Our solar system is the playground of Bungie's new universe, Destiny.
Centuries from now, human civilization has spread far beyond the confines of Earth, stretching outward to the Moon, Mars, Venus, the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Mankind's Golden Age comes to an end when an unexplained cataclysmic event all but eradicates our species.
One safe city remains on Earth, shielded from harm by a mysterious entity known as The Traveler. This cracked white orb hovers silently over the last remnants of humanity's Golden Age, protecting us from total annihilation. Knights known as Guardians, protectors empowered by the Traveler, seek to uncover the mysteries of humanity's downfall and keep it safe from persisting threats.
This is the setting of Destiny, the beginnings of a decade-long collaboration between Halo creators Bungie and publisher Activision. It's a world "where any story is possible," Bungie says, and where players — as the Guardians of Destiny — will become legend.
Players will explore our solar system in Bungie's new first-person shooter, crafting personal stories as they travel Destiny's surreal, fantastic places.
As Guardians, players will battle alien species with exotic names like Sandeaters, War Rhinos and Spider Pirates. They'll wage war with time-traveling robots and evil space zombies. They'll have shared, social experiences that complement a crafted, mythic science-fiction universe.
Bungie and Activision officially unveiled the game last week at an event at the developer's Bellevue, Wash. headquarters. Bungie offered a high-level, conceptual look at Destiny's fiction, detailing the game that's the been the subject of numerous leaks and great speculation.
In a series of presentations, Bungie offered a glimpse of Destiny's concept art, its new graphics engine, its in-game character models and its music. Bungie developers and executives walked us through the development of the first-person shooter and the studio's grand multiplayer ideas. But we were not shown any gameplay from Destiny, leaving us with many unanswered questions about how Bungie's next series differs from its most famous, Halo.
Without having played or seen Destiny for ourselves, here's what we know about Bungie's new universe.
Destiny, bound for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, is a "shared-world shooter," says Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg. He explains that as the game’s concepts gelled, Bungie and Activision didn’t feel it fit into a pre-existing genre. Part first-person shooter, part open-world sandbox and part persistent universe, Destiny is constantly evolving but retaining players' persistent progression, Hirshberg says.
DESTINY IS A "SHARED-WORLD SHOOTER"
Part first-person shooter, part open-world sandbox and part persistent universe
Players will grow and customize their characters with new armor, clothing, weapons, vehicles and spacecraft, items that players will acquire and equip, objects that flesh out the lore of Destiny's 10-year narrative arc. The game's personalized gear will persist throughout single-player, cooperative and competitive modes.
Destiny is "always connected." Players will meet each other online to fight, trade, gamble, socialize. While Hirshberg says there are no plans to charge a subscription fee to play Destiny, the game will require an internet connection to experience.
Most importantly, Destiny is not Halo. Players will not assume the role of Destiny’s equivalent of Master Chief; instead, they’ll create, grow and customize their own personalized characters, playing as Guardians of Earth’s last remaining city. The stories Bungie wants players to tell will be of their own emergent experiences, guided by their interactions with other living players.
"Even in story mode, you will encounter other players on their own adventures, inhabiting and affecting the same world," Hirshberg says.
"We're really putting players at the center of the world and giving them control of their experience," says Jason Jones, Bungie co-founder and Destiny project director. "From the ground up, we've built this game to be social and cooperative.
"We've learned a bunch of lessons from MMOs and Facebook games … but Destiny is a console shooter."
Destiny’s multiplayer modes, both competitive and cooperative, are designed to be seamlessly merged with its single-player experience. Players will come together and adventure together naturally, Bungie promises, without visible matchmaking. They’ll pair up in the City’s Overwatch district, form bonds, visit distant worlds. At times, they’ll cross paths with strangers, their separate adventures overlapping to become one.
The design of Destiny’s online interactions recall similar concepts explored by games like Journey and Demon’s Souls, games in which the distinction between a solitary experience and a shared one is blurred.
