Destiny April update: how Bungie is evolving alongside its game

By Brenna Hillier, Tuesday, 12 April 2016 17:59 GMT

New Destiny content, for the princely sum of zero cashmoney. What a way we’ve come in the last 18 months.

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“We’re fulfilling that promise of Destiny being a world that evolves over time. The Live Team is now augmenting and enhancing the live game” – David “Deej” Dague

Destiny: The Taken King’s April Update arrives today and changes the shared-worlds shooter – forever.

We’re used to that by now, but what we’re still not entirely used to is not having to pay for new content, or seeing fixes and balance changes arrive in a timely fashion. Over the year and a half since Destiny launched, the pace of updates has accelerated, Bungie has cranked up its communication efforts, and free events have become the norm.

We couldn’t have anticipated this when the complaints started back in October 2014, but according to Bungie community manager David “Deej” Dague, it’s a natural evolution.

“The April update is an opportunity for the Live Team to do what they do,” he told us. “It’s essentially an extension of their mission, which is to keep the players of Destiny entertained between the major releases of the game.”

Distinct from major releases and DLC packs, The Live Team’s efforts are to keep the day-to-day live game of Destiny busy and interesting. The April Update represents a change in the scale of its efforts, but not a change to its mission statement.

“We see all sorts of things from the Live team, from quality of life fixes, improvements to the player experience – that’s what we saw last year,” Dague said.

“This year the Live Team has been moving more into programming, creating events like Crimson Days or Festival of the Lost or Sparrow Racing. While those were temporary events that would come and go to mark a special occasion or time of year with an interesting playable activity, now we’re infusing the Director with things that will remain – content you’ll have access to again and again and again.”

Challenge of the Elders, quest lines building to the new Strike, and the remixed Winter’s Run strike won’t vanish at some arbitrary date: these are permanent additions to the navigation pane.

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“We’re fulfilling that promise of Destiny being a world that evolves over time. And the Live Team, rather than just supporting the live game, is now augmenting and enhancing the live game, giving players new things to do and new things to earn,” Dague said.

It’s important to note that the Live Team has existed throughout Destiny’s history as a separate entity to the development group responsible for expansions and DLC.

“The Live Team hasn’t replaced them. What the Live Team is doing is keeping the game fresh in between the major releases, either fixing the game where it needs it, or adapting to some of the different appetites on the part of the community,” Dague said.

“We always wanted to create a game that would be dynamic, that would evolve to the way people were playing it. The Live Team is essentially the instrument of that goal.

“Once upon a time Bungie would create games and ship them, and essentially walk away from them, just because that was the nature of the hardware and the software. Halo games were games we would ship, hope for the best, and then go on to work on the next thing. Our only way to impact the player base would come every one to two years.

“With Destiny, every two or three weeks, every two or three months, we can do meaningful things that improve upon the player experience. That’s what the Live Team is there for. That’s why Bungie wanted to create a game like this. I work with such a talented team of perfectionists and when they see room for improvement it actually pains them not to explore it.”

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The Live Team led the charge on tracking bounties, the gear manager, colour blind visual options, music volume slider and more. But now it’s moving on to creating “new things to do – rather than taking things we already have been doing, and making them just a little bit better”.

Bungie has changed the way it approaches content development and the types of content it provides in response to player feedback. Early in the shooter’s history, the developer admitted players were spending much more time with it than they had anticipated; a good problem to have, although not an easy one to resolve given the run up required for triple-A content development. The Live Team’s expanded scope is part of Bungie’s push to give players what they want.

“We are setting for ourselves the goal of taking this ravenous community, and honouring their passion by giving them new ways to challenge themselves, some new ways to become more powerful,” Dague said.

Shifting sandbox

Subtler than the Live Team’s efforts but the cause of more community eruption than nearly any other topic, the combat sandbox rebalance included in the April Update will throw the Crucible meta into disarray again.

“Our goal is to create a competitive ecosystem that is satisfying for as many different types of players as possible. We want players to feel like they have a wealth of options at their disposal, and no matter what decisions they make in the Crucible in terms of how to configure their build and what to equip, there is a place for them in that environment,” Dague said of the impending shuffle.

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“You see rather frequent updates to the combat sandbox. What we’re trying to do is make every type of player feel welcome and relevant in the Crucible” – David “Deej” Dague

“You see rather frequent updates to the combat sandbox. What we’re trying to do is make every type of player feel welcome and relevant in the Crucible. They feel like they have options, and no matter what options they choose, they are the logical counter to a different type of player.

“Whenever we detect a situation in the Crucible where there’s one logical choice if you want to win, that’s definitely something we’re going to iterate on.”

Examples include 1,000 Yard Stare, a Legendary sniper rifle obtained via story missions which has become “most equipped and widely used special weapon in the history of the Destiny combat sandbox”.

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“When we see that happening, when we see one weapon being the choice that is embraced by players above all others… we don’t want to ruin that, because it’s obviously popular for a reason. But what we do wanna do is give people some other reasons to try other weapons,” Dague said.

As ever, this has distressed PvE players as much if not even more than PvP hounds; why should they suffer nerfs to their weapons? It’s not as if the Dregs can complain about OP sniper rifles. But Bungie remains committed to a single experience across both modes of play.

“The Crucible was a fantastic way for us to let people create these fabulous characters, and then bring those same characters into a competitive environment,” Dague said.

“The same types of strengths as on their missions – be it story missions a raid or a strike – teach them a bunch of talents and give them a bunch of tools they can also use in a friendly match-up with each other. The essence of the Crucible has stayed true to its roots.”

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Bungie looks at player data across both landscapes before it implements changes, but always applies them to both. This is one area where it seems the developer won’t be changing track any time soon. For all the changes Bungie has made to Crucible over the past year and a half, that original vision remains central.

“The goal is for the character you play in Destiny to be the same everywhere they fight. So that if you’re very used to using a weapon in a strike, and then you take that same weapon into the Crucible, all of your body memory, all of your expectations are intact,” Dague said.

“That weapon has no surprises for you. It functions the same way against a raid boss as it does against a thinking breathing person that you meet through matchmaking.”

Read up on everything you need to know about Destiny’s April Update, which launches today.

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