When deciding to scrap Destiny 1 and create Destiny 2, Bungie may have bitten off more than they could chew in the interest of long-term goals. The result: it kicked their short-term goals in the nuts.
Before I get started, I would like to give a brief caveat: most of what I am about to say is pure speculation. I have no hard proof to back it up, which is why I have largely remained silent in the heat of Destiny 2’s drama. But the more we learn about Bungie’s decisions, the more these decisions seem to back my theories, so I think it is about time I shared them.
Since Destiny 2 came out, fans of Destiny 1 have been mad. Endgame content is lacking, new experience mechanics have been introduced without being officially communicated to players, and, of course, there are revamped microtransactions. In the latest uprising, players are petitioning to have Destiny 2’s microtransaction vendor, the Eververse, removed from the game entirely. But how did we get to this point? Why the hell did Bungie abandon a great game in Destiny 1 to knock out a subpar Destiny 2?
Old Source Code is the Source of All Evil
When Destiny 1 came out, no one knew what it was going to be. It wasn’t a pure shooter, it wasn’t a classic MMO, it was something entirely new, and no one could agree on how that would play out. And Bungie didn’t really know either. Bungie changed direction multiple times during development, and even after Destiny was released the game changed drastically between launch and the final Rise of Iron expansion. Vendors, bounties, quest management, and more changed with each expansion with the folks at Bungie learning more with each new attempt. And by the time Rise of Iron came along, there were no more major changes. The game was settled. Bungie finally knew what their game was.
While this is a great example of a company trying new things and learning from their community, it also tells the tale of a programming nightmare. You see, the foundations of a source code are like the foundations of a house. You build it with a certain plan in mind and hope you guessed your future needs correctly. As time goes on, you can build expansions on the house, new floors, new rooms, perhaps expand the garage. But with every addition, you’re making the house more complex, more dilapidated, and harder to work on. Eventually, the old, original house won’t be able to support your new ambitions. Sure, you could find a way to make it work, but it would cost more time and money to build that one addition than it would cost to tear that sagging house down and build a new one, with new, updated goals in mind.
That’s what I think happened in Destiny 1. The final direction of the game was so different from the original direction that the code was probably becoming cumbersome to work on. Small problems become big ones. New features and ideas could not be supported. If Bungie wanted to keep growing, if they wanted their code to be nimble enough to take on new challenges, they would have to clean the slate.
And you can see evidence of this in Destiny 2. The vendors are laid out differently than in Destiny 1, complete with new vendor token redemption systems that have far-reaching implications code-wise. These tokens have to be balanced through loot boxes in various activities and tie into vendor-specific loot, all things that can’t be implemented in a day. Then we have dynamic public events with in-game map indicators. The dynamic voice-lines that change depending on how many times you’ve done an activity, or what quests you’ve completed in Destiny 1. These are all small changes that have incredibly deep roots. But players don’t see these roots. They just see another vendor giving out sub-par loot.
But I see changes that make the game more nimble, robust, and ready to deliver a more dynamic game that can respond to players’ needs.
Business Politics Make the World Go ‘Round
Of course, rewriting source code is a major decision, one most companies shy away from because it is full of risks and hours of new labor. But around this time Destiny had a change in leadership. According to Jason Schreier, a writer for Kotaku and the source for many reliable Destiny leaks, Luke Smith took over game design around the time Destiny was rebooting for Destiny 2. And that makes sense. New leadership usually coincides with big changes.
But there was more than a leadership change going on behind the scenes. You see, Bungie is locked into a contract with Activision to provide three Destiny games. Knowing Bungie’s history with Microsoft, and knowing their ambitions to make Destiny a long-lived, ever-evolving game, they probably chafed under the shadow of a three-game contract that could hinder their creative ideas in the future. So, the sooner they could knock out those three games, the sooner that shadow could be lifted, or perhaps renegotiated to fit future needs.
Clean code, progress out of a contract, this Destiny 2 thing sounds like a win-win!