Joe Staten, writer and design director at Bungie, likens the stories of Destiny to that of a series of books. "Each one has a strong, narrative spine," Staten says. "They’re adventure tales with real weight and depth." And they’re all personal, he says, because "the most important stories we tell, they’re not going to be told by us."
Staten recounted his own personal Destiny story, a shared journey with Jones as they traveled to the planet Mars. After meeting in the City's social district, they visited a hangar, where Jones' newly purchased starship awaited them. Together, they traveled to Mars to explore the ancient remains of a lost human civilization and recover an artifact in Charlemagne's chamber, a bounty commissioned by the Queen of the Reef.
After reaching Mars, the pair ventured to the Dust Palace, a public meeting place, before venturing into a Cabal exclusion zone guarded by a group of heavily armored foes colloquially known as Sandeaters. Outgunned, the duo encounter another player, a Hunter, on her own mission on Mars. They decide to join up.
"Every time this happens," Staten says, "when you run into another player, a real person, it's amazing ... it just doesn't happen in other shooters."
Now a fireteam of three, they survive their battle against the Sandeaters and claim their prize: exotic weapons looted from Charlemagne's chamber. Those recovered weapons, an onyx, spiked "hand cannon" named Thorn, and a sleek, angular shotgun named Invictive, are part of Destiny's narrative. They'll tell their own stories, tied to players' own unique experiences. Weapons with colorful names like Fate of All Fools, Pocket Infinity and Super Good Advice will tell tales of their own.
"The breadth and depth of Destiny's world encourages me to find my own adventures," Staten says, adding "at its core, Destiny is a hopeful world" that encourages players to forge their personal legend.
Bungie is careful to emphasize that Destiny's new networking technology is fundamental to its shared-world shooter experience. Chris Butcher, technical director, boasts that Destiny has no loading screens, nothing that will take players out of the experience. The connections between players will be invisible to the user, he says, thanks to "complex but totally hidden technology."
"The goal of any advanced technology is to seem effortless," Butcher says.
"We've developed [our technology] over the last ten years of working on online action games. Now when you put them all together, it turns you get something special. These technologies disappear into the background. There's no sign they're working, no progress bars, no UI spinners; you just sit back and play. The networking engine does everything behind-the-scenes [and] the player experience of Destiny just emerges.
"We think this may be the first time anyone has put these technologies together at this scale, in a game or anywhere else."
"We truly believe we can change the way they play games together."
Destiny's connectivity and social hooks will carry over to Bungie.net and planned mobile apps created to augment the always-connected nature of the game. Bungie.net accounts can also be linked to PlayStation, Microsoft, Facebook and Google accounts, social connections that will push Destiny's reach beyond the console game.
But the web is just one part of Destiny's narrative, says Eric Osborne, writer and community development manager at Bungie.
"Destiny mobile can reach players in ways we never have before," Osborne says. "We can notify people when there's new stuff to do in the world, connect them with their friends and social groups. We can help them share their stories and ours."
"We truly believe we can change the way they play games together."
Bungie says it has focused on the visual art of Destiny with the same fervor as it has the technology, generating more concept art for its next game than all of its previous games combined.
Christopher Barret, art director, showed us dozens of pieces of concept art that offered a glimpse at the deep character customization Bungie has planned: helmets, boots, cloaks and exotic rare capes. He showed Destiny's enemy aliens and mechanical beings, and the bizarre architecture of their evil lairs and visually striking capital ships. Only a fraction of it has been publicly released, but much of it is gorgeous and unlike anything we've seen in Halo or Marathon.
Pete Parsons, COO of Bungie, says he looks forward to "blowing peoples' minds" with Destiny.
"I look forward to when they start playing and realize they don't have just a new shooter from Bungie," Parsons says, "On top of it, they have this rich player progression system that allows them to customize their character. I look forward to the first time people see a stranger in a public space and realize at that moment they're playing with other human beings. Or the first time a group of friends realizes they can come back to Destiny week after week and have these great cooperative experiences.
"I really believe we have a chance to change the way that people look at shooters again."