You know Bungie is serious about its first public steps in post-Halo life when Jason Jones â€“ the studio co-founder and Halo mastermind whoâ€™s notoriously media-shy â€“ is on hand to introduce the 360-person studioâ€™s new always-online first-person shooter franchise for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and â€œfuture-generation technologyâ€ â€“ a not-so-subtle nod to the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4.
â€œDestiny is our next great shooter in a totally new world,â€ he said confidently, displaying none of the public-speaking fears youâ€™d expect from a man who hasnâ€™t given an interview to a games media reporter in over a decade. â€œBy the end I hope youâ€™ll agree that itâ€™s a little crazy.â€
â€œWe did a bunch of ambitious things on Halo deliberately to reach out to people,â€ Jones continued. â€œWe made the game run without a mouse and keyboard, and now nobody plays [first-person shooters] the old way anymore because they donâ€™t want to.
â€œ[So] how do we take this genre that we love so much and turn it on its head?â€
Destinyâ€™s answer is to offer a quasi-massively multiplayer sci-fi experience (they call it a â€œshared world shooterâ€) that is fully playable by yourself, but designed to seamlessly connect you with friends. â€œWe built this game from the ground up to be social and cooperative,â€ Jones reinforced. Is Destiny an MMOFPS? Sort of. Is there a subscription fee? No, emphasized Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg. Does it require an Internet connection in order to play? Yes.
Bungie boils down Destinyâ€™s basics to seven key pillars â€“ an unsurprising number if youâ€™re at all familiar with the companyâ€™s cheeky obsession with the famously lucky digit â€“ claiming that â€œevery piece of code and every piece of art must justify these pillars or they get thrown out.â€
Pillar #1: A World Players Want to Be In
â€œThis pillar really influenced us early in development,â€ Jones said, noting that Destiny has already been a six-year odyssey for him, while the rest of Bungie started to get in on the action in 2009 and jumped fully onboard after Halo: Reach shipped in September of 2010. â€œIs this world cool? Do I want to stay here? Do I want to learn more about it?â€
That world is a post-apocalyptic earth. Humanity has been nearly wiped out, but saved by the extraterrestrial protection of The Traveler, a gigantic white globe that now floats claustrophobically close above the planetâ€™s last safe city â€“ a place where humanityâ€™s greatest minds have come together.
Over time, humans have regained their technological mojo and again taken to exploring the stars of our own galaxy: Mars, Venus, the Moon, etc. Except now various forms of alien life seek to stamp out humanity once and for all, and itâ€™s up to you as a Guardian to help stop them and keep earth safe.
Not much is known about the Black Garden...
Though Destinyâ€™s actual plot is likened to a series of novels that will each house self-contained stories over the course of the franchiseâ€™s planned decade-long lifecycle, Bungie narrative director Joseph Staten noted, â€œOne lesson thatâ€™s critical is that the most important stories we tell arenâ€™t going to be told by us. Theyâ€™re going to be told by players â€“ their personal legends built from shared adventures.â€
Pillar #2: A Bunch of Fun Things to Do
Staten proceeded to tell a story about a possible gameplay scenario in Destiny, in which Statenâ€™s Warlock class character and Jonesâ€™s Vanguard (Staten explained that every Guardian wields some of the Travelerâ€™s power: â€œYou can call it magic, I guess.â€) head off on an adventure together.
Youâ€™re at the Tower, a reinforced monolith that serves as your home. Here you can socialize, gear up, or group up and then aim for the stars â€“ literally. Many other players mill about. Some you may know, some you may not. Some are making plans for adventure, but others may simply be watching the sunset â€“ a worthwhile endeavor thanks to the spectacle of Destinyâ€™s new engine, which pairs real-time dynamic lighting with global illumination for some truly spectacular vistas (one of the few things I actually did get to see with my own eyes).
Jones is a higher-level player, and as such has better gear, including an impressive sleek, black spaceship that makes Statenâ€™s smaller, simpler vessel look like, in his own joking words, a â€œSpace Corolla.â€ Ships will serve various purposes. Only a Scout class was specifically mentioned, though it was implied that space combat will factor into Destiny as well.
Mars' Exclusion Zone is controlled by the Cabal.
Whooshing to Mars, the pair finds â€œthe bones of a lost human civilization.â€ Itâ€™s â€œan ancient city,â€ Staten detailed. â€œBuried in sand. The precious remains of a golden age.â€ Here to prevent you from reaching any of the literal gold thatâ€™s rumored to lie beneath the ruins of the Dust Palace are the Sand Eaters, a group of massive, armored rhino-esque creatures known as the Cabal.
