Mike Mearls, lead designer of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, is hooked on Destiny, so Polygon wanted to learn more about how that's influencing how he thinks about tabletop gaming.
"I read this interesting article about how you need to look at your life and write down the five things that are important to you," said Mearls during a recent interview with Polygon. "Then you keep track of your time and see if you’re spending it on those things. I have to admit, being good at Destiny PvP, it would be in my five — raise my daughter well, take care of my family, stay healthy, and kick ass in the Crucible."
We were first tipped off to Mearls' expertise with a tweet he sent out not long ago, crowing a bit about his kill/death ratio.
I probably take too much pride in this, but I'm pretty happy that I've gotten half decent at Destiny PVP. pic.twitter.com/PWwDngIzct— Mike Mearls (@mikemearls) August 13, 2015
"I try to make sure I don’t play too much. But it is my midlife crisis. I just turned 40 this year. Some people go out and buy a new car. Some people start dating coeds. I have decided I want to make sure I’m still good at FPS games. That’s always been my genre of video games."
So, what's the man behind D&D's — a collaborative narrative experience — learning from Destiny — arguably one of the most popular competitive gaming experiences ever made? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
"Obviously I really like Destiny," Mearls said, "but I think it’s useful to have that in my life, because it lets me think. Destiny is an interesting case. You have people who love the game, but then you have all these complaints. There are a ton of parallels between Destiny and D&D in that regard, where you have people who want D&D, but who weren’t happy about the 3.5 edition. Or they thought fourth edition was a letdown.
"It’s interesting being a fan again and keeping that fan perspective in mind. It’s really helpful. I can look at something like Destiny and think, what could Bungie do to make me happy? When I have that answer, I think, how does that relate to D&D?"
"It’s interesting being a fan again and keeping that fan perspective in mind. It’s really helpful."
Much of the feedback that's been influencing D&D has been coming directly from the players. When the fifth edition launched a year ago, it had already been playtested by thousands of people via a free starter set available online. Their feedback directly influenced how the core books looked when they were published. Listening to the community has continued, Mearls said, in the form of surveys collected through the D&D website on a regular basis.
"On a more game design level," Mearls said, "the thing I like about Destiny and that I want to steal for D&D is two things that they do. First, their world building being so vivid is fantastic. Then the exotic weapons. When you look at the signature weapons from Destiny, like a Gjallarhorn or a Red Death, those things feel like these awesome, amazing relics. They have stories behind them and unique abilities.
"I would love to create a world where D&D matched that in the same way. We tried doing that in the Dungeon Master's Guide to some extent. It’s not just a +1 sword. It’s a sword with a history.
"By aligning the storytelling element of it with stuff players want to do, that’s how you tell a story through a game. You don’t just tell a story with cutscenes, just taking what movies do and stuffing it into a game. What makes games interesting and vital is that the player is making choices. What Destiny does is, in playing the game, you make choices about what you want to do and the game rewards you for that. I decided I wanted to become good at the Crucible. I get rewards for doing that stuff. It’s gear that’s good for PvP. I can reroll it and all this other stuff. That’s something that I think games in general need. It’s something that Destiny is doing interesting things with."