Some dev commentary can be found here. Work in progress.

"Personally, I think forever 29 wasn't ideal because there was no protection against bad luck. There is a non zero percentage of players that tried every week to get capped but just couldn't get what they needed. That sucks, and I think makes for a pretty crappy experience. I think having some element of guaranteed progression helps mitigate that; the tricky problem is balancing that guaranteed progression with the feeling of excitement of getting what you need. Always room to do better!"

  • They had to turn off item comparison in the vault to make an expansion work on legacy consoles for D1. (Cozmo, Reddit)
  • Originally they wanted the raid armor to have 2 mod slots (one normal, one raid) but they ran in to some technical hurdles that they didn't have time to solve. (Daniel, Reddit)
  • Player top speeds affect world loading, hence why they have to be careful with increasing it and why there are no sparrows in certain places. (Josh H, Twitter)
  • The root cause of raid spawning issue was the cinematic and the start of the raid pushing some of their memory budgets over the edge as players swapped around gear later on. (Cozmo/Lemming, Forums)
  • Tower Blackscreen saga:
    • The Tower blackscreen issue was a very difficult issue to identify and fix. a Lore Scannable was duplicating in the Tower when transitioning between the Courtyard and the Hangar, eating up memory. (DMG, Reddit)
    • The Lore scannable was Ana Bray’s log. (Lemming, Reddit)
    • The Speaker’s quarters book was moved for good measure as well due to concerns that it could lead to similar bad behaviours. (Lemming, Reddit)
  • Oryx Basketball Court, and why it was useless:
    • It came in super late as a challenging to reach secret and we hoped it would have a reward but it was too late for ship. Options were ship it as a hidden spot to go dunk on friends w/o reward or cut it. But the excitement around it led to early planning of future meta puzzles.” (Andrew H, Twitter)
  • Joe Blackburn provides some insight on the old raid token system.

Brendan talks about Crota's End structure:

During dev on Crota, we would frantically move from one side of the arena to the other when Crota moved. It never occurred to us that people would stand on the center windowsill, negating the purpose of his movement. We learned a lot from that raid.

Player containment is not a thing. If players can get somewhere, they will, even if it doesn’t seem advantageous at the time. Everywhere in your encounter space needs to have a purpose. If it doesn’t, try to cut it.

Players like to contain risk and variables to as few points of failure as possible. If they can pile all the responsibility onto a single person, they will. Usually, this is only fun for that one person. “Ok, you guys stand here and shoot when I yell. I’ll do the rest.”

Don’t expect players to do the mechanic unless it’s absolutely compulsory. “No one will solo the Abyss. They have to stick together or they’ll get...oh, look, they’re skipping whole sections... oops.”

I thought I was super clever designing the bridge encounter. “No one will cross the bridge without someone holding the plate.... oh. Look at that. They’re crossing the bridge without anyone holding the plate.” Again, see point about player containment and compulsory mechanics.

“They have to kill all the adds even after Deathsinger is dead.” Why on earth did I think this would be fun? There’s no sense in drawing out an experience. Identify the core experience, fill it out, then stop. If it feels like unnecessary steps, cut it.

Don’t add mechanics that players only experience if they make a mistake. Crota 1.0 summoned the oversoul only when people died. If you never die, you never have to respond. The reprisal patch changed it so he summoned it after every DPS cycle. Much better implementation.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Hopefully, some of this is interesting or useful and not completely obvious for anyone interested in encounter design.

Oh, one more important thing. We were basically done with Crota before destiny 1 even shipped. There was a lot of guesswork as to how people would actually play the raids.

