The Story of Shaxxercise

Mar 30, 2020 - Destiny Dev Team

Guardians can count on Zavala. The stoic commander of the Vanguard is always on hand for an encouraging word (and some fresh bounties) each time they visit the Tower. With Season of the Worthy, Zavala has his hands full, fighting alongside Ana Bray to save the Last City from the Almighty’s deadly collision course.

It begs the question: With all of this turmoil going on, how does Zavala relax? We already know that (according to Destiny lore) he likes his knitting and crocheting. But this week, with the introduction of the Fourth Horseman Exotic quest, Guardians learned about a new personal passion for Zavala: slinging iron and getting a good cardio burn, accompanied by sick beats and a most unusual trainer.

This is the story of the Shaxxercise mixtape. 

[Fitness-related spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned, Guardian!]

The first step in the Fourth Horseman Exotic quest is to visit Zavala’s office, located in a lower level of the Tower Wall. Once you gain access to his office, continue through the back labyrinth of rooms and hallways, make your way into the Vanguard Vault, and continue your search for the famous Exotic shotgun. However, those Guardians who spent time rummaging through Zavala’s office this week eventually found a secret sitting high on one of the shelves – a mixtape of workout music, complete with motivational encouragement from everyone’s favorite Crucible host: Lord Shaxx himself.

So how did this mixtape come about in Season of the Worthy? Like many things, it started as a conversation between friends…

A Passion for Hard Work, I Like That

Bungie’s Kareem Shuman loves his job. As a technical dialogue designer, Kareem works on the Audio team and his job is to help make sure that the dialogue that is written, performed, and recorded sounds as good as possible in the final game. Think of Kareem as a shepherd for the content that makes up the dialogue audio experience. “Music and sound design and dialogue all have to share the same [audio] space,” Kareem said. “It’s my job to get [dialogue] across the finish line, sounding good, and delivering on the fiction and the experience.”

While hanging out one night during a Destiny 2 Crucible session, one of Kareem’s friends commented on how supportive and enthusiastic Shaxx is. She wished she had someone like Shaxx yelling at her when she was trying to stay motivated at the gym.

They laughed about it for a few minutes, but when Kareem came into work the next day, he couldn’t stop the idea from knocking around in his head. He wondered if he could turn the joke into something real in the game. 

How would you make a workout mixtape real in Destiny 2? 

One thing was for sure: a project like this would require work from across the studio. Like all other aspects of Destiny’s development, this would be a team effort, with input and creative ideas from every department, even down to figuring out if a “Shaxx mixtape” was something that Destiny lore could even support.

“I had to talk to [the] Narrative team and make sure they were okay with Zavala having a Shaxx mixtape,” Shuman said. “I didn't want to step on anyone's fictional toes.”

Narrative was fully behind the idea, which meant it wasn’t as crazy as he’d originally thought. Still, to bring this project home, it would take creativity, it would take communication, and it would take teamwork.

But first, it would take some music.

This Is It, Show Me What You’ve Got

The next step was to bring the idea to Bungie music director and composer Skye Lewin, who was immediately onboard. “My first reaction was [that] I laughed out loud and said, ‘Of course we can, let’s do it,’” said Lewin. He brought in Bungie composer Josh Mosser, and the two began discussing which music they could use for the mixtape. They were looking for the kind of tunes that, as Mosser said, would get Guardians in that “I want to get pumped up and run around in Destiny” mindset. 

Shuman also provided the music team with a handful of previously recorded Shaxx voice lines that could be used as motivational inserts while the music was playing. He had spent a good deal of time querying the content stores, looking for Shaxx dialogue (many of which Guardians might recognize from the Crucible) that would work and were funny to boot. It didn’t take long for Mosser to get inspired. 

“I literally sat there and imagined, ‘What would Zavala do at that point?’” Mosser said. “How would he go through a workout? Would he be high intensity the whole time, or [would] he need a moment to take a break?" After carefully editing the music selections and strategic voice drop-ins, Mosser came back to Shuman with the roughly eight-minute mix that ran the gamut from pounding beats to more contemplative moments (perfect for a brief mid-workout cooldown), all perfectly complemented by Shaxx’s intense vocal stylings. The mixtape consists of numerous separate bits of music, all carefully edited together to tell the "story" of the tape.

“One of those pieces could have been 14 minutes by itself,” Lewin said. “So we’re taking musical excerpts, making sure they flow from one piece to the next and then timing the dialogue around the music so the two work well and they tell the story in a way that’s funny.”

Lewin was especially pleased by Mosser’s choice to use the theme from the Ghaul fight for the heart-pounding climax of the mix. “It's like the big payoff for your workout,” Lewin said.

If you ask the team which Shaxx line is their favorite, the vote is almost unanimous – Shaxx furiously demanding for the listener to calm down (“Relax more. I SAID RELAX!”); a moment that is perfectly accompanied by a momentary easing of the musical intensity. 

With the music and voice lines in a good place, there was still the matter of getting it all to work in the game. 

You’re Halfway, Hold Strong!

At this point, Shuman had what amounted to a big audio file, complete with the various tunes and Shaxx voice lines edited into place. A single audio file worked in theory, but there were drawbacks to implementing it in the game, including the need to create separate audio versions for all the languages supported by Destiny 2, as well as making it difficult to integrate with the game’s subtitles system.

The solution was to tie the music to a system called a “dialogue table” which contained all of the selected lines of Shaxx dialogue. Once the player interacted with the mixtape object in the game, the music would kick off and a timer would start, essentially sequencing Shaxx’s voice lines based on timing determined by Shuman in the dialogue table. Now, you could have the music and the voice lines play in perfect synchronization, plus it could be more easily localized and subtitled. 

Now, how were Guardians going to find this mixtape?

One Final Push, Guardian

Eve Campbell, Bungie senior world artist, loves surprises in game worlds. “My favorite thing with any video game is finding secrets. If I play any game that, when I swing a sword and I accidentally hit a wall and the wall disappears and there's a chest, I freak out and I have to hit every wall for the rest of the game.” 

That love of surprise has served Campbell well when creating Zavala’s office and the labyrinth that lead to the Vanguard Vault. Having also worked on missions like Zero Hour and the Banshee-44 workshop pathway for the Leviathan’s Breath quest, this was comfortable territory for her. Designing Zavala’s office was also a chance to expand on the character a bit more. After all, how someone decorates their private spaces can say a lot about them as people. 

Remember how Zavala likes to knit? Look around his office and you’ll see a small knitting kit tucked away on a corner table. Or a set of trophies presented to the commander for his many heroic efforts over the years. Or the set of barbells perched improbably high on the shelf next to the mixtape. And what executive suite wouldn’t be complete with a peaceful (and interactive!) Newton’s Cradle on the desk?

“For the mixtape specifically, we wanted that to be a thing that players discover,” Campbell said about the decision to place it high on a shelf near the office entrance. “We wanted it kind of hidden away a little bit. So we ended up with a jump puzzle to discover it, just so players could have that discovery of it. It feels a little earned.”

Even Steel Needs Sharpening

It’s no surprise that Destiny players found this musical Easter Egg in quick fashion with the weekly reset. The development team has enjoyed seeing the reaction from fans – and the inevitable mixtape remixes that are surely still to come. 

Those Guardians who, in their haste to finish the Fourth Horseman quest, missed it at first can take solace and know that the musical treat is still there, waiting to be found, tucked high away on the upper shelf of Zavala’s office. 

Just look for the barbells.
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