By its very name, Destiny 2’s Deep Stone Crypt raid suggests depth; a sprawling subterranean adventure, with Guardians plunging far below the surface of Europa to uncover the mysteries and terrors that await them. But in typical Bungie fashion, the experience of the Deep Stone Crypt raid is more than just a straight line down into the unknown. Instead of simply heading into the unexplored depths, Guardians also find themselves literally reaching new heights as they experience the grand adventure that the Deep Stone Crypt raid offers.
The call to action leads players across the sub-zero expanses of Europa and inside an abandoned Exo facility. Guardians blast off into space and explore an orbiting space station (from both the inside and the outside), before plunging back to the surface of Europa for a final confrontation against a deadly and familiar foe.
The Deep Stone Crypt raid is Bungie at full blast: an experience that is the culmination of a large group of talented people combining those talents in a unique way. In the Crypt, you’ll find all of the hallmarks that Destiny fans have come to associate with raids – challenge, puzzles, the constant necessity for coordination and communication, amazing boss fights, beguiling mystery, and more, all contained inside a collection of dynamic moments that run the gamut from stark simplicity to epic edge-of-your-seat adventure.
From the icy expanse of Europa to the fiery carnage of that plummeting space station, the Deep Stone Crypt is a spectacle unlike anything seen in Destiny history; an expansive adventure that rewards players – both literally and figuratively – for returning to its heights and depths.
But what was it like to create this epic adventure? As the Bungie developers behind the raid will tell you, a raid as intricate and impactful as the Deep Stone Crypt is the process of a big team working together to tell an amazing story.
SETTING THE STAGE
As with so many big complex ideas in Destiny 2, the early ideas of the Deep Stone Crypt began in brainstorming sessions across the studio. Lead by the Destiny RAD (raid and dungeon) team, these sessions included representatives from across disciplines throughout the studio; designers, artists, testers, producers, composers, and more, all gathered to share ideas and bounce around inspirations and “what-ifs” in a setting where no idea was a bad one.
Destiny is naturally steeped in sci-fi traditions and influences. Yet after a few raids that leaned heavily into the space fantasy side of things, this time around the RAD team was ready to dabble in some of the harder science fiction leanings that inspired them.
“I've been obsessed with this idea of leaning into more hard sci-fi themes,” said Brian Frank, a leader of the design contingent of the RAD team. “For example, raids frequently use separate locations to split the fireteam and enforce communication strategy. I wanted to avoid using teleportation and instead keep that a grounded experience that capitalized on the fantasy and spectacle of a rocket launch.”
As the ideas were flowing and concepts were coming into shape, it was also clear that the team was excited about the possibilities that Beyond Light’s new destination brought to the table.
“I think everybody at Bungie has been excited for Europa in general,” said Darin Lantzy, a senior technical designer who worked on the technical execution of some of the bespoke mechanics of the raid, including advising on the augment terminals that are an integral part of several encounters and allow players to switch roles during encounters. “So it was like, ‘Hey, here's a new planet, a full new destination, and a new idea; [let’s] get to work.’”
Jupiter’s frozen moon was a new setting full of possibilities and, with the narrative concept of the destination being centered on an abandoned Exo facility, so much of the raid fell into place in a natural way. For Beyond Light and the Deep Stone Crypt, the RAD and campaign teams were in lockstep, creating a seamless experience where the two experiences naturally intertwined. The result is a raid experience that feels more aligned with the larger Destiny experience than ever.
Bungie’s Adam Miller is part of the narrative team that drives the ongoing stories of the Destiny universe. As he puts it, two reasons behind the Deep Stone Crypt’s success are the way the story, the characters, and settings of Beyond Light worked together in such a seamless fashion, and the team’s commitment to telling a story within this mysterious setting.
“From the characters of Taniks and Atraks – and even the cameo from Clovis Bray’s disembodied voice – to the appearance of the living Darkness statue, we worked closely with the entire design team from the beginning to ensure that everything about this raid – from visuals to the experience – accentuated the setting, had a strong basis in Destiny narrative history, and helped move the overall story forward,” Miller said.
“Something else I think helped our success is the maturation of the team,” said RAD team producer Katherine Walker. “We had done a lot of learning and I think, as a whole, the team was maturing into a really good space – even over the course of working from home – to a place where we were able to make some great stuff.”
Not long after touching down on the surface, and after a brief skirmish with Fallen Dark Council guards, players enter the first challenge of the Deep Stone Crypt: Europa itself. After leaving the protective warmth of a bubble, the players are met with the full force of Europa’s harsh environments: freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, and limited visibility. Mounted atop their Sparrow, the goal is to brave the elements and simply survive, speeding from one protective bubble to the next. To find the way across a wasteland, where dangers – from Fallen forces to perilous cliff-side drops – await at every turn.
