Destiny Interview with Bungie Community Manager David Dague
By Richard Pilot
Tomorrow, Destiny will be launched to the world, a game that's been a long time coming and something that has fans very excited. At Gamescom I got a chance to sit down with David Dague, community manager at Bungie, and talk about the upcoming launch. Through the interview, the phrase "social and cooperative experiences"' came out, and though it was something that I personally didn't experience in my solo adventures at the show, it's clear that Bungie are keen to emphasis this community aspect of the game, whilst playing down any idea of it being an MMO. In the interview we talked about what they learnt from the beta and the origins behind what is sure to be one of this year's biggest releases.
So you guys release in September...
David Dague: September 9th!
How are you feeling about it?
We're very excited. This has been a game that the people of Bungie have been dreaming about for years and years, as far back as when we used to be making Halo games. What if we could create a living social world where anything could happen, where players could create action with each other, write their own stories outside the tales that we wanted to tell. Having developed that experience in earnest for two or three or four years, it is tremendously exciting to see the fact that the Bungie community is perched right on the starting blocks, ready for us to open this brave new world so they can dash in there and become its true landlords.
You teased Destiny in terms of in-game posters and easter eggs way back in Halo 3: ODST. Has anything changed? Was this always the plan or have things evolved since those early days?
The development process, especially when creating a brand new world, is always an exploration. As we started to take a look at what sort of tale we wanted to tell with Destiny, when we decided what sort of world we wanted to create as the setting for those adventures, there were a lot of concepts that were created. It was sort of an artistic journey, the original vision of Destiny actually depicted somewhat of a fantasy game; we had castles, we had knights, you can see some of those things still intact in the way the tower behaves. The way that players are heraldic knights on a quest with their capes, their cloaks and their armour. When you're standing on the tower, you are looking out over the ramparts of the kingdom you're sworn to protect, so there is that classical romantic sentiment to Destiny. Instead of just telling a fantasy tale, we did want to stick true to our roots, as tellers and lovers of great science fiction stories, so the weapons came back, the ships came back; we realised we could play in a space that did have that futuristic flair but also used themes of myth and magic to make things a little more fanciful compared to the things that we've told in the past.
A lot of the elements in Destiny shared similarities with things in other Bungie titles, is that the blood of Bungie showing through?
You stick to what you're good at, you stick to the things you love. We certainly wouldn't try to be anything that we aren't. We love telling a great story, we love the ideas of space exploration, we love the ideas of looking out at the stars and wondering what's there, wondering if the old stories of a golden age in which our civilisation spanned the solar system are true. What we find if we were to journey on Mars, is the buried city still there? What of the rumours of an academy on Venus as a place of great learning, science during the golden age. Has it been completely overrun by aliens? What of the Chinese military bases on the Moon that were the jumping off point of space exploration in its time. The lost astronauts in that location, are they still there? That's really the sentiment of Destiny. It's a tale of good versus evil, but it's also a tale of redemption because we're finally coming out from underneath the Traveller, leaving the protective veil of the last safe city on Earth, and journeying back out to reclaim the things we have lost.
In the past you've talked about the ten year plan for Destiny. Is that content for the game itself, or are talking about add-on packs? What sort of things are you planning?
There are a lot of things we can do to support this game over the long term. Even if your investment is just the base game that we're releasing on September 9th, we're going to actively support that investment at Bungie. We're going to make sure that there's always new things to do, that there are new challenges for you to enjoy. There are special events that we can bring online like the Iron Banner that made an appearance in the beta, where we change up the factors and the scenarios in the competitive arena. Obviously we would be interested in telling a lot of stories in this brave new world. We created an environment, a place of myth, a place of mystery, a place of great excitement, of action and adventure.
Once players come to us and say they love the game, and that they do in fact want more, we'd love the privilege to deliver on that. Part of that planning includes the first expansion pack that we announced that will be releasing in December. A lot of times we would refer to this as DLC, we're shifting the nomenclature to better set the expectations of how Destiny is a next-gen experience for Bungie. An expansion pack is something that literally pushes the boundaries of the player experience outwards in every direction; we tell new stories, we take you to some new spaces in the destinations that you have explored; we expose you to new competitive arenas, we entice you with new weapons and gear and rewards that make your guardian more powerful over time. It's a matter of creating a great game that is satisfying in and of itself, set in a social dynamic landscape that can change every time you visit it, but at the same time sustain that experience in ways that we can surprise gamers.
So the completionists, the people that really want to jump and experience this to the nth degree, we'll be there with new episodes and new content that we can dole out.
So lots of surprises coming up for players?
Talking about the player feedback side of things, a lot of things I've witnessed is people going "I can't believe that Bungie got me to play an MMOFPS". Were you surprised by that reaction?
