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Raiders Of The Lost Art – Destiny’s Developers Explain Their Raid Development Process

Destiny’s raids are some of the most unique and challenging content Bungie has ever produced. These lengthy team-based firefights are often full of complicated puzzles that leave fans scratching their heads for days.

In 2013, Gavin Irby left Trion Worlds, where he helped lead a content development team for the MMO RIFT, and joined Bungie’s raid development team. Irby is now Bungie’s lead raid designer, and during our recent trip to the studio, we chatted with him about Destiny’s general raid philosophy, how Destiny’s raids might be more complicated to design than those in traditional MMOs, and what the studio has planned for Rise of Iron's new raid, Wrath of the Machine.

Tell us a bit about the initial process that went into creating raids in the first place. Did you sit down that first day and say ‘hey, we want to go down to Venus and go to the Vault of Glass?” Was that like the very first thing you guys came to, or if not, what were some of the things you guys were exploring initially?
Irby: Some of that stuff was already in place by the time I became involved, like the Vault of Glass in terms of its location, what it was going to be in terms of the geometry and that was largely worked out. But what they didn't know was how to build a raid encounter. Is it just really hard? Is it just lots of dudes shooting at you? Or is it puzzles? What are the nature of the puzzles? How hard should that be? What does it take to solve them? What is the nature of a raid encounter? What is a boss fight like in a shooter? And how strongly were they going to actually borrow from the understood mechanics and mentality from the PC MMO workspace?

What did you find didn’t work from the PC MMO space?
The reliance on UI is absolutely number one. The reliance on UI information to convey mechanics. It’s not a problem in WoW raids or whatever to throw out 50 freaking icons for buffs and debuffs and stuff with detailed descriptions and what they’re doing to you and expect players to mouse over each one and read and digest how that mechanic functions. We had to work with the limitation of one buff at a time, one debuff, don’t try and do two – really limit the amount of UI information that could be presented on the screen. It had to be all through gameplay.

When you did have more buffs, players just didn’t grasp what was happening?
Partly it’s a betrayal of the design mentality of Destiny. We can't have a stack of five to ten different buffs along the side of the screen. I have no mechanism to mouse over that information, I can’t get more detailed descriptions from that. Even if I did, is that really what we want in the context of a shooter? And so we had to focus more on what can I show in the environment, what can I show with the things that I’m shooting at?

Also, the level of chaos is so much higher in a first-person shooter with six people than it is with even 20 people in a game like WOW. Think about the difference in your camera looking down: You have the ability to have such detailed, quantitative information about the state of the encounter and the state of the character, and every other character. You have none of that in a shooter. The nature of being first-person, the nature of being so close to the action, dramatically changed like the sense of chaos.

One of the things that became really clear was that it’s hard to know, with accuracy, the simple things like what is a DPS output of a raid group. In traditional MMO raids, you know within a very small bandwidth a high performing raid group, you're going to know what gear they have, their DPS output and healing output. All these things are basically known to a pretty high degree of accuracy. In the nature of Destiny, those things are unknown. A character who is pointing their camera at the ceiling is doing zero DPS. There’s a lot more variance in terms of am I doing a higher amount of effective damage, or am I doing a low amount of effective damage, or am I just missing the target. And so having to account for that was definitely a different challenge that I hadn’t faced before.


A sneak peek at Wrath of the Machine’s slick new raid gear

What was the solution?
First, my project became trying to come to some understanding of what I could expect for DPS output within a given window of time. In a traditional PC MMO, the difference between a high-functioning raid group and a mediocre raid group is the efficiency with which they put damage on that target, the right target. In a really good group, there’s no down time between putting DPS on a target; they always know where to shoot, they’re always bringing down the right thing at the right time. Our adds don’t have the kind of health pools you would expect from a raid encounter in WoW. So having very controlled damage windows during boss fights became a really important aspect of making those encounters work for us. You’ll notice we very tightly control the damage windows and make that an important event.

Have you learned anything the hard way? Is there anything you’ve learned that you should never do?
Yeah, I mean certainly that’s one of them. We have two golden rules of bosses, [they] are that the boss has to be able to threaten you from any location and you can’t use geometry to avoid it. Those are actually the two rules to direct what we’re going to do. We understood that from Vault of Glass on.

When you guys first started developing raids for the first time, philosophically were there things that set a raid apart from the rest of the content in Destiny that you’re like ‘Okay this is what makes something a raid as opposed to a strike?’
Absolutely, there was a mandate that we had the ability to break the rules. No matchmaking is a huge thing. We can design with the assumption that you're playing with people who you are invested with. Even if they’re not your friends, you've put some amount of investment in being able to play with them and they’re not this resource to you. The fact that we can account for you having voice communication is big.

