Destiny — Bungie’s new universe revealed
Developer: Bungie / Publisher: Activision / Release date: TBA / Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 / ESRB: Rating Pending
What do you want to know about Destiny? This is the big reveal, the coming out party, the sermon from Mount Bungie. Ask me anything. Just make sure it’s not very specific about how the game actually plays.
After several hours touring the large, impressive, functional-with-a-hint-of-hippy offices, hearing from COO Pete Parsons, even—shocker—publicity-shy Project Director Jason Jones, and several other tech and art leads on the project, what we know now is the vision and the dream of Destiny; the hope, as the theme emerged during the day.
Straight up, the ambition is huge, and while suggestions of emotional or technical revelations in this game were, in many cases, setting up best-case scenarios you may recognize from various other games, you couldn’t help but walk away expecting (not merely hoping) Destiny to be THE game of the future. But understand that everything that follows is based on the aspirations of this talented team, not on the concrete blocks of core gameplay. I believe ‘em because I hope every single game in development is the best ever made, and because Bungie’s track record is nothing short of remarkable. So kick back and imagine the game, the world, the experience, that could be your Destiny.
So what do we know about Destiny, the game?
“It’s going to be epic adventure,” says Activision CEO, Eric Hirshberg, where he ‘fessed up to “a couple of years of dodging questions from journalists, teenagers on the streets” etc. It’s “ambitious, innovative, creative in approach, elevated in tone, and an ass-kicking trek through the universe.”
Get ready, right? And please, what is it?
A personal aside: I first visited Bungie when it was maybe 30 developers in an open studio in Chicago emerging from cult Mac success with Marathon and embarking on a PC gaming adventure that would become RTS classic, Myth. Whiteboards covered in crazy math equations apparently explained how the dwarf’s Molotov cocktail would roll realistically down a hill. Young, good-looking, crazy-smart game director Jason Jones was an understated presence.
Years later, after the Halo revelation thrust Bungie, the Xbox, and first-person shooter console games into the limelight, Jones remained a power-player in the shadows. In fact, when Activision sent its assets for Destiny, it included pro-produced headshots of numerous staffers as part of the reveal. Conspicuously absent from those images was Jones. I asked for the official explanation and was told it was an oversight and the image was coming… and so it arrived. Not a posed studio picture like all the others, but a casual snap taken (as guesstimated by the image title of Pentathlon-2010) of Jones chilling while the Bungie office event of game-playing and other activities—the Pentathlon—were underway. Three years ago.
The point here is that getting direct word from the source no doubt at the pointiest of pointy-ends of Destiny’s initiation and creation is going to be hard, so we should hang on every available syllable. Well, here are all the syllables, compiled from the presentation Jones delivered at this event.
First off he references rumors that Bungie is working on a MMO FPS. “If you enjoy shooters,” he says, “[Destiny] will be the best you’ve ever played.” (Hirshberg confirmed that there were no plans for this game to have a subscription-based business model, despite being a persistent online game.)
It’s a console game—we know it will be 360 and PS3, and hope for PC, and then expect next-gen Xbox and PlayStation. “The next great shooter set in an amazing and mysterious new universe.” And it’s “built from the ground up to be social and cooperative.”
What does that mean to you? PlanetSide with a hint of WoW? No, the suggestion is that though the details may sound familiar, the experience will be totally unique. Several of the spokespeople mentioned the first time you see another person in your world, and you realize it’s another real person, and how significant that emotional experience can be. So we’ll pass over the fact that experience was relevant, perceived, and cognitive back when we were playing Meridian 59 or Ultima Online, but we’ll assume that this meeting of a real person is not only possible, but integral to the gameplay.
But back to Jason Jones and his assertion that Destiny is all that. Why? He can condense it in seven “pillars” that dictate the entire project:
-A world players want to be in
-A bunch of fun things to do
-Rewards players care about
-A new experience every night
-Shared with other people
-Enjoyable by all skill levels
-Enjoyable by the tired, impatient, and distracted
On this last point was Jones’ sign-off…that a gamer shouldn’t need to “go to the internet to figure out our bullshit” and what that means is a “huge investment in AI.” We’ll take his word since we have no gameplay evidence to its validity. It was left to design director Joe Staten to talk through an example of gameplay and set the scene.
For starters, Destiny is set in our solar system. After the “golden age” that involved travel to and colonization of other planets, huge construction and incredible spaceships, some shit went down that ruined it all. The last protected city on Earth is guarded by a weird sphere, the Traveler, which somehow provides protection to this lone city, and also imbues power into the guardians.
