In the world of Destiny, Bungie's interplanetary "shared shooter" for current and next gen consoles, the very best guns have names. Not ubiquitous, abbreviated, military-sounding categories, but names like the Phaser of all Fools, Thorn, Pocket Infinity and Super Good Advice. They're the kind of names you give objects of sentimental value - baffling linguistic aberrations that evolve almost spontaneously from circumstances, names that evoke a turn of events, that somehow stick and begin to accrue history, names not for tools but for personalities.
Only the most skilled, most resourceful of the human Guardians that comb Destiny's tumbledown magnitude will get to bear these venerated, ancient weapons, and those arbitrary yet oddly evocative monikers say a lot about Bungie's ambitions for this, its attempt to supersede the mighty Halo.
A lot has been written about Activision and Bungie's decision to reveal Destiny without, in fact, revealing Destiny, summoning journalists to the developer's Seattle HQ to lecture us about the social reach, anecdotal potential and sublime looks of a game we only glimpsed in a few scraps of early footage. There's definitely a debate to be had here - about the calculating way publishers handle preview coverage in an age of pre-orders, and about the dangers of giving even the most proven teams the benefit of the doubt. But one point that doesn't seem to have occurred to many is that the Destiny presentation was a showcase not so much for the game as its fiction, an attempt to mobilise an army of disciples around an emerging, cross-property IP.
Bungie has already presided over one such sprawling fan community with Halo, but that was something that happened on-the-fly and often by chance. "We really had no idea what it was going to become," Halo: Reach creative lead Marcus Leto told Fast Company back in the day. Microsoft didn't either: the manufacturer had the long-established Oddworld franchise pegged to supply Xbox's killer app, not Halo. With Destiny, Bungie has to make that cosmos of fan interactions happen by design. It'll take more than a few great games to recoup Activision's staggering, 10-year investment - it'll take a universe, an intricate, monetisable terrain players want to explore for the sake of doing so, polished combat mechanics or no. And pungent, opaque morsels of personality like those weapon names - names that hint at a backstory, begging to be excavated - are the seeds.
Enter Activision Publishing boss Eric Hirshberg with a rapturous opening homily. "It starts with the world," he told the assembled press. "What are the rules here? What are the politics here? What's the history here? What are the mythologies of this world? What do the heroes look like? I feel like Bungie's unique ability to create worlds that we all want to inhabit, that we all want to explore, and that we all want to be in, is the thing that sets them apart most as a developer."
Some might argue that the choice of a post-apocalyptic science fiction premise is a poor way to "set yourself apart", but there's more to Destiny's fiction than a rugged survivalist ethic or spectacular wide-angle shots of ruined cities. Where other games are content to sift through the shards of broken societies in search of glitter, Destiny purports to be a giant renovation project - a hopeful, holistic, healing endeavour. 700 years before the game's events, the empire of mankind was tumbled and broken by a motley assortment of alien invaders, spared total dissolution only by the intervention of a moon-sized mechanism known only as the Traveler. The survivors now reside in a single city, founded beneath their mysterious benefactor's immense ivory bulk amid the wreckage of Earth.