In the aftermath of Digital Nationz, Shane the Gamer was invited to partake in interviews with developers from some of the world’s biggest game development studios. One of which was Jason Sussman who worked on Destiny.
An Army veteran from Dallas, Texas, Jason Sussman brings 14 years of gaming industry experience to his role as Senior Environment Artist on Destiny. Of those 14 years, seven years have been spent at Bungie, designing mission, competitive multiplayer maps, and DLC environments for Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach. Currently, Jason designs and creates destination environments for Destiny’s Mars location.
Shane: Destiny has been a slight change for Bungie, after having produced many Halo’s for Xbox (and at one point being owned by Microsoft). Why was there that break from Halo but still maintaining the FPS?
Jason: We took what, I mean, even before Halo they made a tonne of different games, even like Desert Con, stuff like that. But I think that the one thing that obviously Bungie’s always been very good at [is] the boots on the ground first person shooter and I think that was the core of going for Destiny and then we were challenged to expand that and mold and seeing where we can grow ourselves and with the environments that we build but with the type of social experience that you have and the customization that you can have with your character.
You even have three different characters [that] you can be, right in classes. So I think that we are just looking at growing ourselves in all different directions and try and bring some of the thought of the first Halo.
We kept talking about what was so cool about the first Halo’s and how you explore, just like kind of roaming around. How do we bring that back to this type of game and how far can we go with it. So, that’s how it transitioned for us. That’s how it went.
Shane: Destiny has been out on the shelves for a few weeks now and also had a very successful BETA period before then. Did you learn anything from the BETA? Is there, even now anything you would change within the game?
Jason: Yeah absolutely. The Alpha and the Beta, both taught us so much how people were going to play the game.
Obviously we are doing stuff in the backend for the infrastructure, I mean we had, probably the most successful always online game launch, ever. We never went down.
That’s what the Alpha and the Beta did for us. That’s obvious.
But, I think on the other side of that, there’s a lot of things visually that we learned [and] different queues. How players navigate the space, different investment systems and basically reacting to how people are reacting to playing our game. So the Alpha / Beta did that. And then, from that, we knew going forward that we wanted to have a team or a system in place we can continually work on feedback [and be] closer to our community than ever before.
Even that the game is out now, we have already been rolling out patches to keep advancing and making the game better. We are continually set to do that and it’s been a great experience this time around to have this level of communication with our community and be able to respond as quickly as we can.
Coz we just couldn’t do that before. I mean before, the game was out we could do tweaks and DLC but that’s it, you know, but now we can actually adjust based on how people play the game. The proof for us is always, like, you get it in peoples hands, because the way this game is made [and] it’s all about people playing together.
Not like Halo – we just test it and a few people play it and you kinda get the gist. It’s about the community and having thousands of people play it and interact with eachother and really test your system.
Shane: Being the Senior Environmental Artist for Destiny, when you first began work on the game, what inspirations did you draw from in order to make the visuals and moods appear and feel as they do?
Jason: A lot of it stems from Chris Barrett who is our Art Director and our concept team who were, very early on, doing these postcard images. I mean, there’s so many – I’m hoping one day we can get an Artbook or something out there coz there’s a tremendous amount of work that came from our concept team and the drive of where we were going to go with this game.
Early on I think we were shown this, the science fiction element wasn’t even there. And it started, like, coming back in.
We started to try out a lot of different things, there was certain [and] different images, and certain elements that just stuck out to people and really resonated with the studio as a whole. And I’ve said this before, as a studio we’re five hundred plus people now, it’s like a hive mind, right, and you can tell when everyone jumps at this one thing, you all kinda gravitate towards this and gravitate towards that and everyone’s even throwing out ideas, like; hey this is really cool, but what if it’s like this and that resonates and then we make another concept and we iterate on that.
The inspiration definitely comes from the awesome world class concept team that we have.
Then there’s stuff outside of that, you know, there’s certain elements of things that either I’ve always wanted to build in the past, or things that I never got a chance to come around to or certain forms of composition or elements or patterns or whatever it is and we start adding that into the space.
Because, you know, concept art can only take it so far and then the rest is on us. We had to build this whole destination so what other little things can we fit in there.
Shane: Destiny was a joint venture with Activision. Will we see more activity partnered with them or others and is there any in-progress projects that you are able to talk about?
Jason: Yeah, all of our expansions and everything that we are doing with Destiny it’s been a great partnership to work with Activision. I think we couldn’t have had it any other way and the future, yeah absolutely. We’re still planning the future releases with Activision, all the stuff [will] be announced.
Shane: Anything that you can talk about now?
Jason: Destiny, Destiny, Destiny. Honestly that’s pretty much all we are working on. We are 100% supported to committing to this game and delivering the best possible experience. And that’s pretty much all we are doing.
Shane: If you had to describe Destiny to someone who had never played it before, in only a few words, what would those be?
Jason: Oh man, I’m not a man of few words. Let me see… aah. This is terrible… I’m terrible, not you, it’s ummm. Trying to figure out how I can describe it. Okay, it’s a hopeful fantastic world that you get a chance to explore with your friends and shoot aliens in the face.
Shane: That was awesome, truly awesome.
Shane: Bonus question: What was your favourite toy or game as kid?
Jason: As a kid? Oh man. I loved Stretch Armstrong, when I was young, if I’m to go back. Stretch Armstrong was awesome. But my favourite I think and I’m going way back, for whatever reason waaay back. I was probably only five or something but I loved… my parents had bought me, it was a… you know, I’m from Texas so I had this little bad guy, black cowboy hat, black outfit, he had his guns out and I had a little light and I’d shoot him and he would collapse and then pick himself back up. You know, it was the strings, but it was all automated. And it just had a light in it that would flash him and hit his chest and he would just fall.
Shane: That would’ve been really high tech back then!
Jason: Yeah that’s what I’m saying it was super high tech and the fact that this all worked. I think the gun had a little cord that… in my mind I had this really cool six shooter and he was like this big, was probably like that big (a few inches high) and I mean, I was so little but it was so big in my brain. But yeah that was one of the coolest things. I can talk about this… (for hours) oh that hand grabs the coin (moneybox), I just bought one of those for my son. And he loves it. So cool.
Shane: I remember those, I had one too! Alright, I believe our time is up.
Shane: Thanks so much for talking with me today on behalf of Shane the Gamer, it’s been real cool.
Jason: Absolutely. Pleasure man.
* Destiny is available now on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.