When Destiny 2's third expansion Forsaken dropped last fall, some said that it put Destiny 2 on the path to redemption. A lot of that was credited to its new mode Gambit, which blends PvE with PvP—a first for the series. While Gambit was bumpy at launch, it's become a fan favorite activity for both hardcore and casual players of Destiny 2. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California today, senior technical designer Peter Sarrett from Bungie described how the team approached, what he calls, is Destiny 2's Halo Firefight meets Super Puzzle Fighter.
For a clever four-versus-four PvEvP mode where players gather "motes" dropped by waves of enemies, deposit the motes into a central bank, and invade another side to ruin the other team's day, it's surprising to learn that the "versus players" part almost didn't happen. But at the inception of development of Gambit, "no direct player interaction" was actually a core design pillar in a list of many. Gambit, at first, was set to only be PvE.
"We wanted to have longer legs than Prison of Elders," Sarrett told the GDC 2019 crowd at his talk, describing Prison of Elders' replayability in its fixed arenas where players faced mobs of AI, though it did grow stale over time. "We wanted to be fresher than that."
There needed to be some interaction, something players could do to affect the other four-person team of Guardians beyond emoting dramatically at the Ready Room lobby at the start of a match. Sarrett described this necessary element as "interferences," which went through many models before Invasion came to be. Scrapped interferences included summoning web mines, using flashbangs, sending ogres to the other side that players would be able to control, removing cover from the enemy side, obscuring their vision, and just starving their ammo. Yet, nothing quite worked.
"[We knew people would ask] 'why can't I shoot the other guys?' We didn't have an answer for that," Sarrett said. So Bungie tested the Invasion mechanic, where a player is able to "invade" the enemy side for a limited time (or until they're killed) after depositing 25 or 50 motes in their bank, which opens up a portal for the deemed invader. Immediately, playtesters loved Invasion. "It was clearly our secret sauce for this mode," he said. "We succeeded by failing," he added later in the talk, on casting away the design pillar.
Also during the talk, Sarrett talked about how the mote design came to be, which began as something similar to in-game engrams. In testing though, Bungie found it was tedious when they would roll down hills with their dice-like shape. They were also at one time a glowing red color, which drove players in the opposite direction as they thought the motes were bombs, not things to be collected. (An impulse that Sarrett said is not surprising, in retrospect.)
Season of the Drifter is currently underway in Destiny 2, which focuses on the character The Drifter who hosts the Gambit mode. It brought with it Gambit Prime, a new version of Gambit mode with each player choosing a specific role to play rather than the loose, non-dictated structure of the launch version (such as Sentry, a guard to the bank). Season of the Drifter is also ushering in new maps for Gambit.
Gambit has become a big part of Destiny 2's revival after a rough post-launch year, and will surely remain a key part of it for the months to come.