The Messy, True Story Behind The Making Of Destiny

The Messy, True Story Behind The Making Of Destiny

In the summer of 2013, months before they were supposed to ship their next video game, the game developers at Bungie went into panic mode.

The storied studio, best known for creating the multi-million-selling Halo series, had spent the previous three years working on something they hoped would be revolutionary. Destiny, as they called it, was to be a cross between a traditional shooter like Halo and a massive multiplayer game like World of Warcraft. It was going to become a cultural touchstone. “We want people to put the Destiny universe on the same shelf they put Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars,” Bungie COO Pete Parsons said in an interview two years ago. Reports suggested that the publisher Activision had committed to a ten-year deal worth $US500 million to make that happen.

Two years ago, something went wrong. Destiny‘s writing team, led by the well-respected Bungie veteran Joe Staten, had been working on the game for several years. They’d put together what they called the ‘supercut’ — a two-hour video comprising the game’s cinematics and major story beats. In July, they showed it to the studio’s leadership. That’s when things went off the rails, according to six people who worked on Destiny. Senior staff at Bungie were unhappy with how the supercut had turned out. They decided it was too campy and linear, sources say, and they quickly decided to scrap Staten’s version of the story and start from scratch.

In the coming weeks, the development team would devise a totally new plot, overhauling Destiny and painstakingly stitching together the version that would ultimately ship a year later, in September 2014. The seams showed. Reviewers singled out the story in particular, knocking the vague plot, thin characters, and opaque dialogue. One line, unconvincingly uttered by a cold lump of person-shaped metal named The Stranger, encapsulated the game’s narrative problems: “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”

Today, as Destiny enters its second year, a lot has improved. The most recent expansion, The Taken King, has levity and charm the likes of which Destiny players hadn’t seen before. But questions remain. How did such an ambitious game wind up with such a bare-bones plot? Why did Bungie seemingly change so much of the story before it shipped? And how did it ship in a state that required so much tweaking after it launched? What really happened behind the scenes of Destiny?

For the past 13 months, I’ve been investigating the answers to those questions. After conversations with over half a dozen current and former Bungie employees, all speaking anonymously because they were not authorised to talk publicly about these issues, the story that has emerged is one of a studio that was overwhelmed by a sudden reboot, a ruthless production schedule, and a number of other debilitating factors including the technical challenges of a brand new game engine. Bungie’s last Halo game, Halo Reach, had come out in 2010. The studio had been working on its next big thing at least since then. Despite that, much of Destiny as we know it today wasn’t actually conceived until 2013, a year before it shipped.

Bungie did not respond to requests for comment.

In February of 2013, Bungie invited journalists to their offices in Bellevue, Washington for the official unveiling of Destiny. Details had been trickling out in the previous months thanks to early leaks, but this was the big blowout — the event where the well-regarded studio would finally reveal what they’d been doing since releasing Reach in 2010.

What they did show was ambitious: They promised that Destiny would be “the first shared-world shooter,” a game where you could seamlessly meet up with friends and strangers among the swamps of Chicago and the rings of Saturn. Over the following year, Bungie would publish trailers with equally ambitious claims: “You hear shots ring out, and you look to the left and there’s your friend,” said one Bungie staffer in a Destiny video. “There he is, like there was no matchmaking, he just pops right in.”

When Destiny finally came out in September of 2014, players immediately noticed that something was off. There was no grand, Star Wars-calibre story. In fact, there wasn’t much of a story at all; Destiny‘s missions were at best vague and at worst incoherent, strung together by a mess of proper nouns and hilarious dialogue. Proclaims lead actor and constant companion Peter Dinklage during one early mission: “The sword is close. I can feel its power… Careful! Its power is dark.” That’s one of the game’s more memorable lines.

Thanks to the discrepancies between Bungie’s promises and the final product, rumours spread that Destiny had gone through major changes late in development. Fans went back through Bungie’s old videos, pinpointing characters and missions that weren’t actually in the game, like the planet Saturn and a blue-skinned alien who was shown in one cut-scene pointing a gun at the player’s character. It was almost wishful thinking: Surely, fans thought, Bungie couldn’t have intentionally released a game with a story this bad? Surely the plot was changed at the last minute?

Turns out they were right.

In the summer of 2013, just over a year before Destiny came out, the story got a full reboot, according to six people who were there. Bungie ditched everything Joe Staten and his team had written, reworking Destiny‘s entire structure as they scrapped plot threads, overhauled characters, and rewrote most of the dialogue. The decision was made against Staten’s wishes, sources say. Destiny project lead Jason Jones and the rest of senior leadership were unhappy with the writing team’s supercut, and their reaction was to scrap it all.