As compared to a strike?
Yeah, in a strike we have to assume that maybe you’re probably not talking to each other. The ability to assume that they have verbal communication opens up a lot of possibilities that otherwise don’t exist. We can put you in a crisis as a group which is a very different thing than just people who aren't talking to each other who have to somehow work together. We can't put a great deal of pressure on them, and we’re specifically supposed to put you under pressure. It’s a group of people in a crisis, that’s what we’re putting you in, and you have to solve your way out of it.

On that front, do you want to talk about how important it is to occasionally single somebody out? The role of the individual in a raid, is that a necessary ingredient?
I think of it in terms of what is the individual responsibility versus your global responsibility to the group and there’s definitely something really powerful about you being singled out and you having to shine in your moment in the sun. Crota is probably the exemplar of the solo hero going out to do their thing. Maybe a little more than I intended.

If players can, they will always put the greatest responsibility on the fewest number of people. It sounds so naive to me now, but when we play tested internally we all ran the sword, it was like whoever’s closest, 'hey I’ll pick up the sword, be the hero, sure that’s great.’ Which sounds absurd now. Why would you let anyone pick the sword? You’re only going to let the one guy pick the sword who’s amazing at the sword. We sort of had this naive idea like people are just naturally going to share responsibility and people will distribute it among themselves. That's actually the opposite, we learned early on people want to concentrate responsibility on the fewest number of people as possible. The only way they will break that is if we force you to.

There is that quality when you go on a raid, and have your first run be really confusing. It’s fundamentally bewildering. Why do you want me to stand here? Then later on you're teaching it. Just a few weeks later you understand it implicitly.
One of the great things we’re allowed to do was create, having an experience that didn't just open itself to you. You had to figure it out, and that process figuring out how the pieces fit together is such a cool part of the experience, so it was really great that we were allowed to do that and were not forced to create something that was immediately understandable. I think what you are actually describing though is the experience that players have when – like I went into a raid for the first time playing people who have played it before. Because that is truly bewildering. People are giving you all kinds of instructions. ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this, I just have to stay here and shoot this thing and now people are yelling at me for some reason because something happened and I don't understand what it is.'

I think when you look back, people talk a lot about the magic of Vault or what that experience is, there are so many people where we were all sort of exploring it together and none of us knew what to do and it was new to us. So that’s not a moment that’s very easily re-creatable, because now we all have expectations and we go to it thinking ‘well let’s see, this is like that encounter and this is going to be like that encounter.’ You know, we have training now.

Next up: Irby discusses the raid brainstorming process, raid gear philosophy, and how raid design sometimes backfires.


www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Did You Know Gaming Explores The Secrets Of Shadow Of The Colossus’ Development

This week, Youtube trivia channel Did You Know Gaming delves into Shadow of the Colossus, the second game from revered development studio Team Ico.

Accroding to the video, the game's orignal title was "Nico," a portmanteau of "Ni" (Japanese for "two) and Ico. The video even shows footage of an early build of the game found in a Japanese limited edition set. The footage shows multiple characters taking down a Colossus.

The video also highlights some key items, characters, and plot points that didn't make it into the final game. The original proposed Colossi count was 48, though the number dwindled as development continued. There were also two items cut from the game, one of which let you see battles through the eye of the Colossus. The video also details how some of the fights in the game itself differed from their original versions.

Finally, the video highlights Giantology, a viral marketing blog used to promote the game by making it appear as though Colossi existed in the real world.

You can watch the entire video below. You can also watch Kyle Hilliard and Andrew Reiner play through the entire game over at our Super Replay page.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Did You Know Gaming Explores The Secrets Of Shadow Of The Colossus’ Development

This week, Youtube trivia channel Did You Know Gaming delves into Shadow of the Colossus, the second game from revered development studio Team Ico.

Accroding to the video, the game's orignal title was "Nico," a portmanteau of "Ni" (Japanese for "two) and Ico. The video even shows footage of an early build of the game found in a Japanese limited edition set. The footage shows multiple characters taking down a Colossus.

The video also highlights some key items, characters, and plot points that didn't make it into the final game. The original proposed Colossi count was 48, though the number dwindled as development continued. There were also two items cut from the game, one of which let you see battles through the eye of the Colossus. The video also details how some of the fights in the game itself differed from their original versions.

Finally, the video highlights Giantology, a viral marketing blog used to promote the game by making it appear as though Colossi existed in the real world.

