Bungie’s Destiny: Promising Lofty and Ambitious Ideas
Kalvin Martinez / Apr 10th, 2013 No Comments
Bungie‘s Destiny is ambitious. That is putting it mildly actually. The game is promising some insanely zealous goals for players with its story and gameplay. Destiny is a persistent world, first-person shooter where players will explore a shared world with gamers all across the globe. As a persistent world game, the world will move forward even when the player is not present. Plus, the player’s actions to some extent will shape and influence Destiny’s world and possibly lead to events in the game that Bungie had no control of or planned to happen. The game will be always-online and Bungie wants players to come together to explore and shape Destiny’s worlds while building their own Legend. This act of the player affecting Destiny and leaving their mark on the game is what Bungie is aiming for.
Plans for Destiny have existed since Halo: ODST in 2009. After ODST, oblique references to it had been made until more concrete references to it were stated in 2011. In 2012, Bungie linked up with Activison to form a ten-year publishing deal for Destiny games. There has been information that Activision will publish four Destiny games, but there has been no direct statement to the actual plans for the Destiny universe of games outside of Bungie supporting this persistent world for ten-years. While many assumed that Destiny would make a late 2013 appearance, a formal press release from Activision stated that it is not part of their 2013 launch and it is not reasonable to speculate or expect it to make a 2013 release date. Originally, Destiny was only announced for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with a small reference to future consoles. In Feb with the PlayStation 4 reveal, the public learned that Destiny will also make its way to Sony’s new console. Reasonably whenever Microsoft announces their next-gen console, Destiny will also appear on there. Except no one should expect the game this year and with the ambitiousness of the project, Bungie should take as much time as they need to make sure the game works.
[adsense250itp]On Mar 28, Joseph Staten, the lead writer for Destiny and design director at Bungie and Chris Barrett, art director for Destiny gave a presentation on Destiny at GDC. During the hour-long panel, Staten and Barrett talked about the early concept stages of the games, the difficulties of world-building, the four pillars of Destiny and some concrete information about the game. “Let’s build a world where we can tell any great story we want. A place millions of people will want to visit again and again, for the next ten years and more,” Chirs Barrett said of the creative push behind Destiny. This shows the starting point for Destiny was one of great scope and wild ardor. Bungie wanted to tell stories differently than they did with Halo, which they considered pipeline games. That is to say that each Halo game’s story was a singular experience only leading down a pipe toward the larger Halo universe’s story. That did not leave much room for players to explore the games again, with Destiny they wanted to create a universe and worlds where the player would want to keep coming back. Not only month after month or yearly, but Bungie wanted the player to explore the game daily. The key to making Destiny a place where gamers wanted to keep visiting was to make the world inviting and hopeful. To achieve these high minded goals, Bungie created four pillars of the Destiny world to plan out production.
The first pillar of Destiny was to create a world that was hopeful and inviting. A place that players wanted to explore and ultimately spend years existing within. The early concepts of Destiny were more fantasy oriented and the development team liked the history, myths and legends inherent in the genre. It was also a break from the Sci-Fi they had been working on with Halo. One thing that fantasy lends itself to was evocative imagery and locations that begged to be explored because of a lived and aged quality to them. However, Bungie was not quite able to get away from their amour with sci-fi and how sci-fi opened up the possibilities of aliens, other worlds and derelict spaceships. What Destiny ended up being was a mix of these two seemingly opposed genres into a mix or mash-up they are calling Mythic Science Fiction. This genre combination still had to be inviting and hopeful. In sci-fi there is that boundless possibility of the future and fantasy gives it an aged feel, a feeling of having existed for eons. The challenge then became defining the heart of this Mythic Science Fiction world. In sci-fi it can be a ship or space station and in Fantasy, it will be a majestic castle, but what should it be when the two meet? Bungie’s answer was the last safe city on Earth. The haunting image of a white sphere floating above Earth pushing away clouds and atmosphere is the Traveler, a mysterious object and below it is this last safe Earth city. The development team tinkered around with defining why this city was below the Traveler, but decided on leaving those questions to be answered by the player because their answers would be more interesting and in a world they affect, ultimately more meaningful.
