What Do Bungie’s Departures Mean For Destiny?

Destiny is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and for good reason. Ever since the first Halo, Bungie has been among the most successful developers of first person shooters on consoles. Over the past decade plus Bungie is largely responsible for a number of industry advancements, ranging from the perfection of dual analog control in console shooters, to the increased focus on community via website integration and stat tracking, and the advent of things like matchmaking and a party system.

With Destiny, Bungie is aiming to blend elements of massively multiplayer games, first person shooters, and role playing games while implementing a seamless online component as seen in games like Journey. With Bungie’s track record and the ambitious ideas of Destiny, it’s not all surprising many are highly anticipating both the release in September and the beta set for summer. However, with the departure of lead writer Joe Staten a few months back and the recent termination of longtime composer Marty O’Donnell, there is a growing concern about the game’s current status.

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Despite a growing skepticism among online communities, I can’t see these departures having much, if any, effect on Destiny. The main reason I feel there isn’t much concern about Destiny is the simple fact that Destiny has been in development for many years and it’s far too deep into development for two departures, even high profile ones, to have much impact. There’s no denying that both Staten and O’Donnell had key roles on the development team, but let’s also not forget that both writing and composing are aspects that are typically finished well before crunch. The story will have had to have been finished long ago and Bungie has already said O’Donnell’s music will be in the game. I’d be willing to bet that the role of both of these individuals was either complete or very close to complete when they each departed.

So, with fears about Destiny in regards to these two departures largely unwarranted, why bother talking about it at all? Well, just because Destiny isn’t likely to be affected much doesn’t mean Bungie as a whole won’t be severely impacted by both of these departures going forward. After all, Destiny is a supposed 10 year project with extensive sequels and expansions planned to release at a regular rate. This year’s game may be set, but when it comes to penning the script and composing music for DLC next year or Destiny 2 in 2016 or 2017, what then? Both Staten and O’Donnell were key members of Bungie that contributed greatly to the company’s success over the past decade plus, and now they’re both gone.

With Destiny’s ambitious and in-depth fiction and lore, it’s clear not everything is going to be wrapped up in this first game. Going forward with future stories over the next 10 years, the series will be without the key creative mind that brought the fiction to life. It remains to be seen if the narrative elements in Destiny are even successful at all, but having the lead writer depart after the first installment in a long term narrative journey certainly doesn’t bode well for the next ten years of Destiny fiction. Of course, Staten obviously wasn’t doing it all alone, and the studio has likely mapped a trajectory for the story already, but it still doesn’t make the situation ideal.

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Of course, his departure doesn’t necessarily mean bad news. For me, the best case scenario would be something along the lines of what happened with the show Lost. The first episode of Lost was written and directed by JJ Abrams, but going forward he had pretty much nothing to do with the show, yet the quality remained great for years to come under the guidance of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. If Destiny follows a similar path gamers are in for a treat over the next ten years, but we’ll just have to play the games and find out.

On the topic of O’Donnell and the music, there isn’t as much of a silver lining or potential positives. The situation with Bungie and Marty O’Donnell was a very unique one in the games industry with him being an employee of the studio itself, but that was also part of what made it so special. Most developers work with outside composers on a project by project basis. As an example, Naughty Dog contracted Greg Edmonson to compose the music for the three Uncharted games but went with Gustavo Santaolalla for The Last of Us. Most developers similarly choose outside composers on a per project basis, but O’Donnell was a Bungie employee and had composed the music for every game the studio has made since the late ’90s.

As Bungie became a more prominent developer in the industry, so too did O’Donnell become one of gaming’s premier composers. The music of the Halo series has long been recognized as some of the industry’s best. O’Donnell’s scores have become much of the heart and soul of the Halo series, with the solemn and jazzy tones of Halo 3 ODST in particular standing out as some of his best work. Moving onto a new series, the music we’ve heard of Destiny so far has been incredibly fresh with hints of the familiar, and may turn out to be some of his best work.

Like with the writing, there will be those to pick up where he left off going forward, with main themes likely to be established in the first game, but it won’t be the same. Anyone that has played Halo Wars or Halo 4, two games not composed by O’Donnell, is fully aware of the difference between imitators and the genuine article, so 10 years of imitation with Destiny isn’t a compelling proposition. Just as with the narrative aspects, there is every possibility those that take over will do a great job, but that very specific Marty O’Donnell flavor won’t be present going forward, which is a shame.

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With Destiny set for release in just a few short months, any worry that these two high profile departures will have much impact on the final product isn’t really warranted. Whether or not Destiny turns out well remains to be seen (though I’d wager it will be pretty great), but any shortcomings are likely to have nothing to do with the loss of a writer and a composer less than a year before release. However, concern about the series’ long term future is a lot more justified, and losing two key creative figures this early in a ten year endeavor can’t be viewed as anything other than a negative. These departures certainly don’t spell certain doom for Bungie and the future of Destiny, but there’s no way to spin it as a good thing either.