Bungie: Destiny can surpass Halo, sit alongside Star Wars

Pete Parsons talks to us about future-proofing Bungie and how the studio believes next-gen gaming is “no longer just about the hardware”

Before 2001, when the first Xbox and Halo took the console industry by storm, redefining what a first-person shooter could be like with a controller (instead of mouse/keyboard), most mainstream gamers probably hadn't even heard of Bungie. More than a decade later, Bungie is now respected as one of the top developers in all of gaming. The company will forever be remembered for the iconic Master Chief and putting Xbox on the map, but the entire team - many of whom are still present from Halo 1 - hopes to make an even bigger mark with its next monumental IP, Destiny.

GamesIndustry International caught up with Bungie COO Pete Parsons to talk about the studio's grand ambitions for Destiny's 10-year arc, how the company is future-proofing itself, what next-gen really means and more.

There can be no doubt that the investment in Destiny by Bungie and publishing partner Activision is absolutely huge. Committing to a brand-new IP for the next decade requires a lot of resources and certainly a lot of confidence. While Parsons would not disclose budget to us, he made it abundantly clear that Bungie and Activision are shooting for the moon. The goal is to create something fans are so passionate about that it surpasses even Halo.

"We like to tell big stories and we want people to put the Destiny universe on the same shelf they put Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars"

"We like to tell big stories and we want people to put the Destiny universe on the same shelf they put Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars; we've already seen they do that with Halo. We were extremely proud of what we achieved with Halo... I'm pretty convinced we are going to do it again with Destiny in a way that maybe even Halo never achieved before," Parsons said. "What excites me is a number of years ago we talked with Activision and Activision believed in that vision, and that's why we like this partnership so much; these guys know big entertainment as well. They prove it over and over again."

While Bungie's dream is to reach a Star Wars-like frenzy for Destiny, the studio is making a game first and foremost. There are no plans to create novels or comics or movies... yet. If the property gets as big as Halo, though, Parsons isn't opposed to it so long as it truly does enhance the universe Bungie is creating.

"If they happen in a way that's exciting and helps propel the universe forward, I think that's great. But it's not the ambition and it's not something we set out to do. The thing we set out to do is to build an entertainment universe that people want to be a part of and continue to invest in," he noted. "And we didn't think of entertainment in the Halo world either - it was never something that we set out to do. Now, do we think it's exciting if we can help increase people's experience and investment in that universe? Yeah I think that's great. We have a number of talented friends who do more than make games and if there's an opportunity there that helps better the universe or propel it forward, that's awesome."

At a quick glance, someone watching Destiny may think it looks quite similar to Halo, but the game's focus on social connectivity takes the experience another step beyond Halo. It's really just an evolution of what Bungie set out to do as far back as Marathon. It's ultimately in Bungie's DNA.

"It's no longer just about the hardware. It's about these wonderful networks on both PlayStation and Xbox... The hardware is absolutely subordinated to those communities, and that's great for us because that's what we've been trying to do for a long time"

"I would say it looks very Bungie-esque. I mean that sincerely. We made Marathon before we made Halo; that's almost 20 years of making games, and when you look at our games I sure as hell hope that they have a Bungie look to them. Bungie created Halo, not the other way around. We love action games, we love the shooter mechanic. We're ambitious; we were ambitious and we brought people online with Marathon... And we successfully brought a shooter to the console and changed the way people played, and we changed it again when we brought out Halo 2 and made it online. And much of the code that was in Xbox Live at the time was code that we collaborated on with the Xbox Live team," Parsons said.

He continued, "And we did it again with in terms of bringing people together outside the game. And we did it with user created content for Halo 3. We have every intention on defining what the next generation of shooters look like - that it has a Bungie aesthetic to it to me is exactly what we want to be doing. What's different though is we're taking a huge, for us very logical, leap forward. We are saying, 'How do we take the core mechanic that we're known for, add to it elements like how do you use space magic, how you put deep server-side investment into that while retaining the visceral simulation of a shooter, and then how do we put that into a persistent world?' Those are big challenges that we're taking on, and how do you make all of that super complicated matchmaking happen completely under the surface?"

Parsons doesn't want people to think of Destiny as an MMO, however, just because people are coming together in the game's public space. "So when you think about the public space, we think less about MMO attributes and more about stringing together storytelling. Here are a whole bunch of people moving from one place to another but for a moment in time we all come together and say 'hey should we take down the enemies together?' I could just sit there and people watch. I don't need to join in, or I can join and get a reward for it. So for us, it's about how do we bring people together? How do we move social more to the center of what we've done? And I would argue we've been trying to do that for a long time, but the technology and learning wasn't there," he acknowledged.