A shootout soon turns ugly for Statenâ€™s Warlock and Jonesâ€™s Vanguard. Fortunately, a mysterious female player â€“ rocking a Hunter class â€“ speeds in on the very Ghost-like Pike vehicle and helps turn the tide thanks to her unique weapon, dubbed â€œThe Fate of All Fools.â€ The battle was won thanks to invisible, behind-the-scenes matchmaking that linked the players â€“ think of it as the next evolutionary phase of Bungieâ€™s groundbreaking hopper technology that served as the online backbone for every Halo game starting with 2.
Earth's moon is broken. Check out the tectonic action!
â€œEvery time you run into another player, itâ€™s amazing,â€ Staten exclaimed. â€œIt just doesnâ€™t happen in other shooters.â€
The two of them are now three, and the trio plumbs the depths of the Dust Palace, reaches Charlemagneâ€™s Vault, and Staten scores a new pistol. Like the Huntressâ€™s sidearm, it too has a custom name: â€œThorn,â€ a fitting description for a 45-caliber hand cannon. With this outing complete, the Hunter leaves just as quickly and quietly as she arrived. If this sound a bit reminiscent of IGNâ€™s 2012 Game of the Year Award-winning Journey in that regard, youâ€™re not alone.
The Hunter class of Guardian lies in wait as a few different foes pass.
â€œAnd just like that,â€ Staten explained. â€œThe Dust Palace becomes part of my story. The breadth and depth of Destinyâ€™s world encourages me to find my own adventures.
â€œItâ€™s a place where I can leave my mark.â€
Pillar #3: Rewards Players Care About
Jones explained how the game will have â€œa lot of great things to earn, find, and make,â€ reiterating that â€œeverything you do in Destiny earns rewards.â€ Besides unique weapons, every piece of your kit will be your own, from your helmet to your cape to your armor pieces to your face. Their goal, he said, is to keep players coming back â€œday after day, week after week, month after month, [and] year after year.â€
Pillar #4: A New Experience Every Night
â€œImagine you could spend an hour and accomplish something,â€ Jones mused. Bungie aims to have emergent activity, where â€œyou get distracted from doing the thing you meant to do when you logged on.â€ Furthermore, Jones expressed hope that â€œevery time you sit down to play Destiny you have a different experience than last time.â€
All we know about the Vex is that they're time-traveling robots.
The word â€œraidsâ€ â€“ a term MMORPG fans know well â€“ was used at one point during the presentation, suggesting large group scenarios as well as solo and smaller-party endeavors. Bungie says theyâ€™ll have â€œan activity for every mood.â€
As an extension of this pillarâ€™s concept, Destiny will have no main menu. Instead, it just lives and youâ€™re always in it when you boot the game up.
Pillar #5: Shared With Other People
Though all of the Bungie representatives on hand made sure to emphasize that thereâ€™s plenty of fun to be had in Destiny by yourself, they made repeated efforts to nudge my thinking in a more socially minded direction.
You'll have at least three classes of Guardians to choose from: Hunter, Warlock, and Titan (left to right).
â€œEverything thatâ€™s fun to do is more fun to do with your friends,â€ Jones mused. Naturally, of course, there will also be a fully featured competitive multiplayer mode, though neither Jones nor anyone else from Bungie was willing to offer even a hint about any details just yet. Well, other than the fact that you wonâ€™t be forced to engage in player-vs.-player combat unless you explicitly desire to.
Pillar #6: Enjoyable By All Skill Levels
He also made a point to emphasize that Destiny seeks to appease everyone from shooter neophytes to hardcore FPS players. â€œAll core activities can be enjoyed by a novice player,â€ Jones promised. That, he intimated, is not hard. â€œWhatâ€™s hard is keeping it interesting for your advanced players.â€
Pillar #7: Enjoyable by the Impatient and Distracted
Destiny is alive whether youâ€™re in it or not. But youâ€™re busy canâ€™t live there 24/7. To that end, a Destiny mobile phone app â€“ shown as a prerecorded iOS demo this time â€“ illustrated how the game could send you updates about new quests and what your friends are up to. Bungie also teased that you may be able to use the mobile connection to affect your friendsâ€™ games, but declined to provide any additional details.
This image is interestingly titled "Hellmouth." Can't imagine why...
Within the game proper, Jones said they know that players â€œdonâ€™t want to work hard, they donâ€™t want to read, and they donâ€™tâ€™ want to go to the Internet to figure out our bullpoop.â€ In other words, they understand that what theyâ€™re making is escapist entertainment.
