Four months have passed since my last Destiny roundup, and for good reason: there hasn’t been much to talk about. While the Bungie.net news feed has been well-stocked with entertaining Ride-along writeups, Mail Sack Q&As, and Breaking In interviews, the studio has been completely silent in regards to Destiny. As such, it comes as a surprise (and a frustrating one at that) to see Bungie’s careful radio silence has been broken not by a deliberate marketing strategy, but by the actions of the California judicial system.
But first, let’s go over the other scraps.
The Bungie Winter Pentathlon was held back in January and one of the events required the creation of custom car paint jobs in Forza 4. Both the Middle School team and the Grizzled Ancients produced designs sporting the Destiny logo:
This doesn’t give us any info on the game, of course, but I’m always a sucker for seeing the logo pop up in new places. Notice anything in the background of this hilarious portrait of studio co-founder Jason Jones?
“Celer Manus Dei” is a reference to a ship in Marathon 2: Durandal (thanks, Miguel), and means “The swift hand of god.” It should be noted that Jason Jones was holding a large sword when the portrait was presented to him at the end of the Pentathlon…
A NEW COAT OF PAINT
Bungie recently updated the artwork outside the studio’s front entrance. Bungie.net user HOOBLA 911 shared a picture of the new mural, which contains a Destiny logo and the familiar background design of the Destiny map:
Every Bungie game released (so far) is mentioned on the left wall, including “Gnop!” according to a pic tweeted by Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell:
And speaking of pong references…
THE RETURN OF PENNY ARCADE
Dabe Alan of the Penny Arcade Report recently visited the studio not for a Bungie/PA ping pong rematch, but for a rare photography-allowed tour of the building.
Notice the Destiny symbol in the front window. (You can’t see it in the picture taken from outside.)
Here we can see another Destiny logo on the lower half of a pillar in the second floor lobby. Note that the top half seems to have the “Destiny planet” found in previous Bungie.net art. Unlike the front entrance signage, these pillars are not sporting new decoration – the same design can be seen in this group photo posted to the About Bungie page in June of 2011.
I highly recommend checking out the rest of the article over at Penny Arcade – it’s a tantalizing collection of photos taken within the Bellevue studio’s hallowed walls.
MARCUS RETURNS TO BUNGIE
Last Fall, Marcus Lehto (Creative Director on Halo: Reach) left Bungie to spend some well-deserved time with his family. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t a permanent separation from game development. On January 21st, 2012 he announced his return to Bungie on his new blog, METTLEshop.
“During this time, I kept in contact with my friends at Bungie to discuss some possible opportunities that didn’t exist prior to my leaving. It was sad to leave behind a company that I helped create, but I was ready to make a change and start something new. Well, my discussions continued to develop with Bungie and soon we had a plan together that made a ton of sense. Why slave over the difficulties of building a studio from scratch when I could start something new, working on a brand new IP right within Bungie itself?
So, it is with great care that I will be venturing back to Bungie on Monday. I will be teaming up with my longtime colleague, Joe Tung, to start the construction of a brand new team and project. We will be a lean and mean organization for a while until our first game pitch is ready, and then grow from there.”
Marcus seems to be pretty excited (and busy) with his new project, and it’s very interesting to see that it is NOT a Bungie Aerospace title:
The new team isn’t wasting any time, it seems they already have a prototype ready:
What kind of game could this be? Something similar to previous Bungie games, or something completely new? Whatever it is, Lehto’s enthusiasm is certainly heartwarming.
Bungie recently posted a new position on the careers page: CRM Designer. (CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management.)
While player retention is important for most games, it is of special concern to those with subscription-based services such as MMOs. The job description doesn’t eliminate such a possibility:
“As a CRM designer, you’ll work with designers, engineers, marketers, and researchers to promote player retention through creative campaigns and communications. This is a unique job and requires a unique candidate, one who can creatively apply their marketing skills to a new domain. Strong analytic skills will be needed but this position is about designing campaigns to improve each player’s individual experience with our games.”
(Note that in this context, “campaigns” are most likely marketing initiatives and not single-player games.)
I wouldn’t point to this as concrete evidence that Bungie is developing a subscription-based game, unless there was another source to confirm the notion. How about a court document?
