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Turtle BeachJune 15, 2022

Destiny 2 Interview: Bungie on Leviathan Changes, Mental Health, Caiatl's Backstory, Crafting and More


Games News


Destiny 2 Interview: Bungie on Leviathan Changes, Mental Health, Caiatl’s Backstory, Crafting and More


June 15, 2022

Destiny 2 is one of our favourite titles here at Turtle Beach, and it’s fair to say that since the launch of Destiny 2: The Witch Queen earlier this year the story has only gone from strength to strength. With the launch of the game’s latest season, Season of the Haunted, we got the opportunity to jump on a Q&A with some of the team at Bungie to pick their collective brains behind this spooky new season of content.

As part of the Q&A (together with other outlets who we have linked to) we surprisingly got to cover quite a bit of ground. From inspirations behind the redesigned Leviathan ship, tackling storylines that deal with mental health, and even some niggles players have with the current crafting system. We even got to briefly touch on how this is all evolving towards the next big expansion: Destiny 2: Lightfall.

The conversation went on for quite some time so we’ve picked out some of our favourite questions and answers and dropped them into sections for you. In addition, a big thanks to Tom Farnsworth (Senior Design Lead), Robert Brookes + Nikko Stevens (Senior Narrative Designers), Rob Adams (Art Director), Brian Frank (Design Lead, Dungeons and Raids) and Carlos Ascencio (Senior Communications Manager) from the Bungie Team for taking the time to talk to us.

Now enough waffle, here’s the Q&A!

Questions on The Leviathan

Season of the haunted is very spooky and I was surprised to see something like this for the summer quarter and not autumn. Could you tell us something about the decision-making behind that?

Tom Farnsworth – So we don’t generally like to pay too much attention to the real-life calendar. If we’re going to build a scary season, or an action horror season, it’s really about how it is tied to where we’re going with the narrative. I think some of it is also tied to what the team did before, like Robert and a bunch of people with the Presage mission. We built it and the fans were really excited about it. We saw that reaction and then we had an opportunity where we knew we wanna do some stuff with Shadowkeep. We wanna do some stuff with Calus. We wanted to do some stuff with this ghost ship and that’s what really is where those seeds came for Seasonal of the Haunted.

Rob Adams  Also, it’s not summer on the Leviathan…

The idea of a ‘dark’ Leviathan that is infested, was that idea born from The Presage or did it come before?

Robert Brookes – So this is a story about how back in season 13, we were working on concepts for an exotic mission and the idea was for a derelict ship, just like a ghost ship. When we started tossing around ideas and at one point I was writing down my notes and someone mentioned nightmares and they were like ‘what if the ship is literally haunted’.

Anyway, I was like, starting to write it down and I went down this rabbit hole like ‘nightmares, Calus, Calus’ trauma, Calus trauma with nightmares. OH MY GOD, Event horizon. And like I just I held the notebook up and I’m like, ‘who has seen the event horizon, we need to do that with this ship’. Like Nico took that and made Presage, and this beautiful horrible mess. We didn’t get to do the nightmares stuff and the Calus stuff that we originally had because it was just too much it was just too many things all at once, but I have that notebook, I held on to it and it’s been in the back of our minds. Once we heard that we were gonna bring back the Leviathan, I immediately ran to Tom.

Nikko Stevens – It was one of those moments where it was like, sometimes in game dev you have an idea that you wanna execute on and you can’t quite get all the way there, whether it be scope or resources or, you know, whatever. But you still like build something wonderful out of what you can make, and all of the leftover scraps that you couldn’t fully realize, we hold on to those things like squirrels packing them away in our trees. Eventually when there’s an opportunity to use them, like here, we just immediately leapt onto this idea.

With the return of the Leviathan (previously placed in the Destiny content vault) should we expect other destinations to come back with a redesign during upcoming seasons to serve the narration? Or was this a one-shot for this highly requested zone?

Tom Farnsworth – I think it’s one of those things where we’re always trying like new things within the seasons. Like obviously like 6 player activities worked really well in players, really liked those, but we also do three-player activities and the seasonal destination was kind of an experiment to see what would it be like if we brought back the Leviathan, but it was changed and all players had access to it and like it had a free activity and free rewards, but it also served as a very key part of the narrative and well like I think we’ll keep experimenting that space. But it’s gonna have to be something where it lines up with the narrative and we have to have a very compelling narrative reason to do it.

