It’s been called the biggest video game of this year, the most expensive video game of all time and a new challenger to established franchises, not just in games but entertainment as a whole.
Really, Destiny was the only name they could have given it. Anything else would have felt far too small.
On Tuesday, gamers around the globe will fire up their PlayStations and Xboxes and jump into the far-flung future of Destiny, a new sci-fi action game by the creators of the blockbuster Halo franchise. Taking on the roles of guardians of a post-apocalyptic solar system, players will team up to explore the ruins of Earth, Venus, Mars and the moon while blasting away at all manner of alien monstrosities.
Which, frankly, sounds a lot like dozens of other video games out there. And Destiny itself – a first-person shooter (like Halo, kind of) with role-playing elements (like Borderlands, sort of) and a massive online realm (like World of Warcraft, in a way) – doesn’t radically retool any of the moving parts that make up today’s most popular action games.
What makes Destiny unique, say its creators, is the sheer enormity of its vision.
“We don’t see ourselves as making games, we see ourselves as making the very best in entertainment,” said Pete Parsons, chief operating operator of Destiny development studio Bungie, based in suburban Seattle.
“That’s what we’ve set out to do with the universe that we’ve created,” Parsons said in an interview. “And if we do our jobs right, hopefully people will put us on the same shelf they put their best entertainment experiences ever, whether it be books, movies, you name it.”
Since handing off the Halo franchise to Microsoft in 2010, Bungie has thrown itself into the creation of Destiny with a singular, focused intensity. It’s the video game version of a construction megaproject, from the massive server farms that support the game’s online functions to the blueprints Bungie has created for every tiny detail in the game world.
“There are tens of thousands of pages of fiction that we’ve written, not only about the world but about the gear that you get, about all of the armour and weapons, the places you visit,” said Parsons. “We have created more concept art for the universe of Destiny than all of Halo combined.”
Bobby Kotick, CEO for Destiny publisher Activision Blizzard, remarked earlier this year that Destiny was “a $500 million bet,” a price estimate that refers to the overall cost of developing and marketing the game and its sequels over the coming years.
It’s an enormous chunk of change to spend on any piece of entertainment, nearly double the estimated $237 million budget for James Cameron’s Avatar. And this scale and ambition has attracted some major talent from other realms, including none other than Paul McCartney, who is working with Bungie’s own musicians on the score for Destiny.
“This was not something that was like huge business deal, nothing like that at all,” said Parsons of the former Beatle’s first-ever involvement with a video game. “He wanted to participate in it and was excited to do that, and we were super excited to have him be a part of it.”
But when Destiny arrives on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, it will be landing in the wake of an uncomfortable time for video games as a whole. While the industry continues to thrive – games are expected to account for more than US$80 billion in sales this year – the gaming community has been under a microscope these past weeks, after some particularly poisonous online misogyny bubbled over into the real world.
And for better or for worse, first-person shooter games like Destiny and its ilk – including Activision’s own Call of Duty franchise – tend to be home turf for some of the more noxious but vocal minorities in gaming culture.
“Our time is better spent focused on making a great game than hearing the toxicity of the environment out there,” said Parsons. “At the same time, I think there’s also a lot of good, too. It’s so impressive to see, even before Destiny has launched, the unbelievable works of art, the fan fiction, the cosplay.
“Sure, there’s a toxic side of it. But what I also know is there’s just a bunch of people who care a lot about games as great entertainment. They want to be a part of it, and they want to invest in it.”