THE DESTINY CONTRACT
On May 21st, the Los Angeles Times posted a surprising story: Activision’s lawsuit against former Call of Duty developers Jason West and Vincent Zampanella has made public the publishing contract between Bungie and Activision. LA Times posted the full contract here, and it reveals an unexpected level of detail about the future of Destiny.
Before I go any further, I feel compelled to provide a short disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I have no experience reading video game publishing and development agreements, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt – it’s entirely possible I’m drawing incorrect conclusions. Also keep in mind that this contract was signed over two years ago and it was NOT meant to be made public. I’m disappointed that it was released and feel guilty reading it, but the information is now too widespread for me to ignore. (For the record, I do NOT condone the distribution of information leaked in an underhanded manner. I vastly prefer collecting and analyzing the hints and clues intentionally provided by Bungie.)
Here are a few of the details, as of April 2010:
Game/Franchise name: Destiny
Code name: Tiger
Number of main games planned: Four
Destiny Game #1 release target: Fall 2013
Destiny Game #2, #3, and #4 release targets: 2015, 2017, and 2019
Major expansion code name: Comet
Major expansions planned: Four
Comet #1 release target: Fall 2014
Comet #2, #3, and #4 release targets: 2016, 2018, and 2020
– It isn’t specified if these expansions will be released as retail discs or as DLC.
– In addition to the Comets, each game may have smaller DLC releases developed by Bungie.
Genre: Sci-fantasy, action-shooter.
– The contract does NOT indicate whether or not the game will be a first-person shooter (FPS), third-person shooter, RPG, etc.
Online: Destiny will be a “massively-multiplayer-style” game (i.e. “client-based mission structures with persistent elements”).
– The term MMO is not used anywhere in the contract, but there are mentions of subscriptions, micro-transactions, servers with persistent state data, and even “in-game game masters”.
Target ESRB/PEGI rating: Teen/PEGI-16
– There don’t seem to be direct penalties for failing to reach that target.
– Keep in mind, the Halo series has always been on the tamer side of the “Mature” rating so this won’t be a huge shift.
Destiny Game #1 / Comet #1
Planned platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox 720 (unofficial name)
Possible platforms: PlayStation 3
– It seems Bungie and Activision were supposed to decide on the technical and business feasibility of a PS3 release no later than March 31, 2011. Considering that Bungie has been hiring PS3 developers for a while (and still wants applicants with PS3 experience), I imagine they decided to go for it.
– The PS3 version is required to have “quality and feature parity” to the Xbox 360 version and is targeted for a Fall 2014 release, a year after the 360 version. While Bungie cannot be required to release the PS3 version simultaneously with the Xbox 360 version, there don’t seem to be any contractual restrictions on the developer doing so voluntarily. I’ve seen a lot of complaining online from people assuming Microsoft paid for a timed-exclusive release of Destiny on the 360. Judging from the 2010 contract alone this does NOT seem to be the case – it’s merely a result of Bungie having seven years of experience with the Xbox 360 platform and little to no development experience with the PlayStation 3.
Destiny Game #2 / Comet #2
Planned platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox 720, Windows-based PC, and PlayStation 4 (unofficial name)
– Of course, this is all dependent on technical and business feasibility studies for development on the above platforms.
– Both the PlayStation 4 and the PC are NOT mentioned in the contract as possible platforms for Destiny Game #1. Likewise, the PS3 is not included in the possible platforms for Destiny Game #2, although that might just be dependent on its status as a Game #1 platform. Apple’s Mac OS is not mentioned at all. Platforms for games #3 and #4 are not detailed.
Remember, this contract was signed on April 2010 and is subject to change.
– The Wii U is not listed as a possible platform most likely because it was not publicly announced until June 2011.
The contract outlines Bungie’s complete ownership of the Destiny IP, and it should be pretty reassuring for fans:
– Activision cannot make any remakes or spinoffs of Destiny games without Bungie’s consent. If Activision wants to port a Destiny game to another console, Bungie gets to determine if such a project is technically feasible (feature parity is required) and, if so, has the exclusive right to do the port. Bungie can waive that right and allow Activision to hire a third-party developer to do the port, provided it isn’t a developer that directly competes with Bungie (e.g. Valve, Epic, Gearbox).
– If Activision wants to make a mobile/handheld version of a Destiny game, Bungie can determine the technical design of the game and has the same right to develop it themselves. (Basically, a cheap iPhone or Nintendo DS game based on Destiny can’t be made without Bungie’s approval.)
