Bungie is still playing it close to the vest with its planned shift from a seasonal model to an "Episodic" one with its upcoming expansion, The Final Shape, but at a recent developer roundtable, members of the team shed some light on the reasons behind the change, as well as how the unique demands of making Destiny affect its storytelling.
Speaking as a lapsed Destiny player, it kinda felt like every expansion was talked about as the "make or break" moment for the long-running live service shooter, but this time really is big. Bungie's going into the last expansion of Destiny's 10-year "Light and Dark Saga" off the back of a particularly weak campaign in Lightfall, growing fatigue from the game's seasonal model, and most alarmingly, a wave of layoffs that reportedly tanked morale at the Sony-owned studio.
The second of those three issues is something the narrative team is looking to address when it comes to Destiny's story: "Just speaking for the narrative team, we hear our audience loud and clear that the structure of our story may have become predictable, even if the story quality is still high," explained lead narrative designer Jonathan To.
As for how those seasonal storylines became predictable in the first place, the narrative team points to the constraints of cranking out Destiny's live story at such a constant, rapid clip. "When you create a framework for how content should be made, it makes it easier to produce that content quickly, because everyone's on the same page," offered senior narrative designer Nikko Stevens. "But it can also be predictable because everyone's on the same page."
Destiny design lead Brian Frank clarified that these "frameworks" aren't necessarily a bad thing, calling them a "survival skill" for developers faced with constant, unforgiving deadlines like those presented by a live service game. They certainly seem to have come in handy with the delay of The Final Shape until June, which demanded the live team effectively double the length of Season of the Wish.
"Immediately when we knew that Final Shape would be delayed, we started to scramble to add to the season," To revealed, adding that the team is excited for players to see what they've been working on.
All of the developers agreed that being able to mix things up and surprise players with the live story despite those constraints is a top priority in the switch to Episodes from Seasons, but they're still not ready to share exactly how—they caught themselves at several points before saying too much about what Episodes will entail.
"We're working on a number of things right now that we can't explicitly share," To said, "but that involve changing up the structure so we can pleasantly surprise you guys more frequently in the future."
The Bungie developers were able to deliver a white hot lore revelation though: the taste of mummified void zombie tea. Destiny's recent Season of Plunder featured a brew of space horror made from the body parts of Witness disciple Nezarec, and I'm thrilled to report to PC Gamer's readership that Stevens and senior environment artist Ryan Baker both agree that this "Nezcafe" would taste like licorice.