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Jason Jones – The Destiny Interview

You have a legacy of players who are already Bungie fans, and a segment of that fan base is people who play games by themselves. And I hear you talking a lot about the fun of that shared space, but I think that there’s people out there who either don’t believe that or they’re waiting to be convinced. Is there something in Destiny for those kinds of players? Or are you trying to guide them away from that experience to something that is more social? 

You absolutely are going to be able to play Destiny by yourself and have the same kind of fun shooter-experience that you could have in a single-player campaign, which is a word that we’ve weeded out of our vocabulary, but we’re going to give you this great player-progression on top of that, and we’re going to give you as many opportunities as we possibly can to expose you to other people, so that hopefully you’re drawn into some social experiences, because those are incredibly powerful and interesting, but we’re not going to force those on you. We describe it in a lot of ways as sloping the floor towards socialization, without putting a requirement on it. I would say that there’s some sort of – if you wanted to talk about it in MMO terms, you’d say “end-game activities”, but some of the most intense non-competitive activities in the game do require cooperation. They require a group of players to tackle at once. I guess at some variable, distant endpoint we are going to say, “Yeah, if you show up at this door, and you don’t have five friends, you’re not going to be able to succeed,” but the core experience that solo players have enjoyed in shooters, they’re going to be able to get that, and we’re going to pull many of them into social experiences as well. 

So, what’s the structure of that ongoing story? 

This is a question that we have argued about and tested and worked on. This has been a question since the very earliest days. I really believe it’s important for an action game to set you up and then just let you play the game: let you use your abilities, let you go for the headshots, play through the experience, and to not make you – I’m going to say some things that I think are fun in other genres – check a map, look at a quest log, manipulate your inventory. Players in action games want to be given a goal, and then just be able to focus on that for some amount of time. So I think you’ll find experiences in Destiny that are very reminiscent of the action experiences, certainly that we enjoy, from shooters and from shooters that we’ve built, but what we’re trying to do is to assemble those in a way that you don’t have to experience them A through Z, from beginning to end. In that way, I think it’s very similar to the campaign-shooters that we’ve seen before, but I think you’ll find them arranged in a much less linear fashion than any previous shooter.

Can you get to the end of that story? In the initial release, is there an idea that there’s a story you’re playing that you see the beginning threads of and that you’ve got a goal and that you’re going to a place? 

[Laughing] The answer’s yes, and we think that that’s really important. I’m laughing just because the number of man months of really smart people that we burned to  light the way for the game, talking about this exact thing is almost countless. The answer we come to is yes, it’s absolutely important to set you off on some mission that you feel as if you’ve accomplished at the end. We have to have that. I think the spin or the difference is that it is our job that by the time you get to that climax it will feel good. I won’t say our job, it’s our hope and it’s our mission that by the time you get to that conflict, that climax, which hopefully will be very satisfying, that instead of thinking you’re done playing, “Now I’m going to finish,” that you already have a head so full of other things that you can do in the world that it almost feels like, how can you get that thing out of the way so you get on with the rest of the game? We think that’s like walking this line down what action gamers expect and hope for and want. It’s just our desire to tell a story that has some closure and things happen, and our desire to build a world that’s fun to be in for week after week. 

That leads well into the other thing that I was going to ask. We talked about that segment of your Bungie fanbase that comes for the single-player. There’s another part of your fanbase that comes because they don’t care about story and they want to go online; they want to shoot their buddies. Does Destiny speak to that group as well? 

Certainly, competitive multiplayer hasn’t gotten any less important to us. We still love that. What I have found is that the people who really loved our games the most are the people who sample the whole experience, the people who loved competitive gaming and understood and played the campaign. What we’re going to do our best to do, again without forcing because I think that would be the wrong thing to do – we’re going to get this unified progression. I think that’s so powerful if we can get you to do this. We’re going to make the competitive game and the solo or cooperative game, or the game where you fight AI versus the game where you fight people, to make both of those viable paths for improving your character and getting new stuff to make your character better. We would very much like it if people got immersed in the story, got distracted by the competitive game, came back to the story, realized there were other cooperative activities that could be played, and just bounce back and forth between a bunch of different things that Destiny has to offer. 

But we realize some people are going to come, dip their toes in the story and play competitive and we absolutely want to be there for those people, because I’m that person sometimes. The competitive game has a simplicity that’s really wonderful. We try to bring a lot of that to the cooperative game. Sometimes you do just want to have you and the other guy and see who’s going to win over and over again for six hours in a row for three weeks in a row. And that’s fine. We’re not going to take that away. We’re going to do the best we can with unified progression to make sure that every time you play, competitive or cooperative if that's your thing, you’re getting tempted by these other activities, because I think people who enjoy the game, both the character and the world, are really going to enjoy taking that character into other activities. 

You have talked about progression. How do you keep people coming back? 

People love to build, and engage towards some aspirational purpose. It’s just fun. Sometimes you just have one of those days where you don’t feel like you did anything. Everything moved backwards. Nothing moved forward. It’s just fun to have an experience where you feel like you built something, you feel like you made some progress even if it’s in a piece of entertainment. I think that’s something that action games have often not really thought about or addressed or provided. That’s not a way in which you’d enjoy action games. I think the joy of action games comes from a very different place that’s more like snowboarding or driving or even chopping wood, if you’ve ever done that. There’s this joy of a physical activity done well. I think that’s why shooters exist. People just enjoy that flow. 

But the two things can completely go together and that’s what we want to do. And so in the world of a great action game, we want to give people aspirational goals. In a world with Camelot at the center surrounded on all sides by the wilderness and mystery and adventure, that progression is really about how strong you are and where you can go, what you can do and ultimately which enemies you can conquer in that world. Our goal is to always have some aspiration that players can be pursuing. I had to play Halo 1 a million times – I wanted to but I had to as well, to understand where the game was? And that, by the way, is one of the reasons why they’re ultimately compelling. We’d go crazy if the game we’re playing weren’t good. But anyway, I played Halo a bunch of times and so did a lot of our fans, and it was a really enjoyable experience for them. But I think if there had been, back in Halo 1 for example, some kind of aspirational goal or something to build toward, something that maybe you could even just show your friend that you’d done, or maybe something that enabled you to go into some remote, dangerous, and more challenging part of the world, I think people would have enjoyed that even more.

So what progression means to me is both a power to see more and more dangerous places in the world and it’s also a social token that you can show your friend or you can bring it with into these hard places. 

 

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