Destiny‘s story went through several revisions before the reboot, but the supercut’s version revolved around players’ hunt for the warmind Rasputin, according to two people familiar with the original plans. In today’s Destiny, Rasputin doesn’t do much but listen to classical music in a steel bunker on Earth, but in the 2013 version, he would have starred in a more prominent role. Alien Hive would have kidnapped the machine and brought him to their Dreadnaught spaceship, which was later cut from vanilla Destiny and moved to The Taken King. Originally, this Hive ship would have been part of the main story. “The entire last third of the game took place on the Dreadnaught with you rescuing Rasputin,” said one person who worked on the game.

Fans have long wondered about the bloody Exo in one early piece of Destiny concept art. Turns out that was Rasputin, according to a source. In the original story, the player would have rescued this guy from the Hive.

(In the DLC, we would have learned that this Exo was actually a puppet being controlled by a Warmind, the source said.)

The story would have also starred a character familiar to hardcore Destiny fans: Osiris, described by one source as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like mentor living in an ancient Vex temple on Mercury. Although Osiris has yet to appear in the version of Destiny that shipped, he does have a presence thanks to a competitive multiplayer gauntlet designed in his name: the Trials of Osiris. Groups of flawless victors in Trials of Osiris gain access to the enigmatic wizard’s Mercury temple, which was salvaged from the original story and reused here. In the pre-reboot Destiny story, Osiris served as a guide for the main player. He had a robotic assistant whose model was, according to a source, scrapped and reused for yet another character who will be familiar to hardcore Destiny fans: the Stranger.

She wasn’t the only character who would be reused. At E3 2013, Bungie played a Destiny gameplay trailer that showed a slick blue-skinned Awoken gentleman pointing a gun at the player character. Sharp-eyed players theorised that this Awoken was called the Crow, based on a pre-release screenshot of a mission (that does not actually appear in Destiny), instructing the player to “help the Crow loot the Academy archive.”

That theory was correct, sources say. In Destiny‘s original story, the Crow would have met the players in an early mission — where we’d have witnessed the standoff from the screenshot — and worked with them to find Osiris. One person familiar with the original story described the Crow as rogueish and charming, not unlike Nathan Fillion’s character, Cayde-6, in the most recent expansion. “Basically, who Cayde-6 is in The Taken King was the personality of the Crow,” that person told me.

Bungie reused the Crow’s model for a new character: the Awoken Queen’s brother, Prince Uldren. They reused the name in the current version of Destiny, too — the Queen’s army of spies are called the Crows, and Uldren is their boss.

The pre-reboot Destiny had way more of a focus on story than the actual game wound up having. “Story missions [before the reboot] always began with a Communique from a character,” said a source. “They were 30-45 second cutscenes of the NPC setting up the mission context. Osiris announcing a dramatic discovery about the Vex and asking you to dig up an ancient relic on Mars, or the Crow calling for help from the middle of a firefight with Fallen on Venus. And then every mission ended with a full cutscene, three to five minutes.”

Different people who saw the supercut disagreed on its quality. In an interview, one person who worked on Destiny called it terrible. “It was just a confusing, highly esoteric story that just didn’t make sense,” that person said. Others argued otherwise. “There was some very cool stuff, very powerful stuff,” said one. “It had strong characters; it had a beginning, middle, and end… It unravelled and solved an entire mystery in this corner of the universe.”

A third person familiar with the game offered another take: The story was interesting, but the supercut didn’t do it justice. “While the quality of the supercut was bad, the plot itself wasn’t inherently bad,” said that person. “It made sense on paper. It was also constantly being edited and changed. It turned into a Frankenstein amalgamation like the rest of the game.”

Everyone I spoke to agreed on one point: Bungie’s senior leadership, including Jason Jones, didn’t like what they saw. Some in the studio took issue with the rhythm of progression, which would have shown players all four main planets — Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars — within the first few missions of the game. (Obviously the moon isn’t technically a “planet,” but in the parlance of Destiny, the two are interchangeable.) According to one source, Jones also told the team that he wanted a less linear story — one in which the player could decide where to go at any time. That became one of Destiny‘s key pillars.

So in July of 2013, Bungie’s leadership decided to totally reboot Destiny‘s story. They kept much of the lore and mythology — the Traveller, the idea of Guardians, enemy races like Cabal and Vex — but they overhauled Staten’s entire plot, according to the people who spoke to me for this piece.