Pillar two for Destiny was creating an Idealized Reality. That did not refer to the players, but more of the visual look of Destiny. Bungie pulled from a wide and varied number of inspirations, the key going into production was to find a way to coalesce these inspirations to create the specific visuals they wanted. Aesthetics are important in a video game because if it looks boring or does not visually arrest gamers then there is no chance that they will want to spend hours exploring seven worlds of blah visuals and muddled colors. One of the through-lines with most of Bungie’s influences for Destiny came in the form of color palettes. Moving forward into production, Bungie paid close attention to define the palettes of the world to give it an aged look. The enemies, which are more diverse than their previous work on Halo have their own color palettes to give them a unique feel from one another. Some of the influences that Bungie pulled from were Westerns, Terry Gilliam films, Sci-Fi artist John Harris, Peter Gric, anime and more. The key to getting the specific visual look that makes the concept art for Destiny so visually interesting was unifying all of these sources. Going forward into production, Bungie uses Post FX to give the final product the specific look they want by using these FX smartly. What the result will be for the final product is a bit mysterious, Joseph and Chris did show some rendered models and their animation, but mainly what shows the visual flair of the game are the concept art postcards. The ones shown at GDC and since the game’s reveal have been beautiful.
Bungie’s third pillar for the game was Mystery and Adventure. “Mystery and adventure begin at the intersection of the expected and the unexpected. At places in the world where strong visual themes collide. Where the familiar meets the strange,” said Joseph Staten of the third pillar’s philosophy. This simply means that when creating and building these large worlds, Bungie wanted to have areas that had some familiarity, but bizarre enough that it leads players to explore deeper. The example Staten gave of this was Earth’s moon. Something hugely familiar to people, but when exploring the moon in Destiny, there might be a fissure that pops up which stands out. This invites gamers to follow this fissure and traveling to the end of the fissure leads to a discovery. There is a hellmouth recessed deep in the moon and if people travel deeper into this structure, they will find an alien army that is bent on conquering worlds. Now the player has the option to stop these aliens from their villainous designs. This is a way to build the gamer’s legend and explore the strange and familiar locales of Destiny. The challenge for this pillar was focus, they had so many ideas of places to explore and concepts to bring to life that they had to edit and limit the scope. Their way of doing this was to use three key points: unifying the visual theme, destination postcard and world-building tools. Every place to visit in Destiny had to have the feel of “Nature ascendant over lost human civilization” meaning that nature reclaimed many of the human structures and the landscape is ruinous. The destination postcards are a way of “defining mood, palette and fiction” in the worlds, a way to have a reference to how everything should look, feel and play out. Then finally from a development standpoint with such a large team, they needed to have shared work spaces to foster close collaboration. Doing this meant that Bungie could make a concise series of worlds that focused on the key idea of mystery and adventure.
The final challenge of the third pillar was populating these rich worlds with enemies. For Bungie that was challenging since they had only really needed to deal with a small enemy set in Halo focusing on the Covenant. In Destiny, however, they had to populate seven worlds worth of enemies and they had to be unique and different. Thus, they used the same techniques to figure out the palettes of these specific aliens, their looks, hierarchies and the push between science fiction’d explanation and more spiritual explanations of physiology for aliens in a Mythic Sci-Fi world. What resulted from this were varied and different alien enemies that the player will encounter when exploring the seven worlds of Destiny. Everything creatively with Destiny comes back to unifying the aesthetics while alluring players with things they will want to learn more about and further explore. How does the gamer want to affect this world? How can the enemies make that an interesting prospect?
How will millions of users become a legend in Destiny? That is the fourth pillar of the game, millions becoming legends. It is a huge challenge for Bungie to transfer from a singular hero’s story to millions of heroes that will all make their own stories and experience their own story within the game. While not a new challenge in video games, as MMOs have been doing this for a long time, but Bungie has made it clear, Destiny will not be an MMO. Neither Joseph nor Chris revealed the exact story details that players will encounter within Destiny, but they did discuss the core choices they wanted to give players. These fundamental choices came in the form of character creation. Any online game that will have gamers playing together and interacting together will need customization to express facets of the user’s personality.
When first starting the game, the character creation presents the first set of core options for the player. In Destiny, gamers will be able to select from three different races and three classes. The three races in the game will be Human, Awoken and Exo. One race that was cut was the “Tiger man”, which was a Tiger man. This is a smaller option than most MMOs and between the three there remains a distinctly humanoid shape and form. Bungie’s goal with these races was to move from the familiar to the strange, but not for players to get bogged down with too many choices. They want players to go with their gut reaction from the three. While there exist differences in the races like the human will be a tough and familiar race, the Awoken are an exotic choice that evoke imagery from elves and vampires, and the Exo are a mechanical race that harness power and never get tired. To further add customization in the game will be a variety of armors, weapons, tattoos, hairstyles, masks and more to make each player’s avatar unique.
