With the April update finally upon us, there's plenty of new distractions in Destiny. It's the most significant update since The Taken King landed in September of last year, and as such there's plenty to tell you about (our thoughts on the new content will be appearing at some point in the near future, so stay tuned for that). In the meantime, here's our interview with Bungie community man David "DeeJ" Dague, who this week spoke to us about the new content, as well as looking back at the last few months.
GR:For us the players, there's been a shift in how content is being delivered in Destiny, in a move away from paid DLC. How would you say this shift has been manifested in terms of the development, if at all?
David "DeeJ" Dague: Year 2 has been a different experience for us, certainly. We have relied on the live team to create events to keep the world of Destiny fresh, to mark some special occasions, and to give the Guardians new things to do, to earn. I personally loved Sparrow racing league, as a vehicle enthusiast in games. It was a lot of fun to see the Destiny community embrace a race instead of a battle and earn some interesting new armour, it just kind of added a different dimension to the world of the game. At the same time we have seen players be extremely hungry for new stories and new enemies to fight. It's a chance for us to push the boundaries of the world as they understand it, which is why the April update for us has been a great conversation with the players of our game, because we are giving them some new enemies to fight and defining the story a little bit more in terms of what happens after the king is dead and the Taken war rages on.
In terms of development, which I think was also in the spirit of your original question, we have seen the live team come into their own as a creator of content instead of just a sustainer of a product. Last year I worked very closely with the live team and their charge was to support the game, to fix bugs and add certain quality-of-life increases to the game - different user interfaces to help people manage their gear or even mitigate colour-blindness - this year, instead of improving the way the game feels or works they are improving the game with new playable content. It's been very interesting to see that team be more creative than logistical. That's been a lot of fun to work with them on that. At the same time there are still hundreds of people that come into Bungie every day, and they are creating future adventures, destinations that you have yet to explore, bringing to life enemies that you have yet to fight and these are all things that we will be talking about later on in the year as we get past the April update. I don't think that when we look back on Destiny I don't think Year 2 will be compared to Year 1 in such dark contrast, but thus far it has been a slightly different feel.
GR: If we touch on PVP that's something that's always been a fun and well supported part of it, but is it fair to say that it's becoming more of a priority to make the game more accessible and to attract new players?
DeeJ: We always want to attract new players to the world of Destiny. We will always do everything we can to make Destiny feel like it's an approachable game. I'm very proud of the fact that our community is very welcoming of new people. As far as the priorities between PvP and PvE, I wouldn't say that we have turned a blind eye to PvE in favour of PvP. The Crucible is an easier thing to update and sustain than story driven content. To introduce a new mode in the Crucible or to balance the weapons is something we can do from update to update. Standing up a new raid boss and inviting all of our players to come and knock it down is something that requires a lot more effort on the part of our team. It take hundreds and hundreds of hours committed by hundreds of people to build those destinations and to imagine those puzzles and create those raid bosses. It's always been easier to destroy than to create. We'll watch the community go through and plunder a raid, and unravel all the secrets and earn that treasure over the course of a day. That's something that took months and months for us to build. We certainly want Destiny to be a balanced experience, we want there to be story content, we want players to devour that story content and earn the things they would need in order to be competitive with each other in an arena that provides some healthy competition. It's just a matter of doing those things in tandem and keeping both of those experiences fresh. Personally I'm very satisfied with the fact that the April update delivers on both of those promises. We've got new strikes, we've got new quests, we've got new bosses for our players to confront and eliminate, we've got new combatants in the prison of elders, and at the same time the Crucible has been given some essential changes to make it interesting again, to give players more options and for them to go in and discover the new combat meta.
GR: Why has it taken so long to sort of give similar rewards to Crucible players in terms of Light level gear to the PvE counterparts?
DeeJ: Are you talking about making the Crucible a rewarding experience that can let people reach maximum Light?
