Bungie’s head of production on what would happen if Destiny fails
It’s almost time for one of the year’s biggest releases – Destiny launches at midnight tonight, so to celebrate, games™ sits down with Bungie’s Director of Production – Jonty Barnes – to talk about the impending launch, the impact of the beta, and the studio’s hopes for its first game release since it left Halo…
Almost time for release – how does it feel?
Elated. A little sad at the moment because our world is unpopulated. We had this amazing experience of the beta with 4.6 million players – which was wonderful, the things players were doing was just a huge tonic for the team – now it’s just like this deserted land. We just can’t wait to be launched. We’re just excited to have it and play with the fans as much as possible. It’s a strange period of quiet, but we’re very excited.
Was there anything players did during the beta that surprised you?
A few things – first and foremost the beta was a test, and in many ways we’re surprised at the lack of issues that turned up. That sounds a bit strange, but when you put so much effort – and I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers saying ‘well of course not’ – but when you put so much effort into such complex systems, working with so many partners like Sony and Xbox, there’s so many pieces that can go wrong in those communications channels, so many players colliding that could be problematic, so the fact it was a good experience for everybody, consistently, was a real win.
There were some things that changed – we found people not matchmaking with the right people in the tower, and they didn’t know it, but we really wanted to broaden our knowledge from people’s social connectivity and make sure they’re the right choices. We optimised that pretty effectively, and our data management as well in terms of knowing that everything’s well.
We got some new attaches of new checks we need to make sure that we’re doing. But in terms of player behaviour there were a few things that were very reassuring, a great tonic for the team. We didn’t anticipate, as much as we wanted it to be true, that there’d be such an even spread of the class choices. We designed them that way but you never really know until you’ve got such a large audience, it was very even. That was one thing. The enthusiasm of emotes is out of control – the dance party was great and I found some great videos, but we made this stylistic choice of people think they want to chat but they actually don’t as a default position.
In fact, the people who want to chat the most are probably the people they don’t want to chat to. So we don’t want to spoil the tone and atmosphere of the story we’re telling in our own environments in Destiny, so we made chat elective, going into the fire team. I think that has resulted in greater enthusiasm for emotes and it’s also resulted in us also being much clearer on how we get people to talk together when they do elect to do that, because we couldn’t be clearer about that.
That’s certainly been an interesting discussion, but it’s a very important thing to get right, so it was a big topic. Other than that it’s the kind of things you’d expect – we found the hand cannon in competitive multiplayer wasn’t quite as punchy as we wanted it to be in terms of effectiveness. We found – well, we kind of knew, but we didn’t know what the scale of the issue was – that the interceptor was so strong and powerful that we made a pretty drastic change to that in terms of how powerful it was. We leveled the playing field. Then it was really about, when you’re looking at the rate of encounters being completed, which public events are better – nine versus six players – what is the optimum amount of players for challenges that we’ve got. That has really informed the ongoing updates.
So there’s quite a lot of updates for day one in terms of making sure things are clearer or more fun – and that doesn’t stop, we’re just going to do that forever with Destiny at this point. It’s really exciting that we were able to do [the beta] – we were able to… I don’t know if you noticed, but at one point everyone got kicked into orbit, we kicked everyone into orbit, and then made a very subtle update to a bunch of statistics. As far as they were concerned it was the beta, so we could do that kind of behaviour with them, and they just went straight back into an activity and lived with that. But things had changed a little bit – it’s nice that we can just do that like that, server side, because all the activities live on the server. That was great, proving out that deployment technology.
Then of course we really messed around right at the end – we said ‘what would happen if half our servers die? If we can only do so much at once?’ – we put the queue on and we had loads of people in the queue, we saw that everyone who wasn’t in the queue was playing the game as always, having a good experience, and everybody in the queue knew exactly where they were. It was great to test all of those systems.
And it gives you an excuse to troll people before the game’s out properly.
[Laughs] We were very good about telling them the last moments were going to be very tricky. The other good thing which happened was – and this was pretty crazy – we did this moon, we teased the moon from the off, then we gave a very small window so we had a high concurrency [of players]. Unfortunately it had to be while everybody was in the office in America, so it was timed inconveniently for some people.
But it was by getting as many players as possible in a small area of our game. We actually had higher concurrency than any launch time of any Bungie games previously, in the beta. That was incredible. Way over 850,000. That for us was like ‘we’re better than we’ve done before’ – that builds a lot of confidence in being ready for September.
What are the plans in place for dealing with toxic community members? Similarly, will positive players be rewarded?
We can change things and reward people, we can change a lot of the variables. One of the things we did for the beta is created a forum that we had metrics on so we could see what people liked the most and what they’d complained or asked for the most. We’ve always had a really – I don’t know if you’ve seen how much we’ve engaged our community historically… I don’t think things like Forge for example would ever have existed in Halo if it wasn’t for our relationship with the players out there and the community. I think when you look at the way that we are going to build upon the Destiny universe, the community is now a voice in that. They already changed some of our prioritisation in future work that we have planned.
It’s clearly been designed with customisation at its heart, like how the Tower moves the view to third-person…
Yeah absolutely – to expose vanity items and to show off what you’ve got.