Steve Cotton couldn't show his work at the 'Destiny 2' debut, but he was happy to talk about it
Steve Cotton couldn't show his work at the 'Destiny 2' debut, but he was happy to talk about it
We already know the basic shape of Destiny 2 – or, at least, of most of its individual components. At its grand debut on May 18, I got a taste of the campaign, which was cool and paced with the sort of story-forward discipline you remember from The Taken King. I also got to play a strike, which was also cool, designed with a little bit of sprawl, and included a hectic raid-like hazard sequence and a tough multi-phase boss battle. And I got to play the new PvP mode, which seems fine, but would've been better had I not been matched with astoundingly talented opponents who completely swept the floor with me.
That said, the thing I'd hoped to see the most wasn't on show: the open world. Compared to raids or ultra-competitive PvP modes like the Trials of Osiris or even the workaday strikes that define Destiny's daily grind, it's easy to forget the lowly patrol areas – where, ironically, we probably spend the most time. Which is why, in my mind, the way Destiny 2 builds its open, explorable areas will have the most appreciable impact on how it ultimately turns out.
Bungie's world director Steve Cotton is the one who's on the hook for realizing these planets, moons, and planetoids. Though he couldn't show his work, he was more than willing to talk about it. During a brief 20 minute chat, Cotton dove into the difference between an "Adventure" and a "Lost Sector," where, exactly, we'll all hang out now that the Tower is rubble, and what his favorite Destiny 1 zone is.
What's the biggest difference in your approach to designing open-world areas in Destiny 2?
The first thing I would say is that in Destiny 2, we wanted to take you to all new places. So we're doing that. We have new palettes to work with. We also wanted you to stay in the world more. We didn't want you to have to feel like you had to go back to the Director between activities. We wanted to give you more to do when you were just in the world and exploring.
Before, you had Patrols to do – you could do some encounters and public events, but you didn't know where the public events were going to happen. You didn't know when they were going to happen. In order to make all that feel better, we wanted to give you a map that actually meant something, that you could use to find stuff. We've done that.
In addition to patrols, we've added Adventures, which I talked about onstage. I don't think I did them enough justice, though. They're 10-to-15-minute-long missions with narrative and dialogue and they take you to new places and they do new things – new mechanics.
Then there's Lost Sectors, which are like dungeons where, occasionally, as you're wandering around the world, you see a symbol etched on some wall and you know you're close to an entrance of some kind. Then you get to go – no matter what activity you're on – you can just go into this Lost Sector and go find a boss, kill it, and get some sweet treasure.
What's the balance between that sort of serendipitous discovery versus the impulse to simply put stuff like Lost Sectors on the in-game map?
Another big thing we say a lot is we want it to be easy to find the fun. On the map, we control how much we want to expose to you, but the characters that you're going to meet in the world, they basically will mark your map for you with things – as they decide how much they want to show you. They'll give you adventures to go on, and say, "Hey, here's a couple of different adventures that I need you to do." Or, "Hey, here's some Lost Sector locations that I know about." They pop up on your map. You still have to find them – you still have to use your map to navigate and find where they are. Then, when you get to the general area, you have to find how to get in there. Patrols – those little beacons – are still all over the place. Those aren't on your map. You just find them. You just see those.
I think the highest expression of Destiny exploration is the Vault of Glass. It's a huge, mysterious space that stirred our imagination. We perhaps thought there was more going on there than there was, but it's hard to deny how forcefully it captured our attention. Did that inspire you?
I did the Vault of Glass! [Laughs] So I got inspiration from myself, maybe. Is that how that works? [Laughs] But the truth is, yeah, everything you just said is what I was trying to do in the Vault of Glass. Here's a door. It's a giant door that's super mysterious and unless you're qualified, you can't even get inside.
Maybe you're lucky. Maybe you happen to be in that space while a fireteam's doing it – they go in, and you sneak through... that was a goal I had – that people should be able to sneak in if they're patient enough. I don't know how often it happens, but you see that door all the time. Then, once the door's open, now you get to go in and, "Holy crap! This is what I was missing? Oh my god, this could be behind any door?"
That's the philosophy with the Lost Sectors – you're going to see this symbol and you're going to be like, "Oh no, I know that there's something cool here to do." Now, it's not going to be a raid behind that symbol. It's a dungeon and it's meant to be done pretty quickly. It's meant to be done as you're out in the world.
The Adventures actually have a lot of those properties – you get to go into places much like the... imagine going into the first room of the Vault of Glass for the first time, doing an Adventure and building a Vex construct while you're in there and doing whatever Adventure that happens to tell you to do. That's how they play out.
You mentioned that you thought you undersold the adventures a bit.
I hope I didn't undersell them too much, because they're out there, but yeah, they're – I wanted an opportunity to talk about them, but yeah, I believe Adventures are going to be pretty fascinating for people, because they're a lot of content in the world for you to do whenever you want, whether you're on the main storyline or whether you're done with the game and you want to go back and do these side quests – side missions, sorry – that these NPCs are giving you.
