“Zavala’s totally Captain Picard” – We talk story with Destiny 2’s narrative leads

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Look, if you’re going to mention that Destiny had no story, then here’s a stick and a dead horse for you to beat on. Like I’ve said before, Destiny did have a story. It just made the mistake of hosting its lore in a mobile app instead of the game itself. A couple of weeks ago at a Destiny 2 preview event in Seattle, I got a chance to sit with Senior Narrative Lead Jason Harris and his partner in lore, Cinematic Lead Matthew Ward.

With Destiny 2 looking to cook up a juicier tale inside and give players a glimpse into the past, we chatted about the change in tone, mute Guardians and giving newcomers a chance to catch up on the story of Destiny.

So first question: Just how much story are you aiming to have inside of Destiny 2 compare to the first game?

This game is infused with story

Jason Harris: This game is infused with story. Everywhere. We put narrative wrappers around everything. It all has a story purpose. The main story will have resolutions, . A lot of the adventures you’ll go on, think of them as short stories, short films something like that, that will have individual resolutions. But that’s not to say that we don’t leave some open windows that we can jump through later for future stories.

We resolve all the conflict of the here and now, and we do pose new questions for the future.

Mathew Ward: I don’t want to ruin anything, but I really love what you guys are not going to see. It’s important for everyone to have some kind of surprise.

How do you tackle the structure of a story for a game as vast as Destiny2? Is there a formula to balancing the past, present and future that defines your approach?

JH: When we tackle the story, any portion of the story, like a little short story adventure or the larger acts of the story, the modules as well as the stories that we tell later, we try to frame everything in three parts. How do we answer questions from the past for people who played Destiny 1 and still have questions whether they’re from the Grim moiré or lingering questions from Destiny: The Taken King.

We try to resolve all the conflict of the present. So conflict of the present for us right now is the war with the Red Legion and taking back the City. We try to make sure that we’re resolving that and then if course we’re trying to pose new questions for the future so that we can tell future stories.

Jumping into Destiny 2, there were plenty of returning characters and enemies that I immediately recognised. What about the new player who boots up Destiny 2 with a fresh set of eyes, who never played the original game? Are there any narrative measures in place to ensure that they get up to speed on the events of Destiny 1?

we went overboard in a lot of cases to really ensure that this thing was very understandable to players

JH: I can tell you that we took pains, and everything that we did in the story side, has been done as if we were looking through the eyes of a new player.

Somebody who has never played Destiny before, when you see the Taken for the first time, when you see the Fallen or the Hive for the first time, these things are explained to you and you’re probably thinking to yourself “Why are you telling me something that I already know?” and I was like “wait until you play when you get home” because you’re going to get a different set of dialogue cues that are going to reference the experiences that you had in the past.

We’re going to treat the game and those stories as if it were a true sequel for you guys. The core answer is, is that we went overboard in a lot of cases to really ensure that this thing was very understandable to players.

Destiny 2’s story definitely feels a whole lot less vague and more established in the threat that players will face this time around. Story elements such as the Darkness, have they been completely exorcised from the narrative or will their impact still resonate throughout Destiny 2?

JH: What I would say to that is, those things will still be felt. We have multiple story channels, there is the story that you’re getting as you play through the campaign, there are just so many little stories that you guys have yet to experience. The content that will blow open after the campaign is over, you’re going to see a lot of references and you’re going to hear a lot of things that are going to be like “Oh I remember that!”.

Specific to the Darkness or anything like that, it is felt. It’s not gone per se.

Something I picked up on through my time playing Destiny 2: My Guardian was silent. I know my Destiny 1 Guardian seldom spoke, but what was the reasoning behind making him mute in Destiny 2?

This is you in this adventure

JH: It is something that we talked extensively about. Should the player character talk or not talk? Ultimately we landed on the side of our core values when it comes to this game. Which is leaning into the player story and the player’s journey. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about the adventure that you are having.

This is not you pretending to be Nathan Drake, this is not you pretending to be Master Chief and so on and so forth. This is you in this adventure and ultimately we landed on the side of not wanting to be presumptuous about the words that we put in your mouth. Or trying to presuppose the things that you may or may not be feeling in a given experience or something like that.

So we have the Ghost there to contextualise the world for us and to provide us cues and egg us along or hold us back, but at the end of the day those are just nudges and we wanted to make sure that we believe that by making the player/Guardian not talking, allows you to be that much more invested in the experience that you’re having.

MW: It also props up a lot of our other characters to be a lot stronger and to allow them to be more important when you interact with them. Like Jason said, we don’t want to force anyone to think a specific way. What I might say in that situation isn’t necessarily what you might say. In a perfect world, who knows? It would be ideal that you could actually speak and then interact with what happens the way you would naturally do it.

We’re not the kind of game that would give you four options of what to say and see how that plays out. This worked best for us and we find that the result of it is the most positive one we found.

In terms of genre, there’s very much a focus on action this time, instead of having to devote time to world-building, isn’t there?

we’re at that fun ‘n games chapter

MW: It was a ton of fun. We loved that opportunity, it wasn’t so much about introductions, it was about getting in and playing. We got to go in as storytellers, just like the player gets to go in and play and shoot shoot shoot. We got to go in and have fun in the world that we had built up to that point.

JH: This is my genre. If you had to go my home and see my movie library, you would see that there are walls with everything that I know and love. Being able to craft a story like this, inside of a fairly well-established world is more than a treat.

MW: That was hard for us. Hard to always hold back, because you have to be responsible with how you guide someone and hold their hand through the story. If we’re looking at Destiny as an overarching, all-encompassing story, we’re at that fun ‘n games chapter.

You can’t talk story and tone without mentioning Cayde-6 of course. Nathan Fillion’s character really is an example of the narrative giving itself time to poke fun at itself from time to time, isn’t it?

It’s a cliché, but Cayde writes himself

MW: Nathan had a lot of fun this time around and we had a lot of fun writing for him. These guys came up with some great stuff.

JH: It’s a cliché, but Cayde writes himself.

MW: There’s even that moment where Cayde is like “Say something say something!” and the player raises his hand and the Ghost cuts him off. We even have fun with our own narrative

If there was a sci-fi movie equivalent for Destiny 2, what would it be? Because I’m getting a lot of Star Trek: First Contact vibes from it.

JH: Oh that’s good! THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE! Zavala’s totally Captain Picard in this one. I’m going to steal that if somebody asks me.

Last Updated: September 5, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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