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Analysis: Bungie and Activision's reveal of Destiny
Bungie and Activision have taken the lid off of their 10-year partnership, and Gamasutra reports on Destiny, the two companies' new MMOFPS, after visiting Bungie's Washington offices to learn more.
The worst-kept secret in the game industry isn't secret anymore... Sort of. On Wednesday, Bungie and Activision invited the video game press, including Gamasutra, to tour Bungie's Bellevue, Washington studio and learn the first solid facts -- outside of that leaked contract, anyway -- about Destiny, Bungie's upcoming shooter. The game currently consumes the vast majority of the 350-person studio's attention; the series it begets will be Bungie's principal project for 10 years. Destiny involves "a lot of risk, a lot of frontloaded investment, and a lot of deep breaths," in Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg's words. And words are what the press got a lot of. In truth, the day at Bungie consisted almost entirely of verbiage; only a couple of minutes between the press' arrival at 9:30 am and departure at 4 pm involved the game itself, and that svelte real-time demo consisted entirely of traversal of an unpopulated environment. Some of that talk was promising; some of it was frustratingly vague. All of the presentations during the day were carefully crafted to paint a picture of an ambitious new title that will break expectations for the genre, paving a new path for triple-A console games -- but all information was very carefully controlled. Bungie and Activision have good reasons to be tight with info. At the beginning of the PR marathon for this title, they don't want to reveal too much. And writing checks they can't cash -- Peter Molyneux-style -- could ruin the game's chances at success, which are clearly essential to its profitability. But that does not change the fact that what the press saw (and didn't see) at the event leaves more questions than answers in the air.
In fact, Hirshberg asserted that a persistent connection is "the only way to realize the vision of the game." Bungie COO Pete Parsons described the game as a "living world" and said that the developers "have to be able to change that week-on-week, year-on-year." Hao Chen, senior graphics architect, described massive changes in the world-building tools as compared to the Halo franchise because "the world is so big and complex and unique we simply cannot build all this content in the time we have."
"We've built this game from the ground up to be social and cooperative," said project director and Bungie co-founder Jason Jones. Meanwhile, Chris Butcher, the game's senior engineering lead, described a need to build technology that supports "millions of unique player characters" as well as advanced seamless matchmaking technologies that "just disappear into the background and become transparent."
It's for both current and next-gen consoles
Nobody talked about the game's target platforms during the event; Activision's press materials don't even list what platforms the game is due for.
Upon further questioning by Gamasutra, an Activision PR representative clarified that the game is currently announced for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and "is being developed for current and future potential platforms," but that questions on what future platforms those might be would have to be addressed "to the first parties" -- of course, that's because neither Sony nor Microsoft has announced them yet. Activision and Bungie's first trailer for Destiny
How much of an MMO is it?
Eric Hirshberg talked about Activision bringing its expertise in backend technology to the project, noting that it currently runs "the world's biggest backend for a multiplayer game" with DemonWare, which powers the Call of Duty franchise -- not an MMO, obviously.
But Parsons spoke of "a living world," and Hirshberg alluded to a persistent one. He also called the game "the world's first shared world shooter." However, the game will only allow players to encounter a "design controlled" number of fellow players at any time, Parsons said.
At the same time, there were continual assurances that Destiny will deliver the kind of action Halo and Call of Duty fans love, and that the game will be accessible to anyone who already plays single-player console shooters. Yet answers about a traditional campaign were always cagey, with talk of many plot mini-arcs rather than a single overarching story.
Hirshberg was quick to note that Activision has "absolutely no plans" to charge a subscription fee for the game, though he also refused to discuss business models whatsoever. With persistent gear -- and even personal spaceships, used to traverse the solar system -- there's clearly the potential for microtransactions.
The leaked 2010 contract mentions DLC packs, but talk during the day much more clearly implied live events and incremental content drops: Jason Jones promised the press "a diversity of activities... emergent activities, rare activities, time-limited activities." Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Jones also said "we've learned a lot of lessons from MMOs and Facebook games, for example, but it's a console shooter."
Here's one example of why it's hard to pin down: On one hand, the presentation told of Earth's sole surviving city, where players will congregate between their solar system-wide adventures; on the other hand, the developers repeatedly said that the game has no lobbies.
The mobile app
The presentation included mockups for an iOS app for the game, but here, the promises reached both their most fulsome and least specific, with Parsons promising that Bungie is "not going to play it safe" and will offer "meaningful activities that allow you to have a great window into the world, into our universe, that maybe you can only have on a device."
Yet it's also clear Bungie doesn't yet know what form it will ultimately take, as Parsons said that the companion app is continually changing form as the game itself continues development.