Over the next few months, Jones did two pivotal things, sources said. He designed the interface we know now as the director, a sleek set of maps in which missions are presented as nodes within each planet. He also organised a series of extensive meetings called “Iron Bar” where he and other top creators at Bungie like art director Chris Barrett and design lead Luke Smith would figure out how to cobble together a new, less linear plot for the game. This small group of developers spent the next two weeks sketching out a new plot and figuring out how to fit in the story missions they’d created over the past few years.

In the weeks after the reboot, the Iron Bar group — along with a team of designers and producers called Blacksmith (because they’d hammer and polish the “Iron Bar”) — came up with a new plan for Destiny. They rescoped the game, cutting out the Dreadnaught and moving it to the expansion, which was then called Comet. They changed the order in which players would progress between each planet. And they cut apart each story mission, splicing together encounters from a variety of old pieces to form the chimera that was Destiny‘s new campaign.

“[The design team] would have to cobble together and cut and restitch and reuse a bunch of stuff that was already built for a different thread, but now tie it together in some way that fit this amorphous, ‘You pick which way you’re going in the director’ story,” said one person familiar with Destiny‘s development.

“The priority was, ‘Hey, we have to take a bunch of content that we’ve spent millions of dollars on, we need to cobble it together in a way that is not going to break continuity, and we’ve gotta do it quickly.'”

Casualties of this process included characters like Osiris and Charlemagne, an artificial intelligence on Mars who was promoted in early Destiny previews but never appeared in the game. Other characters, like the Crow and Osiris’s assistant, were rewritten and recycled, becoming, respectively, Prince Uldren and the Stranger. Many of the story missions that actually shipped with Destiny were stitched together from older ones, sources said.

“So if you were going from point A to point Z in the course of [the original, pre-reboot story], they would take out section H-J because it was really tight encounter design and they’d put it off to the side and say, ‘How do we get H-J in this other storyline?'” said a source. “It was literally like making Franken-story.

“[Someone might say] ‘I’ve got a really good encounter here’ or ‘There’s this mechanism for triggering this that needs to happen,’ so ‘OK, cool, let’s take a piece of A and a piece of X and we’ll tie it together.’ And that was done for everything. What it basically did was put an order on the planets for you to go Earth, Moon, Venus, Mars, and within those you’ve got all the missions that were there. But the missions as they shipped were actually sliced up and stitched together versions of the original story, including the cinematics.”

Joe Staten left the company during the mid-summer reboot, although Bungie didn’t announce his departure until September, 2013. Two sources say the parting was not amicable, and when I reached out to him, Staten declined to comment for this article. Although the story he directed is no longer part of Destiny, much of his mythology remains, and even after the reboot, many of the writers Staten had hired stayed at Bungie to work on dialogue, flavour text, and what they call grimoire cards — a large library of rich, interesting lore that’s only accessible outside of the game, on Bungie’s website. (Most of Staten’s hires have since left the studio; Bungie later recruited a new slate of writers to pen the story and dialogue for The Taken King.)

As the reboot was happening, the developers of Destiny still thought they were going to ship the game in March 2014, according to two people who were there. They’d already delayed the game from its original release window of September 2013, but in the wake of the reboot, company leadership knew they’d need more time. While holding these development meetings, Jones and other top executives like Bungie CEO Harold Ryan went through the lengthy, complicated process of asking Activision for yet another extension, according to a source. After some negotiation, they secured a ship date of September 2014.

Over the next few months, driven by Iron Bar’s story changes, Bungie’s developers continued building Destiny. One source said after they got the extension, the studio’s priority was to polish and perfect the gameplay: how the primary thing you did in the game — shoot guns — felt, how public spaces would function, how encounters worked. The prioritised this instead of building a coherent story. Narrative took a back seat, as did the writers themselves. “The writing team Joe put together was ostracized,” said one person who worked on the game. “The story was written without writers.”

“The extension actually made it so we could get things to the base level of acceptability, and that’s what we shipped,” said another person who worked on the game. “If we didn’t have that extension, there’s no way we could’ve shipped in March.”

Destiny came out on 9 September 2014. Most of the development team was proud of the game, a source told me, and many were shocked to see harsh reviews; although most at Bungie had anticipated that players wouldn’t love the story, the team thought Destiny made up for that deficiency in many other ways. One source says they had internal surveys pegging the Metacritic score at around a 90 average; it turned out to be a 76. (Bungie then missed out on a major bonus, that source confirmed.)

Critics and fans did indeed love the look and feel of the game, but even beyond the lacklustre story, there was much to criticise in Destiny: the random loot system, the grindiness, the bizarre levelling, and many irritating bugs and glitches. Some of the decisions Bungie had made, like randomizing legendary loot engrams so they’d occasionally drop lower-tier items, infuriated even the most devoted players, and although Bungie fixed that — along with some of Destiny‘s other early problems — they made a bad first impression. To early players, and even to those who stuck with the game for the long haul, playing Destiny felt like battling against the developers themselves.

Right after Destiny launched, Bungie’s developers started absorbing all the feedback they’d seen online, according to a source. Although they didn’t know where they’d be taking the game over the next year, they did quickly recognise that they needed to change a lot, including the obscure and often frustrating levelling system. They rebooted the first DLC pack, December 2014’s The Dark Below, scant months before it was due to ship, according to two sources. (One person familiar with development says Bungie sequestered a team and had them crunch out Dark Below in just nine weeks, which may explain how insubstantial it was.)

In December of 2014, Diablo III director Josh Mosqueira and a few other members of his team at Blizzard came to Bungie for a talk, according to two people who were there. The parallels were uncanny; Diablo III had launched to commercial success in 2012 but saw a great deal of criticism from fans thanks to randomised loot, frustrating online DRM, and a lack of endgame content. Both games shared a publisher, Activision, that thought Destiny could redeem itself in fans’ eyes the way Diablo III eventually had after its release.

“They basically came in and said, ‘Look, here’s our story of developing Diablo III and then bringing in [the expansion] Reaper of Souls,'” said one person who was at the Blizzard talk. “They were saying, like, ‘Hey, random numbers are not fun — dice rolls are not fun. You can give the illusion of randomness, but you want to weight it towards the player… The only point you have to deliver on is that when people leave your game — because they will — when they leave your game, they need to be happy.'”

People who were at the presentation say it was extraordinarily helpful for Bungie’s team. One source called it “invaluable.” Others said it drove some of the decisions they made for The Taken King. In previous interviews with Kotaku and other sites, director Luke Smith has talked openly about avoiding randomness and designing quests with guaranteed rewards, an approach that has served Destiny well throughout year two so far. Destiny‘s meta-narrative has followed the same path as Diablo III‘s: It had a rocky launch, then the developers found redemption.

Before anyone could be redeemed, Bungie had to ship The Taken King, which had been going through its own set of development issues. Pre-production on this expansion, which was code-named Comet, had started in late 2013. Two sources say the original plan was to release this major expansion at $US60 and include a brand new planet, Europa, as well as a new area on Earth called the European Dead Zone (which itself had been pushed back from vanilla Destiny). They also hoped to add a totally new feature called multiple fireteam activities, which a source described like this: “Imagine like you and I are in a fireteam, and we’re fighting down this one path that converges with two other paths and you get three fireteams all fighting together against a boss, or against some sort of mobs.”

None of that happened. In March of 2014, Bungie rebooted Comet, sources say. The team ultimately decided to focus it around a single major map — the Hive ship that had been cut from vanilla Destiny — as well as a new public space on Mars, complete with strikes and a new raid. (That entire last Mars chunk was later cut and passed to Activision subsidiary High Moon Studios to develop for Destiny‘s full-sized 2016 sequel, a source said. They’re helping Bungie make the game.) Over the months, Bungie kept rescoping as they looked more realistically at what they could do, and the final version of The Taken King — the one that shipped last month — wound up focusing solely on the Dreadnaught.

It’s not uncommon for a game’s scope to reduce during development, but Bungie had a unique problem. People who worked on this project say that one of Bungie’s fundamental issues over the past few years has been the game’s engine, which the studio built from scratch alongside Destiny. Four sources pointed to Destiny‘s technology — the tools they use to design levels, render graphics, and create content — as an inhibiting factor in the game’s development.

“Let’s say a designer wants to go in and move a resource node two inches,” said one person familiar with the engine. “They go into the editor. First they have to load their map overnight. It takes eight hours to input their map overnight. They get [into the office] in the morning. If their importer didn’t fail, they open the map. It takes about 20 minutes to open. They go in and they move that node two feet. And then they’d do a 15-20 minute compile. Just to do a half-second change.”

People who have worked with Destiny‘s tech say the company is capable of powering incredible things behind the scenes, like player matchmaking. It’s also clear that Destiny is one of the best-looking video games ever made. But as a tool-set for designers, sources say, Destiny‘s engine is subpar, and creating new maps and missions at Bungie can be gruelling for developers.

Once Destiny launched in September 2014, Bungie’s staff didn’t have much time to celebrate. Over the next few months, the developers had to grind constantly. First they had to deliver two DLC packs that each justified $US20; then they had to release a massive $US40 expansion the following fall. They needed a live team working on constant patches and bug-fixes, and they also needed to plant flags to set players up for the major changes that The Taken King would eventually bring.

The grind of this process led Bungie to approach Activision with another proposition that would alter the ambitious release schedule they’d previously agreed to: They had released two DLC packs, The Dark Below and House of Wolves, and they had released one expansion, the codenamed Comet that was properly titled The Taken King. What if, instead of releasing two more DLC packs after The Taken King, they tried something new? What if they sold cosmetic items in the Tower? And then put out a dripfeed of free content to keep people playing in the months before “Destiny 2” — or whatever they wind up calling it — in the fall of 2016?

“There was a bet that was, ‘Hey if we did microtransactions, I bet you we could generate enough revenue to make up for the loss of DLCs,'” said a source. “Instead of it going Destiny, DLC1, DLC2, Comet, DLC1, DLC2, they’re actually just gonna go [big] release and then incremental release. So it will just be Destiny, Comet, Destiny, Comet every year. It’s basically just switching the game to an annual model.”

Even that process may be rough for Bungie. Destiny‘s contract had been leaked in 2012 as part of the messy lawsuit between EA and Activision and it stipulates that the studio stick to this yearly plan, no matter what other extenuating factors might arise. No matter how many hours they have to devote to the game. “A lot of the problems that came up in Destiny 1, and that happened in development of The Taken King, are results of having an unwavering schedule and unwieldy tools,” said a source. “Bungie is ravenously appreciative of the people that play their games, and they listen, they listen so clearly. But because the tools are shit, and because no one can reach consensus on how to fix the game in the time that’s allotted, you get a lot of sort of paralysis.”

It’s hard not to speculate about what Destiny might have looked like with Staten’s version of the story. People who worked on Destiny rave about the European Dead Zone and the raid on Mars, both of which may be added to the game in the coming months and years, but there’s scepticism that this yearly schedule will really work for a studio like Bungie. Insiders worry that the studio, hampered by inadequate technology, could find itself overwhelmed by the never-ending demand for more content.

All things considered, it’s remarkable that Bungie was able to ship anything in late 2014, let alone build a foundation as solid as vanilla Destiny. Fans who stuck with the game were rewarded by a great expansion with The Taken King. Maybe Bungie didn’t quite make a Star Wars, but the story of Destiny — more specifically, the story around Destiny — turned out to be fascinating for reasons they could never have planned.


  • Wow, interesting read.

    When I first heard about Destiny I was hoping it was going to be a massively rich and deep campaign, with an optional MMO type world for people who are into that.

    I simply can’t commit time and money to MMOs, I still really love a deep, offline campaign, that I can play through at my own pace, without an internet connection, and let the story unfold, like a good book.

    Is anyone still making something like that?

    • I’m in the same boat, I’d love to give destiny a crack but I just don’t have the time for mmos. I was hoping that destiny would be similar to borderlands where you can play solo and co op but I don’t think that’s the case. Oh well, fallout 4 is almost here!

      • Dont worry, it plays far more like Borderlands than any MMO I’ve played, with the possible exception of Defiance, and thats really only because Defiance is based on a similar concept of guns doing the work.

        Destiny definitely feels like Borderlands though, with just a bit more inventory management thrown in.

        • and a far smaller game.

          If gearbox used that engine to make a more serious game, i’d be happy. I guess bungie has the gunplay and movement etc, more downpact than gearbox does though.

      • its not an mmo by a longshot….think of it as a 14 hour campaign you can do with friends (optional), about 15 larger strike missions you will need 1 or 2 friends for, and 3 major missions that you will need about 5 friends for… tbh i havent really had to grind mmuch, the levelling to 40will happenen as your playing through the story missions, and as for higher specced gear, you get so many loot drops through strikes and crucible (multiplayer), and the legendary mark sistem will guarantee you prety decent gear after a week and a half of playing half an hour a day (daily missions that give you marks).

    • That’s the vibe I got from everything they showed pre-2014, and the main reason I was interested in Destiny. Participating in the alpha in May(-ish?) 2014 gave me hope – it showed me a world that had really polished mechanics and a place I could relax and just shoot stuff, and I expected the alpha to be pretty barebones – alphas aren’t demos, after all, they’re for user testing, and the fact that it was so technically polished gave me high hopes for the other aspects of the game… little did I know it was a full quarter of the content available at release.

      I still kinda wonder at Bungie’s management of the original writing team – if you’ve got people working on something for a year or two (or three) and only realise 12 months before release that what they’re producing is not what you’re after, you’re not really doing a great job of managing that team, surely.

      • I can’t quite figure if that was really poor management that sprung from idealistic concepts of everyone being on the same page and Bungie finally able to realize their creative dream… or if it came in later, an insidious side-effect of corporate influence on creative control. The lateness of the direction change is something that is all-too-familiar when it comes to last-minute top-level scope-changes. It comes from Very Important People who have absolutely no idea how long their whims take to implement.

  • Fascinating read. Thanks!

    I loved the image of loading your map overnight, hoping it didn’t crash and then making your five minute update. Sounds proper old school 1995. The perils of annualisation.

    They are on the road to redemption but they need to remember the FUN factor. It’s fun to jump in and do a few patrol missions, strikes and see those yellows drop, but it’s not fun grinding days for materials, bullet sponge enemies and being locked out of activities by the lack of match making and repetitive quests.

  • That Diablo meeting makes a lot of sense considering how much closer Destiny’s loot model is to Diablo III 2.0 these days.

  • As someone who loved the Taken Kings main campaign, and has been horribly disappointed by the drop of quality and shameless reusing of areas and bosses since they’re going to have to at least release one of those patrol areas if they expect I’ll buy Destiny 2. Hell, Halo 5, Battleborn, Fallout 4? Got better things to play 😀

  • “because they’d hammer and polish the “Iron Bar””

    Sounds like an apt description of what they were really doing, hey? hey?

  • It’s almost like most of the Destiny player base actually knows this deep down and a lot of the hate and vitriol is because of the frustration in knowing what the game might of been.

    But even after going through all of this I feel Bungie are still just making stuff up and have no real solid direction for what they are trying to do in the game. If they are holding back a bunch of ‘good stuff’ to counter the arrival of the new games shortly, then it might just be too little, too late…

    • I think a lot of the hate and vitriol is due to what was promised or at least alluded to and what was actually delivered; for the price.

      Its a classic over promise under deliver scenario. I know people who dropped $100’s on the special edition vanilla Destiny and played for a week and never ever played it again. Its the annoyance of seeing the hype, and the marketing etc. and then paying your $60-$120 and getting something much more watered down than was initially expected.

      That sort of thing makes people annoyed and angry.

  • So, in summary:
    People who are not writers overruled a writer on a decision about writing, decided that not-writers should do the writing instead, and everyone who played the result declared that the end-result was horribly written.
    The non-writers who did the writing were baffled. No-one could have seen that coming.

    The lack of respect for writing as a craft and a legitimate field of expertise is astounding.
    Would you consider yourself capable of building a car based solely on your extensive experience in driving cars? No? Then maybe you shouldn’t apply the same theory to writing.

    Some designers and artists thought they could be writers (how hard can it be?) and assembled some cargo-cult effigy that fell apart the first time anyone kicked the tires.

    But writing is NOT just making a series of events string together or using colourful phrases to make it sound good. Writing is not about pretty words. Words are only the tools through which you achieve the true work of writing – which is BUILDING a story and delivering it.

    Writing is about delivering concepts.

    This is why there was no narrative cohesion or flow, no character interaction, no character development or growth, no stakes or tension let alone a resolution to them, no meaningful relationships, no FUCKING STORY.

    This article makes the worst kind of sense, and it’s a scathing indictment on the character of all those involved. Their obvious lack of respect for the craft of their colleagues is both shamefully insulting and embarrassingly ignorant.

    • It’s even worse than that, it seems to be a massive failure on the part of upper-management the producers, or whatever they are called. So the game was begun in 2010, it took till 2013 to see a ‘supercut’ to determine the story was off track.

      They could have done a supercut in 6 months using still illustrations and rudimentary voiceovers. Concerns should have been raised over the story’s direction in 2010, the brief that the writers had when formulating the story should have been built around what the producers believed to be the core tenant of the gameplay.

      I cant fathom how they got to the point where they had done all the animations etc for the game, and then someone said “oh hey wait, this wasn’t supposed to be a single player, linear narrative, you should have been writing this based around these core gameplay tenants”. I am baffled how this happened.

      • I can only imagine either an irresponsible level of detachment from progress-checking and other managerial duties, or a powerful corporate influence (ie: Activision) dictating creative direction and leaving no time to implement it.

