Luke Smith is all about community and connecting with people, whether it’s the friends he chats with in Slack or the ones who join him to defeat alien beings in the video games he creates.
The 36-year-old game director at Bellevue, Wash.-based Bungie is especially communicative these days, as he’s touting “Destiny 2,” the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2014’s “Destiny.” The game isn’t out until Sept. 8, but Smith is our latest Geek of the Week, and he spoke to GeekWire following the big reveal of the game during a livestreamed event in Hawthorne, Calif., last week.
“With ‘Destiny 2,’ one of the ways we were thinking about developing this game was through the lens of, ‘How can we unhide a bunch of the fun in ‘Destiny’?” Smith said. “The ‘Destiny’ game design is a game design that gives you the opportunity to come back each week with a group of friends or people who become your friends and play fun activities together. In the first game, I think we had this interesting recipe but a bunch of the fun was buried, so not everyone could enjoy the meal. With ‘Destiny 2,’ one of the things we’ve been pursuing is trying to make it so more players can enjoy that meal.”
For Smith personally, a lot of that fun comes in the game’s raid mode, where six players battle alongside one another and rely on what he calls “first principles” of team building, challenge, cooperation and communication.
“This was an area of the game that I had the privilege of sort of pioneering in the first game,” said Smith, who has been at Bungie for 10 years and led the raid design team from 2012-14. “I hired those folks and brought them into the studio and together we all built the first raid in ‘Destiny,’ the Vault of Glass. I still have a real soft spot for cooperation. The other thing is, I’m 36, and my player-versus-player skills just aren’t what they used to be and I get to win when I play the monsters. As I’m moving up in age I’m really enjoying the shooting aliens part of ‘Destiny,’ where when I was a spunky 19-year-old, I was all about PVP.”
At the hands-on reveal event last week, Smith told the audience, with a giant “2” on the screen behind him, that “Destiny 2” is going to be a new beginning for everyone and that it’s a convergence of veteran players and new players into the “Destiny” universe.
“One of the things for us about being brought into new worlds is a story that you can sink you teeth into,” Smith said. “I don’t just mean a story in terms of a linear cinematic narrative, I mean it in a sense of it’s a world you want to be a part of. It’s something greater. You and the heroes of this world have a purpose and the heroes are both characters we’ve built and also, in ‘Destiny 2,’ the human players you’ll find along the way as you bump into each other in our spaces. It’s about having an arresting premise and scenario and then creating interesting collisions between player and combatant and player and other player.”
Here’s how Bungie describes what to expect in “Destiny 2”:
The last safe city on Earth has fallen and lay in ruins, occupied by a powerful new enemy and his elite army, the Red Legion. Every player creates their own character called a “Guardian,” humanity’s chosen protectors. As a Guardian in “Destiny 2,” players must master new abilities and weapons to reunite the city’s forces, stand together and fight back to reclaim their home.
While the game will initially be available on PlayStation and Xbox, it’s also coming to PC — a first for the franchise.
“We knew after shipping ‘Destiny’ in 2014 that we wanted to get ‘Destiny’ into the PC audience’s hands, so we started working in earnest on a bunch of the underlying technology to do a PC version back then,” Smith said. “For us it’s about getting ‘Destiny 2’ into as many hands and markets and players as possible because we want to have games that inspire communities around the world and the PC platform is amazing place for that. The partnership with Blizzard Entertainment, to be on the Battle.net launcher is an incredible force multiplication of that goal.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Luke Smith:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m the game director for ‘Destiny 2’ at Bungie. I do it because for as long as I can remember I have enjoyed entertainment and I have certainly enjoyed the opportunity to create it, in any form that I’ve been lucky enough to do it, whether it was podcasts or writing or student films. I’ve always loved the idea of entertaining others and making people smile. I have the privilege of getting to entertain people through video games and working with a team here at Bungie, we get to bring entertainment to a bunch of folks. I believe if I wasn’t here making video games I would be hosting a podcast or playing a guitar on the street somewhere trying to make people laugh. For me it’s about creating joy in other people — I have an earnest desire to spread joy.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “A huge part of game direction is not conceiving each idea yourself, it’s about empowering the team and making sure that you’re helping the team’s ideas fit into a vision that you’re sharing regularly and getting feedback on and improving. It’s not decision making by fiat or an exercise in auteur theory like a film. It’s about bringing a super talented group of people together to make a great piece of entertainment and helping shape their work, excitement and enthusiasm into something that you believe players will love.
