The lights are on
We are now about as far away from the Destiny beta as we have to wait before the game launches on September 9, making it the perfect time to catch up with the team and discuss the future. We sat down with production director Jonty Barnes and senior designer Nick Davies to discuss the reasons behind some of the gameplay design decisions.One of the things we discussed in our recap of the beta was the instances of the different locations across the solar system. This causes a few wrinkles when joining friends, but Barnes makes a case for Bungie's decisions."One thing that we always wanted to do as we made Destiny, was to make sure that there was one player bucket," he explains. "We didn't want to shard players into different servers, so we could all play together if we wanted to play together. But more players in a space doesn't always mean better gameplay. In fact, we learned from the work we did on previous Bungie games that three was very much the sweet spot for fireteams to be able to coordinate. It creates a triangle formation, so you can always have a good combatant experience and always be progressing."With regard to progression, the beta capped players at level eight, but Bungie threw in some enemies that were simply impossible to deal with. "We call those guys 'bouncers,' Carroll told us. "There are places you can go and some people made a sport of it, where you can speed-run through. If anybody hits you, you're dead, but you can speed-run through and get to the other side and see places you're technically not supposed to be. You're in danger, and you can see there's much more to the destinations. If there's a door, you're going to want to walk through it. But we put it just out of reach for a while."Gating wasn't the only reason these superpowered enemies were present. "We also needed to know that our bouncers were working," Barnes chuckled. Given that the Ogres were blocking off parts of the area, we were curious how much of Old Russia was left undiscovered by players."You've seen a lot of the real estate of Russia.," Barnes says. "Destiny is a huge game. There's the four planets (if you call the Moon a planet). Those are huge spaces, and it's way bigger than anything Bungie has ever created before. It's not just about pure real estate. There are activities as you get to a higher level that will drive you back to the Cosmodrome. It's got this point that when you get toward exploring a lot of the areas, we still have new things for you to do. We're always going to be changing it up. We haven't even talked about raids or other things like that."Part of the benefit of the beta and playtesting is getting weapon balance right. We can expect that Bungie will be tweaking, buffing, and nerfing elements (and extensive patch notes are promised). Carroll tells us that it took a shift in perspective to move from balancing Halo titles to something with far more diversity."It's way harder. It's way, way, way harder," he says. "Halo had something like seven guns and one character. We branched out a bit with Halo Reach, adding armor abilities and things like that. We do a ton of design work on paper and spreadsheets. Once you get past that point, we're iterating and playtesting every day in the lab. We did that for years. The sandbox team is doing that every day."Fixing weapons isn't always about tweaking the damage or fire rate, though. Sometimes "feel" is as important as data. "A lot of times, there are weapons on paper that are totally even. In practice, there is something wrong with this gun," Carroll says. "It just isn't satisfying. Rather than tuning the numbers, sometimes we need a better sound. Then we change the sound effect on the weapon and, suddenly, it's the best weapon in the game."As for the post-launch future, Bungie has announced that the first expansion pack, The Dark Below, will be arriving in December. We don't know much about it yet, but Barnes says that there's something for everyone in the add-ons. Destiny expansions will have some of each type of gameplay: multiplayer, story, and co-operative play. The Dark Below will have its own story arc, with more lore to take in. For more, check out the new Mars trailer. Destiny arrives on September 9 for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3.