Destiny is not its concept art

Back in January, Erik Kain wrote a piece on Destiny at Forbes called “Why Destiny was the best and worst game of 2014.” I just read it today, though, and spent some time discussing it afterward with my go-to teammate for my adventures in this game.

In brief, Kain says Destiny is the best game of the year because:

The gameplay is terrific, and the progression system, however bizarre and confusing it may be, works to keep you playing and grinding away to your heart’s content.

However repetitive the levels can get, there’s no denying that scrapping your way through a challenging mission with a pair of Guardians at your side, and then maybe getting some sweet loot at the end, can be a lot of fun. All the little pieces here, taken individually, are fantastic.

This sounds like a game you’d want to play. And, he’s not wrong — the shooting mechanics in this game are tight, the controls are slick and easy to manage, the game is visually beautiful, and the music is excellent. Existing in the game’s environment as a player is incredibly fun.

However, on the flip side of that “game of the year” coin, and using a series of concept-art illustrations as supporting material, it’s the worst game of the year because “…the game Bungie advertised early on was far more imaginative and inspiring than the final product.” 

That’s obviously a debatable, subjective point. Much of the concept art is indeed significantly different from what can be seen in the version of Destiny that we now get to play. It does not stand to reason, however, that different automatically means better.

This piece in particular was pointed out in the Forbes story:

About it, Kain writes:

Perhaps the most frustrating of all, a giant frog with goblins on its back. And a Guardian wielding a broadsword. Why are these things not in the game?

Well, because it’s a giant frog, and fighting a giant frog in Destiny as the game exists right now would be incredibly stupid. And, given how the universe has been constructed and the direction Bungie seems to be taking the game, fighting a giant frog in Destiny at any point in the game’s future would still be incredibly stupid. Nothing in that illustration remotely resembles anything that’s in the game. And while there are things in the sky on Venus that look like dragons, that doesn’t mean an honest-to-goodness giant frog belongs anywhere in this game as it exists today

This is the folly of getting lost in a sea of concept art that is floating around on the Internet completely void of context. Hundreds of concepts are developed for games like this; some of them make it through to the final game, and a significantly larger percentage get pushed to the side. Some likely get pushed to the side because the scope and scale of the game changes, and reality simply demands that not every awesome thing can go into a game. Some are likely pushed aside because they’re terrible. But even the ones that are amazing may not necessarily work with the current direction of the game and still find themselves on the sidelines. Maybe the concept is so good that it’s revisited in the future as part of an expansion, or as part of the already-in-development Destiny 2. Or maybe Bungie takes that idea and eventually builds another game out of it entirely. The ultimate lesson to be learned in this sea of beautiful concept art is that we’ll probably never know which category any particular piece falls into unless something happens to look familiar in a future expansion.

As an aside, this is why Dark Horse’s The Star Wars project — an eight-issue mini-series based on George Lucas’ first draft of Star Wars with visuals based on early Ralph McQuarrie concept art — has always bothered me. The source material for this series all should’ve been left in the scrap heap of history — interesting relics of what later became Star Wars, but not anything that should’ve been the basis for a full-blown adaptation. There’s a reason Lucas moved on from those concepts — some of them were really bad. This is particularly true of the story elements — a lot of what was in the main plot for The Star Wars involving trade disputes and political gamesmanship actually became most of the main plot for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And, as you recall, that movie was terrible

Fans’ current obsession with Destiny concept art feels like a similar exercise in futility — they’re latching on to things that may look cool in a vacuum but lacking in any sense of how those things may or may not be remotely connected to the current state of the game and its universe, or to the plans that guide how that universe will grow and change in the future. But it helps fuel the conspiracy theories about how the game was gutted during the final year of its development, and so these images are added to the crackling bonfire of reasons Destiny is terrible.

As for me, I’ve been playing since the day the game launched and my friend can attest to the fact that I still giggle like an absolute idiot every time I stick a fusion grenade to a Wizard’s head and blow it up. This game is incredibly fun, and it’s a level of fun that some gaps in a story can’t diminish. I still enjoy looking at this art and appreciating it for the creativity and vision; but I refuse to make the false connection between these images and some imagined deficiency in the game.