Where do you find your inspiration? “I find a lot of my inspiration in a mix of some of my friends and their reaction to games. We have an amazing community that is always looking at the games we build here. They can be sources of inspiration. I can see it in the way that my nieces react to just the world in general because as young children they such simple responses to things, and those simple, pure responses are often times true.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I probably couldn’t live without my phone, not because I talk on my phone — I actually loathe using my phone as a conversational piece — but because I’m so frequently working my phone as a touchpoint to other people, even when I’m just texting occasionally. It’s the way that when I’ve got my head down working on something that I can reach and at least just say hi to my mom, because I haven’t talked to her in two weeks, I can just text her. A different example that’s not my phone? There’s a piece of chat software I really like called Slack. I have this really small, close knit group of friends and it’s the way that we all keep in touch and chat. The technology I couldn’t live without is the technology that enables connection between people.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.): “Having an amazing partner in my project lead Mark Noseworthy. Everyone should try to get a Mark Noseworthy. He’s my closest working partner, one of my dearest friends.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “It depends. For work we use Windows. But for home, what I’m looking for is something that doesn’t remind me of work, so I have a MacBook that I use, if I’m on the couch watching Netflix. Because then when I’m goofing off in iMessage or something, it doesn’t feel like I’m at work … even if I’m still talking to Mark.”
PlayStation Xbox, PC or Switch? “Interesting. Because so much of what I care about is connecting and communicating with people, probably go with PlayStation. That’s where my friends are playing.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk. The original and the Chris Pine version. I like both.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. Easily. I would probably go back and talk to myself when I was 18, bring some advice — ‘here’s some skills you could pick up along the way that’ll benefit you later.’ If I could go back in time and talk to myself I would have spent much more time developing more technical proficiencies. Whenever people ask me about what to do to get into games, I always push them toward technical proficiencies because you can learn great design taste and great sensibilities. Getting the technical diligence of programming is something that you can also learn, but it’s a different type of investment.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Invest it to get more money. Because $1 million isn’t enough for what I would do.”
I once waited in line for … “A Prince concert, that I did not realize would be the last time he toured.”
Your role models (And why?): “I have three, and the first two are my parents, who are just good, honest people who have done right by themselves and others throughout their entire lives and set this example that I will never meet. The other one is Michael Jordan, because Michael Jordan always had the desire to win. He had this amazing speech when he went into the Hall of Fame where he basically remembered every little thing along the way where he felt slighted, and a bunch of these are totally imagined and very petty in a number of ways. But the thing that I love about that is not the pettiness, it’s that it created a fire inside of him to win and he was unwilling to do anything other than win.”
Best gadget ever: “The analog watch. A self-winding watch is the best gadget ever. Someone built it with their two bare hands, moving these small parts and pieces into place. I always like to wear a watch because it’s a reminder in this world where I’m surrounded by technology every day, there’s this analog thing that was crafted by someone and we’ve been telling time this way for a long time. I like it’s just an incredible achievement. My phone runs on a battery, but my watch continues to tick.”
Current phone: “I think it’s an iPhone 6s.”
Favorite cause: “A thing that I do feel very strongly about is people’s right to marry who they love across any boundaries between consenting adults. It’s one of the few places where I get legitimately upset, when people threaten or challenge that right.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Man, I make video games. This is a tough one. I don’t when it started to come online, but in my head I feel like the self-driving car from Tesla started to take on their own life last year. I think that the penetration of it is relatively low right now because humans aren’t comfortable with the notion of letting their machines drive them, I think it has the chance to change the way traffic works in general and change the way the world functions, down the road.
Most important technology of 2018: “It’s like a [Elon] Musk fanboy session — the ongoing SpaceX technology is really appealing to me. Our game is about adventuring in the local unknown that is our solar system, and that there’s a company pushing us toward exploring that solar system, I genuinely hope that’s gonna pay dividends.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “If you get the privilege to work on something you’re passionate about, no matter how hard it is, take it and try to find a way to enjoy it. I think that I have had the fortune to get to work on something I truly love, but one of those things I would go back in time and tell myself is to stop and enjoy it rather than simply charge on to the next thing.
LinkedIn: Luke Smith