You can watch the entire video below. You can also watch Kyle Hilliard and Andrew Reiner play through the entire game over at our Super Replay page.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

New Video Charts The Development Of No Man’s Sky

Did you know that Hello Game's Sean Murry had the idea for No Man's Sky long before he even had a game studio? Or that Murry had to sell his house to afford to make his first game? Learn more in this video on No Man's Sky.

Did You Know Gaming, the YouTube show about gaming trivia, takes a closer look at some facts surrounding Hello Game's recent galaxy spanning epic. Looking forward to exploring the galaxy yourself? Be sure to read our Six Tips For Playing No Man's Sky.

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You can check out other videos from the Did You Know Gaming channel covering Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionSuper Mario GalaxyDark SoulsMetal Gear Solid 3Super Mario RPGMetal Gear Solid 2Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainWarioConker's Bad Fur DayBatman: Arkham Asylum,  the history of the Wii UNESPlayStation 2Nintendo 64, the DS, and two covering the Game Boy by hitting the links.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

A comic look at the weird business of game development

Indie game dev and artist Dominique Ferland has published a quartet of one-panel comics that illustrate (with disarmingly cute characters) some of the weird idiosyncracies of life as a game developer. …


Gamasutra News

Hello Games Shares No Man’s Sky Development Progress With Series Of Images

No Man's Sky has changed a lot since Hello Games began development, and in a new blog post the game's director Sean Murray tracks a bit of its visual changes, and tempers expectations for tomorrow's release.

The image above shows the game after a few weeks of development, while the three images below show the game's changes six months later.

Along with tracking the game's visual evolution, Murray also uses the blog to talk about what exactly the game is, which is something the still isn't totally clear for many even with the game's release being only hours away. Murray outlines specific mechanics that will be in the game, like exploration, trading with NPCs, combat and survival, and writes, "For one small moment, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a sci-fi book cover." He follows up later in the blog writing, "It’s a weird game, it’s a niche game, and it’s a very very chill game [...] This game might not be for everyone, I expect it to be super divisive, but I’m sat here watching playtesters right now who weren’t supposed to be in, but just wanted to play and chill out. I can’t wait for you to experience that for yourselves."

We'll be streaming no Man's Sky tomorrow. You can learn more about that schedule here.

[Source: No Man's Sky]

 

Our Take
No Man's Sky has been so ambiguous that many players are projecting their dream game onto it. I'm very excited to play the game and see what it's all about, and I am also curious – much like Sean Murray – to see the general reaction after tomorrow.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Evolve Stage 2 Goes Into Open Development With Bug And Update Tracking Tools

Often, patch notes are our window into development, letting us know what’s already been changed. Turtle Rock is taking a different approach, cracking its process wide open and letting fans know exactly what’s being worked on for Evolve Stage 2. 

The team uses a project management tool called Trello to track progress on updates and fixes. Usually, this is an internal mechanism that isn’t often public-facing.

Turtle Rock has made its Trello board open to the public, allowing fans to see what new balances, bug fixes, perks, and adaptations are on the way. This is also a great way for the community to confirm if perceived bugs are actual problems.

For instance, right now there is an issue with the Behemoth’s tongue grab ability and a problem related to the Kraken at different altitudes. Those fixes are ready, but waiting for accompanying updates to be put into a patch.

They won’t be making the next update, which should roll out in the next week. That patch will include a new perk set for hunters and for monsters. 

For more on Evolve Stage 2, check out our coverage of this month’s bevy of updates.

[Source: Turtle Rock]

 

Our Take
Even if you’re not interested in Evolve Stage 2, this is neat way to see how developers approach updates and patches. I would love to see more studios in post-launch maintenance and update mode offer something like this (though I’m realistic about why that is wishful thinking).

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

South Park Creators Discuss Their Experiences With Video Game Development

During the South Park 20 panel at San Diego Comic-Con, the focus was keenly placed on the first 20 years of the beloved South Park television series, as well as the upcoming 20th season. At the same time, however, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been working on a game, a sequel to the 2014 hit, South Park: The Stick of Truth. The Fractured But Whole moves things away from the fantasy genre of The Stick of Truth and instead focuses on the recent superhero craze. They took a brief segment of their 2016 SDCC panel to discuss minor details surrounding the upcoming Fractured But Whole and South Park games.

On the success of the Warcraft episode of South Park

Trey Parker: [We make episodes on] s— that we know and that's why some of those episodes it's just honest because we are those dudes.

