Destiny 2

Making sense of vaulting (Be warned: it’s long)

destiny2 10 - Making sense of vaulting (Be warned: it's long)
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TL;DR – Since this is going to end up a massive wall of text, here’s the short version. D2Y1 was largely rejected by the player base. Unfortunately, many of the problems impacted parts of the core design. The efforts in fixing the player experience has created an unstable system that is impossible to maintain and has reached its practical limit for expansion. Content vaulting and weapons retirement provide a means of re-architecting the game while preserving as much of player investment as possible. This is Destiny 3.

Why do this?

If you want to understand product management and project rescues, then read on.

Just by way of background, by training I am a software engineer and a clinical scientist. Of the 36 years of my career, from 2000-2017 I was a product manager, with about 8 years of that also building my company’s R&D team as director of business systems development. That last 3 years, I’ve shifted to quality to establish good engineering practices across the company that bought my old one out. A big part of the job for the last 20 years has been analysis of development practices for both internal teams as well as our 3rd party vendors. Exercises like actually help me do this in my real job. Besides, much of this is accumulated notes or IRL comments that I've been sitting on for some months. This wall of text simply collects it all together.

I continue to see discussions on vaulting as well as gear retirement. Understandably, a lot of people are upset about both. On the vaulting, it’s usually about losing content that you paid for combined with the limited amount of new content coming in. With regard to gear, which has most of the anger, the issue about losing weapons in which you have made investment. This is compounded by the massive re-issue of guns you already have this season and seem to be expected to grind yet again.

If you look at this as a gamer and fan of the franchise, this really doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, a lot Shadowkeep and even parts of Forsaken don’t make sense.

If you look at this as a software lifecycle subject matter expert, however, there is a real rationale to the apparent madness. I first began to suspect this in exploring the Tangled Shore after Forsaken was released. I became certain when seeing what we got back of the Moon and the nature of the Vex Offensive in Shadowkeep. To understand, we need to recap the history of the game in a very simplified manner.

This Historical Perspective

The problems actually began in Destiny 2, year one. It’s pretty well known that there was a lot of last-minute redesign of a lot of the game’s design. There was also a huge design investment in the game’s online store, as well. The honeymoon lasted, maybe, a month. Underneath the surface of the original campaign, it turned out that there just wasn’t much. Except in Eververse, where we kept being herded in hopes of squeezing money out of our pockets. The player base was quickly in revolt and Curse of Osiris, at the end of the year didn’t help. In April of the next year (2018) Bungie help a “community summit) in the effort to get things back on track.

Ever since, what we have been getting as players has been an effort to recover from this mess. A lot of words have been wasted on the cause, but in a product rescue, that retrospective comes later, and damage control comes first. Another casualty of these kind of rescues are engineering discipline and good testing.

The “rescue” was, of course, Forsaken. It was a brilliant piece of work. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly what players needed to remain confident in the franchise. In addition to a lot of high-quality content, we got revised weapons systems, a significantly revised and improved armor system, improvement across the board in game flow and advancement, and the beginning of a re-envisioning of Eververse and its role.

This was followed by the release of Shadowkeep, which brought us back the Moon from the original game, added more content, introduced a seasonal model, and further reduced the importance of Eververse. This was accompanied by the departure of Activision as the publisher. The split now allowed Bungie to chart its own course. A lot of people considered this a rather weak release, but I believe it was an extremely important one because it was Shadowkeep that established the first steps for what we will be getting in Beyond Light.

The Engineering Consequences

At the end of the day, that reworking, bandages, and rescue left the games code and architecture an absolute mess. All the noble plans about building maintainable code had gone out the window in the rescue. What they ended up with was hard to maintain, heavily patched, and inherently buggy. However, it accomplished the needed purpose and bought them time.

Here’s the thing, Beyond Light is not simply a new content drop. It is a major redesign of the entire game and its architecture.

A few additional points to keep in mind.

  • The original deal was for 3 Destiny games to be released.
  • There has been a long-stated desire by many fans to see Destiny’s original game content released under the new (i.e. D2Y2/Y3) engine.
  • Bungie employs an agile development lifecycle. I see what may also reflect elements of LEAN or even a transition to something like SAFe, though that could be easily coincidental. Important concepts here are continual release cycles and minimally viable product (MVPs).
  • Many of the problems players have with the game are largely engineered in. To change them would require a major re-design of the architecture and internals of the game.