â€œThis has led us to a huge investment in [user interface],â€ Jones explained. Clearly, Bungie has a story to tell and information to convey, but they donâ€™t want to bog you down with any of it.
Bungie and a Beatle
Though seven pillars were given, Iâ€™d argue that an eighth is in order: Incredible music. Veteran Bungie music director and composer Marty Oâ€™Donnell â€“ yes, he of the Flintstones Vitamins jingle and the legendary chanting-monks Halo theme â€“ is already hard at work scoring Destiny.
A full 50 minutes of soundtrack material is already in the can, recorded with a 106-piece orchestra in London at Abbey Road Studios. Oh, and some other material conjured up by Oâ€™Donnell, his longtime music writing partner Mike Salvatore, and rock god Paul McCartney.
I heard several samples and itâ€™s clear that Oâ€™Donnell is not only at the top of his game, he has no restrictions either, with pieces clocking in â€œas long as they need to be.â€ Most pieces, he said, are between five and seven minutes each, far beyond the 1-3-minute tracks heâ€™s always had to adhere to in order to fit Bungieâ€™s games.
Bad guys live here. That's all we know.
I had to ask: can you even say no to Paul McCartney if you donâ€™t like something heâ€™s done? â€œIâ€™ve never said no to Paul McCartney,â€ Oâ€™Donnell laughed. â€œ[But] I can take a motive or themeâ€ amidst some other stuff he might not deem appropriate for Destiny â€œand work with it.â€
For Beatles fans, Oâ€™Donnell also told an amusing anecdote about McCartney digging out the sound machine he used on the Beatlesâ€™ Revolver album and using it to do sounds for Destiny. â€œThat is just so cool,â€ Oâ€™Donnell beamed.
Dibs on that spider-like tank vehicle back there!
Though Bungie unfortunately wouldnâ€™t yet provide any score samples for me to share with you, I can relay that some pieces had distinct echoes of Halo, complete with understated chanting voices. Others, though, were decidedly non-Master Chief. All, though, could easily be mistaken for something out of a big-budget Hollywood drama film.
But does Destiny have a theme weâ€™ll remember forever, a la Haloâ€™s chanting monks? If not, does Oâ€™Donnell want to write one? â€œWe havenâ€™t released something yet that says, â€˜And hereâ€™s the themeâ€™,â€ Oâ€™Donnell said. â€œ[But] there are a lot of themes in this music and one might organically become the theme that we hook everything onto.â€
Talk about "dead space"...
Bungie art director Christopher Barrett dubbed Destiny a â€œmythic science fictionâ€ universe and shared a number of locales we can look forward to visiting: the Cosmodome Breach, the ruins on the edge of the European Dead Zone, the swamps of Old Chicago (likely a nod to Bungieâ€™s original home city), derelict fleets floating in the rings of Saturn, the earth Moonâ€™s Hellmouth, the uncharted depths of Reef, giant obsidian pyramid ships, mile-long tomb ships, and much more.
Then there are the characters weâ€™ll be encountering: fellow Guardians in at least the Titan, Warlock, and Hunter classes; the Fallen, the time-traveling robots known as the Vex, the aforementioned Cabal, Spider Pirates and their rusted machines, evil space zombies, the FOTC (apparently a Guardian faction of some kind) and...that's everything they'd cough up for now.
Say "Halo" to my Ghost-like vehicle...
Building all of this, of course, has been quite the undertaking. â€œWeâ€™ve created more concept art for this game than all of our previous games put together,â€ he claimed.
Talk About a Dream, Try to Make it Real
At the end of my day at Bungie, thatâ€™s what Destinyâ€™s unveiling was all about: concepts. I was shown next to zero gameplay footage â€“ perhaps a cumulative total of 60 seconds of in-engine materials (for the record, what was screened was damned impressive from a technological perspective â€“ including a haunting base on the surface of the moon and a few beauty shots of Guardians overlooking the Travelerâ€™s city), and instead the vibe seemed to be more along the lines of, â€œWeâ€™re Bungie. Trust us. Weâ€™ve got this.â€ Bold proclamations were made and my imagination for what Destiny could become instantly began running wild.
Your Guardian character derives magic-like abilities from the globe-like Traveler.
In truth, Bungieâ€™s confidence in its new endeavor is warranted, given what it accomplished with Halo. Still, the team did seemingly direct one nugget of caution at itself before the day was done: â€œWe need to earn a big audience,â€ Staten said. â€œWhat [we] did before doesnâ€™t matter.â€ Heâ€™s right. But what they do from here, if it all works as dreamed up, could redefine everything for the next era of action games. We hope it does, because the first-person shooter future Bungie imagines is one we want to live in.