My brother Ben loves Bungie.
Bungie.net is his homepage. Halo is the reason he loves video games.
To him, the people at that studio are celebrities. And he’s not the only one that thinks this. Ever since Bungie gave the world a reason to buy an Xbox with the first Halo, and then redefined online console shooters with the second, and then broke global entertainment records with the third, the team has established themselves as one of the most important studios in the world.
But in 2007 Bungie split from Microsoft. And in 2010 ended its time with Halo. A big risk for the developer, because was it really Bungie that my brother loved, or was it Halo? Would he and the millions of other fans follow the studio on a new adventure?
"With Destiny we want to prove to ourselves that Halo wasn’t just lightning in a bottle"
- Eric Osborne, Bungie
As Bungie prepares to reveal actual gameplay for its new title – Destiny – at Sony’s E3 press conference, the studio is clearly nervous.
The team have been out at events, meeting journalists, trying to gauge their thoughts and pick their brains. This is the biggest risk Bungie has taken in 13 years. And four years of hard work is about to be dissected and discussed across thousands of forums, blogs and websites.
“For many on the team it was incredibly difficult to say goodbye, but we are proud of what we achieved, and humbled by the community that embraced Halo,” says Bungie senior writer Eric Osborne.
“With Halo we earned our studio’s independence back, but with Destiny we want to prove to ourselves that it wasn’t just lightning in a bottle.”
It’s not a surprise then that Bungie decided upon the name Destiny.
“We were freshly independent and eager to earn back every player we’d previously won over with Halo. Moreover, it was a wonderful fit with the story. Destiny just felt right.”
"For the first time we’re able to place community and social pillars at the heart of our game."
- Eric Osborne, Bungie
Back in the days of the first Halo, the idea of creating and nurturing a community for your game was an unknown concept. But it was the Halo community (my brother included) that grew and developed over time that inspired the creation of Destiny.
“When we created Halo, we were surprised to see players literally lugging their TVs and consoles to their friends’ houses to have a more social experience,” adds Osborne (right).
“Xbox Live and Bungie.net then allowed us to connect people together in meaningful ways. With each subsequent title, we learned a little bit more, and we became less and less surprised by the multi-faceted communities that emerged, and we planned to forecast and respond to our fans, and in many ways, allow them to drive innovation and change.
“We see Destiny as an inevitable extension of that creative process. We’re still committed to delivering a captivating story, immersive sandbox gameplay, and a creative online experience, but for the first time we’re able to place community and social pillars at the heart of our game.”
The Bungie team has been telling anyone that listens about Destiny’s ‘pillars’. But put simply, the firm wants to create an open world connected FPS, which can be played by all skill levels. A game that has a ‘new experience every night’.
It’s a big task. Has there ever been a moment when the team has had to rein in that ambition?
“We’ve never wavered,” insists Osborne. “We’re focused on building a world that will bring players together in ways they never expected. We constantly challenge ourselves to evolve with entertainment and tech, and when we can, to shape it, in order to create something better. That takes nerve, but also passion, a talented team and hard work. With Destiny, we owe it to ourselves, and to our fans, to dream big.”
"I suspect Destiny will be one of the biggest investments ever made in launching a new game."
- Eric Hirshberg, Activision
Having left Xbox, and wanting to launch a multiplatform game in order to create more Bungie fans, more Bens, it needed to team-up with the right publisher.
Activision may not be the most popular publisher amongst gamers, but when it comes to launching blockbusters, it certainly seems to know what it’s doing, with Skylanders the biggest game of the year so far.
“We are making a big bet on Bungie and on Destiny,” says Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg (left). “It’s a new IP in an industry dominated by existing franchises. And by the time it is done, I suspect this will be one of the biggest investments ever made in launching a new game.
“Our goal is to make Destiny the biggest new IP launch in history.
“Look at what we did with Skylanders. We pushed all of our chips into the middle with that. A three year development for a kids game, based on an unproven play mechanic, being made for a target audience that companies like ours were getting out of. And 18 months later Skylanders Giants is the No.1 best selling game in 2013."
"We have been thrilled by the reaction Destiny has received to date, but it wasn’t lost on us that a lot of people want to see the game in action."
- Eric Osborne, Bungie
With the world’s biggest publisher and almost four years of development behind it, the stage was set for one of the most promising games of the next generation.
2013 was to be Bungie’s year. With a game reveal set for February.
But then, as we moved into the final weeks of 2012, information about the game leaked online. Destiny’s start to public life wasn’t going as smoothly, and the team were initially devastated.
“Are you familiar with the seven stages of grief?” jokes Osborne
“We moved to acceptance pretty quickly, and decided to lean into it. We decided to cut out the middleman and used Bungie.net to talk directly to our community. We were comforted by their response, and it helped inspire us as we pushed on to the reveal event in February.”
The reveal event in February didn’t quite go to plan, either. Destiny generated significant interest from fans, but journalists criticised the fact it never got to see actual gameplay. And at the PS4 reveal, the internet world became fascinated with how uncomfortable the Bungie team looked on stage. The ‘We don’t know what to do with our hands’ meme generated almost as much attention as Destiny itself.
“Well, we will never put [Destiny composer] Marty O’Donnell in charge of hand choreography ever again,” laughs Osborne.
“When the reveal came around we were on pins and needles. We always hope that they will be as excited as we are to share, but you just never know what the response is going to be until you get it out there.
“We have been thrilled by the reaction Destiny has received to date, but it wasn’t lost on us that a lot of people want to see the game in action. We hope those folks will be watching us at E3 this year.”
Ah yes, E3. Another chance for Destiny to impress. Where the world’s media, gamers and my brother are waiting to see what they show. The pressure is on. It’s do or die.
“We’ve been working as hard as ever to make sure we’re ready,” says Osborne. “Having worked so hard for so long, we’re excited to finally share the first look at gameplay.“
And then once the dust has settled on E3, what is next for the team at Bungie? Perhaps after four months of polishing, preparing and revealing the biggest game in its history, Osborne’s answer shouldn’t come as a surprise: “Sleep,” he says. “I’ll see you at E3.”
My brother can’t wait.