Destiny PS4 feature: a brave new world with Bungie’s hugely ambitious online shooter

If we’ve looked at any developer with green eyes here in the realm of PlayStation gaming, it’s Bungie.
A studio that defined the first-person console shooter formula with its pioneering two-weapon, recharging health mechanics in Halo and went on to make that formula so effective that gamers spent a collective 235,000 years playing the series. A studio that created one of the most iconic player characters in history, and a multiplayer experience that’s hosted over two billion games since Halo 2’s release in 2004.

These numbers aren’t intended to sting your eyes, nor should they. Bungie’s new project Destiny, a persistent shared-world FPS, is heading to both PS3 and PS4 – and with platform-exclusive content to boot. It brings not only the Halo studio’s undeniable shooter mastery, but one of the most ambitious visions we’ve ever heard. And it’s all funded by Activision, creator of enormous, world-stomping franchises. If any partnership can make such an ambitious game as Destiny actually work, it’s this one.

So now we can finally acknowledge Bungie, and it feels great. But who exactly is this studio? A collective of savant coders in green spacesuits that stomped DualShocks on sight until its split from Microsoft in 2007? Do the staff bounce around the office on space hoppers, extolling the merits of a Valve-esque ‘flat hierarchy’ and taking bi-hourly group hug breaks? To crack into the Bungie psyche, we explore its Seattle headquarters – a converted cinema. “This mezzanine is where the projectors used to be,” says COO Pete Parsons, guiding us through an impressive open space littered with awards gongs, life-sized Master Chiefs and wide-eyed journos.

Sure enough, there’s a touch of the unorthodox to Bungie: a ten-foot climbing wall where most offices would have a couple of sofas, an absence of individual offices, masking-tape marks on the floor where a kind of knighting ceremony for new employees and five-, ten- and 20-year veterans took place several weeks back, and an ever-shifting desk arrangement.

“Over half the team that created Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001 is still here today, working on Destiny”

“Back in 2005 we decided to put everybody’s desks on wheels,” says Parsons. “We probably do ten to 15 desk moves every week.” These are the affectations of a studio that’s earned the right to hang a little loose by its body of work. You could walk through the doors in foot gloves and a propeller hat if you had a particular predilection for it… so long as you helped make one of the biggest shooter series of all time.

And there’s more to that knighting ceremony than fistbumps and bro-ing out – over half the team that created Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001 is still here today, working on Destiny. An increasing rarity in game studios that’s well worth celebrating. And arguably for the first time since 2001, the studio’s truly out of its comfort zone. Destiny is a rather nebulous project at the moment: it’s a persistent online world, but not an MMO. It’s a first-person shooter, but bears glaring RPG elements that include loot, character upgrades and stat progression. One thing’s crystal clear, though: this isn’t a rebranded Halo for multi-platform release. As Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg describes it: “I think what Bungie has created is the world’s first shared-world shooter. It’s a game that’s always evolving, with persistent progression for your character.”

Bungie’s approach? Build an awesome world (these guys love the word awesome), and you’ve already won half the battle. It’s even one of the seven ‘pillars’ of design that creative director and co-founder Jason Jones describes: “A world you want to be in… This pillar was a big influence early in development. It let us create a world that was hopeful, that was full of mystery, a world you wanted to be part of and to explore.” You can throw in all the brutal melee takedowns and slo-mo ‘mark for death’ mechanics you like, but if your world is as fun to inhabit as an Aldi car park, your game’s going to fail.