Rumour has dogged Destiny ever since it was first hinted at over two years ago. After all, a ten-year collaboration between Bungie and Activision is the sort of thing that sets speculative minds to work. The former is the celebrated creator of Halo, a game that revolutionised and popularised multiplayer first person shooting on consoles; the latter is the most shrewd, successful – and, perhaps, notorious – publisher in videogames.
On Thursday, Destiny was finally unveiled at Bungie’s new studios in Seattle, an act that at once dispelled much of the misinformation surrounding the game, and explained the vagaries that swirled across the Internet: there has never been a game quite like Destiny.
We’re all able to identify its constituent elements – things like science fiction, matchmaking, and character progression across a persistent universe – but the way these pieces come together and interact is new and staggeringly ambitious. Destiny demonstrates the inadequacy of the way we try to categorise games. Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg calls it a “shared world shooter”.
Destiny is set far in our own future. For millennia, humankind’s civilisation had spanned our solar system, but we were knocked back by an unknown force or foe and only a few survived. Those who did believe they owe their lives to an object called The Traveller, a huge sphere that legend says sacrificed itself to save humanity. Now The Traveller sits in stasis, low in Earth’s orbit, and beneath it humanity has built its last city. Now, once again we’ve begun to explore the Earth and nearby planets, only to find hostile creatures have claimed much of the former empire. Each player in Destiny creates a Guardian of the city, a soldier who is able to channel some of The Traveller’s immense power.
The game is designed to be social and cooperative. It’s an always-online shooter, but it’s not an MMO. As players progress their class-based Guardian and travel through the rich worlds of Destiny in what will largely appear to be a singleplayer campaign, they’ll encounter other players on their own adventures.
“In these public areas the game is matchmaking you just like in other games, but it happens all the time, seamlessly, and totally invisibly,” says Bungie engineering lead Chris Butcher. “There are no loading screens, nothing to take you out of the experience. The goal of our technology is to make it seem effortless.
“The player experience of Destiny just emerges from the interactions of this incredibly complex but totally hidden technology. We think this may be the first time anyone has ever put these technologies together at this scale, in a game or anywhere else.”
Project director Jason Jones describes seven pillars that have guided the development of Destiny since 2009, and each feature considered for the game is measured against these core design tenets.
The first is to create a world that players want to be in, says Jones. “People have a lot of choice in entertainment, they’re not going to waste their time. It’s a world that’s hopeful, but full of mystery.”
Next is ensuring that Destiny always presents the player with something fun to do. “We want to put players in situations where they can be successful,” says Jones. “We’re creating a wide range of experiences from cooperative to competitive, from solo to group, from casual to intense.
“Destiny will greet you with something fun no matter what your mood is. We think this is incredibly important: not all players are the same, and players don’t always feel the same all the time.”
Similarly, it must be a rewarding world, says Jason. Every activity, whether it’s finding, earning, making or killing, will reward players with ways to change the way their character looks, fights, or plays. An example comes via story lead Jason Staten, who describes a scenario wherein an advanced player has purchased a sleek new scout class ship from the foundries of the Dead Orbit after finding success in competitive multiplayer.