Visual design is important on two levels in video games. On one level, design conveys mood and atmosphere. On the other, it represents mechanics and interactions. Of course, these aren’t completely distinct — an ominous mood may encourage a player to advance through an area more carefully, for instance. Effective and memorable visual design in games is that which can blend the stylistic and the functional. In a game like Destiny 2, with complex Raid encounters that require players to collaborate and communicate about the world around them, this is especially true.
The Vow of the Disciple Raid in Destiny 2 takes players into an ancient, dark pyramid within a mysterious swamp. There’s a great deal of visual detail to take in both approaching and within the pyramid, but one aspect of the design jumps out against the bleakness of the mire and the stark obsidian and white marble of the structure: colorful glyphs depicting imagery corresponding to different concepts and characters.
During the course of the Raid, players have to recognize and call out these symbols to one another in order to advance. They’re each quite distinct and immediately recognizable with a little practice, thanks to their flat planes of color and geometric designs. Something about them seemed familiar to me when I first played Vow of the Disciple, but I couldn’t quite place it.
Then Hazel Monforton, a Senior Narrative Designer at Bungie, pointed out on Twitter that these glyphs, and much of the visual design of Vow of the Disciple as a whole, were inspired by the work of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. As she notes, Dima Goryaniv, Destiny Universe Lead Concept Artist at Bungie, includes some af Klint in his mood board for the Pyramid graphic design. (There are also some screengrabs from the film The Holy Mountain, which seems to have inspired the boss Rhulk’s design.)
If you aren’t familiar with af Klint, she was a mystic and artist whose work was some of the earliest abstract painting in Western art history. Much of her work predates better-known abstract pieces by artists like Mondrian and Kandinsky. She was inspired by Theosophy and regularly participated in séances and other rituals with a group of women called “The Five.” When she died in 1944, she left her abstract paintings to her nephew, having only exhibited them a few times — and typically outside of traditional art venues.
af Klint’s abstract work is full of bold colors and geometrical patterns, and its influence is keenly felt in Destiny 2 — albeit without making itself known — by any players who challenge the Vow of the Disciple Raid. Given the artist’s inclination towards mysticism and Destiny‘s recurring themes of cosmology, ancient secrets, and so on, it’s a natural fit both visually and thematically.