Calus was a raid boss in Destiny 2 a long time ago. Was it already clear back then that he would return later on? Or did this path come up along the way? (Question From Eurogamer)

Brian Frank – I can speak to this as someone who was involved in that time period. That was absolutely like a documented goal of that character, to create an enduring villain.

Nikko Stevens – Yeah, so neither Robert nor I were were around back in the original Leviathan raid days, but we were both aware of them. I think ever since we came in, there has been talk of Calus, he’s always mentioned in whispers on the borders of what is going to happen. You know, there are always talks and discussions bubbling up about like ‘What are we gonna do with this character?’ ‘How do we want to bring them back?’ 

But it needs to be something that’s impactful and I think once Caiatl came onto the scene in Season of the Chosen, it really gave us an avenue for working Calus back into the interlocked storytelling that we’ve been doing with seasons. Once Caiatl was there, she sort of helped pave the pathway back to bringing Calus in.

I guess the short answer is that it’s something that has been talked about and thought about for a very long time and as Brian said, since the inception of Calus he’s always been intended to be around for a while. But the specific ways in which Calus is used I think are given flavour by some of the things we were able to do in the past.

Brian Frank – Like specifically for Raid and Dungeon content, we sort of have this problem of less runway to tell the story of the villain. Like, how do we have these high steaks and like we want players to fear the boss and know of it, but we’re also trying not to reveal and show too much, right? Like we want it to be a discovery. So we’d like, for instance, with Caiatl in this dungeon, it’s like a great match as players have an understanding of the character, but don’t necessarily anticipate she’s gonna be a nightmare, but a bunch of legwork is done for us in terms of ‘why does it matter’ that you even have to face this antagonist?

Questions on Caiatl

What was the main goal for this season and what can we expect from Zavala and Caiatl’s relationship after the vanguard commander deals with his nightmare. (Question From IGN Italy)

Nikko Stevens – I think that our main goal for the season from a narrative standpoint, cause every department kind of has their own goals that intermingle together and breathe that collaboration. But from a narrative standpoint, I would say that our main goal was trying to show via our characters.

The ability to have growth from difficulties in your past, and the ability to face pieces of yourself that you might want to repress, and acknowledge them and grow beyond those things, via the support of others. Those are like the 2 main narrative themes that sort of resonated throughout all of our scripts and the writing room whenever we were talking over story points and story breaking.

As for Zavala, well, I’m not gonna talk about anything has happened yet, but I will say that these two characters have fostered a friendship. There’s definitely a camaraderie that’s grown between the two of them over the course of shared challenges and needing to come to each other’s aid. They’ve both suffered loss in a similar way and kind of share a deep understanding for each other. I think that’s only going to become more ingrained in them as time goes on.

Caiatl has been one of the most central characters in recent seasons, and her lore has been massively expanded with the Duality Dungeon. However, I remember the first time we read about her was in the vanilla D2 Collectors Edition (2017). That’s a very long time, which makes me wonder how the creative process of bringing a character like this to life works. Did you write her knowing she would eventually show up, or did you choose to do so later on because you needed to.

Robert Brookes – So there’s an interesting story kind of about Capital.

Seth Dickinson originally conceived Caiatl when he wrote the Imperial War book that came with the collector’s edition of Destiny 2. It has kind of like a sketch of what she was as a character, and that’s basically all that we have on the page. And shortly after I joined Bungie and we were working on Season of the Chosen. 

We worked internally to kind of determine what the state of the Cabal was outside of the solar system, what was going on, what was happening like with their empire. That’s where we came up with the idea of like, Xivu Arath having decimated their home world and the idea of bringing Caiatl forward. It was something that they kind of came about from that and here are these people who are fleeing the destruction of their home world and they’re coming for the Hive, they’re coming for vengeance and they’re also coming to the last place that they think there might be hope. 

So Caiatl, as she exists now kind of evolved from that, using the base that was created during the Leviathan raid as like the seed that she helped kind of grow out of.

Even her character design, like her model, looks drastically different from the ‘buff, tank top Tusk lady’ that’s in the initial booklet. Like she looks more like the Empress that she’s supposed to be. So her role kind of grew and we didn’t know if she’d stick around for sure.