Indeed, this social aspect may be the "killer app" of next-gen gaming, if you ask Parsons. Everyone knows that games look pretty nowadays. Improving the social connection, though, could be the next big step.

"For us, that is next-gen," Parsons remarked. "We're going to be on all consoles, and we've been working on this game for five or six years, maybe even longer, so long before there's even been a thought of next-gen we've been thinking about what kind of universe we want to create. I would argue that next-gen games are going to be wonderful in terms of visuals, but I believe that unlike prior console generations that have really been about the hardware, it's no longer just about the hardware. It's about these wonderful networks on both PlayStation and Xbox; they created these wonderful, vibrant, gigantic communities."

"The hardware is absolutely subordinated to those communities, and that's great for us because that's what we've been trying to do for a long time. Every advancement they make there just helps make our universe better. That's what's really exciting about next-gen. I think the big advancements are how do we keep bringing people together? How do we make a game that's not just about 'here are a bunch of people in the same room together', but it's about what we want to do, which is to give you really finely crafted storytelling and competitive multiplayer and remove the barriers between those two," he added. "Think about all of our previous games in the LAN parties... Those were all attempts really to bring people together. At the end of the day we were shipping three separate games on the DVD - we were shipping campaign, cooperative and multiplayer, and they are arguably different games. Well, now we don't have to do that; now we can actually have people crossing each other at different points. You can build your avatar for weeks, months or years while enjoying storytelling and then move into multiplayer in that same build."

This focus on social interaction and merging the worlds of campaign and multiplayer have been somewhat liberating for Bungie as well. Instead of obsessing about what the next-gen platforms would be like, the studio was more concerned with preparing for the future and setting up the 10-year arc it has planned for Destiny. The future-proofing Bungie engaged in automatically meant that the company could be prepared for whatever platform was thrown its way.

"We knew we were making this game on a 10-year arc and we did a bunch of planning around that. We had to plan what our team would look for such an ambitious project, what we had to do with our technology to be future proof. We didn't say we have to plan for the next-gen consoles, but we said we have to plan to be on any platform possible," Parsons said. "We didn't set out to think just about the consoles, so we actually changed our development philosophy. What we decided to do was make one central design build, and then understanding how we export that to each of the individual platforms - that's the right way to future proof our technology, particularly when you're making a much more living, persistent world. That allows us not only to think of the platforms of today and tomorrow but also other platforms as well."

"We've always admired people like Pixar, and we are finally in that moment where we have this raw, amazing talent that I think rivals entertainment creators anywhere across any entertainment ever"

Part of that future planning involved developing a new, proprietary engine for the Destiny universe. Parsons noted that the investment in technology is already paying off, making development much smoother for the team.

"This is an enormous universe that we are building and that we will continue to build over time, so yes the engine helps us gain a lot of efficiency. The Halo set of tools was really powerful but really at times unwieldy, and we knew that we would need to be able to make content at a rate that was much faster and achieve much more collaboration between designers and artists. Now we can have designers and artists working in the same space. Really improving our workflows in our content pipeline was job number one. Also, every time we build a new object it goes into a library to be used or referenced at a later date, which is exciting for us," he said.

The extreme level of preparation Bungie is able to commit to Destiny and its own future is a nice luxury, one that most studios don't really have, and one that Bungie didn't have either for quite some time. There was a lot of uncertainty during the Halo days.

"We have a pretty good understanding of what we want to do over a ten-year period with Destiny, which is not to say we know exactly where the gameplay and story will go, but we've future proofed ourselves on a number of levels with technology and how we built the team and how the team interacts, and what we think our narrative arc looks like. Imagine many many thousands of pages on how we future proof ourselves in a way we never did for Halo because we didn't know what came after Halo 1. And we didn't know what came after Halo 2. It was like 'alright it's Return of the King for Halo 3!' That was the pitch to the team. So what happens is you're not prepared in the way that you want to be, so you can do things like paint yourself into a corner with canon and do all these things that sort of set you sideways," Parsons admitted. "So I think we've learned a bunch there, but were continuing to learn a lot and I don't think you ever stop making mistakes and learning - it's just the nature of our business."

In the end, Parsons is just eager to let Destiny do the talking for Bungie. It's being released at a time when there's more interest in games than ever before, and the medium is able to stand toe-to-toe with just about any other entertainment out there. "We've always admired people like Pixar, and we are finally in that moment where we have this raw, amazing talent that I think rivals entertainment creators anywhere across any entertainment ever, and Activision is helping us bring that reality to life," he said.

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Latest comments (20)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
The IPs to which Destiny is likened are present on any type of media, not just consoles. of two manufacturers. There isn't even a PC version, arguably the platform where the most self-organized communities (outside coordinated PR efforts) are.

