New IPs are nothing new to the games industry, but our introduction to Bungie’s Destiny is certainly something different
. Invited by the former Microsoft-exclusive developer out to their newly crafted Seattle abode, AusGamers was one among a small number of media outlets to be introduced to the world of Destiny, and by world, we mean worlds
and by introduction we mean infinitely teased
Well actually we weren’t so much teased as the info offered just left far more questions than answers and had me champing at the bit for more. No studio in my time has ever taken the time
to carefully dish out as much (and as little) as Bungie in this instance, and the journey on offer here -- a persistent one expected (and designed) to be around for 10 full years of gaming -- is really something else. Halo certainly turned out to be an epic science-fiction journey with no real end in sight, but to quantify what Bungie has with their new venture, I’d argue that all of the Halo heritage and narrative we’ve been exposed to is but a single star in the night sky of Destiny’s universe.
It was revealed throughout our presentation that there would be a companion app to support the game, though how this would work was not divulged. We can speculate that in a world of anti-cross-platform play it might be the only way to share progress with your friends, but given the time-frame for this beast we just hope it's going to be much more.
I’m not going to bog down this reveal feature in how we came to know about Destiny ahead of time, because that would completely undermine the work that has gone into crafting this new IP. And I’m reluctant to use the videogame terms of “game-world” or “world” here, because this is so far beyond the construct and constraint of what we know and play today that I might as well just stick with universe
And why not? Destiny is a game built around a distorted solar system in a future where the human race has been ravaged to just a single city of survivors. Bested at the alien claws of various destruction-bent ETs, humans would only know hope upon the arrival of a mysterious sphere dubbed the “Traveller” that sacrificed itself and nestled, guardian-like, above the last human city on the planet. Further, upon its seemingly selfless sacrifice, the Traveller also imparted its mysterious power to the humans below, paving the way for generations of “Guardians” -- human warriors working to slowly take the planet back against our extraterrestrial encroachers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s begin at what, exactly, Destiny is. According to Activision CEO, Eric Hirshberg, who personally came out and introduced us to this unique and promising new property, Destiny is a persistent (always) online shooter set in a “mythic science-fiction” universe. It will span 10 (real-life) years and, as a point of housekeeping from Acti’s dear leader, feature no subscription model. It is a customisable game that, as far as we were told, has three character archetypes to build from and will offer solo, cooperative and competitive multiplayer, seamlessly blended into this persistent space.
The game(s) will feature a purpose-built network engine (for console at the moment) with always-on matchmaking, a dedicated server cloud, traffic repeaters and seamless host migration, apparently. I asked what all of this meant in the grand scheme of matchmaking here in Australia, and parts around, and was met with a response relating the man in charge as being a Kiwi, so low-latency and solid connections for the APAC-afflicted were top-priority, or so I was told, but this, obviously, will remain to be seen. The fact the team has essentially done away with traditional main-menus and UI as was divulged during our 90-minute presentation, at least suggests they’re confident they’re doing the right thing, but for console and a lack of real dedicated server support for the platform, this is something we’ll be keeping an eye on.
This also brought both myself and the rest of the room to the obvious question of building a network engine for the current generation of consoles (Bungie were adamant PS3 and Xbox 360 were the two openly slated platforms Destiny is designed for), and having it also work with the looming next-gen. To put as much speculation to rest as they could, the aforementioned consoles were mentioned
, but a reiteration of no solid 2013 release window revealed a slightly more obvious pattern. Though nothing was officially announced, if the game rocks 2014 (and I’m throwing my hat in the ring for the new coveted February/March release period) there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be next-gen bound. PC lovers in the audience ought to read our box-out featured on the right for the fate of the desktop platform in Bungie’s future endeavours, as expressed by Bungie COO Pete Parsons.
Speaking with Bungie boss, Pete, I asked about the ever-important PC question, especially now they're not platform-bound and was met with a really round-about way of saying that, while at this stage nothing was confirmed, they're loking to the horizon and when I said, "so never say never", he nodded and said that was the best way to put it.
You can take that as you will, but between you and I, I think it would be a huge miss to avoid PC given half the tech and networking they're talking about is already PC optioned. Fingers crossed.
So no release date, no solid next-gen revelations and as much vagueness in its networking and persistency plans as, well, anything, left Destiny somewhat void of the particulars that would normally make up a feature like this, but just as I began at the beginning of this piece, that wasn’t really the point. “Destiny is going to be the best shooter you ever played [on console],” asserted project director Jason Jones. And we were littered with game-changing landscape statements throughout our presentation journey. The likes of Bungie art-director, Christopher Barrett, design director and Destiny writer, Joseph Staten, Destiny engineering lead, Chris Butcher, hilarious sailor-language major and graphics architect, Hao Chen, technical art-director, Ryan Ellis and, most famously, audio composer and Halo themeician, Marty O’Donnell, all took the stage to gush over their game, and while their clear passion for Destiny cannot go understated, for me it was the physical evidence of the new universe at-hand that had me gasping for air.
