'The story was written without writers': The one-year gutting and reassembly of Destiny


Difficult dev tools, Frankenstein story

Remember when we learned comedian and writer David Cross and Brian Posehn worked on Bungie’s Destiny, and then the company “did not use a single, solitary thing [they] wrote.” That’s not the half of it.

A lengthy Kotaku report talking with over half a dozen former and current Bungie employees has revealed the slapdash way Destiny got completely reworked in about a year. The short of it: long-time Bungie and Halo scribe Joe Staten and his team put together a two hour supercut video of Destiny’s cinematic and story beats and showed it to their supervisors in July of 2013. Higher ups, including project lead Jason Jones, didn’t like it, so they opted to scrap it and start from scratch. This, in July 2013, with a then-planned launch of March 2014.

It became obvious the team would need another extension (into September of 2014) and so gameplay and polish took precedence. “The writing team Joe put together was ostracized,” one source said. “The story was written without writers. The extension actually made it so we could get things to the base level of acceptability, and that’s what we shipped.”

Staten actually left the company during the midsummer reboot, though Bungie didn’t announce his (allegedly not amicable) departure until September 2013. Jones and other top Bungie folks (art director Chris Barrett, design lead Luke Smith) did two weeks of “Iron Bar” meetings where they would take the existing work and stitch it together into a new, less-linear plot — Bungie’s “director” interface that let’s players largely go where they want.

Things like the recent Taken King dreadnought were meant for the main game, not a year-later expansion. Characters were re-purposed, new ones were drawn up sans writing staff. It was a mess, it seems. “But the missions as they shipped were actually sliced up and stitched together versions of the original story, including the cinematics,” one source said.

Technical factors have also gummed up the production process immensely, which may lead to Bungie alternating yearly between a full, new Destiny and a major expansion, rather than doing DLC. Apparently the tools, which have yielded an impressive-looking game with strong back-end capabilities, are incredibly difficult to work with, according to four sources.

“Let’s say a designer wants to go in and move a resource node two inches,” one said. They go into the editor. First they have to load their map overnight. It takes eight hours to input their map overnight. They get [into the office] in the morning. If their importer didn’t fail, they open the map. It takes about 20 minutes to open. They go in and they move that node two feet. And then they’d do a 15-20 minute compile. Just to do a half-second change.”

And what about Staten’s original story, which was chopped and sewn back up into dry nonsense? Sources’ thoughts varied. “It was just a confusing, highly esoteric story that just didn’t make sense,” one said. Another, “There was some very cool stuff, very powerful stuff. It had strong characters; it had a beginning, middle, and end… It unraveled and solved an entire mystery in this corner of the universe.” A third noted the supercut Staten and company put together was poor, but “the plot itself wasn’t inherently bad. It made sense on paper. It was also constantly being edited and changed. It turned into a Frankenstein amalgamation like the rest of the game.”

There are a lot more details in the source story, including specifics of how and which characters and areas were changed or re-purposed over the flurry of Frankensteining. Give it a read if you know your Destiny or enjoy the dysfunction. Maybe one day writing will be valued in games (I mean, probably not, but, still).

The Messy, True Story Behind The Making Of Destiny [Kotaku]