It was one of those characters that were we didn’t know how fans are gonna react. We don’t know how the community is going to feel. Are they gonna be interested, is it something that’s worthwhile? And the reaction was, well it blew me out of my chair. So it was clear that we were touching on a good piece of the story that we wanted to develop. People were interested in it. I think that’s how Caiatl has become so central. As fans have grown interested, we delve more into her back story and we’re kind of on that journey together.

Questions on Mental Health

We’re combining these next three questions as they tackle the same topic and were answered collectively by the team

This season is dealing with a lot of trauma for the characters, which seems like potentially a tough thing to address in a shooter. Can you talk about the approach to the story of the season, how it developed and what difficulties there might be in dealing with this sort of thing sensitively? (Question From Gamespot)

We’re seeing countless tweets and posts across the Internet about how people are seeing themselves in Crow. Especially when he does the final face-off with the Nightmare of Uldren. What inspired you to go down this route? Which, to be honest, no other video game maker seems to have done. (Question From PC Gamer)

We’ve seen Bungie took the matter of mental health at heart, with on-screen tips and resources shared on the website, for example. Is the exploration of the mind and therapy themes something you actually wanted to explore, or did it just happen to fit with the scenario you had planned out for the season?

Robert Brookes – I think the first thing to say is that mental health is a really important thing, just in general. Not only for like storytelling and for acceptance of a general audience, but also just at Bungie. We wanted to do the topic justice like, that was our first main driving goal.

When we knew that it was something we wanted to approach, and it’s also a universal experience like everyone has suffered something that lingers with them. We talked about finding the human and relatable stories in our fantasy world is what connects people, and mental health is a topic that not everyone’s always comfortable talking about. 

So sometimes games as a medium can be used to explore those things in a way that’s safer and in a way that is novel and gives you a bit of a distance between what you’re feeling and what the characters on the screen are feeling. We wanted to kind of, explore that in a way that was realistic and nuanced and wasn’t easily solved. To make our characters feel like they were people that are actually dealing with these kinds of struggles.

We didn’t start the season with the goal of approaching mental health as a topic, but once we realized what we wanted to do – with characters confronted by Nightmares – we realised that we wanted to come at them in the same way that Shadowkeep did; which was Eris, not just like banishing her nightmares and making them go away. It was about coming to peace with the loss of her fireteam.

So we approach this with the same idea and we had a larger runway to kind of tell that story. So being able to use the language that Shadowkeep had already built for us and then take that and expand on it allowed us to develop a story that felt like it was a natural place to approach the ideas of things that are released to mental health. Like how do you get past the nightmares, it’s by accepting them, like we saw with Crow.

Nikko Stevens – The truest stories they always touch on pieces of life, of reality and sort of a cultural or global zeitgeist that everyone is experiencing. Things like shame and doubt or grief, they’re feelings that everyone has, but they often don’t get talked about. They’re often given a stigma of emotional vulnerability, or as a stigma of weakness, which is kind of ridiculous.

So, we wanted to make sure that the way that when we were overcoming these challenges, it wasn’t just by savvy tactics or like brute force or some sort of new power that you’d unlocked. We wanted these things to come from within and we wanted them to also come from the people around those characters. Some of that, like Robert was speaking to, is these common tropes in fiction where characters simply overcome their shortcomings through, like, a sheer force of will, or they have some crux moment that allows them to surpass something they previously couldn’t. In Destiny, our themes are centred around companionship, support and hope. We wanted to use those ideas through our characters and show that even some of the strongest people in the universe with all of their powers and might, they can’t defeat their own personal demons by themselves, they need help, just like everybody does.

That was like the main drive in Sever. We as the team – and this is like all the designers, all the artists, audio, music and dialogue – like we were all very aligned on this idea of wanting to show that these are challenges that must be overcome by support and and not by bravado and force.

Questions on Crafting & Grinding

What is the balance between crafting and grinding / farming going to look like in the short or long term? It seems that grinding and farming is still favoured.

