Bungie’s Destiny: bringing a new world to life

Destiny 2

Yesterday, we discovered how Bungie is creating a new world within Destiny. Today, we explore how it is being brought to life, with the help of Destiny’s creative lead Joe Staten. Here, he explains what players will be able to do in the game, and how its social elements will change the way we think about online shooters.

You’re going to have these huge spaces to explore in Destiny, how are you populating them? How will players explore these worlds?

What we want to do is take players on a journey from the familiar to the strange. To land them in places that they might recognise, like our moon – a familiar, grey crater – and then gradually lead them deeper into the moon to secrets that maybe they never imagined. Things that are fantastical, frightening and offer opportunities for adventure. And then we want to do the same thing in other places around the solar system, including earth.

Creating these places has involved three big things. First, what’s the core mystery of this place? What’s buried under the moon, the thing players are eventually going to find that’s really important? The second thing we ask ourselves is well, what are the spaces the players are to transition through as they drive towards this important mystery? The themes of these spaces. And we usually have two dominant themes, so on the moon you might have a natural moon palette. You’re going to have old, abandoned human structures. And then you’re going to have the alien, strange palette that surrounds this core mystery. And we figure out how to drive players through these themes in an interesting way. How do they exist in the moon, explore an abandoned moon base and then run into this strange palette they never expected. And how do we do that multiple times. That’s question two we ask. Question three is who are the bad guys, what are they doing here? Why are they here? What are they trying to protect or destroy?

Once we have those things understood and we believe in these places then the fiction guys take a step back and say “Okay, what’s the narrative we’re going to lay on top of this journey through these spaces.” Coming up with the story of Destiny is about coming up with places, core mysteries, aliens with their own motives and then stepping back and trying to string a narrative across all of those things that will fit it well.

Presumably players will need to come across spaces that are too daunting for them to visit just yet, but they’ll be able to see them?

Yeah, there are some streets you don’t want to walk down. Even in a well-lit city, until you’ve gotten stronger. You will absolutely walk around in this world, sometimes directed, sometimes very open and meet things too strong for you, or doors you can’t open.

We want that experience of a temporary stop to be one that energises players to make themselves stronger. They know how to cross that door. They can peer beyond it and know the reward is worth it. We intentionally developed these aspirational blockages.

Is it fair to say you’re structuring it in an RPG in that sense?

We are absolutely doing things that would be familiar if you’ve played any kind of open world game. I mean… Far Cry, it doesn’t have to be an MMO. There are examples of this in action games. We are drawing from those good design ideas that work well for us. We look at games that have done living open worlds well and absolutely drawn design inspiration from them.

What will me and my friends be doing in this game? What will happen when we go on a raid? What will happen when we decide to take on other players?

What’s really important are the choices that are presented to you at a high level in Destiny. There are screens that give you choices. “Do I want to be more social or do I just want to hang out by myself? If I want to be social, do I want to be friendly and co-operative with people? Or beat the shit out of people and be competitive? And do I have an hour or fifteen minutes?” So we are creating a layer over this world that will give a choice depending on what mood you’re in. That’s really important for us. Asking players to find their fun, saying it’s out there if you go hunting for it, is not the kind of game we’re making.

The ambient, public events – can tell me all you can about them.

Whenever you go into a public space you’ll get a sense of what those events are. Each of them will be themes specifically either for that local space or for a larger destination. Maybe themed on global stuff, or for your particular kind of character. We’re still playing with all of these things. You’ll be experiencing them with different kinds of characters – we really want to slam people into each other that wouldn’t ordinarily run into each other. Different classes, levels, interests, smaller groups; fireteams, maybe you want groups of people to run into single players every once in a while.

If you’re in a group and run into a single fucking badass and you could watch him unleash on something for a while, then help him out and maybe come away with each other. So those public events are meant to collide lots of different players around a core, short nugget of fun. But they’re very local, very opportunistic. You don’t need to do any complicated joining to do them. You could hang out and enjoy them again and again and again.

