When Destiny first launched in September 2014, one of the main complaints had to do with the thin story and dialogue, which featured The Stranger saying, “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”
In an attempt to discover what went wrong with Destiny, Kotaku spoke with more than six current and former employees at Bungie, under promise of anonymity. According to the sources, Destiny’s writing team, led by Joe Staten, showed a two-hour ‘supercut’ video to the higher-ups in summer 2013, months before the game was expected to ship. Unfortunately, they were unhappy with what was shown, deciding it was too campy and linear, then scrapping it entirely and starting over, against Staten’s wishes.
The article talks about some major changes Bungie made from the supercut:
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.
In Staten’s version of Destiny, story missions always began with a Communique from a character, which were 30-45 second cutscenes of the NPC explaining the mission. After completing a mission, you’d then be treated to a full cutscene ranging from three to five minutes.
While reactions in the studio to Staten’s supercut were mixed, Bungie senior leadership didn’t like it, with some of them against the progression structure. Wanting to have a less linear story, the previous setup of showing all four main planets – Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars – within the first few missions was removed.
This reboot to Destiny took place in July 2013, when Bungie was still expecting to launch in March 2014. The plot was completely overhauled and a small group of developers worked for a couple weeks to figure out how to fit the story missions they’d already created into the rebooted version. However, the lore and mythology of the Traveler, Guardians, Cabal, and Vex were kept from the original design.
In the weeks following the reboot, Bungie also rescoped Destiny, moving the Dreadnaught content to The Taken King, which was called Comet at the time. They also changed the order of progress between each planet and cut apart each story mission, as one source explained:
[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.
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.’
As for the September 2014 release date of Destiny, it was decided upon after lengthy negotiations between Bungie CEO Harold Ryan and Activision. With the extension from March 2014 to September 2014, Bungie prioritized gameplay over story, and they were able to “get things to the base level of acceptability, and that’s what we shipped. If we didn’t have that extension, there’s no way we could’ve shipped in March.”
Looking at Destiny’s DLC, the sources say the first pack, The Dark Below, was rebooted months before launch and completed in just nine weeks. Elsewhere, The Taken King pre-production started in late 2013 under the codename Comet. It was originally expected to be a full $60 expansion with a new planet, Europa, a new area on Earth called the European Dead Zone, and a new feature called multiple fireteam activities that saw multiple fireteams fighting together. Obviously none of that happened and Comet was rebooted in March 2014, according to the sources, focusing on the Hive ship that had been cut from Destiny.
Interestingly, one source said a new public space on Mars, complete with strikes and a new raid, was cut from The Taken King, but eventually passed to High Moon Studios to work on for the full Destiny sequel in 2016, which they’re helping Bungie with.
Furthermore, one source commented on the recent move to Destiny micro-transactions, which they say will completely remove expansions and put the franchise on an annual release patch:
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.’ Instead of it going Destiny, DLC1, DLC2, Comet [aka The Taken King], DLC1, DLC2, they’re actually just gonna go [big] release and then incremental release. So it’ll just be Destiny, Comet, Destiny, Comet every year. It’s basically just switching the game to an annual model.
Kotaku says Bungie declined to comment on the story.
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