As has become annual tradition, I sat down with Bungie at E3 last week for a frank discussion about the state of Destiny, a video game in which players travel through space trying to convince internet commenters that yes, people still play Destiny. As has also become annual tradition, the folks behind Destiny didn't want to offer much information that they haven't already shared. They wouldn't even tell me whether or not Fatebringer is coming back. Rude.
Still, chatting with Rise of Iron director Chris Barrett and Bungie marketing director Eric Osborne was a lot of fun, and as you read through this interview, keep in mind that we were laughing the whole time. It was good times all around.
Changes to the Cosmodrome
Schreier: First of all, I've been combing the Destiny subreddit today, and people are now noticing that there are a ton of changes in the Cosmodrome, in the trailer you guys showed. Are those going to be permanent changes?
Barrett: So there's a brand new zone we're adding to New Russia. You'll be able to have a brand new patrol area that you'll land in to explore the new content. Connected to that will be — you'll be able to revisit old Cosmodrome.
Schreier: Is this patrol zone going to be linked to the old Cosmodrome so you can go back and forth between them?
Osborne: It's separate. That allows us to do really cool things like where you're first resurrected and you have, you know, the line of cars, that's completely blanketed in snow and the water's frozen, and there's a giant Fallen ketch back there, and you sort of punch through the wall.
So if you're a fresh Guardian and you're coming in September for the first time, you're not looking around like all these guys running around like, "What's going on?" (laughing) It's the first time we've really done that, that permanent time movement for those players.
Barrett: Because we wanted to be able to retain old activities and the original story campaign for players who are joining in.
Osborne: The goal is to give another look at Earth, too, right? One of the things we were worried about was [fans saying] "awww it's Earth", cause we've done a lot of Earth, but various teams worked really hard to make sure the Plaguelands feels like a very unique destination. So if you look at the press shots that are out there, you can see apocalyptic skies. It's blanketed in snow. You've got lava geysers coming out of the ground. It looks very different.
Schreier: Just so I have this sure — the new Plaguelands patrol zone, that's going to have some of the old Cosmodrome stuff, just different? So I can go back to The Divide and it's different in that new patrol?
Moving away from last-gen
Schreier: Now that you guys are moving to PS4 and Xbox One, is there new stuff you can do other than graphical improvements? I had heard that some stuff got left on the cutting room floor [in vanilla Destiny] because of cross-gen development. Are there new mechanics you can use?
Barrett: Really we're at the point where there's so much in the game itself that in order to —
Osborne: There's too much content. (laughing)
Schreier: (laughing) That's what everyone says!
Barrett: In order to add more stuff, we would have to remove stuff from the game to still support legacy content. So it's really about the amount of stuff in the game. We're always looking to add new features and new graphical improvements.
Schreier: Will you guys be adding new stuff to Rise of Iron since it won't need to support legacy consoles?
Barrett: Just the fact that we're adding new stuff... it's basically like we're all full up. Anything that's additive at this point, something has to go. Big stuff. So [ditching last-gen] allows us to make the bucket bigger. And there are new bells and whistles and fun features we can do. In the past we did have some differences between [platforms]. We tried to keep those very limited because we want to make sure wherever you're playing Destiny, if we're going to support a platform, we want it to feel like Destiny. We don't want to carve it like, "oh there's only one subclass," or whatever it is. All the bones have to be there. We did have to make some compromises of like vault space or tabs or things like that in the past to make sure it'd perform and be a good experience.
To be clear we're not turning any of that old stuff off — you can still play Destiny if you're sitting on your 360 and you've just picked up The Taken King.
Osborne: What we're not gonna do is, like, Rise of Iron is out so House of Wolves has to go away.
Barrett: Our number one priority for Rise of Iron was new content.
Rise of Iron's structure
Schreier: Should people expect the same sort of structure as Taken King as far as you go in and there are a bunch of quests like that? That sort of rhythm?
Barrett: So we have a brand new story campaign. We're adding a new social space. One of the things we've talked about is the campaign will start with taking back Felwinter Peak. So you'll have to scale it and defeat the Fallen there and then it turns into a social space. I think the pacing and the story and the setting are all completely unique.
Schreier: What I mean is you go in and you start one quest and then you have a bunch of other quests to pick from? Are you following that structure? I assume the quest system is not changing.
Barrett: More or less. The quests that are there, the campaign itself are going to be unique, and the pacing will be unique for Rise of Iron.
Schreier: Are you planning on overhauling any major features?
Barrett: No, I mean we have some stuff that we'll be announcing over the course of the summer [in the US, so winter in Australia], but really like I said we're really focusing —
Osborne: We're not burning any posts. We're actually in a fairly positive place where people are digging [the] April [update]. We just want to provide people with new story content, new stuff to do in the game.
Custom PVP matches
Schreier: I heard a rumour that we may see custom PVP matches?
