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Chris Butcher on Design Decisions

 Published on: Sep 7, 2014 @ 23:39 spoke to Technical Director Chris Butcher about Destiny’s design decisions, some of the technical aspects of the game, as well as their plan for the future. [divider]

Tell me about the coolest thing that’s happened as you’ve been playing Destiny recently.

One night recently we had a few people playing from their homes, just a very low population because there were only about a dozen of us online at once. Suddenly we had enough people that we randomly got a Crucible match going and it got really intense. In this game it was some of the best shooter players in our office and then little old me, who used to be decent back in the Halo 2 days but I haven’t really been a contender for a while, haha. I got pretty into it and by the end I was holding my own. Because we had the same set of people rolling from one game to the next, we got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we were testing out different character builds against each other. It was great to feel that competitive urge come back full force!


What has been the most exciting thing to come out of the beta period?

The most exciting for me was playing with my brother who lives in New Zealand. We grew up playing games together but Destiny was the first time we’ve actually got to play online with each other. All through the development of this game I’ve been hoping that we’d be able to build an online and networking model that would let people play together from all over the world. It was really cool to see it working, and with hardly any perceived lag for either of us too!


What was the biggest lesson to come out of the beta period?

We learned a lot just from getting 850,000 people all online at once. We were running with deliberately constrained hardware capacity on our server cluster at times, so we found and fixed a lot of bugs, misconfigurations, and also some ways we need to change our server software so it can scale even better to millions of people at once. Probably the biggest surprise for me was that some people played for dozens of hours – we weren’t expecting that, since it was only the start of the game and we weren’t showing any of our end-game character levelling systems. But people still got into it heaps.


If I remember correctly, you’re an old buddy of Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall, the creator of DayZ – did he have a chance to play Destiny, if so what did he think of it? Did you guys get a chance to play together online?

Yeah Dean was in my brother’s year at Waitaki Boys’ High. I used to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for a few of their friends. Funny where we all ended up, eh? Dean is a really busy guy these days so I don’t think he had a lot of time to play Destiny. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play once it comes out!


Any advice for young Kiwis who dream of working on games like Destiny and DayZ?

Take advantage of New Zealand universities, they are just as good as any in the world. Get a good education, work with others on small projects, be voracious about learning anything you can. Spend your time creating things rather than just consuming entertainment that others made for you. Be persistent and never give up, there are heaps of opportunities out there!


Destiny is part of wave of new-gen console first-person shooters – Titanfall was out earlier this year and pretty amazing, Wolfenstein was its own thing really and we have Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on the way. What do you think are the early trends of the genre in this generation?

I think we’re just scratching the surface so far – the big trends are going to be customisation, connected experiences and seamless integration of single-player and multiplayer. It’s going to be really exciting to see where this generation goes.


How is Destiny evolving the first-person genre?

It’s all about community and customisation. When you’re playing Destiny you’re immersed in a society of people that are all there to shoot aliens, show off to their buddies, and have a great time. Playing with other people makes everything better. And while you’re having fun, you’re upgrading and evolving your character with everything that you do, which makes the experience feel connected and cohesive in a way that most games aren’t.


Of the Earth, the Moon, Mars and Venus, what is your favourite location to play in and why?

I really like Venus, because there are cool loops that you can drive around from zone to zone, and the environment is lush and beautiful and full of fun places to explore. Plus the Vex are fun to shoot, they explode in a shower of metal parts and that’s really satisfying.


What’s the idea behind only being able to do raids with friends, rather than using a match-making system?

The raids are all about communicating with your team, building your own vocabulary and coordinating to react to specific events. You aren’t levelling up your character so much as you’re levelling up your teamwork. That simply doesn’t work unless you can get a consistent group of people together that know each other and are invested in the social bonds.


Over this last year of development, what has been the hardest aspect of creating the game as the release date loomed?

The hardest part has been saying no to people! We have hundreds of artists and designers here that really want to polish and tweak and fix things, but we have to stop at some point and stabilise the game for launch. That’s been really tough this time around because everyone is so invested in the game and just wants to make it better.


There’s been talk of a “10-year plan” with Destiny. How much of that plan is already planned, versus what will be done in response to dictation from the Destiny player community?

Well, we have a bunch of post-its up on a whiteboard, and we’re working on early ideas for stories and gameplay and environments for the next releases of Destiny, but it’s all really just a prelude to the conversation with our fans. What are they going to react to in the game? What will people love, hate, want to see more of? Which characters in the story do they care most about? This is the most exciting time for us, we can’t wait to get stuck in to reading everyone’s impressions. We already have enough ideas to fill years of work, I’m sure the community will have no end of great suggestions too. One thing is for sure we won’t be running out of work to do any time soon!

Destiny is arguably the most ambitious game ever created – from the looks of things, have those huge ambitions been achieved?

We don’t really think of it as “the most ever” or “the biggest ever” anything, instead I’d say it’s the most complicated project that we’ve ever personally undertaken. There’s a huge amount of creativity and passion that’s gone into Destiny, from hundreds of game developers here at Bungie. We think of Destiny as a conversation between developers and players. So while personally I’m very proud of what we’ve done – it’s just the start of an ongoing conversation. The world of Destiny is just full of open questions and interesting gameplay ideas for us to explore in future, so in that regard it’s a very ambitious universe. Where it goes is up to the players to determine!