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Exploring the Lore with Jason Harris & Matthew Ward

By Blake Morse on August 28, 2017 | Interviews | Comments

Exploring the Lore with Jason Harris & Matthew Ward

Although you may not know it if you just played Destiny 1 and never took a look at any of those Grimoire entries you kept unlocking, there is a lot of lore to the game world beyond just what lies in the title. With Destiny 2 we’re getting a lot of that lore plugged directly into the game to bring us a fresher, more engaging plot than the last time around.

During a recent press event we got a chance to sit down with Bungie’s Senior Narrative Lead, Jason Harris and Cinematic Lead Matthew Ward to get a in-depth look at some of the steps they’ve taken to make sure Destiny 2 takes things to the next level. Here’s a transcription of our round-table Q&A.

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MMORPG: So I guess my first question would be how you take something like Destiny that has an inherent gameplay that people get into especially for the endgame where they’re playing for thousands of hours and how do you keep a running narrative throughout that to make players feel like they’re still invested in the story or the world even a thousand hours in?

Jason Harris: So you’re talking about the ritual side of the game, how do we use story to create a level of interest and engagement in that? What I can say is there are narrative wrappers to some of those ritual activities that you’re gonna get into and you’re gonna feel the loop as opposed to it feeling like strict gameplay function that I think some people are going to find very interesting so you’ll see it eventually.

Matthew Ward: Whatever the answer is, it’s not easy.

JH: It’s not. There’s a philosophical question, we talk about this amongst ourselves, the writers and narrative designers and everybody else engaged in the project, and I think it’s a philosophical question and I would pose this to you: are you or are you not in continuity once you’re off the golden path? I think that’s a worthy question to keep out there and always be mindful of in games like this. Where is the line between the story experience we have as we move through the timeline of the narrative versus when we’re actually playing? So we are very mindful of this, we try to find a balance, but it is a philosophical question.

MMORPG:What about writing a sequel story? Being able to cater to cater to returning players but still keep new players interested?

JH: There is a fine line between trying to engage new players and new fans into this franchise and not bog them down with too much backstory and I think setting up a world and a scenario and a conflict, it was kind of like killing two birds with one stone. You’re either starting new and fresh as a new player or it’s almost like you’re starting a whole new journey as a returning player.

Returning players’ audio will be different, we have some contextualized dialogue spaces where when you come across the Taken for the first time or any [character] you’re going to a series of lines, even as you move around the tower at the beginning of the game, there’s a couple of lines in there that harken back to or remind you of the experience you had in the Destiny 1 era, that if this is your first time playing the franchise and your gamertag has never touched Destiny anything it’s going to introduce it to you as if you’ve never heard of it before.

MMORPG:And is that mechanic going to work if I’m on a fire team with a brand new player and I’m playing for the first time?

JH: Your experience is always your own.

MMORPG: So in the first game you guys had the Grimoire and you had a plethora of information available to people. How do you figure out what’s appropriate to introduce to new players in the sequel and what do you kind of throw out?

JH: It’s the eternal question in this game, I’ll tell you that. At the risk of sounding redundant, I try to look at the craft of the Destiny story and write. You know if you’re a Grimoire type that’s a few layers deep in the onion and it’s something that you’re drawn to, it’s something that interests you and that level of world building and deep lore is something that you’re passionate about and we make that accessible to you in places that are easy to access. Everything else will be there right at the surface of that onion; the cinematics so you can get your nice clean heavy story experience. People who are into the Grimoire, there will be callouts to places and things in the VO and other areas- so that there’s an option to be dug into and you don’t have to dig too deep to find it.

MMORPG:How does the new main villain fit into the preexisting lore then? And how early on in developing the story for Destiny 2 did you guys hone in on the Red Legion?

JH: There is a hook, the distress signal to take the king, there’s a point in there and there’s some Grimoire to support this, there’s a point where the Cabal reached and they’re like. “yeah these guys are tough and they can’t die and they shoot fireballs from their hands and they dance.” And you may have found a worthy opponent so you know, the distress signal. In developing Ghaul specifically, it was about giving him an objective that is right in line with that which is most important to us. He wants the light, he wants the traveler, he wants to be chosen. He wants to be validated. What is most important to you guys when you play the game? Is it the tower? The city? It’s your power. It’s your light. It’s your supers. He wants that too, and in the eternal struggle to reclaim that for all the guardians you put these two characters at odds from the get go.

JH: You’re writing a character so deep and we played with the Ghaul playground for a long time, we had to be very selective of the moments you get to spend with him. We’d love to make a whole film, a whole game about Ghaul, but we’re not going to.

MMORPG: Speaking of those cinematics, it’s a lot more cinematic of a game. With cutting over to Ghaul and what the enemies are doing which is something we didn’t really get to see in original Destiny much at all - do you have to approach that differently in a living world game like Destiny? Or do you approach that the same way you would a standard linear story?

MW: Right up front we had a goal to make a really interesting really deep antagonist and spend some time learning why he is who he is. It’s hard to do that in game play. It’s hard to go out and fight and have just a moment with him and then he disappears and leaves - to get the depth that we really wanted to deliver. So immediately we knew we were going to throw the camera into his lair and we were going to see him and hear his inner motivations and not be witness to that as the player but as the guy on the couch. As we built up that investment with the story, and by telling that story visually through cinematic content, our audience is getting more and more excited to confront him or excited for the moment that they might be able to stop him or really excited to know if he’s going to win, if he’s going to pull this off… That was a really exciting opportunity for us to jump in and use cinematic content as a tool in which to do that. The only way to move that story forward and deliver that character properly would have been through the cinematic content.

MMORPG:I’m curious when you’re in the story, thinking expansion stories lined up when you’re writing a story, where you have to put the hooks and to set things up or not box yourself in…

MW: Ever since we started Destiny we’ve always thought ahead. Every decision we make we try to think about how that affects the world and future releases and obviously every decision we make later down the road we have to live with. Jason is full steam ahead on the next great thing and we’re constantly trying to figure out what that’s gonna be. And we’re excited.

JH: Definitely we try to tackle, whether it’s permanent activity or activity point, or act 1 act 2 act 3... each module of the story. I try to look at it in three regards: answer questions from the past, resolve the conflicts of the present, and pose new questions for the future. And if I can frame every story through those three questions, we make sure we have a living breathing world that can continue in some form of perpetuity.

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