Hello Destinypedians and Destiny fans!
This year I was given the amazing opportunity to join the great guys over at Wikia gaming on a trip to this year's E3 press event to help relay the masses of information published behind the scenes on the show floor - where the public don't have access. Whilst I saw a ton of cool games, which will no doubt be this years biggest hits, the game I was most excited to see was definitely Destiny. Luckily for me, Wikia was on the ball and had organised multiple press exclusive demos and interviews for the gaming industries biggest names, and one of those was Activision which meant JAlbor and I were given the insight into Activisions four big titles for this year, which of course included Destiny!
After seeing the behind closed doors demo which offered a similar experience to the E3 demo, just with more talking and a few extra sneak peeks, we both got the opportunity to have a personal interview with Harold Ryan, the current president of Bungie, Inc. who is one of the people behind this incredible franchise. I had planned to release this earlier, but being busy with adding the insane amount of information from E3 and the recent merger, it was delayed! But, I've done it. I finally got the time to sit down and listen through our recording and write down a transcript of what was asked and what was said.
Please note that the following interview has been modified slightly to remove mannerisms and blend the conversation into something which is easier to understand and read. If you wish to hear the original audio, then please see the Destiny E3 2013 Interview audio file.
What did you want to take from all those years working on the Halo series, and apply to Destiny?
The thing we really got to do with Destiny was pretty similar to what we got to do with Halo: CE. When we were done with Halo 3, we sat down and talked about what we were going to do and what we wanted to do; thinking about what kind of game we wanted to build and what kind of experience. We play lots of games and we’re all pretty avid gamers. With Halo: CE, we were playing all kinds of shooters, including Marathon and stuff along the way, just figuring out all the pieces we wanted to put in. For Destiny it was sitting back and saying “We love a deep rich story, we love a strong action game, and we love a great physics simulation - so you get emergences stuff happen as you play”.
We were pretty happy with the way online and group stuff was done; with stats, groups and people communicating about the game. But the thing we were not that happy with, which was the core focus of our demo here at E3, was the cooperative join in progress matchmaking and collaborative activity. So we basically kept the strong action game and the strong fictional background as aspects of what we put in - still with a great strong physics simulation on the local client and strong network connectivity - but really focused on cooperative match making, like building rich and deep experiences like public events. The one we showed in the demo is a great example of the kind event that will happen in many-many places throughout destiny; as one where you can join in progress with your friends and then merge in other players as you go through it.
So how it going to work when you are playing the campaign and a the public event comes up?
So a good way to think about what you saw in the E3 demo is the first player started out in what we will called a private bubble, their own private area. Then the next player joined in progress with them, and joined in their party still in a private area. What it means to be in a private area is that the only other people in that area are the people in your party. When you’re in a public area, the number of players that will show up in anyone area of the game is controlled by the design team, to balance AI count and type of activity with the number of players in the space. Up to whatever the population cap is of the area you’re in, other players will be added in. Ambient activities are also designed in those spaces, such as public events and other activity types as well, that are optional and provide you with the opportunity to group together to accomplish that goal or to just move on with your task.
In that demo is those guys were engaged on a story activity, going to explore the cosmodrone. They went to Russia and they were going to be going somewhere beyond the wall beyond the public bubble; but they stopped it and we stopped the demo. If they had chosen not to participate in the public event, they could have continued on their way to the next task. They were engaged in a story activity when they were presented with the opportunity to go into the public event; when that public event was done, they could still continue on the path of the story they were following or the activity they were going on, or they could decide that was enough and log off.
So by engaging those events, they get more experience?
More experience, more loot, sometimes custom loot depending on the type of activity.
And they change in the progress?
Yes, as you’re progressing your character there are percentage changes to different kinds of loot from different combatants in different areas of the game. And so that, in some cases, different activities have different kinds of rewards. For sure there’s experience coming from every time you vanquish an enemy or as you’re going through the drops; ammo and loot, and all kinds of other stuff.
What platforms will the mobile companion be available on?
We currently have both an android and iOS version of the mobile companion. We’re not committing to any other platform at this time, but it’s fair to say that we’re looking at all the platforms out there and building the right experience for them.
Will people be limited if they do not have an Android or iOS platform to use the mobile companion?
There’ll be enhancements to the experience; but if you really don’t have any other way to communicate, you can still party up and use party voice - the actual in-game communication will be just fine. Our goal is to make destiny a hobby; for people to play it on their console, talk about it with their friends, read about it on their tablets or their phone, text back and forth, configure their character, and search for things they want to do. You can see the beginnings of these on the Bungie app right now, including its cross authentication on Facebook, PSN, and XBL already. Being highly connected it will be an option for Destiny players!
How did your team approach differentiating each of the classes from each other, whilst still making characters that anyone can jump into and enjoy?
We’re not going into class details at the moment.
What about the design philosophy?
