Bungie's Destiny designed as a living, breathing world

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      Bungie will forever be known as the studio that created Halo. Destiny, the new game from the Bellevue, Washington–based video-game developer, was designed with similar ambitions.

      Microsoft acquired Bungie in 2000, just in time to turn Halo: Combat Evolved into an Xbox exclusive. The franchise, with eight original games and sales in excess of US$2 billion, is key to the continued success of Microsoft’s gaming division.

      Bungie split from Microsoft in 2007. The studio’s last Halo game was 2010’s Reach, and in an interview with the Georgia Straight at E3 2013, Bungie software engineer Chris Butcher said they had been working on what would become Destiny “since well before Halo: Reach launched”.

      Being published as part of a 10-year deal with Activision Publishing, Destiny comes to PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One on September 9. Tom Sanocki calls it “the game Bungie has always wanted to make”.

      Sanocki, who led the team responsible for character and cinematics art and technology, told the Straight that development on the title began with only three notions. The game had to be social, it had to convey a “living, breathing world”, and it had to allow players to customize their experience.

      “The rest of it we discovered,” he explained in an interview at E3 2014 in June.

      The game takes place on Earth in the far future, after a golden age for humanity in which it expanded into the galaxy and populated other planets, and a subsequent collapse. Players become Guardians who attempt to hold back alien races that threaten the Tower, the last safe city on the planet, and begin expansion anew.

      It will be familiar to anyone who has stepped into the shoes of Master Chief. Like Halo, Destiny is about humanity’s struggle for survival. Both franchises have an over-arching theme of hope, and both are presented with a first-person perspective. But for all that’s familiar, Destiny is a much different game.

      The first and most obvious difference is that players get to customize their character. Master Chief was designed without a name or a face so that players could more easily map themselves to the protagonist. In Destiny, “You can make that character fit who you want to be and how you want to play,” Sanocki said. Personalization starts with selecting a race and modifying facial features and continues into choosing abilities, weapons, and equipment that reinforce the way individuals like to play.

      Destiny starts on Earth, but takes players to the moon, Mars, and Venus. “Each of those places has been transformed because humanity built cities,” Sanocki said. “But it’s been a long time, so nature has reclaimed a lot of what’s there. And four alien races have come in and populated those planets as well, as part of their march towards Earth.”

      The vast, open-world exploration that is central to the game is one way Bungie makes it all seem so real, and Sanocki explained that players will appreciate the variety. “There’s a casual way to explore where you just go and discover,” he said, referring to uncovering treasure chests and other secret places. There are also beacons that will provide casual missions. “And when you’re playing one of the more focused story missions or a strike, then you’re going to explore in a very different way,” he said, “because we’re taking you on an adventure.”

      Another aspect of Destiny that imbues a sense of verisimilitude is that players occupy the game with other players. Butcher called it “persistent” and what it means is that there’s no separate interface to go into the game’s single-player and multiplayer modes.

      “It corresponds to real life,” Sanocki said. During most of our life, he said, we’re surrounded by other people who are strangers, acquaintances, and friends. That’s what it’s like to play Destiny: you are surrounded by the rest of the world, with other people doing their own thing. Whether you choose to engage with them is entirely up to you.