My first inkling, as I said, came in Forsaken while exploring the Tangled Shore. In particular, it was the Hive ship in the Jetsam of Saturn. Exploring this location, it struck me that there was someone at Bungie who really wanted to bring back the Dreadnaught. The primitives needed to rebuild it were certainly there.

Then, we got the Vex Offensive in the Shadowkeep expansion. The similarities to Venus and/or Vault of Glass cannot be missed by anyone who was an OG player. We also had the Risk/Reward and Pain and Gain missions taking us back the Cosmodrome. For me, that clenched it. There were teams at Bungie that were re-engineering original Destiny into Destiny 2. All three of these were minimally viable product to get Dreadnaught, VoG/Venus, and the Cosmodrome. All this while having our original Moon back and slightly expanded.

While all this was going on, we were hearing plans of further expansion of the game as well. I was a bit worried about this, actually, because I knew what kind of mess their code base and architectural design had to be. I’ve been down that road myself. It takes years to recover. Still, I was watching the seasonal activities as well as events (such as Solstice, Dawning, Festival, etc.) and it’s clear to any experience software engineer that they were building and testing elements of the game from which they could build more.

The Present

Enter the Season of Arrivals. We get some interesting story. We get an event that should bring back some memories from Court of Oryx. We hear the announcement that the Cosmodrome will be coming back as well as the Vault of Glass raid. Hmm… go back and take another look at Vex Offensive and Pain and Gain. Minimally. Viable. Product.

But the other shoe drops. Content being pulled is announced. We find gear being capped and effectively retired. We get what appears to be simple re-releases of a lot of existing gear with upgraded caps combined with far too little new equipment. In fact, something like half the released content to this point is going away, including some content that was just released with this season.

Bungie explains the vaulting as a necessity because the game is far too massive to maintain and expand effectively. Content is being vaulted out, new content will come in, other old content will be vaulted out.

It’s somewhat similar with weapons. We’re told this is being done to make room for new and better weapons. We’re also told we’ll probably be seeing some old stuff coming back. In fact, we are seeing that cycle already. My god-roll Gnawing Hunger has been capped at 1060 PL. The new Gnawing Hunger is capped at 1360. The only difference is the maximum power. We are also seeing a rush of old gear, some going all the way back to year 1, coming back with the new power cap.

Same gun. Same perks. Different cap. What the hell is going on? Naturally, a lot of people were upset about having to “re-grind” the same weapons. The thing is, Bungie is damn near giving the higher power cap guns away. In fact, they are in such profusion because of the abundance of Umbral Engrams and the ease of focusing them, that it is hard not to get what is actually a better version of the gun.

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And when one particular piece of gear may not be updated, there is an equivalent that is as good or better. There is one exception and that is light machine guns. Other than that, the entire armory is undergoing a refresh where the vast majority is simple re-issue with little more than an increased maximum power.

For me, at least, what is going on is obvious. Remember that last bullet point I made about how much of the aspects that we are upset about are baked into the design? To make corrections would require a major re-design. That is what these re-released guns and armor are all about.

No. Players are not seeing a difference in the guns. If we were, that would be a sign that the job wasn’t done successfully. The underlying design of the weapons and armor is being massively redesigned. I believe a big part of this involves removing the bandages and changing to a revamped architecture that is maintainable but is transparent to the end user.

That is also why Bungie is practically giving the gear away for so little effort. We are being re-equipped to be able to play on the modern architecture. It also explains why exotics are exempt from these changes. If I understand right, exotics aren’t just exceptions for game play, they are exceptions from a design standpoint as well. Their very nature makes them adaptable, or perhaps a better way of saying it is, better able to inherit, the new design.

The end result is an armory that is architecturally more consistent, with more manageable code, tighter design, and more easily validated.

The same is true for the content cycling through the vault. It should be obvious that re-architecting entire worlds is going to be a bit more complex than simply updating weapons and armor data structures, classes, and methods. For that to be fully successful, they will need to be taken completely offline. There are going to be a lot of considerations for what goes offline and when, based on complexity of the redesign as well as the needs of the game’s story narrative.

So, Mars, Mercury, Titan, Io all go away. The coming of the Cosmodrome and a new world, Europa, take its place. In doing the Cosmodrome, I wouldn’t be surprised if the EDZ was also reworked (internally, at least) in the process. I will take a guess that the Moon will require little, if any, rebuilding because it is recent enough to reflect much of the redesign efforts. In that case, it would be little more than a routine maintenance. Nessus would have to remain, since we need something strongly Vex to get us to Vault of Glass from a narrative perspective, even though the associated raid and Leviathan locations will be heading off for upgrades. Because of the pieces going away, the main campaign will obviously get vaulted for now, as well.

