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Bungie's Endgame: Destiny's Raid Philosophy And The Scope Of King's Fall

by Ben Reeves on Aug 27, 2015 at 09:00 AM

Aside from the fact that King's Fall will be Destiny's biggest and most complex raid to date, Bungie has been reluctant to talk about it. The studio hopes for King's Fall to be a complete surprise for players when they first dive into it in September, but we managed to wrangle up an interview with The Taken King's creative director Luke Smith, who was also the lead designer on Destiny's Vault of Glass raid. In our interview, Smith shares the history of Destiny's raids, explains how Vault of Glass showed the team they needed to redesign Destiny's gear system, and hinted at what players can expect from Destiny's biggest raid to date.

Was the concept of a raid always part of the Destiny experience? Where did you come up with the idea for this six player experience?
Raids were something that [franchise director Jason Jones] wanted pretty early on. He wanted raids in Destiny, and he felt it was really important that players have a cooperative activity that requires coordination and communication. One of our goals was to make raids different from the rest of the game. All the activities in Destiny rise up to meet you in different moods. You can get through strikes with minimal cooperation, and that's one of the experience goals for our strikes. We want you to just plow into those and have a great time shooting monsters, because shooting aliens is relaxing. But with raids we wanted something different. We wanted something that would challenge players. We wanted to challenge player's minds, and their thumb skills, and their coordination skills with other players.

During the development process did you guys have a lot of iteration on what you thought raids should be like?
We were pretty set on six players pretty early. There's a pretty old prototype we did during very early Destiny development that even took place in a different engine, and even in that early period we had raids as a six player activity. But I think we're still discovering what raids can be gameplay-wise. We're still exploring and learning. Each of our raids has provided a different type of experience. The Vault of Glass is a journey with your friends into a dark series of caves, and navigation is a big part of it. Crota's End is a much more kinetic and frenzied experience, because you're in an evil Hive fortress. We're continuing to solidify what the gameplay of raiding looks like in Destiny. We have a bunch of experiments and prototypes of different mechanics that we've tried along the way. Some of those experiments and mechanics have showed up in raids we've shipped, but we're going to continue to experiment and work on those mechanics we haven't totally nailed yet.

Raids have an element of discovery in that the community usually has to figure out what they're about and discover the best way to complete their challenges. Does that continue to be a goal for King's Fall?
The raid coming in the Taken King is objectively and emphatically our biggest raid yet. It is a journey that we hope players and their friends are going to remember. We're really excited about it, and we think it will raise the stakes again for what the raid team is asked to deliver next time. It's big. The name King's Fall is really like a shot across the bow in a game called The Taken King. That story of Oryx and his presence in our solar system is going to continue after the credits roll and were going to continue to tell you more about Oryx and his minions after you face them for the first time in the game. The raid is really the culmination of that story.

What were some of the lessons you learned while designing Vault of Glass and Crota's End that helped you during the development of King's Fall?
In Crota's End, we learned a bunch of valuable lessons about the difficulty of player containment. And when I say player containment I mean the players' ability to manipulate the environment to their benefit. Players do these amazingly intelligent things that we don't plan for when we're designing the game. In an hour of Crota's End going live, the raid was probably played more than it ever was during the entirety of its development. Our players are playing the game in a way that we can't always anticipate. Crota's End was an awesome learning opportunity for us at Bungie where we said, 'Oh my gosh, look at how we could be testing these experiences better. Look at the ingenuity of our player base. How can we react to that?'"

It seems the new strikes in The Taken King have learned a lot from Destiny's raids in that they are more crafted experiences requiring players to do unique activities and encourage players to work together. Does that push the raid team to try to up the ante even more?
I don't think there's that kind of competition between the two teams. They both have very different goals. There's a real verve on the part of our player base to see more things that evoke feelings like raiding but with a smaller team. We're responding to that. I think Prison of Elders had some cool mechanics that evoke feelings of raiding, and we're trying to build this journey for players where the game is preparing you for what the raids will ask you to do later on.

You guys have continued to experiment with the reward drops in raids. How do you feel you have improved the reward systems for King's Fall?
The Taken King is going to continue to feel like an outgrowth of what's come before. I think Crota's End vastly improved the drop system from Vault of Glass. We made that better. The forever 29 meme was pretty heartbreaking for us as developers, because if you did not get a pair of raid boots you could never hit 30. It was this disempowerment for a player. The conflation of gear and character level led to this place where your identity was determined by things that were out of your control, and it was something that we looked at and said 'We don't want to do that.' We don't want to have only four slots that contribute to this number. We want all the slots on your character to matter. We want every piece of gear that you get to have the potential to be something that excites you or makes you more powerful in both great and small ways. In order to do that we had to separate your light level from your character level.

But player gear is still very significant in measuring each player's power. Do you still see raids as the gateway to gaining the best gear as it was in the past?
We believe the highest gear level is a little less important to the game now. We hope that players see their light level as a tool that allows them to climb the mountain they want to climb in the way that's most interesting to them. If they look at a raid and they see it's recommended light level is 280, then we want them to think, 'I want to get my light to 280, so I can climb this mountain in front of me.' In the same way, we want players to look at the PvP activities they want to do and say, 'I want to get there, so I can go into that activity and have a great time.' Post-launch, we've created a bunch of ways for players to chase progression, chase creativity, and look how they want to look. That's all stuff we want to carry forward. But the gear you have is just a tool to reaching those activities and not the end goal.

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