To clarify, “done” usually means content complete. That is, stop adding stuff, fix the bugs, finalize text and localization, etc. You can’t keep making changes after a certain point because then the game will never ship. (Twitter)

Soloing Crota's End (albeit without exploits) was a big inspiration for the Shattered Throne. (Twitter)

Generally, we’ve gotten better at predicting player behavior based on experience and having our internal “Team Velveeta” playtest it. They’re a group experts who find the most efficient way of doing the fights. (Twitter)

We play the raids in retail just like everybody else. Part of our job is understanding player psychology. We also have a l33t in-house group that helps us with tuning and exploits, not to mention the embedded raid test group, who are goddamn ninjas. (Twitter)

Brendan on why bosses are just scaled up versions of existing enemies

This is a tale about that's pretty common among most studios. Stay a while and listen...

You're a designer and just started early design work on the next project. You're in a meeting talking about what the next boss will/should be. The lead says, "We have 6 months from start to launch, which means in reality, we have a lot less time."

You cheerfully suggest that the boss be a brand new, giant squirrel-eagle cyborg that flies around the raid breathing fire. Immediately, the entire staff of animators, tech artists, FX artists all look at each other and cringe. "What?" you ask.

Not being an artist, you don't understand their looks of horror. The character artist who will be responsible making the boss gently explains to you that it will require a new rig (the skeleton that actually lets the thing move) which will take 2 months alone...

... all new animations, concept art exploration time, all new FX, audio, and we still have deliverables for the other teams working on this release. Then the tech designer says, "We also don't have flying tech in this engine. That's months of engineer time."

"Plus," she adds, "We have no idea what space we're building it for. Is it bespoke where it flies around a spline, or can it just path anywhere? How will it..." The lead steps in. "Okay, no flying boss. We don't have time."

"So," you ask, "what can we do?" The rigging artist says, "Well, we could add a couple bones to the rig. Maybe add a couple attack animations. Maybe play with the walk cycle a bit."

"Remember, we only have about 3 months." I thought we had 6? "No, *we* have 3 months. We have to finish it and move on to the other features for this release." Ok, scaled up squirrel it is. How big can we go? "Well, anything bigger than x3 is going to look bad because it'll mess with the animations and FX, so we'll have to redo those as well." Great, so much for my squirrel boss idea. What can we use to make a really big boss? "The elephant combatant is already pretty big. We can scale that up."

But we already used that one last...

"We can add some spikes to it." Spikes are cool. What about a jump attack? "Are you using a perfectly flat space with no geo that it can get stuck on or otherwise mess with the physics?" Well, no, but...

TLDR: making a new character model is time consuming and expensive because you have to make all the stuff that supports it. Devs can make a lot more stuff by reusing existing assets and customizing it.

To be clear, this is basically an abridged version of my 12 yrs as a game designer across multiple studios. (Twitter)

Edgar talks about ghost stories:

I think the funniest story was that, when we were first experimenting with the API, there was a bug that allowed us in our internal environments to strip off all weapons and armor. When you did this, anyone looking at your character would only see hands and a little bit of your neck! #ghostmode (Reddit)

When you're running around in the world and the game thinks it's an area where you should have your helmet on, it doesn't even attempt to render your face or any facial customizations - because it assumes that you won't be able to see them! But with this bug, the unequipping of your helmet is something the engine isn't expecting to happen and so it continues not attempting to render your head. And you'll notice that you never really see any other parts of your body: your neck, hands, and sometimes head are the only three unarmored parts of your body that you can ever see. Thus is how we ended up with nothing but floating hands and neck with that bug! (Reddit)

On not wearing helmets on "combat" areas of the world: I asked around and it sounds like it's for several reasons: technical (the rendering budget while in activities that have a lot of action going on don't include being able to render the higher-cost facial features) as well as some potential design/ratings concerns. (Reddit)

On Areas being too dark:

Ideally all artists, designers, and players would have identical vision and calibrated displays. But players reported some areas were too dark and it was hard to play. I spent today implementing a debug mode for us to identify these areas before they get out in the wild. Based on an "out of the box" LG OLED to establish worst case black levels, with default game brightness.

It raised questions about what features to exclude from measurement, and the nature of whether or not a render feature will generate player-decision-affecting information; information is a key term. If a cave is black and a feature remaps it to grey, it isn't adding information.

