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Bungie's Destiny awaits

The Halo creator finally unveils its incredibly ambitious new franchise - but leaves many questions unanswered

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The player's role in all this is as a Guardian, one of the many soldiers that inhabit the city on earth. While Bungie's writing lead, Joseph Staten, kept the lid on the over-arching story in Destiny, he did reveal that this game is designed as a rich and layered powertrip. The most important stories in Destiny, he said, wouldn't be told by Bungie, but by the players. The way he laid it out for us made it sound that one of the player's key goals in Destiny is to become a walking legend in its universe.

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Staten also described a typical gaming experience to the journalists involving his character and a mate he referred to as 'Jason'. Both were Guardian soldiers, but from his description it emerged that the soldiers of earth are class based; Jason's character - a large, brutish tank-like soldier - was referred to as a Titan, while Staten's character, who we were told wielded Traveller tech, was tagged as a Warlock.

Staten described a session in which he and Jason left the city on earth in a spaceship and travelled to Mars in search of an artefact. Once there, they ran into a hostile group of hulking armoured brutes called the Sandeater Cabal. Both were then saved by a third Guardian - this one from a class Staten described as a Hunter - riding to their rescue on a tricked out hoverbike. After a brief altercation, Staten and his crew emerged victorious and collected up some loot in the form of unique weapons.

As brief as all of that was, it confirmed some gameplay details. Combat, it seems, will be both FPS and vehicle based. Players will be able to customize their avatar's and vehicle's appearances and it seems that characters will be class-based. There will be mini-quests and loot drops. There will be drop in/drop out co-op play that can happen completely on the fly, and player parties can add to their ranks in short order.

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Of course, it also threw up some questions. How many Guardian classes are there and what are the main differences between them? Do they have their own bespoke missions or is there overlap? Are their skill trees and RPG power sets? How much does the game boast in terms of vehicles and weaponry and are any of these items off limits to any class?

How big are the areas on Earth, Mars and the space between them? Can players explore the cosmos open-world style or will they be shunted between set environments? Most important - since Destiny is designed to be a shared experience - what happens if the players meet up with other players who are killjoys actively out to spoil their fun?

For the most part, these questions went unanswered, although Bungie's COO Pete Parsons did confirm that the developer has taken steps to enforce co-op play in certain segments of the game. How it's done this, he wouldn't say, but he did add that Destiny would also accommodate co-op, competitive and lone-wolf styles of play.

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Given its huge scope in terms of environment size and player accommodation, you'd imagine a ton of work has been done by Bungie to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible - and you'd be right. Chris Butcher, engineering lead at Bungie, described Destiny as the most ambitious and challenging project the studio has ever taken on. The size and scope of the worlds alone - and the challenge of making them feel alive - sounds gargantuan.

Toss in the need for multiplayer tech - such as seamless host migration, always-on matchmaking and distributed object hosting - for a player base this size and 'challenging' doesn't sound like it covers it. Then add the fact that not only does Destiny need to accommodate players of all skill levels, but it has to be future-proof across gaming platforms for the next ten years. This is starting to sound a bit silly, isn't it?

As Butcher tells it, Bungie has had to rebuild every part of their gaming technology including a new graphics engine, distributed computing clusters, a new AI and new game creation tools.

Bungie's senior graphics architect, Hoa Chen and Ryan Ellis, from the Technical Art Engineering team, were also on hand to show off how the new lighting and textures brought the beautiful creations of the art department to life. They also showed off Grognok, the environment creation tool that allows them to swiftly build living breathing environments from the ground up.

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It all looks very impressive and, coupled to the game's beautiful presentation, Destiny starts to feel less like a game and more like an living universe players are likely to get lost in. The overall aesthetic for the game feels like a frontier space opera where rustic tribal affectations rub shoulders with sharp-edged sci fi tech.

In a series of concept art stills, Destiny's art director, Christopher Barrett, showed how the game's universe could evoke atmospheres and moods across the spectrum.

The sun-kissed veneer last human city glowed with a warmth that imbued the sandstone walkways and bustling markets with a sense of safety. Conversely, the Hell Mouth on the moon - a spine-filled crater that looks like it was smashed into existence - gave off an aura of pure evil.

As Barrett laid out the artistic vision for the game, we were shown giant Obsidian pyramid ships, skyscrapers sunken into swamps in Chicago, buildings reclaimed by nature in the European Deadzone and derelict spaceships floating in the rings of Saturn. Barrett described Destiny as a world of staggering depths filled with Tomb Ships, Dungeons, Fortresses and havens. Sandeater Cabals, Spider Pirates, Time Travelling Robots and Undead Space Zombies are just some of the creature players would meet.

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Bungie's studio head, Marty O' Donnell closed out the presentation by confirming that Destiny will be available on PS3 and Xbox 360. It also emerged that, since Destiny is a persistent, emerging world, players will need an online connection in order to play the game.

This is all well and good, and from the three-hour presentation, Bungie has proffered a decent amount of information. But questions remain. We heard, for example, that Destiny will be sold on a disc, but there was no word as to whether it'll be made available for digital purchase. We were told that there would be emergent gameplay, but Bungie wouldn't say what that would be.

The game was confirmed for current gen consoles but no one at Bungie, in spite of Butcher's point about future-proofing for ten years, would confirm next-gen or PC platforms. How would players be forced to work together? What if they don't want to work together? When is the game going to be released? Well, Bungie aren't talking about any of that right now.

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Still, from what was shown last week, Destiny certainly looks like something special and even if Bungie wasn't prepared to expound on any gameplay details, it was certainly prepared to nail its colours to the mast on its ambitions.

Towards the end of a Q&A session, one journalist asked if the developers were confident that their new IP would be as game changing and industry affecting as Halo was back in its day. Parsons didn't even hesitate.

"Yes," he said. "Definitely. We are going to advance the genre."

As the next-generation of consoles begin to appear on the horizon, it's possible we'll be hearing more about Destiny in the future. Watch this space...

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