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'Destiny' aims to be the next 'Halo'

February 17, 2013|By Ryan Smith, @RyanSmithWriter | For RedEye

Having already divorced Master Chief, the makers of "Halo" envision a different kind of hero for their next big video game franchise: you.

Developer Bungie finally unveiled some juicy details about "Destiny," the name of a project it had kept under wraps since leaving Microsoft in 2007 and partnering with "Call of Duty" publisher Activision in 2010. The first of a planned four-game series is expected to hit the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 during the end of 2013.

So far "Destiny" is shaping up to be something of a departure from "Halo," the mega-popular first-person-shooter series that helped put Microsoft and its Xbox console on the map. The space-opera setting and the guns remain, but Bungie is ditching a lot of the other conventions of the genre.

"['Destiny'] is really ambitious and a little crazy," Bungie co-founder Jason Jones said. "For us, it was how do we take this genre of first-person shooter and turn it on its head again."

Gone is the idea of players inhabiting a central character like "Halo's" armored super-soldier Master Chief driving a single, scripted narrative. In "Destiny," players suit up as one of many Guardians of the last city on a dystopian Earth to defend mankind across the solar system in environments ranging from the red dunes of Mars to the lush jungles of Venus. "Unlike 'Halo,' the hero of these stories is you," said Bungie writer and design director Joseph Staten. "The biggest stories are personal legends built from shared adventures."

"Destiny" also promises not to wall off a game into a single-player campaign and team-based multiplayer ghettos. All players will be thrust into the same massive persistent world with the option of interacting and grouping up or staying a lone wolf.

That may sounds a lot like "World of Warcraft" with guns, but the game's makers don't call "Destiny" a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game.

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg went so far as to claim that "Destiny" was introducing a brand-new genre to gaming: the "Shared World Shooter."

"It's something that will always be evolving with wide boundaries. Even in story mode, you'll encounter other players on their own adventures," Hirshberg said. "That's paired with the visceral, heart-pounding action of a first-person shooter."

Bungie also is gambling heavily on online gaming. "Destiny" will only be playable with a broadband Internet connection—shutting out off-line gamers.

The soundtrack will feature an unexpected collaborator in legendary rocker Paul McCartney.

Composer and sound director Marty O'Donnell said he and Chicago-based partner Michael Salvatori recorded 50 minutes of music for "Destiny" with the ex-Beatle at Abbey Road Studios in London. According to O'Donnell, there's even a track that will feature an instrument McCartney used on the Beatles album "Revolver."

"It was a dream come true for me," said O'Donnell, who has composed music for Bungie since 1997. "The idea of working with Paul McCartney seems insane."

Bungie Studios has come a long way since being formed by University of Chicago alums Jones and Alex Seropian in a one-bedroom apartment in 1991. After some minor successes with games for PC and Macintosh, they moved to a studio on the South Side on South Halsted Street, where they made their mark with shooters such as "Marathon" and the strategy game "Myth."

Microsoft Corp. purchased Bungie in 2000 for an estimated $20 million to $40 million, and they moved to the Seattle area. There, they created five "Halo" titles before parting ways in 2007, leaving Microsoft in control of the series.

In April 2010, Bungie struck an enormous 10-year deal with Activision that gives it exclusive rights to distribute "Destiny" and its sequels, which are expected to eventually migrate to the next-generation PlayStation and Xbox system coming out later in 2013.

Activision isn't mincing words about its high hopes for all of Bungie's hard work on the new series.

"['Destiny'] is something that has the potential to be part of pop culture," Hirshberg said. "It's an ass-kicking trek through the universe that only Bungie can do."

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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