Destiny’s Raid Is Interesting Because It Is A Game

I was reading this phenomenal (really, just great) interview that Kirk Hamilton did with Luke Smith, a designer on Destiny‘s Vault of Glass raid, and I was struck by the following questions and answers:

It’s funny, there are fourteen unique ways to fail in the raid, but there are also fourteen ways to succeed! It feels really cool when you figure out this new way to succeed, so there are two sides of that. Watching people play, do you get a sense of, “Oh, okay, we could get away with this sort of thing in the main game”?

Well, you’re giving us an awful lot of credit. Look at the raid versus the structure of the rest of the game. The raids are linear in a way that a given suite of missions [isn't]. From encounter to encounter, in the raid, we’re able to build your knowledge base and teach you more in a very predictable way. And I feel like sometimes we can’t assure [that] organically in sort of a more linear campaign. We had this really good advantage of freedom, flexibility and the knowledge of how you’re going to be able to constrain players.

Yeah, that progression to the final boss Atheon, how you go through the time gates, and you learn how those work, and you learn how the relic works, and then you have to put it all together. It’s this constant progression.

We’re really happy with how the Atheon encounter turned out. For us, it really feels like the culmination of the raid, in terms of all the things we’re teaching you over the course of that experience, we’re trying to introduce you to different verbs, and the natural extension of that as you get further into the raid is to ask you to combine all of those verbs together over the final culminating battle.

Overall, Destiny has a lot of problems (I’ve written about the narrative and competitive multiplayer), and yet I’ve spent a lot of time in its weird embrace. It scratches the same itch that World of Warcraft does–these developers have used the most advanced techniques to ascertain what gets someone hooked into a game. Fundamentally, it is about loops and how good they feel when you make a cycle.

For example, I play a Strike for fifteen minutes. It is incredibly easy, and I walk through it. At the end, I am granted some Engrams, which have to be taken to the Tower in order to be turned into items (which are then converted to materials).

What is happening there is not as important as how it feels: I go full-on zen autopilot for fifteen minutes, items pop out of the enemies that I shoot in their clearly-marked heads, and I run to gather the glowing objects. I slide into them. I dodge the enemies, and it is thrilling not because it is hard but because it is like a ballet that I’ve practiced over and over (every mission, every moment is a movement in this dance number). The credits role, some circles fill up with experience points, and more items appear. I go to Orbit, go the the Cryptarch, watch more circles fill up, and repeat it again. I feel like a machine, and being a machine feels good. Every day of my life is spent thinking, and Destiny is a strange reprieve from that.


Put another way: playing Destiny is like living in the film Groundhog Day, and it feels amazing and horrible all at once.

When Smith describes the raids as “linear,” which allows the developers to “build on your knowledgebase,” he’s really describing something profound in the context of Destiny: the Vault of Glass is a game, where Destiny overall is merely a series of loops.

Gambling is a loop. Going running is a loop. Reading John Grisham novels is a loop. Eating is a loop. You do a thing, you get a reward, and the mechanical process between each instance of each loop maps onto the next cycle. Loops happen over and over and over again, and they’re made to be that way. If the loop is especially grand, you never make it out of it.

At the core, Smith’s description of the Vault of Glass’ uniqueness in Destiny is merely a version of Anna Anthropy’s excellent “to the right, hold on tight” argument. The raid requires experimentation (on a group scale rather than an individual one), failure, and synthesis of those two things in order to beat it. The Vault requires the same kind of experiential moves as most other games, but the raid itself becomes unique in contrast to the ludic wasteland of the rest of the game. This isn’t to minimize the impact of the Vault–from my understanding, it is truly a wonder of modern game design and implementation. But the design principles are standard, and the fact that those principles weren’t used for the rest of the game is telling about Bungie’s priorities in the development of Destiny.

The Vault of Glass is a game. Destiny is an addiction machine.

A remainder question: Would the Vault of Glass be worth playing if it were divorced from the rest of Destiny?


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On Bernband

I see people walking toward me, but they’re not really people, just strange aliens that don’t quite cohere into any particular shape when I get close.

That’s what marks Bernband: nothing makes any more sense as you get closer to it. It’s stranger than that: the further away things are, the clearer they seem. There’s a night that covers the world and gives everything an enveloping calm.

The world of Bernband is made up of claustrophobic interiors, passages that cross over incredibly fast-moving cars, and static towers glittering in the dark.

I didn’t experience too much of the game–my computer hardlocked after I willfully plunged down through a wave of oncoming vehicles, aching to find out if my strange hands would be taken from me.



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Joseph Kahn on the difference between Cabin in the Woods and Detention


Scope: Did you like The Cabin in the Woods (2012)?