We weren’t shown any actual gameplay demos. In fact the closest we got was a look at the team’s new world-building tool (called GROGNOK for the nerdy), which has become a marvel of sharing between departments and through its inclusion of an “Undo” option (which was, incredibly, a function missing throughout Bungie’s entire Halo period). In conjunction with their unique and ground-built real-time lighting system, these features were offered by way of a Moon example with a dilapidated station
of some sort upon its cheesy crust. The view was dropped into first-person and for the first time we got to have a look at Bungie’s new in-engine tech along with their artistic vision for the future of shooters.
While I realise what we were seeing was using their in-house architecture, it was a thing of beauty. Tech demos come and go, but Destiny’s short glimpse into its running form was incredible; the lunar surface an amazing, dull backdrop to a factory that looked like it belonged in Gotham City. The lighting here was incredibly impressive, but it was hard to pay attention to that gem with the Earth in full, colourful and glorious view off to the sky-side. The player-camera moved about in a few strides with a glance here and there at the structure, before it was all sped up to show the sun crossing the Earth’s visual path, like some reverse eclipse only possible in the Destiny universe. I was sold on the game almost immediately after this glimpse.
Well, at least on a visual level. In fact a direct quote from my notes at the presentation suggests “After seeing some of the game in real-time it became difficult to work out what was concept art and what was actual screenshots”, for me, the visual side of the game not only screamed a studio willing to move past the tech that had made it so famous in the first place, but a studio wanting
to take the risks involved in amping up their base to deliver an all-new experience for gamers, despite the next-gen tech hanging off in the distance like some Earth off in the vast distance of a Moon-night sky -- this was no mere studio upgrade to handle PS4 or whatever the next Xbox will be called, this was a change for Destiny’s sake.
Creating a universe is one thing, but its inhabitants -- something else. Humans are easy, we already exist, but what about the aliens? Well, here's who we know:
- War Rhinos
- Spider Pirates
- Space zombies
- Time-Travelling Robots (aka VEX)
How these guys fit into a world we don't understand is beyond me, but hey, they all sound cool, right?
So what were we solidly told? First of all, everyone in this game is a hero. You can take from all the previews you read that this is a console attempt at an MMO, but I’d disagree wholeheartedly almost on the fact, alone, that the only faction you can choose is human (at least in the main Campaign, competitive Multiplayer could very well be different). We were shown three archetypes: Titan (warrior), Warlock (mage) and Hunter (rogue), and also told that pure customisation would come in the myriad loot pick-ups (ergo gear and weapon customisation), but that we’d learn much more about loot later on. We know that each “Guardian” will have a space in one of the city’s towers that is their home where, presumably, you can store and display your wares and awards from your various exploits (including spaceships). We’re to assume that with “100s” and “1000s” of years of lore for the numerous destinations in Destiny’s space the game and its story has been thoroughly thought out and, if history is to repeat, transmedia galore is on the cards.
In fact, one of the early points made was that very few games manage to transcend their genre (or media) to become an active part of pop-culture, yet Halo did, and the team here have bigger plans than that game for Destiny. And with a 10-year span in store for the series, as well as what they’re pitching as a “new experience every night”, there are some bold ideas being floated around at Bungie as far as Destiny goes.
“The most important stories are the ones told by players, not designers”, was a statement made during the presentation, and after my time with games like Fallout 3, Skyrim, GTA, Red Dead Redemption, Far Cry 3 and more, this idea resonated so much more. The dynamic of this ambitious 10-year long undertaking is something that will need to be experienced before it can be truly understood, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t mildly skeptical about Bungie’s ability to pull it off. But we’re now looking into the future, and say what you will about Activision, but I see this acquisition and the point that, almost in its entirety, Destiny is Bungie’s baby and not Activision’s, as a huge boon for what is already being hailed as a game-changer and something that goes against every grain of a business like Activision where risk, as has been seen in the past, is a trepidatious option the publishing giant would likely avoid (Skylanders aside).
A shared-world shooter with pure customisation, dynamic co-op and the option to play solo, along with multiplayer and a sci-fi vision like nothing else in the videogame space these days, built off an in-house engine that offers an ability to craft new worlds with ease and perfection but, more importantly, quickly, means this 10-year thing might be worth the price of admission -- whatever that ends up being.
We’ll have more on the game in the next little while, and I know I’ve barely told you anything, but then neither did Bungie yet somehow I produced this and I’m amped beyond belief for Destiny. I don’t know what they have in the water down in Seattle (maybe Dorito Juice), but it’s enough to drug me into a state of not only wanting to know more, but to just play this damn thing. Naturally I’m skeptical about networking, how this persistent universe works across 10 years, its monetary component, platforms, DLC, matchmaking, loot and staying fresh, but given the length gone to just to give me a glimpse at the world, I’m on board.
Bungie is a Triple-A developer and Activision is a publisher attempting to shake its feathers -- the promise for support and success here is palpable. Add to this the potential for PC, *maybe* cross-platform play (doubtful though) and an app built around Destiny universe events and its community, and you have a game promising to empower players like some Traveller from outer space investing the last of its power
in the last that humans have to offer. If they were facing off against malevolent aliens who messed up our solar system that is... you get my drift.