– Bungie has the right to lead all of the market opportunities related to movies, books, and merchandise based on Destiny (subject to mutual approval with Activision). Bungie has the exclusive rights to the game soundtrack.
– Bungie has to give Activision a list of a list of all hidden content and easter eggs before releasing the game to certification. The games cannot contain any hidden content that would modify their rating, “regardless of whether or not such content is programmed to be accessible or inaccessible to the player”. This clause is in place to prevent anything like the GTA “Hot Cofee” controversy, or Halo 2 Vista’s “.ass” error. This works both ways – if Activision has a third-party developer develop Destiny games they must provide Bungie with a list of easter eggs.
– Once the contract was signed, 100% of Bungie’s studio/development personnal were required to exclusively work on Destiny with three notable exceptions:
1) Up to sixty employees (55 artists and 5 engineers max) could work on DLC for Halo Reach. (The Noble Map Pack released in November 2010.)
2) Up to seven employees and ten contractors can work on Bungie.net.
3) No more than 5% of Bungie employees can work on a prototype team for a future Bungie action-shooter game tentatively known as “Marathon”. This number can be expanded to 10% and 25% after certain sales/income goals are reached for Destiny.
Is Marcus Lehto’s new project a Marathon game? Maybe, maybe not. This contract was signed before Marcus left Bungie – perhaps it has since been changed, allowing Bungie to bring Marcus back to work on an entirely new non-Marathon project. Time will tell.
Fun fact: The final line of Bungie’s 1996 game Marathon Infinity is “I know who you are. You are Destiny.” I don’t believe the Marathon and Destiny universes will be connected, but it could explain where the new franchise got its name from.
– The Activision contract makes no mention of Bungie Aerospace, which was revealed to the public in June 2011. It does, however, state that Bungie “shall not invest any more than $5,000,000 […] in any other independent game development or publishing companies”. Looks like Aerospace has a budget limit for the next ten years.
While there are a lot of clauses that protect Activision’s interests, overall I get the impression that this is a very favorable deal for Bungie – especially considering the enormous investment it requires. The fact that Bungie keeps the Destiny IP and a sizeable percentage of the profit makes it understandable that Activision would retain certain options in the event of a major loss.
My favorite quote from the contract? This one:
“[Bungie] shall have no obligation to produce future [Destiny games] (including any sequels, spin-offs, or remakes) after the completion of the final [game] under this Agreement.”
While some fans may be distraught over a few of the Activision-clauses passages in the contract, I am confident that Bungie is happy with the terms. After all, this is a studio that proudly declared independence from Microsoft:
“When in the course of creative endeavor it becomes necessary for one group to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another and to assume among themselves responsibility for their own future, the separate and equal station to which fundamentals of artistic and creative expression and financial freedom lead them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, requires that they should disclose the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that basically, we want to make games and create experiences our way, without any kind of fiscal, creative, or political constraints from on high, since we believe that’s the best way to do it. We want to benefit directly from the success of our endeavors and share that success with the people responsible for it.
The people of Bungie. We the people.”
Hopefully the release of the Activision contract will have minimal impact on Bungie’s careful announcement plans. It isn’t hard to imagine a hint of frustration behind the studio’s response to the news:
I imagine Bungie employees are (rightfully) annoyed by the situation, especially as the date draws ever nearer for the proper reveal of Destiny…
The Electronics Entertainment Expo is right around the corner (June 5th), and if Destiny Game #1 is really targeting a Fall 2013 release I think chances are good we’ll see something Destiny-related at the show. This is by no means a sure thing, but it’s certainly a possibility.
Update: Nevermind – looks like there will NOT be an official Bungie presence at E3, according to Mail Sack 18:
Old Papa Rich: “Have you guys finished your new game presentation for E3?”
DeeJ: “Nope. We never started one, and we’re not going to be at E3 in any official capacity this year. Some of us will be there, lurking from booth to booth, but don’t expect any announcements.”
Even though E3 will pass by without Destiny news, we can at least look forward to Bungie Day 2012 (July 7th). I’m sure the celebrations will provide something new for us to ponder over, anad the lucky handful of Golden Ticket recipients from last year’s Bag O’ Swag sale will finally learn the meaning of the mysterious One in Seven page.
That is, unless Activision spills the beans in another lawsuit.
Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll report it here.