Osborne: You hear a lot of rumours! (laughing)
Barrett: The whole crucible-PVP is something we're super excited to talk about so maybe down the line we'll roll Lord Saladin out, talk about some Iron Banner stuff. We'll definitely have a new PVP mode and maps.
The road map for future content
Schreier: I know you guys want to focus on September, but obviously people are concerned about the road map with Destiny 2 now coming next year, presumably next autumn [in the US, spring in Australia]. Can you give us an idea at least of what the year's gonna look like, content-wise?
Osborne: Wow, people are concerned, I mean we've been out 18 months. I think people talk about Destiny like it's been here for decades. Eighteen months, this is our fourth expansion. Forty plus updates to the base game. I think the content pace is pretty normal... It's a nice problem to have that people want to know about more content.
Schreier: I think people want to know is it gonna be more DLC, is it gonna be live events?
Barrett: The idea is all of the above, right? So we want to get to a place where we can ship really great expansions like Rise of Iron and cool events like Festival of the Lost, and that's sort of the full library of stuff that we want to deliver. We want to keep more regular content for players.
Osborne: Barry's the guy who's in charge of all the live lane now, so he's gonna take up stewardship of that. He's been around for 16 years, and knows how to make players happy. But yeah, we definitely hear fans asking for more content. Obviously for us, coming from a world where we shipped a game every three years to where we are now where we ship a game and support it. The amount of — you've gotta do the maths, like three updates a month or something. It's a pretty different, unique experience. The biggest problem we have right now is people are like, "Give us more! We want more stuff! Make more stuff faster!" I think we want to say, "Yes, we totally want to do that," but obviously we want to make sure it's quality too. Rise of Iron could not be made in like a month. It's gotta take time to germinate, it's gotta have a story campaign...
Schreier: How long have you guys been working on this?
Barrett: The core team really started in earnest in the beginning of the year. But it's been a concept that we've been thinking about for a while.
Schreier: And I know the raid has been in development for a while too.
Osborne: The raid teams, and the crucible teams and the other teams are also kinda always in flight working on stuff, and Barry's role is basically to tape all those things together, but the raid is designed for Rise of Iron… It takes place literally in the heart of the Plaguelands.
Schreier: The live team is now the DLC team, correct? They're one and the same?
Barrett: Yeah, it's all about the live content updates throughout the course of the year.
Schreier: Which is DLC and expansions?
Revisiting the Vault and Crota's End
Schreier: Speaking of raids, are you planning on updating the old raids?
Barrett: We're always looking at fan feedback, right? Players would love to do that. We're focused on delivering a new raid, and that's what people are most excited by — give us something new. We haven't done a Fallen raid before. We haven't done one on Earth. So that's our focus, but yeah, we're always listening —
Osborne: Pretty much any fan feedback that you can think about, there's somebody thinking about it.
Schreier: Of course. The question is priorities.
Osborne: It's not just priorities, it's time, it's priorities, it's what's right for the project. Right now people are asking us for new stuff. We certainly see people who are like "we want to bring the light level up on some older stuff", but I think if we were to go in and do older content, we wanna treat it more like we treat some of the strikes, where we reprise them, make them feel fresh, give them a reason to exist.
The return of Vex Mythoclast
Schreier: I have to ask if Fatebringer is coming back.
Osborne: Well you don't have to.
Schreier: (laughing) I do have to.
Osborne: (laughing) You're a grown man. Don't let Reddit push you around.
Schreier: (laughing) OK, I wanted to ask. You got me. It's all me. So Fatebringer and Vex Mythoclast. Those are the two requests.
Barrett: So as you can see with April or some of our previous releases, with Gjallarhorn for example, we're always looking at fan favourites and what makes sense to bring back and when.
Schreier: This feels like a non-answer.
Osborne: Who's shadow-stepping now?
Barrett: We're always looking at when the right time to do that stuff is. If there's stuff that players love, I think it's a great opportunity —
Osborne: I'm more of a Vision guy.
Schreier: OK, so when is Vision coming back? I'm a Vex Mythoclast guy. I miss that gun a lot. So please bring it back.
[Activision PR] Genevieve Waldman: Maybe this is a request. (laughing)
Schreier: Well that's what I'm here for. Conveying the wishes of fans.
Osborne: There are a bunch of things out there that people want us to do, and part of it is we want to listen to fan feedback, and do what's right for the game. And some of it is like, Barry's got a creative vision for Rise of Iron, there's a theme around it — certain things make sense here, certain things don't make sense here. It's mostly about what are the high-level things we can deliver that will make tons of people happy. New story straight out of the gate… new characters, new social space, new Plaguelands, that's the kind of stuff that we know is gonna win big across the board with a ton of people. Obviously we know there's power in gear, so like the Gjallarhorn is a really cool iconic weapon to bring back, and certainly there's gonna be a list of things that do come back. We like to have fun with that stuff.