Some pixels seemed valid, actually above black from volumetrics being rendered in front. Theoretically they could be used to 'shape' the geometry, but the artist fix of slightly boosting the light isn't that damaging to the final image to exclude this case. Disabling these.

Others were valid due to colour grading boosting black levels up. Our grading takes place after tonemapping (I know), so grading was not creating information that was being lost in the shadows, only remapping it to a different colour. Disabling this.

Often a frame is made too dark due to tonemapping or a wide dynamic range autoexposure, so leaving both active. Then highlight areas in red that fall below this empirical black point and kindly ask fellow devs to trust it, regardless of their monitor looks like. (Twittter)

Brendan about feedback:

How To Feedback:

1. What is the experience goal for this thing?
2. If it's not achieving that, in what way is it failing?
3. Does my feedback help address that issue?
4. Is my feedback within scope for the project?

I should explain this a bit more. When I worked on Aksis, originally, anyone could dunk on his back to keep the DPS phase going. It was too easy and predictable to handle it, because you’d just park the same people by his teleport spots.

The stated experience goal was “chaos— everyone getting out of a car and quickly switching seats.” This wasn’t meeting that goal. It was predictable and didn’t enforce communication or role/lane switching.

I struggled for a while trying to figure out how to enforce communication and role swapping. - get a buff from standing on a plate? Nope. Again, too predictable. - can only dunk while holding a bomb? Nope. Muddied the bomb throwing mechanic.

We came up with the Empowered buff as a prerequisite for dunking on the boss. But how to *get* the buff? Again, what was the stated goal? Chaos! Switching places!

Tried to integrate the buff into the environment. Maybe the servitor plates gave it? Too predictable. No comm required. Scorch cannon cool down buff did double duty? Too unclear. Again, easy to assign the roles. Predictable.

I struggled with this for a long time till finally suggested we just make it randomly assigned. Three random people get the buff and you have to scramble to cover all the lanes where the boss might teleport.

At first, it really bothered me because it just came out of nowhere. Why am I getting the buff? It wasn’t tied to the world in any way. Felt inelegant. But it worked. And it accomplished the experience goal beautifully.

Random players getting it meant you had to communicate quickly and MOVE. In fact, no one even seemed to notice or care that it just randomly appeared because it perfectly addressed the core issue, which was that it had to feel like it shook up your plans.

To my original tweet, what was the goal? To create chaos and make people scramble. Definitely did that. Better still, it was IN SCOPE. We were running out of time, and new asset requests would burden too many teams.

Moreover, any big change like “now you get it from the floor plates” would be a major shift that would cause a ton of wake and potentially bugs. Joe made a very simple, inexpensive suggestion that precisely targeted the problem. Didn’t blow out the budget or cause wake!

Strive to make your feedback targeted. Avoid “table flips,” especially when you’re close to deadlines. Address a specific problem that can actually be implemented. This is an incredibly important skill for game dev. (Twitter)

Brendan's Q&A about raid design:

Full thread here.

Was it the popularity of VOG that set the standard for future raids? Ie including a jumping puzzle, maze, multiphase boss fights, relics (to a lesser degree)?

I wouldn’t say the standard since we’ve done a lot of different things, but it was a good foundation for what the Destiny engine could support, and how much time was reasonable for the activity.

How much does the "lore" of the raid and the specific encounters come into play when developing the mechanics to the fight/encounter?

Gameplay first. Writers work with us during dev and work in tandem to develop the lore.

In general, does the lore/story come first and then encounters are built to suit, or do you guys come up with encounters first and then iterate with the writers? Or is it more iterative from the start?

Setting is usually first, but lore gets written as we go. Writer embeds with the team and iterates as the mechanics develop and solidify. But for most of dev, we name things like “boss alpha strike” and “carry object cooldown debuff.”

I always wondered, what's your general reaction when you see people beat bosses on the most absurd ways? Like, does it incentivize you to make future encounters harder?