The design philosophy has been; we set fictional goals and artistic goals for the characters, and then started working on the sandbox elements for each of them. We’re still pre-alpha in our code and design point of view, so we have versions that we’ve built and we’re playing. But, we’re constantly categorizing the skills and perks and everything else that we pick up from the game, and testing them out to see which character they feel the best on.
What do you want to do with competitive multiplayer with Destiny?
At this time we’re not talking about competitive multiplayer, just focusing on the cooperative multiplayer that we showed in the demo.
As a developer do you feel that used games are a problem for developers?
As a developer my main focus is on consumers enjoying the experience and feeling comfortable with how they are getting involved in either buying, paying for, borrowing, loaning or whatever it is for the game. For me, we can’t control what the platforms providers do, and hopefully consumer insight will drive them to do the right thing; beyond that we’re just along for the ride.
You’ve been showing certain planets on Destiny. How many planets and moons can be visited?
We’re not talking about the full scope of Destiny at this point. But, yeah, you’re travelling the solar system in your ship and there’s potential to go a lot of places.
You guys know that the story is going to be expansive, and you have the fore knowledge. What’s the most exciting thing to experiment with in that narrative space?
With the Halo games we ended up sort of going “Hey that was popular, people like it!” and “Crap we’re going to do another one. How do we extend the story, what happens next?" It’s always a last minute thing. We had a pretty broad base line for Halo: CE, so that gave us a lot to work with - we backed into the whole trilogy thing; with the first game, and then we did an ODST expansion, then a Halo: Reach backwards looking story. So how can we make that process better and more coherent, and easier for us to develop, easier for people to consume? The good thing about the Destiny story is that we sat down, talked about it, and basically built a book shelf. So we were like “Here are the properties of the bookshelf and it’s going to hold a whole bunch of books”, and so we set boundaries on them. Want them to be hopeful, we want all the players to be on the side of good, on the side of humanity, and sort of make fictional points for it. We then started blocking the story arts for the whole bookshelf and then for every shelf, then took that very broad view. Those are recommendations for us because we created them and we can change them later, but it made it much easier for the team to understand and much easier for our team of writers to start thinking of each book as they fill the bookshelf. And hopefully enough people will the game so we can fill the book shelf, but we’ll see.
What are your plans for sequels? Are you already thinking about Destiny 2?
We’re not getting into the commercial model. But, for us we want Destiny to be a world which grows and evolves. We have said that the world will continue to expand and grow over time. One of the reasons why we tried to plan a broader overview of the game, is so that we can make better architectural decisions when we were setting up the engine and the pipeline; so when we decide we want to add matchmade gameplay to it, we don’t have to re-write the engine – as it stops you and costs a lot of money. So to the best of our ability, we have set up a pipeline which we think is going let us evolve the engine and evolve the game over time, so that we can keep it fresh and new.
Has Bungie got any plans for any Destiny novels?
There are many novel like stories written at this point. So at this point now compared to Halo we have a large team of writers and an internal managing editor - who was an editor at Torr before we hired him over to Bungie. We’re not committing to releasing novels, but we recognise the value of having fictionalisation build and flesh out characters, motivations, and places. We’ve taken that knowledge of how that worked with Halo. That’s part us building the story for the game.
What sort of inspiration has contributed towards the art design for Destiny?
It’s really come from our internal concept team working for years and years. We’ve got 10-11 concept artists, some of them do marketing stuff, but they’re amazing artists. We have guys who Hollywood directors are always trying to steal, and they’re just amazing, amazing artists. And so what we did is we were fleshing out the fiction for the game, and we were like “Ok, let’s think about a pure fantasy world to build this game in. What would be like to be a world of pure magic? And then what would it be if it was a world of pure science?", then picking the pieces of those. We’re talking of paintings that are full scopes of creatures, combat, spaces and interiors that blow your mind. Where we’re saying “Hey the skyline is great for that and the pose of this guy!” - so we were starting to think about character animation and all the things that go into it. We put a good couple of years of very amazing art teams through rounds and rounds of concept and tuning. Every time we took another step with the concept we went art, then went back to the fiction and tuned the fiction. We did those two things back and forth until we got to where we are.
Are you guys still working on epic soundtracks for Destiny?
Absolutely! We’ve done recordings in some very amazing studios with some of the biggest and best orchestras in the world for this game.
Are there any assumptions that fans should leave behind from the Halo series?
I don’t think they should leave any behind, but I think the expectations they should keep is that a Bungie game is a game that we build for them to play and for us to play, and for us to evolve with the feedback of the fans and the community; and I hope that that’s always been the thing for me and for all of our games. When we think about what we’ve done for all our DLC, stats, or community online, it’s about engaging and staying engaged, hoping we get it right and if we don’t get it quite right, trying to tweak and tune it as we go. I don’t really know any negative assumptions.
This interview was recorded at E3 2013 in the Activision booth VIP and press section. The interviewers included Harold Ryan, JAlbor, T3CHNOCIDE, and an unknown representative of a Brazilian gaming company. The original audio file is shown below: