Monday, February 18, 2013

Bungie’s Destiny: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Over the weekend, Bungie unveiled their upcoming ‘shared-world’ first-person shooter, Destiny. Set among the Earth’s solar system, players will become Knights and Guardians, empowered by The Traveler, a mysterious white orb hovering above the Earth’s last city, to discover what caused the genocide of our species, and who or what is The Traveler. Destiny aims to marry emergent gameplay of an MMO with a persistent first-person shooter, giving players a world that lives and breathes even when they’re not playing. Designed to span over the next 10 years, Destiny will give players a reason to keep coming back as new content and expansions are developed and released, without the need for a subscription fee.

And that’s about all we know about Destiny. Despite the press event held at their headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., Bungie showed little to no gameplay, offering only a high-level look at it through concept art, the engine, in-game models, and music. The assets released thus far have are all concept art shown at the event, with small snippets of gameplay in a video documentary explaining the ideas of Destiny. At one point during the event, they showed a reel not of gameplay, but the reactions of play-testers encountering the emergent gameplay that comes with the MMO design. If testers are involved, Destiny must already be in some sort of playable state, so it begs the question of why Bungie showed things like concept art, but no gameplay.

That’s not to say they can’t pull it off. Bungie did learn how to adapt for consoles with Halo, making it the standard for console first-person shooters. But Destiny is much more ambitious game, both technically and narratively. Without more information like what gameplay is like, how classes work, how multiplayer will work, when it’s coming out, and how it will sustain itself over the next 10 years, I remain skeptical. It’s another reminder that things like CG trailers and early announcements are less relevant.

Destiny is destined for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime in 2014, along other future consoles. Bungie didn’t come out and say it, but expect to see Destiny on the next Xbox and PlayStation. They made no mention of a PC version, but COO Peter Parsons said to Eurogamer, “We would absolutely love to be on the PC. If you talk to the people upstairs, we play it on all platforms. So, stay tuned.” While that sounds promising, I’m not holding my breath. Bungie co-founder and Destiny project director Jason Jones noted, “We've learned a bunch of lessons from MMOs and Facebook games… but Destiny is a console shooter.”

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