Not harder, no. But I have a mantra I use: “Players will do the most efficient thing and expect it to be fun. If it isn’t, they’ll do it anyway and hate you for it.” Try to make the efficient thing fun.

Out of all the raid designing you took part in which encounter was the most fun to design? And why?

Probably Argos p1+2. Simple mechanics, fun space, fast production cycle.

When creating encounters, do you ever factor in the "minimum players necessary to perform mechanics"? Pools, Phase 1/2 Val Ca'uor have plates which require 5 people.

Yeah we do. It varies from encounter to encounter. We generally try to build in fault tolerance so if, say, someone dies then you can still recover and keep the plates spinning, so to speak.

How much thought/discussion is based around replayability when designing a raid encounter? Ex. Some encounters might have a high initial shock value, but replaying it each week might lean towards a chore (plates in Eater of Worlds for example).

It is def a consideration. I think the best version of this is an encounter with slight randomness such as random players getting a buff, or spawns in random places. That way, you still need to communicate, even after having it on farm for months.

This sounds like Wrath of the machine

Yep. We made a conscious swing back towards kinetic action after Kingsfall, which was mechanic-heavy. We sorta go back and forth.

What was the inspiration behind the Calus encounter. Shooting the skulls, limiting damage to plates, not just shooting at him, etc. Really would love to hear about how all that came together to make a awesome boss fight.

That was Stuart Monske’s baby. The theme of that raid was gluttony and making Calus as opulent and decadent as possible. The nightmare head was a nice Starfox homage. The dps plates was to integrate the matching-misinformation game into the rest of the encounter so it would feel elegant and connected. Also made dps more interesting because you had movement and time restrictions.

Can you give any insight on the Crota Bridge encounter as a whole? I enjoyed that encounter a lot, and loved the idea of the whole team working together to “guide” one player at a time.

Yeah, bridge 1.0 was my bad. We didn't test for shenanigans because we didn't yet understand how people would actually play it, which is, they take the path of least resistance. Original experience statement was "charge across a bridge" and we had the idea to use the sword as the "key" that let you solve the puzzle. It was fun and challenging when we playtested it. 2/

Then it went live.

People discovered you could a) sword-fly across (oops), b) you could hide out of LOS on the other side and snipe-cheese it (oops), c) you could get high up OOE (out of environment) and snipe (oops).

Unfortunate, but people loved it because it was still kind of a rush, and they felt clever beating it. I think it would have been really bad if the cheese wasn't at least a little fun, because, again, people will take the path of least resistance and expect that to be fun. 4/

When we did the reprisal raids, Joe Blackburn fixed the encounter and added the sword battle at the end, which dramatically improved the experience while staying true to the original experience goal.

I know this is a very old thing, but was House of Wolves supposed to have a Raid?

No we were working on King's Fall.

What has been the hardest encounter ever design-wise. i.e hardest to balance, most complicated to make, a lot of bugs during development. Has there been a single encounter that was just a massive headache to create?

Anything that involves giant unique bosses. Oryx, Riven, etc.

How do you decide when a "boss" encounter is the better option over a more mechanic based encounter?

Generally based on budget. Making a boss requires a ton of work from multiple teams which is expensive. Gotta plan out how much time/work is available and balance it against the needs of the rest of the project.

Boss dps'ing, how much leeway goes into the design for player creativity? Even if it means circumventing mechanics needed by lower dps methods. Would love your thoughts on Riven in particular.

Us: “hey, let them get some extra dps time and interact w the boss.”

Players: “OMG CLUSTERBOMB EVERYTHING!!!!!!”

Us: oh boy...

What do you believe constitutes an exciting damage phase in a boss encounter? And the mechanics leading up to it?

I think dps phases are more fun if you have to move or respond to changes during it. What makes a good mechanic is a novel. Can’t do this justice in 280 char

What has been your favourite mechanics and what have you experimented with for new mechanics in future?

