On the Destiny Content Vault and the Archiving of Games

“No Paper?”
“Paper has a way of getting people in trouble, at our place.”
“At our place, paper is how we keep track of laws.”

The Report, (2019)

Part of the beauty of Amazon’s film exploring the creation of America’s torture report is in its ability to take massive concepts and distill them into bitesize dialogue. While we might agree that a digitized infrastructure makes human relations convenient, we see immediately the implications for politics to have written laws printed and dated. In a digital world, history can be flattened, backdating is much easier, and edits and changes (the entire point of a democratic society) are rendered invisible.

It is one of the reasons I love print and books. For I can open The Odyssey regardless of the translation (in this particular case, Emily Wilson’s) and enjoy the violence vicariously without having to live it. Having an archive that is readily accessible is a god send to a writer, who has her mentors at the tips of her fingers, luxurious and jealous and altogether in love with people who she has never met. Before there was stalking, there were books! Pages of them. Pick up a paperback reprinted from Barnes & Noble of Moby-Dick and it reads the same as the indelible artistic flourish that The Folio Society provides. If one is more willing to go further, one can purchase the Norton Critical Edition and really go to town. When one reads the Great American Novel, one sees its influence everywhere. It is in the humor of Thomas Pynchon, in the lust for revenge in Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, and in the quest for adventures in Dan Simmons. Seeing the timeline of influence is only possible in the archiving of works not only across years, not only across decades, but across centuries. Perhaps this is where William H. Gass, in his essay “A Defense of the Book,” summed it up best.

One does not go to a library once, look around, and leave as if having seen it…Libraries are full of life, centers to which we are recycled, as recursive as reading itself.

It is for all these reasons that I must say that, of all artistic explorations, I pity the video gamer.

If reading is a timeless pursuit, playing a video game is a provisional act. In order for the experience to be had, one must give oneself over to faculties he or she does not actually possess. When one leaves a store with a disk or a cartridge in one’s hand, similar I suppose to a movie, it is not we initially who make the thing go. And a particular headache is that the consoles through which we play the game can come and go and is just as fragile in the hands of entropy as everything else in this indifferent universe.

Just a week ago, my mother-in-law, in cleaning out old junk she no longer needed, found an “Xbox Live Arcade” disc that, in attempting to play it on a supposedly backwards compatible Xbox 360, told me even after an update that the game was no longer playable. Now, granted, the prospect of playing Ms. Pacman on an Xbox seems silly when hundreds of other permutations exist, but let us suppose that the content in question was something far more substantial. Let us imagine that the content came from one of the most beloved developers of all time, with art and design that has gripped and fascinated players from every corner for over a decade. Suddenly the idea of losing that content becomes terrifying, even dangerous.

Reframing the Conversation

Should you be upset over Destiny's Content Vault? Does it really matter? -  YouTube

On June 9th, 2020, Bungie released a blog post detailing their motivations for putting much of the content of Destiny 2 into a vault, effectively removing the ability for players to go back to a sizeable portion of the game. This was a priori a dangerous decision, simply for the fact that players paid for this content, and removing it added yet another layer to the pitiable state that gamers live in on a daily basis.

Videogames may fetishize the visual fidelity of “new” to their own detriment. It may seem easy for players to conclude that whatever is new is better to such a degree that they are willing to sacrifice the history that got us here.

One of Bungie’s biggest decisions in vaulting content has to do with the game’s size.

This unrelenting growth has resulted in a game that requires players to download up to 115GB to play, as well as huge patches tied to frequent updates. And those numbers are rising rapidly, as we’ve been adding approximately 25GB of content each year to Destiny 2 since launch. Those sizes not only stress hard drive capacity but also push the limits of patching capability. It also makes the time to generate a stable update for the game after all content is finalized, tested, and ready to go balloon to literal days instead of hours.

The company seems to be under the impression that this presents to the gamer a problem that has not been solved before. I suppose even the nicest spousal abusers have selective memory.

It has been solved before.

Amazon.com: Destiny The Collection - PlayStation 4 Standard Edition: Video  Games

The original Destiny managed to put the entire experience into a cohesive unit, a collection that satisfied players as a neat bow to conclude their first crack at an action MMO. And until the servers go down, that game is still available to play right now on the PlayStation 4 with all destinations, quests, and gear.

An itemized era of Destiny works, because it allows them to archive content in a public way which empowers the players, and it also allows the developer to alleviate “tech debt” in continuing old code when it needs to be updated. They can wipe their hands clean and move on to a Destiny 3.

They responded to this idea by including the following further down in the post:

With Destiny 1, we solved the “ever expanding, exponential complexity” problem by making a sequel in Destiny 2. We left behind all of Destiny 1’s content and many of the features players grew to love. We believe now that it was a mistake to create a situation that fractured the community, reset player progress, and set the player experience back in ways that took us a full year to recover from and repair. It’s a mistake we don’t want to repeat by making a Destiny 3.