Tom Farnsworth – Well, we don’t handle crafting. We partner with the team that builds it, but generally within the season we’re trying to build a path that you can work through the upgrades and gain some agency like going from like you know, initially you can only get random rolls of things, to like, now I can focus these things and now I can focus on that like a higher tier and we see that at least within the seasonal side of things we treat crafting as like the highest tier of that. Like where you are investing to get a very specific weapon that you want. So we definitely have, within seasons, a hierarchy. But I think ultimately having all these systems gives players a lot of control and a lot of choice, which is great. We really wanna put tools and agency in your hands for you to get the weapon you want through a lot of different means.

What’s the thinking behind making players get 5 random Red border drops in order to unlock crafting patterns for the new gear? What would the team say to criticisms that it sometimes leans to using RNG to pad progressions and artificially extend the life of new content. (From Kotaku)

Tom Farnsworth – First of all, I want to preface that like that again is outside our team and we don’t control any of that. We work with the weapons team and they give us weapons and we get to have some input on that like ‘we want the opulent weapons’ and they already building them and then they do other perks and we get to pick where they go. But we don’t get the actually pick even which ones are craftable. But I think, let me go back to the question here. I got lost myself.

Brian Frank – I can maybe speak of this a little bit from the Raid/Dungeon perspective. Our investment design discipline is like pursuit length, pursuit depth. And so for example, we’re looking at a rated dungeon. All decisions that we make about how the loot is distributed. You know the cost of items on the vendor, it’s all designed with sort of pursuit length targets and we’ve made some shifts to sort of bring those into the length of the season or shorter.

With the crafting system being new, I think the approach initially is … we know that we can’t go from generous to less generous. It’s really difficult to make those changes. So I think that being a new system, having a crafted weapon be sort of ‘the end game of grinding and pursuit’, it sort of made sense to put it far out in the timeline and then be able to react from there, depending on how it landed with the community.

Tom Farnsworth – Like keep giving them [The Teams] feedback. They’re listening, and then they’ll be able to take that and make the decisions they need to put crafting where it feels good. Obviously, like, if crafting was right at the beginning and then you could IMMEDIATELY get the gun you wanted, it would just kind of destroy a lot of the pursuit there.

Carlos Ascencio – Tom you said something yesterday about the balance between farming weapons and having your crafted weapon, which is like the perfect roll, and that that balance. Can you expand on that? Because I think that’s like at the heart of this issue. It’s like… why is something craftable but we still have these farmable weapons… like what are, what are the differences there?

Tom Farnsworth – I think there is like in Destiny, when you defeat an enemy and you see an engram pop out, or you open a chest, like we always hope that to feel exciting. And on one end, which is like just playing the game and getting rewards should feel good. And I think focusing takes that a little bit further. Like, yeah, if it was all RNG, you might be stuck in a place where you maybe feel like you’ll never get the thing you want. 

As a player, we want you to feel like things aren’t too easy to get. We don’t want it to be so easy that it’s boring, or so hard that you despair and you give up. Because that sucks too, right? 

So I think we’re always trying to land in the middle of like, as I’m playing destiny, I’m getting weapons that are like that, feel like upgrades that feel like I can build into. And then there are some longer-term systems where eventually I’m guaranteed to get what I want, which is really what crafting is. It’s the eventual guarantee that you’re gonna get a freaking awesome version of austringer if you really put the time in and you get that crafted weapon that has, you know extended range and all the enhanced perks on it.

But it is a difficult balance. I think that’s something that over the life of Destiny we have, we have struggled with and played with. We have adjusted. Even if you go back to D2, when we launched, we had fixed role weapons, we didn’t have random role weapons at all and players hated that. They hated that we just gave them the perfect version of the gun. They couldn’t play with what was there. 

So it is definitely a challenge that I’m sure we’ll continue to evolve and change course over the franchise.

Season 17 is very deep but only, if you get really into it, can you explain in more detail what makes the season so special and why it’s important to prepare players for Destiny 2: Lightfall. And also with Witch Queen done and the overarching narrative of light versus darkness building towards their crescendo, what can we expect with Lightfall and this year’s seasons leading up to it.

Robert Brookes – What will it prepare you for? Everything in Season 17, everything in the seasons going forward are leading up to Lightfall. This is the start to a very big expansion and I don’t think anything is inconsequential. When you look at where the narrative is going and what we’re doing now and in the seasons to come, very big things are coming and it’s only going to get bigger and I think that’s really all I can say.


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