Like the weapons, the places that come back may look familiar and will play the same. However, they will be very different under the hood. They will be much better optimized. I would expect them to take a much smaller footprint. They will certainly be much more easily maintained and consistent in design. They will also be easily testable. Finally, I am hoping that the story/narrative engine is better optimized for campaign and narrative development.

I’ve seen comments in DTG wondering if there is going to be that third game originally contracted with Activision. I believe what we are seeing here is the anticipated Destiny 3. However, it is being released in a way that attempts to minimize of loss in investment players have made in their characters. It is also being done in a way that favors the storytelling and progression of the game.

The Future

So where does this take us? If I’m right, then some predictions could be made. We had foreshadowing of VoG and Cosmodrome through the MVPs, and now know they are coming. With the Cabal moving to the background, it makes sense to see Mars go for a break. When it comes back, I would expect to see a Mars that has both D1 and D2 elements harmonized.

I don’t know what will happen with Venus. I would really like to see that content back from a nostalgic perspective, but I don’t really know how important it is for the narrative. One could argue that Nessus can fully take its place. I hope it does come back though. The good news is much of the technical primitives seem to exist for it. It becomes a matter of justifying the effort of porting the maps, narratives, and strikes.

Titan is similarly problematic. It’s a vast resource but is largely unused. Outside of its role in the D2Y1 story, it really doesn’t have a major contribution. However, it does have a lot of investment in location development with the Solarium, Sinking Docks, and Tidal Anchor largely unused.

Mercury is much the same, though I think it may be a bit more important from a story perspective because of its ties to the Vex. That we had a season focus on Mercury, a return of Osiris, and a return of Saint-14, I take as a sign it will certainly be back. However, we won’t really need it until the story focuses on the Vex again, so it may be awhile before we see it back.

The same is true of Io. It’s the home of a lot of activity, a central Vex location, but only has the single Strike and the Whisper quest as significant elements. It’s another place we may not see again until the Vex are central to the story.

I’m not sure what is going to happen to the Tangled Shore or the Dreaming City. The Tangled Shore is going to be hard to shut down. Spider, the strikes, it’s importance to the narrative; all these are going to be hard to replace. The Dreaming City, however, could easily be vaulted until Mara Sov returns in the story.

Finally, there is the location that started this whole train of thought.

What about the Dreadnaught? Personally, I’m sure we are going to see it back. They building blocks are all there. We have the graphics elements in the Tangled Shore. Even in this season, I see aspects of the Dreadnaught in the Contact public event. However, I would bet that the Dreadnaught would likely be the most difficult part of the original game to bring forward to the D2 environment. That said, I find it hard to imagine going down the roadmap Bungie has given us with Savathun without bringing us back to the Dreadnaught.

The Endpoint

I’m pretty confident of what I’ve written up to this point. If I’m not right on the money, I’m sure I’m solidly in the ballpark. This endpoint though is hugely speculative.

Remember that the purpose of vaulting is to make the content manageable. Bungie has talked about content cycling, going away, returning, but they haven’t really discussed where it ultimately goes. The assumption is that we won’t see the entire game at one time again. I don’t think that is necessarily the case.

I believe Luke Smith, at least, has a hope of being able to have the entirety of the Destiny franchise released as a single piece of content. We’ve seen that he can think big; sometimes too big. However, if the redesign is successful, the code base is optimized, testable, and reliable, there is no reason that most, if not all, of the entire game could not come back. I’m not saying it will happen, but I certainly believe that somewhere in his – and likely others at Bungie’s – mind, that dream is floating around. Cut out the dead code and bandages, optimize assets and architecture, and we may all be surprised at what may be accomplished. Hell, I’m doing much the same on a couple of enterprise level systems that dwarfs this game with the same sort of “thinking big.” (This analysis is actually, warm-up for parts of that job. If you’ve had to do that kind of work before, you understand.)

At the very least, we will have major locations added back permanently, with some of the secondary places (e.g. Venus, Titan) returning as needed for story. Like I said, in this part I’m making pure speculation. I hope I’m right. I think I’m right. Being completely wrong wouldn’t surprise me, at least where getting back all the content in a single game is concerned.

There’s a lot more that could be said, but I’m already at the 3000-word point. If you made it through all this, then I’m impressed and grateful. I probably should have broken this into parts. If nothing else, at least I’ll have something to point back to when I get the “told you so” moments.

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