“So if all these tattoo and haircuts starts making you thinking MMO, don’t worry this a Bungie action shooter,” Joseph Staten said during the Panel that these cosmetic options will not get in the way of the action. There then exists three classes that the player can choose, which are Titan – the Future Soldier, Hunter – the Bounty Hunter, and Warlock – the Space Wizard. Once again moving from the familiar (for Bungie, the future soldier is similar to their Spartans) to the strange (the Warlock will likely be new territory for the developer). Each class is inspired by specific genres and will offer their own unique play styles. Mixed with the races and gender choices, Destiny will offer a concise yet fascinating amount of choices for character creation.
Hugely ambitious, that is what Destiny is. Without embellishment, there is tons of work going into this game with a 400 person team working to create the huge scope of the game. Looking at how Bungie has defined the terms for creating the game, what they want to offer players and how long they planned to support this universe, there is plenty that can go wrong. The pillars they laid out at GDC sound great and make the tapestry they are weaving with the seven worlds seem incredible. Their melding of fantasy and sci-fi seems to take the smart aspects of each and pull them together into a style that will make Destiny gorgeous to look at and fascinating to explore. However, so far the main assets they have shown of the game are the postcard concept art, which is beautiful. But concept art does not indicate how it will look in motion and fully rendered. So until gameplay footage comes out, there should be cautious optimism that the style will congeal into a game that captures the beauty of the concept art. Nailing down their visual Idealized Reality before production of the game is a solid step toward actually following through on all the visual promise the game has.
Action never has been an issue with Bungie games, they have always managed to satisfy fans of the FPS genre. What they have not done is gigantic world spanning action that will have to last more than 6-10 hours. Thus, the gameplay should not be too worrisome, but their ability to tell sustained action through stories that keep players coming back to explore Destiny is going to be a hurdle for them. Bungie has stated repeatedly this will not be an MMO. Yet one of the important things that Destiny will have to avoid is the problem that all MMOs face, which is telling a story that players will find engaging with depth and proper structure. Not to mention that with Destiny, Bungie needs to figure out how to tell stories that will resonate with each player on a personal level while telling a story in general that will connect with the millions of players. Also, how do they explain why there are millions of Guardians and why they are each important. Can someone really be a Legend when there are millions doing the same thing competing for glory?
One issue that stands out with Destiny is that if it a persistent world that will change dramatically within the ten years that Bungie plans to support it, then what will happen to people who come into it late? Will they experience a dramatically different game than those who hop on board day one? Or will the game world recognize new players and allow them to experience the story from the beginning before things change too much in the game world. How does this evolving and changing world effect the story Bungie plans to tell and how will that story change to the events they cannot control in the game? Some of these issues are likely mitigated with NPCs in game that will initiate missions, but if that is the case then can gamers actually have a profound effect on Destiny as Bungie claims. The final question with Destiny is that if this game/universe is meant to endure a ten year lifespan, then why release it on the PS3 and Xbox 360 at all? These systems are in their twilight and any future Destiny games will likely not come out for the systems. It is a given that the PlayStation 4 will not be backwards compatible, so for PS3 users can their character carry over to the PS4? How will that work? Same with the 360, what will be the recourse for continuing their story on Microsoft’s next console? It seems that the smart bet would be to wait to play Destiny on a next-gen console. No one expected failure, but what if the game fails? Can Bungie support of a flop for ten years?
Finally, what kind of fee structure or subscription service will Destiny employ? Or will this game be a Diablo III or Guild Wars 2 scenario where the price of entry is simply the initial 60 dollar investment? Is there going to be microtransactions and will the Bungie support for the title be free or come in the form of DLC? Since it is always-on will they have enough servers up to deal with high demand and sales? There are plenty of questions that will likely be answered in the coming months, but these are all additional concerns on top of what could go wrong in production with Bungie’s lofty ideas for Destiny. With no announced release date, Bungie has plenty of time to figure out these complicated issues and questions, but with so many moving parts to create this game. Destiny will either be mind blowing and revolutionary or the equivalent of plane crashing into a train carrying uranium.
tags: activision , bungie , destiny , fps , opinion , persistent world , ps3 , ps4 , xbox 360