DeeJ: In terms of what has taken so long I would say that this has been an interesting study for us. When Destiny first launched we provided players with a number of different options that they can explore in terms of reaching the mountaintop, if you will. There were raids, there was Iron Banner, and over time what we've done with the April update is to make Destiny more rewarding than it has ever been. There are more options than ever to reach maximum light. If players strived to obtain 335 Light, there are many options, not just the Crucible. Match-made Prison of Elders activities, hard mode raids, Iron Banner, Trials of Osiris, and we're piling on top of that list of options with all sort of different things they can do. They can play the weekly Crucible bounties, they can go in and do those end-game activities like Trials of Osiris and Iron Banner, so it's not just Crucible, it's all across the board we're trying to make Destiny more rewarding.
GR: Are the drops from the Prison of Elders activities guaranteed to be Light 335, like in the livestream, or is it up to 335?
DeeJ: It is up to 335. It will be loot drops that are basically concurrent with your power level. The higher your level, the higher your chance of getting maximum powerful drops. There is always that element of luck in the Destiny player progression system and that's something that you'll still find is the case.
GR: If we touch on the current community, what would you say is the split between players who focus on PvP or PvE right now?
DeeJ: It's a pretty good balance, it really depends on the day of the week. We find on Tuesdays there is always a sharp spike in terms of people going in and enjoying content again after the weekly reset. What is the new Nightfall strike, what are the raid modifiers for this week. It's an opportunity for them to go back in and play those activities and get granted their rewards all over again. If it's a Friday, we see a sharp spike in terms of players jumping back into the Trials of Osiris. Iron Banner is live once a month, all across the course of that weekend there are many people going in there and trying to get their endgame loot form Lord Saladin. That's one of the things we do like about Destiny, that it is cyclical. Over the course of any given month there are different events and different occasions that bring people back to the game for different reasons. The further we get away from a major release like The Taken King, the more players tend to gravitate to the crucible. The action that players create for themselves and the replayability that players find in facing different combatants in a competitive arena like the Crucible is a very sustainable activity. While we are behind the scenes to create that next raid boss or story mission, the Crucible is a place they can go and create for themselves.
GR: Was the Doctrine of Passing deliberately overpowered in PvP, and is there a strategy of perhaps introducing slightly overpowered guns like that in order to encourage players to mix things up?
DeeJ: I think the weapons designers would certainly regard a word like overpowered as a dirty word. That is definitely something they would want to iterate upon. There isn't a strategy by which they would say 'let's make this weapon overpowered.' Their goal is always to provide a wealth of options that they can embrace and still feel powerful. Whenever we see one weapon become the one logical choice that any player should embrace in the interests of victory, that's definitely a thing that we will iterate upon. We can take a look at feedback from the community, we can look at data and statistics from our user research team. And then of course, as people who play our own game, as fans of our own product, we can certainly relate to our own experiences having played just last night. All of those things are put into the mix and we arrive at a place where we decide what we can do in order to make all of the different options that you have access to in the Crucible viable options, that will make you competitive, that will make you feel powerful and that will give you an equal shot at victory. There are so many different types of players in Destiny. There are the precise snipers that like to hang back, there are the brawlers who like to get up front and fight with their fists, and then there's everything in between. There's all the people that like different types of auto rifles or different types of fusion rifles, up close and personal with shotguns. Our goal is to make sure that every type of player has a logical counter in the form of someone else in the community that can balance out their fighting style.
GR: On a scale of 1 to Skolas, how agonizingly tough would you say that the final boss in Prison of Elders is.
DeeJ: (laughs) I would say Skolas minus one. Skolas was a rather punishing boss, we had to patch him once or twice. I think a lot of people on the team would agree that he was a little too powerful, which is why we changed the way he behaved in an update. Certainly, our goal is to create enemies that are worthy of our community's passion and skill, but we don't want a boss that is so punishing and so impenetrable that it is not fun to fight. I'm sure the community will give us the right answer to that question, but we'll be watching the way they play and sampling all their feedback about fighting the new bosses in the Prison of Elders - as well as the new Taken ultra-boss that is sort of the centrepiece of the April update. We have Malok who is a pretender to Oryx's throne and he's the big bad. He's the apex predator in the Taken universe now, and it is that new leader of the Taken that The Reef has issued a renewed call-to-arms to the guardians to seek out and destroy.