It's been a big year for Destiny - but an even bigger one, perhaps, for the team who build it. Broken up from its long-term relationship with publisher Activision, Bungie now boldly guides the future of its franchise solo.
There have already been big changes announced - cross-save, brought online over the past few days, and the upcoming New Light, a free-to-play entry point due alongside this year's Destiny 2 expansion Shadowkeep on 1st October. And then after that, a version for Stadia.
Here at Gamescom, then, Shadowkeep is only part of the story. But it is an important one, as Bungie talks elsewhere about the current state of its game and the future of multiplayer.
Shadowkeep feels similar in some ways to Destiny 1 expansion Rise of Iron. Both arrive at the turn of each game's third year and both feature a familiar location expanded and altered by its story. But Rise of Iron was also built while Bungie was busy readying Destiny 2 in the background. How do Shadowkeep and this year's upcoming seasons fit in with what's next?
Here to answer questions on the studio's past, present and future are Bungie communications director David "Deej" Dague and principle producer Scott Taylor - who joins for the last part of the interview after dashing across from another Gamescom meeting.
How has becoming independent changed the studio logistically, philosophically? Does it feel different at the studio these days?
Deej: Day to day on the development side, things aren't that different, really. It's at places like Gamescom where we come into contact with our publishing team, our new Bungie teammates in foreign markets working on Destiny, where we're still wrapping our arms around this global community. But in terms of the decision making, our creative leads are still calling the shots like they always were on what they want the game to be.
We want to make the best game we can make and the longer we make it the better we understand the people who play it. So if Bungie seems different these days it's in us gaining a better understanding of what Destiny is, why it's valuable to players and where we want to take it.
Do this year's big changes - cross-save, free-to-play with New Light - come from being independent?
Deej: Bungie has always prided itself on being flexible and adaptive. The industry has changed a lot and we've always been willing to evolve with it. We will do whatever we think is best for the community and welcome new people in. Sometimes these are painful evolutions - when we were blending the Halo nation with the PlayStation nation, there were some of these moments where we had new people joining Bungie.net to join clans and ask questions. But I'm very sensitive to the fact the lifeblood of a community is the ability to bring in new faces to keep it fresh.
If you think about years past at Gamescom - we've had conversations where we've said 'it's a great place to join the community, if you buy this and this and this you'll be all caught up and then you have the right to buy this thing we have'. We'd be talking to a core Destiny fan about what's new but for the person on the fence we had all these elaborate business considerations they had to jump through in order to get caught up with someone already playing. Now we're opening the door and saying, come on in, take a look around, if you like this place and want to make it your hobby, there's a community here who'll take you on new adventures.
Would you have been able to do those things under Activision?
Deej: I don't know. I think we need to dispel the notion Activision was some prohibitive overlord that wasn't letting us do awesome things. We launched this franchise with Activision, naturally and over the course of time we both decided we had different goals for what we wanted it to be, so we both went our separate ways. It was amicable, and here we are making this game on our own, doing what we think we need to do to make it awesome.
Destiny 2 benefited from some extra development muscle in High Moon and Vicarious Visions, which of course belong to Activision. How are you coping with the loss of that?
Deej: By doing all the work ourselves! We're committed to doing all the things we're doing right now - Solstice of Heroes is ours, Moments of Triumph, Shadowkeep, Season of the Undying and three more seasons after that... There's really nothing more to say but we're on our own now and Destiny will be what we make of it.
I've seen a call for more detail on how time-limited content in Destiny 2's upcoming seasons will work. If I'm busy during a particular season - away on holiday or with work - what will still be available to play, or chase, after it wraps up?
Deej: There needs to be a longer conversation with the leaders of our development team around our plans for seasons this year and I know that conversation is coalescing behind the scenes. It's something we'll be having when we get back home from Gamescom. But I know there are questions and that's a curiosity we'll satisfy in the next couple of weeks.
I'm looking forward to hanging out with Eris again in Shadowkeep but players are curious to when other Destiny 2 plot threads - *cough* Pyramid Ships - will be returned to. What can you say to players waiting patiently for that?
Taylor: Shadowkeep absolutely pushes the main narrative threads of Destiny forward. While we've loved doing what we think of [as] side-stories that explore corners of the Destiny universe in past expansions, Shadowkeep moves the Destiny story forward.
Something else that we're excited about is how Shadowkeep's storyline kicks off the storylines explored during the Season of the Undying and all of the other seasons in Year Three. No story spoilers from me!
As a chief architect for Rise of Iron, you had the unenviable job of guiding that while another part of the studio was simultaneously readying D2. What were the learnings from keeping all those plates spinning, and how are you applying them to both Shadowkeep and Whatever's Next?
Taylor: It's a pretty different situation this time around. With Rise of Iron we knew we were closing out Destiny 1 while Destiny 2 was being developed. This time, with our continued commitment to Destiny 2 and seasons beyond Shadowkeep, it was more about making sure all of our efforts this fall - and beyond - line up with our overall franchise goals - single, evolving world; action MMO and deeper RPG elements; and play anytime, anywhere.
That means the main challenge the team tackled was lining up the development timelines and goals for Shadowkeep, New Light, Stadia, Season of the Undying and all of our systems updates like Armour 2.0, Cross Save and Finishers were in sync and complimenting each other. Now we're excited to get all of this content in players hands so it can help inform us what we do next with Destiny 2.