1. I still enjoy the Aksis scorch cannons the most. Lots of movement, running, jumping, shooting, blowing shit up.

2. Top secret

If you could pick any baddie from the lore to design a raid around who would it be? If you could pick the location of the next raid where would it be? Any chance we could ever have NPC allies in a raid?

1. Another Ahamkhara. Dragons are rad.

2. Anywhere that uses vex palette because it’s super easy to work with and designs can be abstract.

3. No idea

How do you guys decide the complexity for primer encounters in Raids where you're introducing mechanics for the first time? How do your philosophies differ teaching these raid mechanics over something like strike bosses that require their own mechanic to break shields/do damage?

We don’t do a lot of hand holding, but we try to make the mechanics as legible and affordant as possible so people can intuit what they’re supposed to do. E.g. carry objects and receptacles that obviously want you to interact with them in some way.

We don’t ever say “this is going to be so hard to figure out! Hah! Take that, players!” Good puzzles make the player feel smart, they aren’t supposed to make the designer feel like some evil genius building a Rube Goldberg device.

Throwing balls at VC’s hand is pretty brutal. In hindsight, maybe could have made the number of successful throws increase dps or something, rather than a binary pass/fail if you miss any throws.

Don’t know if this is something you'd be allowed to touch on, but cash wise how much goes into a raid like last wish? Also do you guys balance boss health based on people doing insane strats at all?

1) not gonna touch this even if I knew the exact answer 2)

It’s a consideration, but if we balanced based on “insane” strats, it would be pretty miserable for normal players. That why insurrection Prime phase swaps are mostly a carrot and not a stick.

When you choose to time gate encounters, such as with oryx from kings fall, what do you think about to try and keep the encounter interesting to the players?

There’s a spectrum between sandbox-heavy and mechanic-heavy. Oryx is def on the mechanic side, which requires precision and endurance, whereas something like Argos is more actiony. Mechanics fights like oryx tend to run longer and are gated.

Actiony fights are generally more forgiving, but are more vulnerable to creative player shenanigans

Have you ever considered making mechanical fights more hardcore? Split second reactions, memory games, big damage checks, stuff the average player litteraly could not do? As well as requiring a bubble to survive a mechanic or requiring a tether to stop an animation?

No.

Do you predict raids will ever become more of a hardcore thing in the future?

No idea.

What is the thought process when considering mechanics vs required players to complete the encounter? Is there a line when thinking about how much responsibility is given to individuals vs inclusion of all 6 players?

We try not to put all the responsibility on a single player or point of failure. It’s more fun if you can scramble and recover when people mess up.

What is the first step in designing a raid as a whole? Do you start off with specific themes you'd like to evoke and base around, or do you start with interesting mechanics that you'd like to explore?

Start w setting, themes, experience goals. Mechanics usually come much later.

Are encounters now/in the future actively designed to not be able to be low manned? Scourge gives me hope for the opposite. Some of the most fun I've had in raids is low manning/soloing.

There’s no hard and fast rule but we do try to enforce communication and roles. It varies from encounter to encounter.

Would like to know about: 1. Reasoning's and goals for immunity phases 2. Encounter space scope/size limitations 3. Loot allocation, (what encounter gets what loot, sorting by value) 4. How tight or loose should the mechanics be reasoning. (SoTP vs Morgeth fight)

1. bullet sponges aren’t fun.

From other Twitter thread: Capping dmg is ok if the encounter calls for it. With Shuro Chi, even though it’s capped, you’re still hitting the cap faster, with less ammo, time and stress. Effectively, you can still get better/faster at the enc. (Twitter)

2. time and money

3. based on what art teams, sandbox, test, and investment teams can support per release, then evaluated against difficulty, pacing, etc.

4. Totally depends on the fight. No hard and fast rules about it.

This may not be your area but how do you guys match the encounters to the music so damn well every time? Do the music guys come in and see how you guys are building the raids and go from there or do you send them sort of encounter previews to work with?

