For Bungie, straddling four consoles in Destiny was a balancing act

Destiny the Game screenshot 6
Read our full Destiny review.

Destiny isn’t the first game to straddle two generations of gaming hardware, but it’s one of the few currently in play that was built from the ground up with that in mind. With its latest title, Bungie took on the Herculean task of building a game for four systems: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. With the foundations now laid and the all-important beta just around the corner, we spoke with Bungie engineer Roger Wolfson to find out more about the challenges of building a game that runs on just about anything.

“There is a huge amount of complexity behind the scenes,” Wolfson tells Digital Trends. “Our platform engineering team has done an awesome job of hiding all of that complexity from the end-user.”

Each console presents its own set of challenges for capturing the experience that Bungie wants players to have.

Don’t think in terms of “next-gen” and “last-gen” here; each console presents its own set of challenges for capturing the experience that Bungie wants players to have.

As Wolfson puts it, “We want to let the designers drive what the game means.” So for the platform engineers, it’s not about pushing a console to its limits. Wolfson and his team are simply focused on ensuring that the base experience dreamed up by Bungie’s creative types can be faithfully recreated in four very different playgrounds.

This designer-first thinking extends to Destiny’s online features as well. It’s the creative team that susses out the “right” number of players to have roaming around in a given space. They create their vision of a balanced experience and the engineers then ensure that said experience translates across four different machines.

This is one of the big reasons why we don’t see cross-platform play, even when it’s under a single hardware maker’s banner. Players might wonder why Destiny works on PS3 and PS4, but doesn’t allow for players on either console to intermingle. This isn’t a product of some technical dilemma; it’s about preserving the experience for everyone.

“I’ll speak for the hypothetical player,” Wolfson explains. “I have a disadvantage sniping across the map because [my opponent with a next-gen console] is only two pixels on my screen and I’m four pixels on his. You see that in the world of PC gaming, where people are always racing to the best video card to give themselves the advantage.”

Destiny the Game screenshot 1

“Regardless of where the reality is, there’s definitely a perception among gamers that better hardware means you have an advantage. We don’t want to have to enter that fray, so to create the best, most level playing field, both actually and perceptually, we separated it by platform.”

The results so far, according to Wolfson, have everyone at the studio excited, and confident enough to put all versions of the game in front of players for the beta. The newer machines both offer an expected higher level of graphical fidelity, but overall performance on PS4/Xbox One versus PS3/Xbox 360 is said to be almost identical.

“I’ve been playing some on the Xbox 360 as well as the PS4 [at home] as we head into the beta window, and I’ve been really pleased at how I can almost forget that I’m playing on a last-gen console,” Wolfson says. “There’s really no difference at all in loading, the action game is as fluid and as action-packed, there are as many combatants on the last-gen, [and] the loading times are equivalent.”

The character you create on September 9 is meant to stick with you for the next 10 years.

All of this represents ground zero for Destiny. Activision hasn’t been shy when it comes to boasting about the 10-year plan around this franchise. The designer-first development mentality is intended to produce a quality-assured game in the here and now, but equally important if the foundational work that Wolfson and his team are laying out for the years to come.

“Predictably, a decade from now when we’re into the later sequels, we won’t still be on PS3 and Xbox 360, but the platform engineering we’ve done, the investment engineering we’ve done, is the most exciting thing to me,” he says.

It’s all about giving players a sense of permanence. The character you create on September 9 is meant to stick with you for the next 10 years. Bungie learned a lot about community-minded game development during the stretch of time between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo: Reach. Those lessons helped to shape the heart of what Destiny is, not just as a single game, but as a series-to-be.

“The gameplay of [Halo: Combat Evolved] is great, but the gameplay today and the character, replaying a mission, it’s the same as it was the first time you played it,” Wolfson explains.

“Our goal for Destiny is that each time you play it, you’re going to have a different experience. Not just because of the social interaction, and the fact that you can play with different people, but because your character is growing and will have different ways of playing the same content every time you go back and replay it.”

It’s not simply a matter of building a cloud-based profile system that stores player data and tracks progress. That’s a foundational building block, make no mistake, but here again, the designer-first mentality guides the team’s thinking. As Destiny’s architects look ahead toward an unknown future, they face the challenge of carrying forward an experience that is as friendly to newcomers as it is to veterans.

“Let’s say Destiny 2 [and] Destiny 3 are out, and we have new players joining the fun,” Wolfson says. “[They] want to play those new games alongside those who have been playing Destiny from the beginning. [We want to ensure] they won’t feel like they’re four years behind. And then, if they want to, they’ll be able to go back and pick up the old content on their same character.”

“So we’ve done a lot of planning for how that’s going to work, to not make people feel like they have years worth of leveling up to do.”

But that’s still years down the road. The real test for Wolfson’s engineering team – and the beginning of the road for eager gamers – starts tomorrow when Bungie throws open the doors to the Destiny world for the first time in the long-awaited beta test.

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