        The thing about the highest level ‘strategic direction-setters’ of corporate entities is that they are typically divorced from the reality on exactly what is involved or how long it takes to implement their grand designs (which are frequently less ‘designs’ than whims). Seen it in corporate and government all the time – a high office will queue up a press release to declare something is going live, then the poor fuckers in charge of actually implementing that get blind-sided by the request, because the VIP has obviously decided to schedule the press release at the exact damn moment they thought of it, instead of after doing any kind of due diligence whatsoever on how long that might take to deliver. So everything has ‘urgent’ slapped all over it, costs more, interim solutions are implemented, and the whole thing turns into a dog’s breakfast…

        All because ‘planning’ is something that happens to other people. People who aren’t Very Important People.

        God knows we’ve all heard enough developer woe stories of a publisher executive strolling into the office two months before gold and saying, “Hm. I don’t know. It should have this feature. Marketing says this feature is selling units right now. Put this feature in.”
        “But… that’s like an extra two years of development to do that.”
        “You people always exaggerate stuff like that so you can leech our money. You’ve got two months.”
        And after a month and a half of the lights never going off in the building and frantic project leads showing their best efforts so far an exec might grudgingly accept (after a word from Marketing that this would probably hurt reviews) a two month extension.

      • This happens all the time in much less complex organisations. Especially IT and tech etc. It doesn’t surprise me that this did happen, because it happens all the time but it still does baffle me as to why this does continue to happen.

    • Not to mention the lack of respect to the players themselves.

      Bungie aggressively squashed these theories when players connected the dots and came to the very conclusions we see here. They deleted threads, called people liars and even blamed the players themselves.

      I still remember one thread that politely gathered the big questions that players wanted answers to, it did not end well.
      Unable to delete a thread that wasn’t spam or toxic and had a very large following, Deej replied and only made matters worse. He said outright that these theories were lies and that it was the players fault for not understanding that game development changes all the time.
      He even went so far to ask players to move beyond these questions, implying that it was harming the game and it’s development. (In other words the strong investor drive the game focused on)
      The clincher for me was asking people to ignore everything Bungie had said and promised through development and up to that point and only focus on what they were saying now.

    • People who are not writers overruled a writer on a decision about writing, decided that not-writers should do the writing instead, and everyone who played the result declared that the end-result was horribly written.

      Ain’t this how it is, though? Material is consistently held ransom by the prejudices of a woefully uneducated majority.

  • Wow, reading all about the woes of Destiny does put into perspective the amount of complaining and whining from the community. Last night they put in a patch that blocked the nighstalker perk quiver because of glitch that allowed unlimited supers. And to hear that the game requires so much time to make one small change is insane.
    As someone who hated the launch of vanilla Destiny, I’m glad to be back and see how much they’ve fixed in the game. And reading how much trouble they had I can fully understand to why I was let down.

  • I’m really surprised about their tech being so hard to manipulate and change. I would have thought the whole reason for building a brand new engine, for a game you intend to update and change for the next decade, would be to make that process as easy as possible.
    Why build something you fully know you will continually tinker with, in such a way that makes tinkering hard?

    • It was surprising, especially when you consider Activision would have easily employed some help from the Blizzard side of the company to bring some experience in building an MMO world and it’s mechanics. (Loot, economy etc)

      I mean geez, how did they miss one of the most obvious exploits in the loot cave? If engrams were linked to kills, finding a method to kill as many as possible and as quickly as possible was always going to happen.

      • Not to mention the frustration with the Cryptarch was a psychological carbon-copy of the rest-exp experiment that Blizzard undertook and talked about at length over ten years ago in the WoW beta.

        We’re talking basic, basic, game psychology 101, already-learned lessons. There is no useful purpose to making these mistakes fresh when others have already made them and shown you how to learn from them.

        The whole excuse of, “It’s their first time doing anything like this!” is utter crap. There is absolutely no need to ever reinvent the wheel, which was exactly what they were doing for no good reason other than they bought their own hype and genuinely believed that they weren’t actually making a FPS MMO.

        There’s a huge difference between making an honest mistake and genuinely learning things for the first time (that nobody else already has, especially people who work for the same parent company), and Bungie’s mistakes have been a perfect storm of idiocy and arrogance.

        There are a lot of intelligent people working there, which makes it so hard to understand, but in the end… to quote Terry Pratchett: “The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” A person is smart. People are dumb.