I really liked the Mass Effect meets Borderlands meets Guild Wars 2 vibe the presentations gave off so far, but it will be a long raod until Destiny can measure up to something such as Star Wars with all its movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games and decade long fans. Destiny combining fps and mmo elements is certainly the right game, I wish Bungie the best that it is also the right time.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
The moment they said they can sit beside Star Wars, they blew their credibility.

Things like Star Wars didn't happen because a suit wanted them to. (Indeed, most of the suits rejected Star Wars, back when it was being pioneered.)

They happen because creators push them. And, notably, Star Wars didn't happen during the Factory System of moviemaking (in the 1940s and so, which is what we are in now in the game industry). Instead it came during the Golden Age of filmmaking - in the 1970s, when creative was driving that industry.

The game industry is not driven by creative now. The game industry is being driven by administrators and business people. Sure, creative is employed in it, but it is not driving it. (If it was, game designers would be well known - and I don't mean the handful you know of. If it was, signing a game designer to a project could get it greenlit - the way it can in other entertainment industries. And by "greenlit" I mean really greenlit: funded.)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 26th August 2013 5:15pm

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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
This reminds me of Rovio, when they said they are the new Disney...
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Show all comments (20)
David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
@Tim Carter

Amen. What Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Wars all had in common was they appealed to people of all ages who weren't necessarily fans of those genres. Realistically, Halo is on "the same shelf" as a toy adaptation like Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend8 years ago
Bold claims indeed. Sit along side Star Wars? Probably not.
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Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 8 years ago
@David Serrano

mmm, Just Battleship...
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Even Star Wars can't sit beside Star Wars these days...
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online8 years ago
@Tim: Thank you. Spot on in all regards.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
As someone who thinks most of their games are overrated to an extent, I believed in the potential for Halo to become a 'modern day Star Wars' as Microsoft once suggested and still do. Why? Because there is enough there in terms of universe, unique direction, story, characters and even the musical score to do so. Through games and moving into TV and Film a lot could be done.

If Bungie can create a another big, unique sci-fi universe like Halo then I feel Destiny could also have that potential. Potential is the keyword and it has to be exploited however. A lot of people don't like these comparisons because of the history and high regard a product like Star Wars holds, even with the disastrous prequels and other criticisms its still a sacred cow and anything else is a pretender.

For any flaws, Bungie's output much like Star Wars has been a game changer in their respective entertainment sectors and with a few steps here and there you could see something truly magnificent OVER TIME spanning multiple entertainment mediums.

Destiny isn't even here yet and I can imagine the scepticism but you need people to believe its possible and believe in what they are aiming to achieve with their productions. If you don't then everything will be a mere shadow of what it could have been, and you wouldn't get Halo or Star Wars or Zelda or much else for that matter.

I'm usually tagged the 'overly optimistic' or 'overly positive' guy on but simply I refuse to write everything off and follow the default negative or cynical line that tends to run every time ambition shows up. Those who are optimistic (even cautiously) have a far better track record.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
Although Halo doesn't sell as many units as Call of Duty(which is expected since one is multiplatform and the other isn't) I'd say that it is the closest console video game franchise that can sit alongside Star Wars. Beyond the midnight launches for each new release that sell millions of copies and generate hundreds of millions of dollars, they have properly expanded the universe via novels, comics, toys, an anime feature film and a live action straight to video dvd. It's one of the most popular game series around and as long as they continue to correctly grow the series without milking it with Halo the musical then one day Star Wars will be the one wanting to sit alongside Halo.

As for Destiny, I don't see it ever getting bigger than Halo, let alone Star Wars. Thats not saying it isn't possible but it's not very likely. By all accounts it should outsell Halo due to the number of platforms it will be on but it remains to be seen if it will ever reach Halo's level of popularity and cultural relevance.
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James Ingrams Writer 8 years ago
First we have to see if the new consoles sell in high enough numbers to support the sales required for this $200 million Destiny spend! I have my doubts I have my doubts- and wouldn't be surprised if PS4 and XBOX One cannot even match up to PS3 and 360 first year sales!
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Eric Leisy VR Production Designer, Nike8 years ago
Paul why are you so skeptical that Destiny could overshadow Halo? I think something properly written, executed, and marketed could indeed eclipse the Halo series. I am not a fan of first person shooters, I think they are a very tired. Having said that, I've really enjoyed playing the Halo games and exploring it's universe. I did not play Halo 1 or 2, just everything after 2. And i have to say I am a Halo Fanatic at this point.

