Three weeks ago, a job opening appeared for a Vancouver-based senior online systems programmer for Bungie’s technically-still-unannounced new franchise Destiny. While the studio is unnamed, it is presumably the satellite Vancouver office of Demonware, which handles the online infrastructure for Activision’s titles and also lists Bungie as one of the firm’s partners on its website.
Demonware’s involvement is a tad interesting considering that the terms of the leaked Bungie-Activision contract suggested that Bungie is responsible for Destiny‘s server and service maintenance operations, and indicated they had some autonomy in choosing the datacenters for the game. Additionally, the Demonware posting mentions that a preference for PS3 experience for applicants, seemingly implying a PS3 SKU for the game is indeed in development—something that was not necessarily a given in the contract.
Until sometime in the past few weeks, among the first ten entries of Google results for a very simple search of Demonware and Bungie was a since-removed blog post (Google text cache pictured below, annotated for reference) about a visit to Bungie’s headquarters for the studio’s Bungie Day on what appears to have been a publicly accessible copy of Demonware’s internal blog. Ironically, the confidential information-filled post has the warning that “If you cannot find [information contained within this post] on Google you should not talk about it to non Demonware employees.”
The author, a senior Demonware employee, begins the post with a confirmation that the firm has indeed been involved with Destiny from the project’s early stages, with a handful of principles helping with the game’s features; however, very few people outside of Bungie—Demonware included—have seen the game in any sort of presentable state. The Bungie Day presentations would be the Demonware employees’ first chance to get a real glimpse at the game.
His account of Bungie Day includes a remarkably frank description of the day’s first event:
The day started in the Bungie offices (a converted cinema) with a bizarre “Knighting of the Noobs” ceremony, where anyone who started at Bungie within the last 6 months was presented with a signed wooden sword, and asked to kneel in front of Harold Ryan (President) while he read a pseudo oath, culminating in “be brave”, a term they have trademarked for the game.
Following this, the group went to a local movie theater “for a few hours of presentations covering everything from game story, factions, art, engineering, tool chain, graphics, audio, player investment mechanisms, player progression, UI, and web and mobile apps.” Many presentations featured video footage, but the author lists “a live scene walk through demonstrating lots of atmospherics, huge amounts of trees and foliage (SpeedTree), particle effects, dynamic lighting and dynamic time of day ending in a sun set” as the highlight of that portion of the day.
After the theater presentation, the Demonware employees got a chance to have some hands-on time with Destiny at Bungie’s offices, with the author describing his experience with the game thusly:
This is not a dedicated server game, but there is some simulation and coordination running in their server infrastructure. The game was up and down a lot, playing in a team of 3 we did manage to experience entering a zone to find other players already taking on the bad guys, it’s cooperative so we helped out (mostly [name removed], I just died) before both groups went their separate ways. Which is a pretty cool experience, making you feel you are part of a much larger populated world.
…At the end of the day I was excited about the game, I like the feel of being in a large world with different destinations and the interactions along the way. It actually brought back a sense of exploration I recall from playing [Elite] many years ago, although there was no opportunity to shoot aliens in the face in Elite. I’m not fully sold on the appeal of being able to change the colour of a weapon, but I guess it works in China, and customization and individual identity is a big theme for the game.
He also gathers that the general consensus from others is that Destiny is “still quite like Halo” and “there is a lot of work still to be done.” And he concludes with a confirmation of an old rumor that the project previously codenamed “Tiger” is now referred to as “Destiny.”
According to the copy on a Destiny-related marketing job posting at Activision’s Santa Monica HQ from two weeks back, the publisher hopes to establish “the biggest new entertainment property in the history of video games.” The leaked contract stated that the first game’s budget could be as much as $140 million including marketing, and in any case, the game quite likely has one of the highest budgets for a new intellectual property ever.
With a massive budget and an apparent fall 2013 release date, it seems plausible that Activision would like to start building hype and officially announce this new franchise sometime soon. Perhaps in the coming weeks Geoff Keighley will tease a look at “Bungie’s next universe” that will be officially unveiled at the VGAs?
* * *A few months ago, Take-Two filed a fairly broad new trademark registration for “Links,” presumably in relation to the long-dormant golf franchise owned by the company. One of three sports IPs acquired from Microsoft in late 2004, Links is the only one of those three brands (the other two being Top Spin and Amped) that Take-Two never actually brought to market; however, Indie Built, the Utah-based developer of the golf series, was working on an Xbox 360 version of Links prior to its closure in April 2006.
A new Links game wouldn’t be the first time Take-Two released a new entry in a presumed-dead sports franchise after shuttering its developer—last year’s Top Spin 4 was handled by Mafiacreators 2K Czech, three years after Take-Two closed the PAM Development, the Parisian studio behind the first three Top Spin games. What form a Links revival would take is a bit of a mystery, particularly as 2K Sports launched its first free-to-play mobile and social games.
In May, Take-Two filed another new registration for another venerated albeit inactive franchise, “Midnight Club,” primarily in relation to online and digitally-distributed products. The new filing could mean any number of things—Take-Two simply wants to protect the logo, some sort of digital re-release is on the way, or a perhaps even a mobile or free-to-play iteration of Rockstar Games’ street racing series.
* * *Several weeks back, reports questioning the future of Activision’s current Spider-Man house Beenox popped up in the French-language Quebec City paper Le Soleil, prompted by founder Dominique Brown’s decision to reduce his involvement in the studio’s operations for the very first time in its history. While the province’s favorable tax incentives suggest that a closure of any sort is unlikely, the studio does very much appear to be in turmoil.
Since the beginning of the year the Quebec City studio has lost: a programmer of seven years, a PR officer of four years, a concept artist of nearly four years, a game designer of nearly five years, a 3D animator of four years, a 3D artist of nearly three years, another programmer of nearly five years, an administrative assistant of four years, a game designer of seven years, a lead game designer, an associate producer of four years, a recruiter of five years, a lighting artist of three years, a producer of seven years, an art director, a lead narrative designer, lead level designer, another PR officer, another game designer, and an audio lead.
That is 20 out of around 170 employees at the two-team studio departing in 10 months. In addition, a Le Soleil report claims that a handful of ex-Ubisoft employees leading a new project that fell into disarray were recently asked to resign after their working methods apparently came into conflict with Beenox’s corporate culture.