This last week’s release by Bungie of concept art for their upcoming project Destiny has elicited a number of reactions from me – among them of course with that fluttering of excitement that comes from that rush of blood to the head that only the theater of the mind can create. You see, Bungie in releasing concept art is engaging me and everyone else on a level of pure speculation. The lack of details, a new, wholly thought-out universe with limited exposure and the fact that it’s a studio that knows what it’s doing can only lead to expectation.
It’s expectation of the best kind though, because the creators at Bungie, those guys and gals who made Halo, know just what we want – very little. By engaging us on a purely speculative level, with the concept art, they are enabling our minds to run wild. Yes it can lead to disappointment, but our thoughts are only bolstered by Bungie’s ability to craft, hone and deliver quality products. So our concerns are waved in the face of our childlike excitement at getting to go someplace new.
Bungie in their first round of concept art have really peaked my interest, but not with every piece. It took some thinking to figure out why, what entails good concept art (for me at least) and I have come up with two aspects: Scope & Scale.
Scope encompasses the effect of the art; its purpose; and of course the people & places included in it. Scale, meanwhile, is about the size relative to humanity; the amount of information/mystery provided in that piece and corresponding pieces when taken together; and of course the set pieces. Graphed out Scope would be the x-axis or horizontal plane providing us with distance and time, whilst Scale would be the y-axis emphasizing the impact and size. Together they make a story, and it’s that story that keeps us interested in a particular project.
It’s that story, or more accurately the one formed in our heads when we see this concept art that gets us excited. Before we’ve even played a game or seen a movie we’re taking part in that universe within our heads. But getting the various aspects of Scope and Scale correct is difficult.
Effect is, what is happening, the threat faced, the difficulties to be overcome – basically, how involved the world/universe is in this particular story. Some stories are merely on the personal level, but Halo, Destiny, Star Wars and Mass Effect are all far reaching. Their effects are substantial. Interstellar threat – well we can all get behind that and prepare for the fight. When we’ve been knocked down but not destroyed, like in Destiny’s artwork, well then we’re only going to want to find out how to get back on top.
Purpose is related to Effect in that the concept art must have some relation to that Effect. Art that is shown for the sake of simply providing an additional piece but that builds little to our understanding of this universe doesn’t engage in the same manner. It’s why the concept art from Halo 3 with the opening of the Forerunner artifact on Earth struck such a cord.
People & Places – it’s pretty self-explanatory. The moment humanity is involved we feel a connection. If there’s someplace like earth, as in the above Halo 3 work, then we know that there’s a lot at risk in this story. We’re also able to conceive of this place to a greater degree, while asking ourselves “how this came to be; what’s the story behind this Earth, which is supposed to be our Earth and why is it actually different from the one we inhabit.”
Size comparative to humanity is important. This will of course be reflected in the set pieces, but if we’re facing something big then that engages our hopes for the underdog. It gives us a reason, in the story that’s playing in our heads, to fight without end. But it also has us asking questions about what it is humanity is facing off against. It’s why the Death Star had such an impact or the rings in Halo were so spectacular to fight upon. It’s also one of the weaknesses that I’ve felt the Mass Effect universe has faced. Yes there are big space stations, but the views have always been so limited.
Set pieces or simply how cinematic a project is has a huge impact on a story. Grand vistas, momentous architecture, imposing forces – all work on the idea of size comparative to humanity but at the same time are ensuring that certain images become engrained in our skulls. It’s what helps a particular universe become iconic. It’s why Halo and Star Wars for me have managed to last the test of time – and why I think Destiny is going to be something significant.
Mystery/Information and the amount thereof provided within a single piece of concept art, as well as taken collectively has a big impact on the theater of the mind. Too much and we’re not able to develop the story to our liking. Too little and we don’t know which way to take the story. Where Destiny is at the moment is perfect, because we know who we are but not everything we can do. We even have an idea of who the enemy is or maybe, but we know nothing about them. There’s still so much up in the air and so much to discover.
All of which enables us to create the story and play it a thousand times over till the next batch of concept art is released.
Destiny has managed to walk a fine line with its artwork. Some of it is fantastic, but not all of it. For me the reason that not all of the artwork engages me has to do with the purpose of the piece and the mystery inherent in its image.
What doesn’t work:
What falls in between:
What does work: (asides from the few inserted in the text)