Kahn: No I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why. Detention and The Cabin in the Woods say very different things about movies. I think in The Cabin in the Woods we’re meant to be smarter than the characters in the movie. You walk in, you know the genre, you know the clichés, and it reaffirms how stupid the genre is and you get to watch other people being punished for that fact. The only surprise is at the end, and it’s not that great a surprise in my opinion—they justify why those things have to be clichés and then a big hand comes out of the ground. Detention works in the opposite way. It says, “You have no fucking idea how genres work.” Nobody in the movie can predict what’s coming next, and neither can you when you’re watching it. We believe that genre can be changed and that more can always be mined out of it. It’s two very different approaches to genre.

After School Special: Joseph Kahn’s Detention

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My Fascination With Weedopia


Weedopia is a RPG Maker game from Gaming Roach Entertainment that they are currently attempting to kickstart for six thousand Canadian dollars. It does not appear that they are going to make it, but I’m fascinated by the idea that someone might try to make this thing a reality.

A gloss on Weedopia: it is a traditional Japanese-style role playing game where everything is marijuana-themed. The villain is Lord Nohemp. A sidekick is named Tokachu. There is a pot-themed crafting system. Everything about it screams “weed! weed is so cool!” and I love it.

Which is weird, because I don’t care much for that kind of thing in general. I don’t smoke it, and I’m not caught up in “pot culture.” I don’t have button-down shirts covered in leaf patterns, and I don’t think I’ve even seen an issue of High Times in years.

What I love about Weedopia is that it leans into its theme as hard as possible without ever giving any hint that this might be sarcastic or comedic. Hell, it is probably isn’t, and the fact that it rides this line of complete and total ambiguity regarding its potential ironic theme is absolutely wonderful to me. I don’t love it because of its post-ironic hypersincerity, but precisely because there is no way to know what its position on itself is. It is a beautiful, opaque object, and displays this fact better than most fine art objects enshrined in galleries.


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On The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

There was a time when the specter of the uncle who worked at Nintendo haunted every recess period in the United States. I first heard him in the pickup spot where parents would pick up their kids after school. The same place where I borrowed a Gameshark for the GBC. The same place where I left my copy of Expert Gamer with the Pokemon Stadium strategy guide.

Some kid’s uncle worked for Nintendo and that’s why he had all sorts of superpowerful Pokemon and knew about all the games that were going to come out. Some of those games came out. Some of them never existed.

Now we have a game by Michael Lutz (with illustrations by Kim Parker) called “The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo” who takes that recess-and-after-school phantom and puts you in his world. 


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Deleuze, Francis Bacon, and Icosa

[The diagram] acts as a relay. We have seen that the diagram must remain localized, rather than covering the entire painting (as in expressionism), and that something must emerge from the diagram. – Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation

The entire time I spent reading this book I was thinking about Andi McClure’s various art creation toys. They give us the diagram, algorithmically generated, that allows us to grab the infinite excess of things that could exist and generates an existing piece of art. Playing with Icosa is a constant revolutionary moment of watching something emerge from nothing and then recede again. Sometimes we can see the figure, some representational object, emerge from the discord and it is horrifying. Why something from nothing? Why anything at all?

When Deleuze wonders if we can “dismantle the optical,” is there any better affirmation than McClure’s work?

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I Was Given A Wristband That Says “Synergy Motherfucker” And These Are My Thoughts

I was watching someone play a game called Lichdom Battlemage and some form of PR person handed me that wristband. I didn’t look at it until I had walked away, but I verbalized my confusion: “what the fuck?”

I asked the PR person if you can fly in the game and she said no. What a boring game about wizards.

We’re in the midst of something called “GamerGate.” I’ve been paying attention to it, read Storifys and tweet conversations about it, and even had conversations with ‘gaters myself. I don’t know how anyone can come to a conclusion other than this one about those events: it is a longform anti-women harassment campaign cloaked in concerns about ethics in games journalism.

Today I saw that a trans* developer who was previously a supporter of the “movement” was pushed out of it by extensive transphobia from the GamerGaters themselves. I saw responses to her announcement that she was abandoning the cause that asserted that she was being too sensitive.

I wonder who decided that “synergy motherfucker” was the best way to go with this small throwaway tchotchke. I wonder who they think they’re appealing to, and who the “edge” is supposed to play heavily toward.

I have this experience a lot in “videogame culture.” The same set of questions apply to the “tell it like it is” YouTubers who recycle videogame common sense in a hyberbolic, extremist tone. I wonder about who is wearing the wristband right now or idly watching the YouTube video and nodding along.


The wristband, the YouTubers, and GamerGate share a skeletal substrate of self-righteous indignation paired with twenty years of marketing horror. They sell the values of their audience back to them as common sense packaged in edgy language. They present the standard beliefs of their audience back to that audience as truth telling, like they are speaking through some kind of cultural taboo in order to enlighten the people. In reality, it is the rhetoric of Bill O’Reilly used to shovel videogames into the screaming maw of consumers.

None of this, of course, is new. A thousand people have written this blog post before me. But if you’re going to make a wristband that embodies all of this violent garbage culture, maybe don’t do that. #badassmage or whatever.

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