Music team meets with us early on to get themes and concept art, then starts composing. Designers provide them with “beats” like “player picks up the sword” and they write music for those moments, then we control music changes in script. I know the music team starts composing early in dev once they know setting, themes, etc

Are there best practices for signaling mechanics that you all use internally? For example: The berserker animation where they turn to show you their second crit spot. Or the evolution of the taken relic throughout TLW, forcing players to trial its functions in multiple situations

Try to make the target of the mechanic as affordant and obvious as possible. That is, if I have a ball, and there is an object with a ball-sized hole, it’s fairly Intuitive what I need to do.

Do you prefer encounters where the core mechanic is repeated throughout the raid with increasing complexity or do you prefer something new every encounter?

Obviously it’s good designer-fu if you can reuse mechanics (both from a design perspective and cost savings). I like reusing stuff but putting a twist on it in a way that makes players feel smart. E.g. cooking vex heads in Argos.

How many iterations of a raid encounter do you usually go through before you get to the final design? How much testing do you put the designs through before deciding “hmm this isn’t fun” or “this is great”? I imagine your first design isn’t the final most of the time.

We play early prototypes after a few weeks and get a pretty good sense of whether or not something will be fun. We iterate over months and refine the ideas, pivoting where necessary.

Tell me about doing complex encounters w/ out bosses, like vault or the phase before INSURRECTION PRIME?

Boss encounters are harder to design because a boss implies and requires additional criteria —the most obvious example is the space itself. The boss will feel small in a big space, even if the boss is huge. This has an enormous impact on the rest of the mechanics.

Destiny raids have a wide range of appeal from the iconic vault of glass to the mechanics heavy spire to my most fav boss raid design Eater Of worlds. How do puzzles or action become the focus for a raid ? Like EOW has lot of action where as spire had heavy puzzle mechanics.

1. Partly personal design sensibilities of the designer workin on it.

2. Partly response to what we did last time, trying to keep things fresh or distinct, so it can swing back and forth on the spectrum.

How do u accommodate accessibility while designing team based activities?

Like deafness, colorblind, etc? Or something else? In terms of being deaf/colorblind, we try to build redundancy into things. For example, the fires in Argos. They have different colors, but also animate and sound differently. That's intentional.

When choosing enemies for an encounter, how do enemy elemental strengths and weaknesses come into play? How does this drive or constrain designs? We have specific elements related to each faction with some exceptions so does that pigeon hole designs?

Honestly, most of the time, it’s just a byproduct of combatant choices. Let’s say I need a captain for this encounter beat. Then that is the elemental shield that we use. There are some exceptions, but most of the time it’s just a byproduct.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that dungeons are very expensive to create and it may depend on the budget

Raids are much more expensive.

Was shattered throne a raid gone dungeon due to funding/time constraints, or will dungeons be a more regular occurrence in the future of destiny?

I mentioned in the ride along stream that it was a totally separate activity. We wanted an endgame pve activity for the dreaming city. I had just finished EoW and worked with the DC team for a while to make ST.

How do you strike a good balance between the epicness or scale of an encounter VS. practicality and what is actually attainable? Vision and concept can’t always be put into practice after all.

Time and money.

- What can world art reasonably support?

-  What can test adequately cover?

-  How many rewards can we offer?

-  What are our staffing resources?

What has proven to be the most complex design to date for you and your team and what caused it to be so?

Probably Calus? Ton of networking challenges/bugs during dev. New character rig, updated tech from D1 made it difficult. Turned out awesome though.

 ... I think a giant blood clever type of raid boss would be perfect. Fight inside a suppress field, it’s melee only and each player has a cleaver or something. Block his attack for a damage window, get hit by it and die. No abilities or weapons, just flat damage

First issue I see is that DPS output is entirely predicated on a relic weapon and not player gear. While Crota is epic and thrilling, kinda sucks that you’re capped per cycle and your gear doesn’t really matter. (Twitter)