You are a guardian. You live in a huge tower that allows for social interactions with other guardians in what looked like open parks, the coffee shops of this future universe, and apparently locations for “gambling in order to earn better gear.” Character class details are still very sketchy, but Staten described playing as a Warlock, and he described a gameplay session where Jones was a Titan, “wearing vanguard gear.” (Hunter was another “class” mentioned, but no details of any mechanics that shape those classes were provided.) Jones, in this description, had spent time “doing competitive multiplayer,” and as a result has “managed to buy a sleek ship” whereas Staten’s more modest play had only netted him the equivalent of a “space Corolla,” though that was earned performing every bounty role for the Queen of the Reef. That was one of a handful of hints to characters and locations in this universe.
There will be opportunities to adventure on Venus, on Mars, on the moon, and maybe the decrepit remains of a massive spaceship stuck in the rings of Saturn. Those, of course, were merely hints at some of the content crammed into the volumes of background lore Staten has created to shape out the world-state in Destiny.
The main enemy, it seems, is the Cabal, its foot-soldiers described as “massive armored rhinos.” They wouldn’t look out of place on Helghan. Staten described Cabal dropships bringing Legionaries into battle at the Dust Palace, backed by a Centurion (evidently a more powerful enemy, as the two needed back-up from another player, the Hunter, armed with “an exotic pulse rifle, uniquely named as the Fate of All Fools” (a detail gleaned from the background material that will be on bungie.net). Names like Charlemagne were bandied around, created by great powers of Mars. Loot was mentioned, including the exotic hand cannon, Thorn.
All of which are words with no context. Names without any substance. But part of the Destiny lexicon that I imagine an emerging group of fans will start to track down and flesh out so that the lore of this universe becomes embedded in their personal DNA. See, Destiny is a persistent world. Always connected (yes, you will have to be always connected to play, said Parsons). They had to coin a new phrase, he explained, to best describe this new event. Yes, it’s a first-person shooter. Yes, it’s a sandbox open world. And yes, it’s a persistent world. But Bungie doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed in one of those old-school categories, so describes Destiny as a “shared world shooter.”
So much detail about the universe is still to be revealed. Apparently The Traveler “sacrificed itself to save us” on Earth, and a city was built beneath it, before people began to venture again into the world and discover creatures…
It was art director Christopher Barrett’s presentation that revealed possible locations for exploration and adventure: future Earth (of course), the Cosmodome breach, the European dead zone, the swamps of old Chicago. The lost cities under ice on Europa, the broken moon, the uncharted depths of the Reef. Giant obsidian pyramid ships, “bad guys need big bad evil lairs,” hellmouth on the moon, mile-long tomb ships, time-traveling robots. War rhinos, spiker pirates, “and, of course, evil space zombies.” There was more from technical art director Ryan Ellis: acid lakes on Venus, and the shattered coast, forests and oceans, and all built using Grognok, the Creator of Worlds (the companies proprietary world building tool).
The team trotted out presentations on the all-new networking infrastructure (lots of big words about multithreading, entirely new graphics engine, distributed computing clusters, global scale server architecture). For social and community, Eric Osborne outlined hints at the interactions that could take place not in-game at all, but on your mobile device (just iOS images were shown), allowing you to see who’s available, connect with friends, and have experiences related to the Destiny universe while not on your console.
But to be clear again: There was no gameplay. Not a single bullet was fired to signal the arrival of this new shooter world. That leads to much speculation. If Staten’s story of playing the game was all true (and Parsons and others mentioned that they are playing the game every day) it must be sufficiently far along to be, well, playable. But my 100% made-up, no knowledge guess is that the first time we see Destiny in action it will be on a next-gen system. Bungie will want to make the biggest splash possible, on the system looking the very best. So there’s a chance that the timing of this reveal, right before this coming Wednesday’s big PlayStation unveiling is not coincidental.
No doubt, from Staten’s story to art director Christopher Barrett’s creation of a once-thriving futuristic society across several planets and Marty O’Donnell’s orchestral score (in collaboration with Sir Paul McCartney) applying mood and style to each location and action, Destiny is epic in scope and ambition. “How can anything be bigger than Halo?,” Parsons asked, rhetorically, “Well, we’ll find out…[we have] just enough crazy to pull this off.”