At first, this might seem like a tempting argument. After all, people were upset that Destiny 2 felt remarkably similar to Destiny 1, albeit with far less content.

But then again, this sounds an awful lot like what is happening right now.

Sunsetting in Destiny 2 (The Bad, the Really Bad, and the Terrible) -  YouTube

Alongside the vaulting of content is a term known as “sunsetting” which refers to the vaulting of weapons and armor as well. As of right now, around 74% of the equipment players have earned over the years have either disappeared or become useless, which effectively achieved a resetting of the Hunter, Warlock, or Titan anyway, whether the player liked it or not.

I am going to make a proposition that sounds silly at first, but ultimately it may help explain why I find the issue of “archiving” content so off-putting.

Your character is not really the character of video games.

You are the character.

“All the world’s a stage” as Shakespeare put it, and you are no different. The experience of playing the content of Destiny is an experience that happens to you, and your history with the game is just as important an experience as the Triumph page in the game which provides you a certificate of reminder.

To suppose a player would be unwilling to have a full-bodied record of everything they have done in Destiny 2 is to willingly lie to your player base. And to remove content that may never return implies a dangerous lack of respect for your own work. Love it or hate it, Destiny 2 is more of the same, which is what the next three expansions aim to be as well. And if Destiny 1 was just as similar, what is the harm in providing a library of the intellectual property? It is no different than the libraries of ancient texts I love and cherish. Those Destiny scholars and academics need their history back, not just for their games, but for themselves.

The Ambiguity of a Vault

Goodbye Disney Vault?

Before Disney+ there was the Disney Vault. In it, animated classics would return in a fresher case, or with new features, or with a cleanup or remaster of visuals or sound. But there was an artificial scarcity in that the movie was only available for a limited time. If you missed it, the movie went back in.

However, once you bought the DVD, you would own that disc and could play it as long as your baby cousin did not chew it or drop it behind the television.

If even one of the most rapacious and money-grubbing companies on the face of this planet could at least offer you the chance to purchase and maintain a record of a movie, then it speaks volumes to compare it to videogames, which continue to treat its own consumers like the menial species they admit themselves to be with each microtransaction purchase.

The ambiguity of this Destiny Content Vault comes down to the etymology itself. Vault is a word that can mean:

  1. A secure room in which valuables are stored.
    OR
  2. A chamber beneath a church or in a graveyard used for burials.

Bungie seems to be under the impression that what they did was definition number one. The reality for players, those who paid and lost what they bought, and those who never got the chance to experience it, think rightly that they are getting definition number two.

Let’s take a hard stance against this action: taking content away from players when they have paid for it is never acceptable. Period.

Plenty of developers reuse content. In a climate where one of the biggest titles for the PlayStation 5 is a remake, this much is a given.

Far Cry Primal's 'replicates the topography' of the map in Far Cry 4 | Far  cry primal, Far cry 4, Topography map

An easy recent example is between Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal, with the geography so similar in the map layout as to be uncanny.

But each game was given its own SKU as content to be delivered to the gamer for their perusal, comparison, and enjoyment, hopefully for all time.

Destiny 2 already has seen much of its make-up borrowed from its earlier iteration, only with an uplift in graphics, performance, or content. Yet both experiences exist simultaneously as an opportunity for comparison. Regardless of how people felt about the original campaign of Destiny 2, the Red War Campaign may be lost…forever. Just consider that for a minute: one of the biggest companies (Bungie), in tandem with one of the biggest publishers (Activision), put together an experience that you may presumably never experience ever again.

This is a crisis, not just for Destiny 2, but for every live service game, and every video game which hopes to bring the medium into cultural seriousness. Every player and non-player should be condemning a decision like this. Unfortunately, those who play the game religiously have skin in the game, and those who do not play do not seem to care. Luckily for me, I exist in a distant orbit around the experience, as a wholehearted fan of the Halo series, and a relatively disgusted fan of the Destiny franchise.

Video gamers are going to have to decide whether they believe in revisiting the titles that propelled their tastes. While books and print have an existence away from the reader, it’s very difficult to hold the same thesis with games, who play with the consoles as well as the player, who must move their avatars. It is an interactive medium. Watching players describe games, one might see their hands move, attempting to recreate the experience for you in conversation. It is adorable, but it cannot hold a candle to having the experience with you. Imagining the Red War Campaign existing only as an oral history feels prehistoric.

We have gone through a decade of live service games where the idea that servers will always exist for these dated ideas is becoming harder and harder to imagine. While members of a modding scene will do their diligence to make the games survive, we might see a dark age for video games in the same way as we had with the collapse with the end of the Roman Empire, where we live in the digital structures we lack the knowledge or wherewithal to rebuild.

Bungie made the wrong decision, regardless of its rationale. One can only hope that other companies are not so foolish. For the posterity of the medium, it needs better.

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