At this year’s E3, I interviewed Bungie’s Scott Taylor on co-operative shooter Destiny’s new expansion Rise of Iron, player concerns, and hints toward the game’s inevitable sequel.
It was a challenging interview, setting myself opposite both Scott and a Bungie PR representative, working to derive answers to the burning questions that many in the 30 million strong community of players have asked about.
The notoriously tight-lipped developer didn’t offer much more than bullet point marketing for its next expansion, but did manage to illuminate some of how they approach the responsibility of governing one of our most populous virtual worlds. I appreciate the candor with which we were able to speak at the end, and I’m hoping that in the future we can dig a little deeper.
It began with an introduction:
PR: So, Scott Taylor is the Executive Producer for Rise of Iron and what’s really fun about working with him is that we worked together on [Destiny‘s second expansion] House of Wolves as well. He was also the Executive Producer on House of Wolves.
Scott: And I got the group together.
PR: Yeah, got the band back together, and we’re…
Scott: Same creative game director as House of Wolves too.
PR: We’re really excited about it.
First off: how has the response been to the April update?
Scott: I think, it seems like fans — I don’t want to speak for all fans — but internally, I think that we’ve been very happy with how people have been playing. I think people have liked seeing their increased light level, seeing the new gear. Chroma’s been, I think, going well. Challenge of Elders, I think is great. You know, so, there’s new quests and a new boss and everything. So, yeah, I think we’re happy with it.
Okay. What’s the biggest feedback you’ve got from the April update? There were a lot of changes, a lot of additions. What was the biggest —
Scott: Yeah, I think, I think the Infusion mechanic update that we’re going to hold onto in Rise of Iron, having it so it’s very clear when you’re going to transition a weapon or piece of armor, to what level it’s going to go to. I think that’s been pretty universally, they’re happy with it, we’re happy with it — like I said, we’re not changing it.
Have you guys seen any sort of player increase post-update?
Scott: We saw people come back, yeah we saw people that hadn’t played in a while, you know, jump back in. And that’s always, that’s exciting to hear, right? You know, we didn’t have a huge media blitz for April, so the word of mouth was good. People loved it.
So, Rise of Iron is right now, but I know we’re steadily approaching the horizon upon which we’ll start hearing about Destiny 2…
Scott: My face says nothing.
PR: What?! [laughs]
So, is this a sort of a grand finale, or do we have a lot more coming for Destiny? What’s the slate look like for current players?
Scott: I think, so… I’m sorry, Destiny: Rise of Iron comes out September 20th for PS4 and Xbox One. And then, you know, we’re always looking at how we’re going to support the game. And if you look at what happened since launch, you see a bunch of different ways that we’ve supported the game. That’s because I think there’s a lot of different — there is a lot of different actually effective ways to support the game. There’s things that we did last year like the racing, that were neat. And the thing that we were hearing, in addition to the fact that people seemed to like those things, was the fact that they really were looking for new space to play in, a new storyline, new cinematics, learning more about the lore —
Scott: Yeah, weapons, armor, gear, exotics — all those things people were looking for. And the best way to deliver that is in a package, right? Like, to wrap all that stuff into one, tell a story, have them play off each other. So, we really looked at supporting the game right now with something like Rise of Iron.
Okay. So, for those who may not be as versed in the Destiny lore — What’s the core of Rise of Iron’s story?
Scott: So, Rise of Iron is focused on the Iron Lords, which are a group of — I don’t want to say Guardians — a group of characters that have been from the past that Lord Saladin, who’s our main protagonist, has been honoring with a PvP event called The Iron Banner, which has been in the game since the beginning. He was in the tower in the beta. So, now, there’s been this ritual that’s going on, and — you don’t need any of this context if you don’t want it, but it’s there to enrich and expand the history for players that have been there since the beta. So, it’s really taking a character in the corner of the universe in Destiny, and really uncovering it and diving deep, and learning a ton about it, right?
So, we’ve done this with Eris’ story — Eris is one of the characters in Dark Below — and then, you know, Cade really had a ton to do with… So, we’re taking these different characters and kind of diving in deeper to them. So this is Saladin’s past coming back and how you’re going to play into it. It really opens up the whole side of the Destiny universe in the PvU world, which we haven’t done yet. We’re taking this pretty overtly PvP thing and we’re making a story, a campaign, out of it.
What would you say that makes Rise of Iron unique among the expansions that you guys have done so far? What is different about Rise of Iron for Destiny veterans?
Scott: A bunch, actually. It’s really interesting. The fact that we have a new social space that you are going to capture and take over that right now, as we speak I suppose, is overrun with Fallen and so you’re going to go in and take it back. And then, so there’s a different feeling you get from actually claiming a space. And then the space also has a much different tonal feel than the other social spaces we have. You know, the Tower is bustling, it’s clean and there’s a lot of activity there. And the Reef is very industrial. It kind of tells that it’s mysterious.