During the presentation, there was one quick shot – I think it was in the European Dead Zone – and there was human character sitting next to the Guardian. It seemed fundamentally weird to see the Guardian hanging out with another character that isn't a human player – who isn't someone who's just crouching up and down repeatedly.
Yeah. No, this guy actually acts normal.
The most important thing is that Destiny 2 is a good action game. The places that we build make for good action.
He's completely in character and it's very much weird. It seems like that sort of normal moment would be a pretty useful tool to inject life into the world. What other techniques are you using to breathe life into these environments that we're going to inevitably spend a lot of time in?
The NPCs are one – putting characters in the world that you can go back to, and it feels like they know the place and they're telling the story of that world for you. They're helping. I think the the way the [new] Director works, being able to travel between destinations, makes everything feel a little more real.
You're on Io. You want to go to Nessus. All you do is you bring up your Director and you see Nessus and you click on that. You see the map. You go to whatever landing zone you want. Then you click that and now you're flying there. You don't have to go back to orbit or to another planet.
If you're in the European Dead Zone and you want to go from the town where the church is to the Cabal base because you want to go run an Adventure, you can go to a landing zone there – just open your map, click on it, and you'll load right into there. Or you can just take your Sparrow all the way there. I feel like just your ability to travel around the world and explore and stay in it – it's all part of the reason why it's going to feel like a different place.
I also got the impression that there will be quiet areas of civilization scattered around the solar system. Is that something you're setting out to do, to vary the texture a bit?
I don't want to oversell how much civilization there is in all the different worlds, but absolutely, the Tower gets destroyed and you need a new place to call home for a little while. We also don't want to divide the community up when they are in that home. When you go back to this place to do the things that you need to do – whether it's talk to people or decrypt things or just talk to the postmaster for whatever reason – we want that to be in the same space that everybody else is going to be in. We don't [want to] divide those up. We thought about it, but we don't want to. We don't really like what it does to the community. I know we've actually built different ones in the past with different DLCs, and we probably will continue to evolve the social spaces, but with Destiny 2 at launch, the foundation, we want to try to keep that as singular as possible.
Were you talking just now about the Farm that we saw in the presentation?
There is a Farm. It's tricky to answer that question without giving too much of the story away. I can't really say, but yes, it's the Farm at the beginning.
Earlier, you mentioned being excited about having new palettes to work with when designing the new environments. How does that affect how these worlds actually feel and play versus how they simply look?
We definitely want to have each place have its own identity. You know when you're there. Ideally, every place differentiates itself from every other place we've ever made, so you feel like it's new. The more places you go, the harder that gets. We also need to stay true to the universe, the architecture that's used, the types of combatants that are there and things like that.
We have some constraints, but the solar system is a big place and we have a lot to choose from. We like to ground it in something that's real, someplace that actually really exists – like, Titan is a moon of Saturn. The methane oceans, that's really what's there, right?
The most important thing is that Destiny 2 is a good action game. The places that we build make for good action. That's the most important thing. The second most important thing for me – because I'm an artist and I like to design worlds – is what they look like. Are they places that you want to be in and that you want to come back to?
Then, third – and these are all important – the third is, do they make you want to explore them? Do they have plenty of places for you to go? Are they easy to explore, to try to... you always want to, like I said, wonder what's around that corner. All the different places in Destiny 2 – Titan is a moon of Saturn, Io is a moon of Jupiter. It's got sulfur tornadoes. It's the last place the Traveler touched before he came to earth and you're like, "Okay, so what happened here?" There's a story there that we want to tell.
You're tying the locations more closely to the story this time around, right? And, specifically, to the Vanguard characters – Zavala, Ikora, and Cayde-6.
I don't want to give away too much of the story, but obviously, each Vanguard has – the Vanguard have scattered after their home is destroyed and you don't even know where they are when you start. Each world that you go to is important to them in some way, and that's why they're there. That'll become clearer when you play the story. Cayde's [story] is pretty awesome. I will say that. He's always a good one, but his [story] is good.
What's your favorite of the new worlds in Destiny 2?
I like Nessus the best. You're not going to get to it until later in the campaign, but it's probably my favorite. European Dead Zone is really good. It has more to do. It's the biggest by far. It's got lots of Lost Sectors, lots of dungeons, lots of just hidden little nooks and things to find. Nessus is going to take you into places a lot more – like what you were talking about with the Vault of Glass. They're all very different.
What about the first Destiny? What's your favorite patrol area?
I think, mechanically, Cosmodrome was probably the most mechanically useful for me. That's where I would go to do things. It's also a place that was really easy to be on, very relatable. I liked Venus a lot, not because I made it, but because of what we were trying to do. We were trying to create different places in the world that were really different, like the caldera with the Fallen area you could go to, the big Vex structure that you could go up in – you had the academy that you could go in. There were definitely locations that were very distinct. Venus was a tough one. It was a tough planet to work on, but because it was like, "Take this thing that nobody wants to ever visit, and turn it into something people want to visit."
This interview has been edited and condensed.