Well, we're certainly grateful that people relate to Destiny as a lot of different things. There are people that say that Destiny is their favourite competitive arena, or they say "this is a great story and I want to hear more of it", or they say that "I really love the public spaces, I can't wait to run into new people and have encounters with people I’ve never met before". We have gone well out of our way to promise that Destiny is not an MMO over the years as that does set some unrealistic expectations of the game. If somebody only plays MMOs they might find themselves outside of their comfort zone in Destiny, but if somebody loves action games, if they love first person shooter experiences that are based on action and excitement, Destiny will have a lot to provide them with but will surprise them in terms of how much ground they can cover in this game, how much of this game is open to their own exploration, how much the evolution and augmentation of your characters are really a factor of the longer story arc. The fact that they can have chance encounters with other heroes on their own adventure. There are a lot of design leads at Bungie who have had great experiences playing MMOs and they've taken a look at their own creations and said, what if our game was set in a world where anything can happen, what if our game really gave players a reason to visit the experiences that we created for them again and again and again, in the interest of becoming more powerful, in gaining new ways to play, in discovering new weapons that would make their characters more dangerous which would then equip them for some of the aspirational activities that sent them on the run. There are places in Old Russia in the beta where players would enter certain dungeons or caves only to realise that there are foes in there that are way too powerful for them to fight and we deprived them, very intentionally, of the ability to complete those activities simply because with the release of the final version of the game we wanted there to be things that the players could still tackle for themselves.
One of the other big things to come out of the beta was "The Wizard on the Moon". You've obviously said things about that, but where there more gameplay surprises that players were telling you about that you've reacted too?
I'd say the best feedback that we got during the beta was just simply the statistics for character creation, because we wanted to create a sandbox in which every character was a logical counter for every other character; the hunter, the titan and the warlock all have their own strengths, with those strengths come certain vulnerabilities or weaknesses otherwise they would all be indestructible and the competitive arena would be completely ridiculous. We found a really good even split between the classes and even more so with the second character that people would create. Over four million people downloaded and played the beta, there were six million guardians created, so we saw a lot of players say I want to be a Hunter and a warlock, or a warlock and a titan or I want two titans, just because I want to equip them in different ways. So the fact that people were dividing their time equally between the characters meant there was something that each of them had to provide, and that there was a reason to play all of them, we were thrilled by that. In terms of the feedback that we got that we could actually make changes to the game, we learnt a lot about weapon balance, about the nuance of the competitive sandbox, we learned that some of the vehicular gameplay was fun but way too dominant in terms of the tactical scenarios, and we also learned that some of weapons needed a more compelling reason to wield them. So your handcannon and your pulse rifle are both going to be a little more formidable in the final version of the game. These are things that we intend to pay attention to over a very long time. We can support this game on the fly; if your ship is in orbit, we can update your experience so when you return to your favourite destination, you will do so under slightly changed combat scenarios. So we'll always be listening to our community, but of course we do have a very specific vision; Bungie is very deliberate in the experiences that we like to create for players so I do hope the community doesn't anticipate that they will be able to get their hands on those knobs themselves. For every time you change something in the game, it impacts everything else in the game, everything is interconnected, so we certainly want to enable as many players as possible to feel powerful in their own way without comprising the competitive social experiences of Destiny.
There’s been quite a few high profile releases particularly this year and last year where, at launch, the online infrastructure wasn't in place. Are you prepared for that with Destiny?
Well, that was what the beta was all about. As we said, 4.6 million people downloaded and played the game, during the last phase of testing when we opened a single mission on the Moon, our goal was to see how many people we could get to play at the same time. At that moment, the Destiny beta became the most simultaneously played Bungie game in our company's history.
Yeah, so of any game we've released previously, we've had more people playing Destiny. Bungie has a good heritage of creating games that brought players together to share experiences, and Destiny has become the example of us doing that for more people at the same time. This game relies on a huge investment in infrastructure and new technology. Some of the guys, who still work at Bungie, who contributed to the original Xbox Live, have been the architects of this new technology. [We've] gone back to the drawing boards to say what sort of matchmaking systems, what sort of backbone do we want to create to bring players together in this brave new world, and how can we make sure that experience is stable for all of them at the same time. We learned a lot during the Destiny beta that we can still put to practice between now and launch day, and while we'll still be at the ready to support any player that has an issue, we feel very confident in what we have created and we can't wait to see if we're right.
Last question; is there anything about the game that you don't think is being covered enough, is there some feature you feel should be talked about more?
I would tell you that we have, because this is a brand new game, because this is a new way for players to enjoy a Bungie game, we have been, probably, a little more than we would have liked to have been. People will have already begun their adventure in Destiny, people have become so attached to their guardian that they were begging us, "please let me keep my guardian in the final game" and we're like, if you want us to put these changes in the game, you've given us all this feedback, we could put these changes into effect, or we could let you keep your guardian and people would say, "But I love my guardian, but I hate that interceptor" and "I love my guardian but I want him to have a better hand cannon". We are glad that we kept some things in reserve that people can still go and do. I think we found that as difficult as it was to explain what Destiny is, the fact that we put the game into so many people's hands was really the best way to arrive at that proof of concept, because people who played in the beta now understand what Destiny is and even if they can’t pass along to their friends or other people who ask what the game is, at least they can say "I played, I liked it". People at Bungie will tell you that their game is great, but I have no stake in that. I can just tell you that I played and had fun which helps makes this thing a viral cooperative social phenomenon, that's what we want to create with Destiny and we're excited about the fact that buzz has been good and the chat has been positive. It's been educational, it's been constructive, we never want our community to be glowing and 100% positive in their praise because we don't learn anything. We welcome their feedback, we welcome their criticism, we are always hypercritical of our own work. There's a culture of perfectionism that permeates Bungie, but the fact that people are ready to play, the fact that people are ready to begin again and resume their adventure is something that has us very pleased.
Excellent. Thanks for your time and good luck with the launch.
Destiny is released on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on 9th September.