This is very remote. This feels like you’re off in the wilderness and in the wild, and you’re just starting to kind of come back into the space. And we’re also doing some new mechanics around the social space that we’re not going to talk about today, but there’s some things to do there that we’ve never done before in the social space.
So, I know you said you weren’t going to say a whole lot about it, but you mentioned you were taking over a new social space. Is that just a lore thing? Or do you mean the players will be actively —
Scott: I mean THAT. So, yes, you’re going to encounter a space and if you’re in the game and you don’t read any of this stuff, or whatever, you’re not going to know that you’re coming back here to have the hub of the story, and new characters here. So there’s this neat experience that you have where you clear a place out and go off on some adventures and then get something back at the spaces — you know, people are starting to move back into it. That’s kind of a cool way of telling the story.
So that’s going to be fun. We haven’t done that before. We are really excited about that, and then so you know the new space is very unique. The spaces that we’ve introduced since Destiny [year] one — you know, the Dreadnaught’s incredible and it’s an interior space, so it does that very well as an interior, claustrophobic feel. So, when we decided to go in the way of this very vast, this “no one can see it” thing where you can see out to the horizon, it’s this feeling of open exploration that’s going to be fun. We have new controls and public events in there too. And so, yeah, there’s a bunch of neat things that you’re going to discover in the open world that are unique to this one.
PR: And a new raid.
Scott: Oh, of course. There’s a new raid, new strikes, all the things that you’d expect from Destiny.
The Iron Banner is obviously a central element. Will we be seeing any changes or additions to Iron Banner content itself?
Scott: Yeah, so the PvP is going to get it’s own time later in the summer to talk, but when you see Lord Saladin’s out, you assume there’s a big PvP aspect as well, and that is true. So I can say that there’s new maps, and we have a new mode, which we’re going to let those guy talk about more in the summer later. And then, there’s surprises and features that we think people will be happy there are.
Good to hear. I’d like to redirect a little, and talk about an issue that I think is very pertinent to Destiny, but is typically associated with more traditional MMOs: player fatigue. What have you seen? How does the team approach that issue? With the continuing post-release content drops, I know you’re hoping for people to stick around for the long haul.
Scott: Yeah, so you know I think that’s part of why we’re here is to show the new content, and if you haven’t played in a while, maybe you want to come back. But, I think that the best answer to that is the fact that Destiny is, I think, unique in the way that there are many different ways to engage in.
So, if you want to, instead of making a phone call to my brother, sometimes I’ll be like, “Hey, let’s play some Destiny,” and then we’ll chat while we do patrols. But if I want an intense experience, I can go do a raid. If I want something in between, I can do strike matchmaking in the heroic playlist, or you know, I can do the Nightfall that week. And so, you can, Destiny has a bunch of different ways that you can engage with it, and so my hope would be that people can kind of come to Destiny on the terms that they want to.
Mind if we dip into some slightly more technical, or mechanical questions?
Scott: Sure, we’ll see how I can do.
Okay. Have you guys taken any further consideration to any kind of matchmaking, for [endgame] group play? It continues to be the most talked about aspect of gameplay in Destiny. Have you guys considered it?
Scott: The truth of it is that all those things are discussed. There’s a healthy debate and discussion about anything you can imagine, and those are two things that are discussed. What I can say is that there is no matchmaking in the Rise of Iron. But we always talk about those things.
Can you share at all the reason behind why that hasn’t been a priority, or a goal?
Scott: I can’t. Yeah.
PR: It’s just, it’s a development decision.
Okay. Can you tell me whether it is more of a creative decision, or a technical challenge?
PR: We’re not going to go there.
Got it. So, another hot topic has been unified weapon balance, and its effect on single-player and multiplayer. Have you guys had any further discussion or talks about changing that system to deal with balance issues?
Scott: I can answer that. We’re always looking at balancing the sandbox for the phase that we’re in for Destiny.
PR: You’re known for that.
Scott: Yeah, we are. And so, Destiny, it’s really cool that you’re one character and you go into different types of activities. That’s really neat, but because of that and because of that being important to us, we’re constantly looking at the balance of the sandbox. And so, that’s something that we’re going to continue to do. I’ll say that. We’re always looking at that, always iterating on trying to make — to me, that falls in the mission of trying to make the best version of Destiny we can make right now.
All right. Well, we know that Gjallarhorn will be returning. Can you talk any more about exotics?
Scott: Yeah, I can confirm that we will have new exotics and we’re — as you see, Gjallarhorn coming back and having the Iron Gjallarhorn. So it’s safe to say that there’ll be some other friends coming back as well. So, yeah we’re going to have new exotics. I can say that. And we’re excited to talk about them later this summer.
After the Rift game mode [in Iron Banner], you introduced restrictions to make sure people weren’t “pub-stomping” it — in other words, exploiting it with premade groups. Have you considered implementing something like that in the Iron Banner, in order to level the playing field a bit?