    • I had a feeling this was the case when their patches were weeks in between when we would attempt VoG. To paint a picture – WoW is a set of interchangeable parts; think lego from a developmental scale. Destiny struck me more as a single statue where every change broke something somewhere else. (e.g. when they changed the portal fight; templar got broken, etc, etc.)

      Here’s hoping for the next iteration they take this into account for easier patching/fixes.

  • That it takes so long to make small changes is insane… and, honestly, explains why they’ve been so stingy with updates pre-2.0. Post-2.0, I think we’ve had about one update per week, so they’ve either resolved this, or figured out a way to structure their work around that astounding 8+ hour load/alter/compile/test cycle… I have no idea how I’d be able to work with that, myself.

  • Great article.

    THIS is why I was so sh*tty about the pricing of TTK for people who bought vanilla Destiny and maybe one expansion.

    They know full well they half-assed the game, charging full retail for an “expansion” that already includes the game that was bought previously was pretty shabby.

  • It seems like the top brass didn’t like that you got the whole story when you bought the game and decided to chop it up and drip feed it to players, all about the money.

    • Maybe, though I think it’s more that they didn’t like how it played or that it was as linear as it was meant to be, and they chopped it up over creative differences, but the resulting development clusterfuck was so terrible that there was literally no time for them to create the expansions that they had been contractually obliged to, so implementing the ‘base game’ in its stitched-together abomination version stretched out over those contractually-mandated ‘expansions’ was a matter of convenience.

  • I’ve played bit of it on the PS4 (lvl 34 I think) – I haven’t played TTK yet, but I own it. I really just want it on PC. I’m hoping that they do release it, or a sequel on PC (like the rumors suggest).

  • Great article, explains the discontent in a large portion of the player base and that it is warranted.

    The result released back in 2014 didn’t feel like Bungie of the old (Halo->Reach).
    What could have possibly gone on during those 3 years for the story to then be turned/dropped on its head? The richness in story was definitely missing – the pressures of the contract between Activision has obviously had ramifications and Bungie has lost a fair amount of talent in the last few years.

    Here’s hoping Bungie can rectify this and deliver properly. TTK is only a start – there’s plenty more work for them to do to restore the faith in fans.

  • it’s mind bending to me that a core part of the realised Destiny experience ‘the director’ screen wasn’t the base that the initial game was built around.

    I just don’t understand how one part of the company was building one game concept and an another part of the team was writing a story for a different style of game. If Jones believed this was the core experience, why wasn’t it initially? They could have mapped out the story progression directly onto that screen.

    So many things baffle me about Destiny, as I sit with my chums playing Destiny, the same content over and over again, we often discuss how did they get some of it so right, the gunplay, the PVE mechanics, and get so much of it wrong. Even TKK is just Destiny remixed. But given the issues with the engine it makes more sense as to why the content is so limited.

    After playing Dark Souls, where story is left deliberately opaque, i thought that they started building Warcraft in Space, and then pivoted to make Dark Souls in Space. For my mind, the base Destiny that was released would have been better if they stripped out all the FMV and left the players to create their own interpretations, with the grimoire in game, delivered to you by ghost, with illustrations, IF you decided to view them.

    The speaker’s initial monologue is a joke, the Strangers stuff is just plain dumb. Why not just be a faceless, nameless guardian caught up in a larger struggle that no-one had the time to explain why they didn’t have the time to explain wtf was going on, ‘just go do these missions guardian’… etc. damn frustrating lol

  • I quote from one of the execs in the article (one who shot down the original story):

    “It was just a confusing, highly esoteric story that just didn’t make sense…”

    Oh ok. Kind of like the one (or lack thereof) that you decided to go with in the final launch version of the game. Unbelievable.

    But this confirms the major theory many pissed-off players have had about the game all along. And the worst part is, it seems it wasn’t Activision that fucked everything up, but Bungie themselves.

  • “Let’s say a designer wants to go in and move a resource node two inches,”

    They go in and they move that node two feet.

    No wonder the game is full of bugs.

  • That, was an interesting read Jason.

    For a studio to go that far into development and start over with the story, that is mad. The saving grace for Destiny was game play. While I do love a great linear story to follow, and I was always left feeling incomplete, while playing Destiny but the gameplay was just exquisite. And it was that exquisite gameplay that kept me going back.

    Better gameplay will always trump a better story. Bungie knows that, and that’s why they chose to focus on the gameplay rather than the story.

    Looking forward to playing The Taken King and finding out what the hell is going on in that universe.

  • Now I feel depressed. I really enjoyed Destiny and still do but seeing what it would of been just makes me sad.

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