Bungie wants to conquer the world. They have publicized their seven steps to world domination on a documentary that was included in the Halo 3 Legendary Edition. Six of those seven steps have been completed. Bungie’s new game Destiny, in some way known only to them, will usher in the last and final step to world domination: launching all their enemies into the sun with a giant slingshot. All of Bungie’s works have been leading to Destiny; each game completed adding a new digital trick to their growing arsenal. With the Bungie apocalypse nigh, we have to ask ourselves: How did we let them get this far?
Their humble beginnings bore no portent of the future dangers. It all started with a Pong clone. They called it Gnop! The free-to-play Gnop! held no ambition and charged no money. It only wanted to exist for Macintosh users to play and enjoy. Bungie then made Operation Desert Storm. Like Gnop!, Operation felt harmless. It even had a fun final boss: Saddam Hussein’s head.
But these two games were programmed by Alexander Seropian alone, only one half of the initial Bungie team. The next game, Minotaur: Labyrinths of Crete, felt more sinister. It had the tagline “Kill your enemies. Kill your friends’ enemies. Kill your friends.” Minotaur was also the first game produced by the Bungie team of Jason Jones and Alex Seropian. It would be a mistake to think this a coincidence.
Minotaur began Bungie’s path to world domination. In fact, it introduced their most important weapon: network play. The only Bungie game to not have network play after Minotaur was Pathways Into Darkness. The addictive network play of their games lured unsuspecting players into Bungie’s cult. The potency of the siren song of multiplayer infected even the Bungie team. Jason Jones said in The Marathon Scrapbook that Marathon, Bungie’s next FPS after Pathways, would have been released a month earlier had the team not spent so much time playing their own creation. Once the Bungie team detoxed from tasting their own poison, they knew they had the means of achieving domination. The world would be theirs.
Network play alone, though, cannot overcome the armies that would be waiting in opposition. A well-implemented multiplayer only works if the game works. A boring world with seamless multiplayer won’t conquer. Bungie worked out the kinks of creating a world worth saving in their loneliest child: Pathways Into Darkness. Pathways’ plot lacks twists and turns: you have a nuke; a world-ending god threatens to awaken from beneath a temple; stop him. The straightforward plot captured the attention of enough customers to allow Bungie to become a financially profitable company.
Bungie took the essential online play of Minotaur and merged it with the great storytelling of Pathways to take their next step towards becoming the unstoppable behemoth they are today. That step is Marathon. Marathon introduced many ideas later seen in Halo: a rampant A.I., a ubiquitous symbol, the look of the hero. Marathon had a story more intricate than the A-to-B, grey and white solution of Pathways before it. If followed, Marathon’s story became a hurricane of motives and actions. This improved story highlights another staple of Bungie games. Each game always builds on top of the ones before. This constant building created Halo, a gamed dubbed Xbox’s Killer Application. Halo made Bungie famous.
Aaron Boulding, in his IGN review of Halo, called the game “the reason for Xbox.” Halo’s sophisticated A.I., cinematic gameplay, and all-around kick-assery absorbed the attention of gamers of all types. It sold over 5,000,000 copies; many of those purchasers were recruited into the Bungie tribe. Halo completely changed the gaming landscape. But it wasn’t enough for Bungie. It lacked true connection. They wanted the ability to connect Bungie acolytes all across the globe in their ritual digital sacrifices of red and blue Master Chief clones. This technology wasn’t ready until Halo 2. When Halo 2 released, the final phase began.
The human race has collectively spent over 230,000 years playing Halo in online matches thanks to Xbox LIVE. But in the end even Halo failed Bungie. They wanted more than, as Bungie Technical Director Chris Butcher puts it, “Frat boys teabagging one another and calling each other names.” With Destiny, Bungie hopes to improve on Halo. When talking about Destiny on a video at the PS4 Feb. 20th announcement, Jason Jones spoke about delivering “not just on the great competitive experience players demand” but that they also made sure “playing destiny cooperatively with your friends was going to blow your mind.” Bungie desires to create a massive, seamless world where the focus isn’t on some faceless antagonist or some Earth-in-peril plot, but on the players playing the games and the stories they can create.
This has been Bungie’s goal for a long time. In 2001 Jason Jones held a Q&A with the Bungie community on Bungie.net. One member of the community asked at what point in the Halo developmental process did the team decide it was not possible to “create the truly ‘seamless’ world” that had been originally announced. Jones responded that “there should be a point in every project where the ludicrous is thought possible, where the team blazes trails right to the edge of the abyss.” This philosophy has worked well for Bungie because what is ludicrous on one game, such as a near flawless matchmaking system, becomes possible as technology advances. The seamless world Bungie desired in Halo can now be created. And in Destiny, it will be.
Destiny will put to use the decades of experience Bungie has making video games. It will include the futuristic, science fiction world of a game such as Halo and combine it with the gritty and near-hopeless setting of Marathon and Pathyways Into Darkness. The network play they have helped shape since the early 90’s will be evolved again into a world where all the games being played on Destiny are connected. Players will be able to hop in and out of each other’s games, exploring a science fiction setting in a way that gives it the illusion of being a living world that’s growing and changing independent of whether or not you decide to kill aliens that day.
I am still convinced as ever that Bungie will use their new game to achieve world domination. But maybe Bungie never had any designs on conquering the world we inhabit, a world they have made careers out of escaping. Perhaps Bungie only ever wanted to be the gods of their own virtual world, populated by the Bungie faithful where they can live out perpetual FPS halcyon days. It could be they have been building towards this accomplishment since Gnop! Then again, tomorrow I could wake up in a slingshot in the shape of Master Chief’s helmet pointed ominously at the sun. Either way, it’ll be interesting.
Date: February 26, 2013