James, I wouldn't be surprised if the Next Gen is a slow adoption cycle. We're at the point where machines are pretty much fast enough, and the thing that sets apart modern devices are all of the extraneous features... I mean we see this in computers too. Remember how back in the day, you couldn't WAIT to upgrade your PC because it was so bloody slow? It just doesn't seem like that anymore... I built my current PC about 2 years ago I think, and I have upgraded its video card each year which might akin to upgrading consoles because the video cards i buy tend to be in the 200 to 300 dollar range... but even still, ive never felt like my computer was too slow. Anyway, sorry, getting a little off topic - point being, is you're right there will be a slow adoption period, but all of the new games are going to be coming out on these new consoles, so the install base will definitely get there. I'm excited by all of the networked ideas that are going into these consoles.

So excited, that I may actually buy an Xbone, but I'll definitely be getting a PS4 first.

I think Bungie has shown us they have the chops to make a great game and a great universe - i don't think their story telling was quite as gripping as Mass Effects universe, but they aren't far off!

As to whether Destiny will be put alongside Star Wars, Lord of the rings, Etc.... ummmmm I mean I'm ALL for aiming high and setting your goals, but that seems a little bit presumptuous to say in an interview at this stage. I don't think Halo sits on the shelf with these franchises, it just doesn't have the *ahem* reach.

We'll see! I'm excited for them to spend their money and try!
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Pete Thompson Editor 8 years ago
Very much looking forward to Destiny's release, and I can't wait to get my hands on it....

Halo titles 1 to 4 and Reach have all been stunning looking games that engage the player with audio as well as creating an enjoyable atmosphere.. Destiny will have to be one hell of a game to compare with and be better than a game with stats like this :-
20,880,250,123 Halo games played
123,611,766,794 Halo playtime in minutes.
136,128,511,043 Halo kills

But, If anyone can pull it off, it's Bungie..
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd8 years ago
I don't think anything artistically significant has ever resulted from a load of suits sitting down and planning out how they can sell merchandise for ten years. The very best they can reach for is the Star Wars prequels, Transformers and Avatar.

Bungie and Activision are spending a space programme budget on a project whose central themes exist as bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
It would be nice if Destiny supassed HALO, but they lost me when they said it can be another starwars...
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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
@Spencer Franklin

I thought it would sound less harsh if I compared it to Transformers lol...
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
@Eric Leisy
Paul why are you so skeptical that Destiny could overshadow Halo? I think something properly written, executed, and marketed could indeed eclipse the Halo series.
Like I said above, it's possible but not likely. It's nice to aim high but coming in they shouldn't go for the champs(Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield), they should aim for the non-contenders like Killzone, Resistance and Medal of Honor. Surpassing them is much more realistic. Then after achieving that they can gradually start to go after the big boys.

Still, Bungie is perhaps better suited than any other studio(other than Respawn) to make a new fps IP that becomes massively successful from the start. And I will definitely be buying Destiny for either the 360 or XB1 because I will continue to support Bungie for all the awesome Halo games they've made.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 28th August 2013 2:32am

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Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago
It would be nice if Destiny supassed HALO, but they lost me when they said it can be another starwars...
I find your lack of faith disturbing.
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Micky Klugman Writer/Concept Guy 8 years ago
James Ingrams:First we have to see if the new consoles sell in high enough numbers to support the sales required for this $200 million Destiny spend! I have my doubts I have my doubts- and wouldn't be surprised if PS4 and XBOX One cannot even match up to PS3 and 360 first year sales!
I don't believe that, if the preorder numbers are correct, then they (at least the PlayStation 4) will most definitely outsell the 360/PS3. I say this because Xboxone/PS4 are starting at similar price points to the previous generations price points, and they even have more games in the launch window, then the previous generation. with a nice assortment of game genres to boot.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Micky Klugman on 29th August 2013 3:39am

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Hmmm. I wish Bungie and Activision well, but frankly speaking, as a fan of games with some sort of offline story mode, Destiny interests me not one whit. I can't see yet another shooter no matter where it's set having a 10-year or whatever game cycle without hooked in users burning through content and complaining at some point sooner than later that they're not satisfied. Unless of course it ships with some sort of editor like Forge, then users can go nuts outside the game world and share their creations with other players.

As for comics and other outside media after Destiny hits it big... that's a bit backwards I think... unless the game's story is so compelling that people who play want more outside the gameplay experience. I know monetizing the audience in every way possible is key in this sort of thing, but I'd love to see some game that does it all without having to add purchases that don't add any entertainment value to the interactive part of the experience. A comic, poster or model never makes a game any better (but they sure get the wallets opening, so I guess I'm wrong again!)...

Granted, I know this well sell like gangbusters based on all the hype it's getting alone (awards galore help move product). I just wish there were a way to play it without the "social" element and some of this other hype cutting off a segment of potential buyers who may want to see what the fuss (and what all those innumerable dollars spent) is about...
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