Matt Stone: With Warcraft in particular, I remember half of our office was playing it. You'd go by computer screens and it was either South Park or Warcraft. Those episodes, like Warcraft being a good example, are something that when we did it we were like "We're going to do this weird geeky thing that we're into and maybe our office is and people are into, and it turns into the biggest… one of the most loved episodes. Those are great because we come from that culture too… the Comic-Con culture. And to be able to put it in our show and screw around with it… and Warcraft, like they helped us make the show! The people who made Warcraft. It was awesome.

On why Matt and Trey didn't work on video games prior to The Stick of Truth

TP: We wanted it to look like you were in an episode of South Park, and that technology was not there until the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation. So they would do those cheesy… you know, we have these old South Park games where they would do these cheesy 3D polygon junky games and we just hated that. it wasn't until [...] we could make it look like you were in an episode… we knew we wanted it to be story-driven. That's why we always talked about it being an RPG. I grew up and RPGs were my favorite. I was playing Ultima and Ultima II… that was my s—. And I was big into D&D. I think 5th Edition is f—ing awesome and I'm totally back into it now. When you're making a game like that, it's really fun because you're the DM and you're anticipating. Instead of anticipating what four people around the table are going to do, you're anticipating what the video game audience is going to do but still preparing in the same way. That's why it's really fun just in terms of writing, because it's more like D&D. I was always the DM since I was like nine-years-old and I think it's what helped make me a good storyteller because I'm anticipating, "Okay, they'll really laugh at this" and "Then we'll do this and that will be really dramatic," "Then they'll probably do this," but then having to "Oh my God! They didn't do that? They went over here? I've gotta improvise! I've gotta think fast!" So I think it really shaped what I was going to end up doing.

On the process of making a story for a video game

TP: We finally found this company in Ubisoft that kind of thinks the way we do and this is not like a… we don't have to kiss their ass at all, but we really finally found a company that's like, "You know what? This isn't as good as it could be. Let's work on it some more." Which is always our attitude. They knew up front with Stick of Truth, and they really learned from Stick of Truth that we're all about writing, looking at it, changing it, looking at it again, changing it, and looking at it. That's really what's happening with those six days of South Park; everything's changing and being rewritten and rewritten and rewritten until the last minute, so you know, it really sucks when we call into San Francisco and we're like "Oh remember that whole level? We're cutting that," and they're like "Oh f—!" because they'd been working on it for three months. We have to be a little more careful and try to say "Okay, these are things we need to keep," but it's still a sculpting process.

On how The Fractured But Whole is letting them do things they've always wanted to do

TP: With The Stick of Truth, we felt like we had a game in our heads. We had a game that we wanted to do, and just because it was our first time making a game and we went through all these things and were like "That's not quite what we wanted." And that's why we're like "Let's do another one!" And a lot of people around us were like "You're going to do another video game?" We really don't at all… I think right now Fractured But Whole is around 200 pages and we've written every page ourselves. It's not something where we say, "Yeah, just use the thing and go do it!" We are literally writing on it every day and have been since the last season ended. You know, we're hoping that… and I also know that the day before this comes out, I'll be like "No! This sucks!" But that's just how it is.

On the old South Park games and why they sucked

MS: Yeah. The old, old Nintendo 64 games? Yeah, those weren't good. We had nothing to do with it. They just weren't good games.

TP: That's why we stopped! That's when we were told, "Okay, you have a hit show, so now what we do is we take your thing and we give it to a company and they make a game!" We were like "Oh cool!" And so we're like… the game's done and we've played it and we're like, "Well this is dogs—!" So then we finally said we're not doing that anymore and they were like, "But you don't have to do anything!" and we're like, "No, that's that point! We don't do anything." That's when we really said until we do the game ourselves, we're not going to do another game, and that's why it took so long for Stick of Truth to happen.

For more from Matt and Trey on South Park: The Fractured But Whole, head here.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Titanfall 2 Producer Introduces New Series Of Development Videos

With the launch of Titanfall 2 only a few months away, Respawn Entertainment is slowly pulling back the curtain on the sequel to their mech-based FPS. Drew McCoy, the game's producer, has released a video that is the first in a series offering a deep look at the thought processes behind Titanfall 2.

McCoy mentions that the development process of Titanfall 2 is nearing its end, and that these videos will share the lessons the team has learned as well as new information on the game's servers, matchmaking, and progressions systems. One of the key points he brings up is the challenge of including a single-player mode in the sequel, after Titanfall was a multiplayer-only game. Watch for yourself below.

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While this first video only serves as an introduction to the series, future videos are designed to let hardcore fans in on "complex things" regarding the game. Titanfall 2 launches on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 28.

[Source: Titanfall]

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