Schreier: Can I see that list?
Osborne: It's a party. You'll be invited to the party. (laughing) But it's not your birthday. We get to open the presents.
Schreier: Can you give us one name on the list?
Osborne: Well fans have already picked one out. If you have a keen eye you can take a look through some of the screenshots — we've got some little secrets buried in there.
Schreier: Can you give us one name that fans haven't found already?
Osborne: Who's us?
Schreier: Kotaku readers.
Osborne: (to Barrett) You wanna give them a gun? A Kotaku exclusive?
Barrett: Uhhhhh… yeah, like you were mentioning, there were some on the trailer.
Schreier: Work with me here.
Osborne: It's a shitty question, because we want to have a moment with everyone to be like, "Let's all celebrate together." I get it, obviously you want to make sure your audience gets a bunch of cool information, but so do we, man. What I will say, if you look through the screenshots in the press kit you'll see some stuff in there. Some people on Reddit have speculated about a returning weapon. Maybe it's accurate. Maybe that's intentionally there to make them think about this.
PVE vs PVP balance
Schreier: Let's talk about design stuff. Two years into Destiny, are you guys still happy with the decision to make weapons work the same way in PVE and PVP? Is that something that's still gonna be a core principle for months and years to come?
Barrett: I think one of the great things about Destiny, at least personally, is that it's one connected world and we're not schisming the entire game into two separate games, through the main menu or something like that. Cause one of the fantasies of Destiny is that you have a character you can bring across multiple activities.
Osborne: It's one of the things that's cool about Saladin too, right? He's this guy that's been typically a PVP guy mumbling in the Tower about the past, and weapons, and Barry's taken that and turned him into a story character —
Schreier: So is that a yes?
Osborne: There are targeted changes that we do from PVP to PVE — the Sandbox team is willing to break that convention, but overall we want to make sure that the muscle memory you're creating when you play a campaign works in PVP, that these guns are totally… We've done targeted changes to classes, and done it with shotguns in the past too, where at one point our PVE guns were one-shots on everything, so yeah I think —
Barrett: It's about making balance choices for each activity.
Schreier: What ever happened to the Sparrow Racing League? Is it coming back?
Barrett: It's still there. Fans really loved it, it was a cool unique experience.
Osborne: It had a cool jumpsuit, like racing jumpsuit.
Schreier: I was under the impression when it launched that it'd be a more frequent thing, like Iron Banner.
Barrett: Yeah, there's definitely an opportunity to bring it back, just like we were talking about with raids or reprisal strikes, we'd want to make sure we bring it back with purpose, and —
Osborne: They had the possibility, so Sparrow Racing in particular is a pretty significant departure from the standard sandbox of the game, so we had no idea how people were gonna perceive it. I think it came about as part of a Hackathon internally. So it was like what if I could make a racetrack? We had a whole system of things — kiosks were in there, where people take like, we're gonna spend a week, and some people are gonna go off in little groups and just make some cool stuff and hack away at it, and Sparrow Racing came up and various teams were like, "Let's make that real."
Schreier: Can you talk about anything else from that Hackathon that hasn't been implemented in the game? Something you guys have created, some prototype you would like to add some day?
Barrett: Hmm. I'm trying to remember. I wanna say almost all of it went in, cause some of it was like low-tier stuff like the jukebox, someone was like, "What if we could just give a space where players could dance?" The kiosks were definitely in there where you could keep weapons collections. Sparrow racing was in there, the colour, the ability to adjust the UI for colourblind.
Schreier: Is there anything that hasn't been added? Maybe you thought "this isn't a great fit" or "maybe we can add this in the future"?
Barrett: Nothing I can think of right now, but I know we want to do another one soon so that we can do some new stuff.
Schreier: So you'll update me then. (laughing)
Barrett: (laughing) Honestly, if there was something cool, I would tell you, but offhand I can't remember.
Osborne: That's one of those things, too, where you're seeing those things like, "Oh those are cool, I hope we can execute on them," so they're hard to expose, because you don't know. You don't want people to fall in love with the idea of Sparrow Racing and then you chase it and it gets down the road and it's like well it's not really working so let's cut it. Things typically get cut when they're not great. But Sparrow Racing is definitely — if there's an opportunity to bring that back, people had fun with it. Same two maps! (laughing)
Schreier: I actually thought it'd be a rotating thing where every few weeks we'd see it!
Barrett: I think I remember when we first launched it we were saying, we're gonna see what it's like, how it's perceived, and then decide.
Osborne: One of the biggest learnings that came out of Sparrow Racing was that people really enjoyed the generosity of the loot stream that was coming out of that. It was our first opportunity to really play around with Infusion in that way, where it was just like, "Let's throw a ton of stuff at people." I think it was actually overkill — people were like fucking stop giving me helmets, holy shit.