So what sort of ways have you come up to draw players back in, regularly, with their friends?

The first thing we’re going to do is as you play this great story, there’ll be times where we say “hey, we want you to make a choice – the next story chapter? It’s there for you, but before you get there, can you make a choice about one of these activities?”

We’ll expose you to other kinds of play, other kinds of activities and when you come back to Destiny, when you’re done with the story, we’ll say “hey look, here’s some more of those little bright lights you saw before, here are some incentives for doing them that make you even stronger.” That’s how we approach it, expose them to the choice early and have enough of those choices to sustain the community in-between basic story [missions].

We’re talking dozens and dozens of smaller objectives to pursue with friends?

I wouldn’t put a number on it, but as many as we can make to keep this world alive and kicking even when there isn’t a brand new story thing for you to play.

Can I walk from end of a large map to another without taking any missions, and will I encounter things along the way? In the absence of story and missions is the world built just to feed you content, hit you with things?

If there were a way for you to get back to a destination, if you wanted to, you could spend eternity going in and out and around and up and down this destination just hitting public events, meeting new people, running into little pockets of enemies that aren’t public events, that just happen to be there, getting loot, levelling up your weapon. You could spend as much time as you could physically handle, just travelling around our destination on Mars. That’s absolutely possible – we’re not convinced that’s a great player experience, maybe we want to give you a bit more focus and direction, but those are things we’re actively debating right now.

This is something that’s popped up on forums a couple of times: what makes this any different to Borderlands?

One big, important difference is that public experience. We don’t do that just once or twice in the game, we do that everywhere and it’s not just a small amount of people that you run into, it is potentially a lot of different kinds of people. In Borderlands you can run around with enemies and run into a few enemies to kill, in Destiny you will run around with your friends, run into other small groups of friends who are also there killing monsters, you see other people off on the horizon, hear gunfire over a hill and you see space magic flying behind some trees. There are other people out there.

Halo was built on this pyramid of grenade, melee, gun. What the equivalent of that in Destiny?

The thing we’re really adding is – I mean we joke, but we’re calling it space magic. It [means] class-specific abilities, really kinetic, forceful abilities you can [use]. In a way we did it with Halo but we’re putting an X button on that, so it’s really part of that 30-second loop, we’re really making it a real, core part of that.

Can you give us an example from a play-session of a story that’s surprised you?

The thing that really surprises me now is the first time we got public events, public spaces and matchmaking working it felt so novel because we’d never seen that before in a shooter. So those early experiences when you run into your first other person out in the world and his name was there and you realised you had emotes and just danced, waved, shot stuff because you were just so happy you’d met another real person out in the world… the crazy thing is that just happens so often now.

It’s not surprising anymore. It’s just that when it’s gone you really miss it. The thing that struck me most recently was when we took this build off the servers to clear the world for another build and I was playing the game at home with my son – I didn’t realise this had happened – and we were playing for a while, walking around, and he said “dad, where are all the people?”

So I pulled up the update email and it was like “oh, sorry, we might have to download a new build, this one doesn’t work anymore”. And he said “ok, well I’m going to go to bed.”

This kid is hungry to play anything that’s a shooter, and the moment he realised the one shooter he could play didn’t have any other people in it he decided to go to bed. And for me that was like… it gave me shivers. I thought we must be on to something. There is this vast, untapped social desire that people have to experience adventure with other human beings and to be part of a larger world.

Journey, Dark Souls and Need For Speed Rivals are all doing this kind of thing; is this it from now on? Do you think games have to have this social element now?

I think it’ll be really interesting to see. I play a game like The Last Of Us and there is always a place for beautifully crafted, solitary narratives. So no, I don’t think you have to, but if you want to make a game that you share with other people I think it’s the next step.

Once you get a taste of it you look back and go “pfft, why would I spend any time in a world that didn’t have any other people in it?” I firmly believe that that’s going to happen when people play this game. Hopefully. I guess if they don’t, we’ll have to do something else…