Heavy Lifting Behind the Scenes Means Less Content for Fans
Unfortunately, big changes come at a cost. This is why many developers don’t like it, but this is also why I love Bungie for doing it anyway. Every hour spent rebuilding old code is an hour spent not working on new content. It means a cleaner, more robust platform for future content, but fans won’t see those changes right away. Like I said above, the code changes had far-reaching consequences throughout the code, consequences that give the code far more potential. But why didn’t Bungie deliver on that potential? Why did Destiny 2 seem to fall flat?
Time bit them in the ass.
You see, cramming all of that work into a 16-month window was ambitious, especially when you consider that Destiny 1 was in development for roughly five years. By the time they finished all the groundwork on Destiny 2, they probably had a year or less to deliver all the content. If anything, I find it amazing that they accomplished what they did in that short time. The maps are huge, the bosses are varied, the main quest was full of fantastic cinematics, and the social spaces catered to all my Destiny 1 dreams. And they did that in under two years!
But why not reuse the old content?
This question comes up a lot, especially when looking at the planets in Destiny 2. Destiny 1 already had a small pile of planets, so why aren’t any of them carried over into Destiny 2?
To return to my original analogy, when you tear down an old house and build a new one, yes, some of the old bits can be reused, but they won’t necessarily fit right. Especially if the old bits were set up with outdated wiring or materials. With time, they can be reintroduced, but it takes some work. And unfortunately, with the tight time crunch Bungie faced they probably didn’t have the time to convert those old assets AND create new content, so they focused on the new content and saved the old stuff for later. In fact, data-mining has suggested that voice lines for these places have already been implemented in D2. So the old planets clearly weren’t intended to be swept under the rug.
And to Bungie’s credit, the story in Destiny 2 justified this lack of old people and places. When the Cabal took over, the Guardians’ world shrank and they were limited to small corners of survival. While they are expanding out into the solar system once more with places like Titan and IO, it makes sense why they haven’t visited places like the moon or the Dreadnaught in a while. The Guardians have too much on their plates as-is. With the amount of forethought that went into making sure these development decisions made sense in the game’s world, it is clear that Bungie didn’t make these content decisions lightly.
It should also be noted that with the time crunch came the revamping of the Eververse. According to a talk with Jason Schreier, it seems Bungie renegotiated the Eververse’s role in an attempt to spread out their content releases, content that could be released per season instead of per expansion, thus buying the development team more time to work on expansion content and accessory content on separate timetables instead of bundling everything into a single, big release.
Bungie didn’t intend to turn the Eververse into a rage-inducing money cow.
Bungie took some risks in the interest of making the game better in the long term. Unfortunately, those risks came to fruition and bit them in the ass. Overall game content took a hit, the Eververse took a turn, and fans were not happy.
But I think it is important to take a step back and put things in perspective. In my opinion, if you compare Destiny 1 at launch with Destiny 2 at launch, I think Destiny 2 improved leaps and bounds over Destiny 1, even if it landed a bit shy on end game content. The problem is, everyone is comparing Destiny 2 at launch to Destiny 1 completed, which includes two more years of development and four full expansions that couldn’t be readily transferred to a new game. To me, that just isn’t a fair comparison.
In the Destiny world, the launch title lays the groundwork, and the expansions take advantage of what that groundwork enabled. It may sound weird and dumb compared to other $60 games, but Destiny has always been its own beast, and that’s what fans love about it. Unfortunately, the Osiris expansion didn’t deliver much on that promise, so fans are getting pissed. But again, to be fair, the Curse of Osiris Expansion had very little development time after the launch of D2, so again, Bungie was caught with their pants down and the clock ticking.
But now, the dust has settled. It is time for Bungie to buckle down and do what they do best: turn the fan feedback into real progress. They did it in Destiny 1, I have faith that they can do it in Destiny 2.
And if they don’t?
Well, they are out of excuses. Whatever happens from here on out, for better or worse, is fair game for whatever praise or rage it earns. It is time to see where Bungie takes the ball. And it sounds like we won’t have long to wait.