guided games and the clan system, are there any other features that you may have wanted to put in the first Destiny, whether from an artistic standpoint or a gameplay one, that you were finally able to do with Destiny 2?
Zak: It’s really hard to talk about like… specific features like that. I mean, the reason is when you build a game you start with a million ideas, right? You don’t know how those ideas are gonna work together. So it’s really through the process of actually developing the game that you make like an infinite number of decisions as a group trying things, experimenting. What sounded like the best idea ever, like “the thing we wanted!”, you might try it it and it might… just suck when you actually do it.
So I think that Destiny 2 is a great opportunity for us because we have played a lot of Destiny 1. It gave us opportunities to do things that were built from experience, whereas we were kinda coming out of the gate fresh the first time. This was a chance to reflect. It wasn’t about putting in something that we just didn’t get to, it was more about what did we learn? And like how can we take that knowledge from our experience playing and make the best Destiny 2 we can.
So like an example I’ll give you, a personal one as the art director. We talked today about the theme of loss and recovery, right? Of how we get kicked out of our home, the Tower is attacked, the Cabal have overwhelmed us, the Red Legion… I took that sort of thick thematic story beat and I said let’s lean into that for the gear. Let’s really like make that evident on the player, on what they’re wearing, right? Where it’s really tied together. There’s a reason, there’s a fictional reason why you’re gonna look the way you look at the start of the game to try and take you through that progression. So we wanted to have those different parts of the game talk to each other and support each other and really coordinate to create an experience that in some ways just feel better, you know? It’s integrated more.
Twinfinite: Going off of that, that’s really interesting that you’re using the clothes that Guardians are actually wearing to tell part of the story, is that also done with the world as well? Is that something that you as the Art Director really pushed into all facets of Destiny 2?
Zak: Oh for sure, absolutely. I mean, it’s sort of easier initially… I come from a world art background, that’s the content I built back when I was mostly building content. So we’re all about trying to tell stories in the world, which we just call environmental storytelling, like what are the stories of this place. We’ve loved doing that for years and I think the opportunities to do that in the Destiny universe are amazing. We are definitely newer as a studio to this whole idea of progression, and like collection, and it’s so clear that Destiny is so much about that, right? The variety we offer the players, and the range of styles, and then seeing what the community does.
Like I was telling a story about my brother in law, he’s a badass heavy metal guitar player and oh my god the outfits he puts together in Destiny, he puts on like Iron Banner stuff, some exotic helmet, and I’m just like oh dude, you look amazing. Like you should be on stage. And I can’t wait for people to do that in Destiny 2 because the technology is taking a jump forward, the fidelity of the game, some of our rendering systems are getting greatly enhanced, and a technical acronym we call PBR, which is not the beer [chuckles], it’s physically based rendering. So what that allows us to do is basically represent material responses so like the difference between matte and glossy or iridescence, chrome, reflections, like we can do a lot of stuff that’s richer. So that allows us to build environments that just look better period, they look more grounded, look more realistic. But even on the player gear it allows us to beam into material responses. Do you wanna be matte black or super iridescent [laughs]
Twinfinite: I like matte black.
Zak: [laughs] It seems everybody does, but I’m gonna try to convince you to put some color on [laughs] because I’m an art director, even though I’m wearing all black right now. But I’m gonna try to make that as appealing as possible, or at least, if you see someone else who wants to have that incredibly iridescent pink, maybe it’s not what you want, but you’ll be like “holy cow, that looks good.” That’s the goal.
Twinfinite: There were a few features that came to mind with the PC. One being cross platform and the other being dedicated servers. Are either of those in the works, or part of Destiny 2?
Zak: Nope. [chuckles]
Twinfinite: OK! Easy answer!
Next we’ll tackle classes and subclasses, new equipment, and story and lore.