Scott: I think I would answer this the same way I would answer the matchmaking questions, which is that that team is always looking at ways — at all ways — of making the experience as good as it should be, and so you should talk with them about that.
Are there any other content additions that you’d like to talk about in Rise of Iron?
Scott: Yeah, so we have the axe. Rise of Iron has this sweet new axe, which we internally called “Relic,” so it’s a weapon that when you really need to cause some damage, it might show up and help you do that. And so, you feel very powerful. But there’s some other new ways that we’re going to have players express. that we’re going to talk about later this summer, that are really really cool.
The biggest thing I think I would be excited for people to know about, besides the fact that you’r’e getting a new weapon, new armor, new exotics — which people love — is the space. Like, you’re getting new real estate. You’re getting new places to explore and patrol, secrets to find. So, you know, and the new cinematic campaign with the really, really neat story that dives deep into the lore and, so I think that one of the things we hear is that people want to know more about the characters of Destiny, and so we’re excited to deliver that. And introduce some new characters that are going to have their own little secrets.
Have you considered adding more vehicle-centric content? I’d happily be a full time Sparrow racer.
Scott: You want to race sparrows all the time?
PR: It is fun.
Scott: That’s good.
Scott: Yeah, we introduced sparrow-racing in December last year, for three weeks I believe. And a lot of people really liked it. We’re looking at that as a potential idea, that’s another “arrow in our quiver,” to see if we want to bring it back at some point.
Anything for the expansion?
Scott: It is not coming back with Rise of Iron.
Finally — and this is probably what you’re asked more than anything else — Destiny 2. Do you know when we’re going to hear anything about it? Is Rise of Iron going to have any hints to the sequel?
Scott: You want to handle that one?
PR: We have said that there is a sequel coming next year.
Okay, okay. Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk about all of this.
PR: Of course.
Scott: Anyone wants to talk about Destiny, we’re always here. Just waiting for people to show up and talk about Destiny.
Yes, I’m sure there are a lot of moving pieces behind the scenes.
PR: Well, also, and like you [Scott] say really well, it’s not just that we don’t want to talk about it, it’s like using PvP design as an example, they should be able to share their…
Scott: I’m very aware that I’m representing many people here, and so, um, I take that pretty seriously. Because I don’t want to be representing like… like there’s a lot of amazing people that came up with lots of these ideas, and I want them to be able to speak about it. And that’s — it’s a big deal to be able to have the opportunity to talk to the audience, and so I feel like it would be impolite. I really want to give people the opportunity to have that conversation, and also you’re going to get a better answer, frankly, if you’re having a conversation with a PvP designer about how they’re handling latency issues. They’re going to be able to speak to that in a way, in a level of detail that is going to be much more interesting.
Understandable. More than anything, I’m trying to get to the root of what players would want to discuss with you, given the chance.
Scott: I mean, the way I look at that is that people — your readers, and hopefully you — like Destiny, and they want to know more about it, right? So that’s not bad.
PR: That’s not a bad thing, that’s exciting.
Scott: And we want to talk about, and I always want to say more than I’m supposed to. But, I’m not going to because I like being here. [laughs]
PR: I’ve been doing games PR for 21 years, and I think Bungie just has such a unique relationship with their audience.
Scott: Well, there’s a real level of — I feel that we are, as a studio, able to just make what we want to make. Which, I don’t know if it’s true of every studio.
Oh, I’d say it’s definitely not true of every studio.
Scott: Yeah, so we can just go in a room and do whatever we want to do. And then, like, now we’re here right? So I feel like I have a really unique perspective of seeing all these things. That really the gift of having this job. So, I don’t feel imposed upon. I feel like we’re able to do what is the right thing to do for Destiny.
And Destiny represents a whole lot of gamers, in arguably the most important entertainment industry on the planet. These questions are important to those people.
PR: It’s awesome. We have over 30 million people registered to play Destiny.
Scott: That’s like a whole country.
PR: 30 MILLION people. I mean, what?
That’s a massive community of people — and you’re right, it’s like we’re talking a country’s worth of people — inhabiting this single world for a significant fraction of their daily lives.
PR: Yeah, this entertainment property, and it’s so…
Scott: It’s hard to process.
PR: Yeah, it’s an honor to work in this industry.
The subjects we’re discussing, from the balance between PvP and PvE content, all the way to the ability to group with friends to tackle these challenges… These are laws by which people who invest in this world have to live. People committed to your world will be adamant about the issues in it that are important to them.
Scott: Well, that’s why — the reason your questions are nit-picky is that they are important to people, because you know, a law affects how people’s lives are. So, it affects how I play. Just wait til VR comes out.
Precisely. Open communication with your player base will only become more important. But speaking of VR — one final question. Do you guys have any VR ideas for Destiny?
Scott: Not yet.
PR: I mean, we’re so focused on these platforms, and it’s like…
Scott: Yeah, the PS4 and Xbox One are our jam right now.
I understand. Again, thank you for your time.