Bungie’s Ray Broscovak was a primary contributor to the world art for the Deep Stone Crypt raid, including working with members of the team to develop this opening adventure. As he put it, the idea for those perilous drops and all-too-rare oases of warmth was a fair bit different from the original raid opening.
“The journey out to the Crypt was something we really wanted to have,” Broscovak said. “[We wanted to] make it feel like you were venturing out into a place where no people had been; the Fallen had been there but you're kind of following in their footsteps, or what's left of their expedition team.”
“The initial idea, was thinking about a wide flat expanse of Europa, making it feel very vast, which is obviously not what it ended up being at all,” Broscovak said, adding that the team initially imagined a high-speed Sparrow sprint across the snowy plains of Europa. But what to do along the way? The team talked about lots of ideas that created opportunities for new gameplay.
As the team continued to work through the possibilities, Broscovak recalls that one of the members of the team suggested the idea of “safe spots” that would shelter the player from the raging storm, taking inspiration from the “Haunted Wasteland” section from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as well as an underwater level from a Sonic the Hedgehog game.
With that central idea in place, it was then a matter of creating the path across the wilds and placing the heat bubbles at just the right distance and direction to keep things interesting and challenging for players, a process whose recipe calls for a mixture of design instinct, a dash of healthy player-focused sadism, and plenty of playtesting.
“It's kind of an organic process. [The designers] use their instincts and then we playtest it,” said Broscovak. “Then there's feedback [as in] ‘Well, the drive between Bubble Two and Three was not as fun as I want’ or ‘That was amazing. Can we do more of that?’ How do we make each of these spaces feel different?”
From the deadly outdoor environments of Europa players finally find shelter – if not safety – with the first main encounter in the raid: Crypt Security. Also known as the “Fuse” encounter, this part of the raid features the players’ first prolonged firefight against Fallen forces.
However, in true Destiny raid fashion, the challenge for this encounter – in addition to fending off the enemies – is the mystery of how to bypass the security systems that seem to confound players at every turn. It’s a firefight, a puzzle, and a test of observation and coordination for all six members of a raid fireteam, as well as an effective preview of what player can expect from the rest of the raid. One of the first things players need to figure out are the roles they will play here (and eventually, elsewhere in the raid).
“We had talked a bunch about cybernetic augments and that sort of thing, trying to go again with the hard-science feel,” said Jake Meyer, feature lead designer for the raid. “We looked at the different sorts of ways that you interact with raid mechanics and [the roles] just fell [into place] naturally.”
Hidden information mechanics are part of the tools of the trade for enforcing coordination and communication, as any good raid fireteam member will tell you. Learning what information is available and how to best communicate it is one of the art forms of raid completion that the RAD team is focused on perfecting. With Deep Stone Crypt, that manifests in the form of the different roles that players perform and their ability to communicate crucial information about what’s happening on the upper and lower levels of the Crypt Security room.
“It’s a challenge for the team to balance the experience, where executing on a known encounter strategy is fun and quick to do week over week, with the blind runs that the community undertakes when we launch,” said Brian Frank, who recalls watching the various teams racing to complete the Deep Stone Crypt World First on raid launch day.
“We don’t want players completing the encounters right away, we want to create drama with the strategy unfolding over repeated attempts. We're looking for that sweet spot [where] it takes them a while and they’re stumped, and then someone figures it out and it's a big breakthrough.
“Just all the little moments where people are putting together in real-time what's happening and they're having ‘ah-ha’ moments – like in [the Fuse encounter] when they finally figured out you’ve got to look through the floor. It’s incredible and we love seeing fireteams go through that experience at launch.”
A FAMILIAR RETURN
With the Crypt Security breached, players move through the Exo facility – encountering the iconic veiled statue that has become synonymous with the raid – before meeting yet another familiar face: the Fallen mercenary Taniks, who has been revived with the assistance by Atraks-1, the Fallen Exo. Taniks immediately escapes, setting up a series of connected encounters as players chase down both of the Fallen before they can enact their plans.
“I really liked how well we worked with Narrative on this raid and how every encounter feels like it's the catalyst for the next encounter, so it really feels like a grand adventure,” said Bungie’s Andrew Hopps, world lead for the Deep Stone Crypt.
Before players can confront Taniks, they’ll need to face off against Atraks-1. Multiple Atraks-1’s in fact, as the Fallen Exo has managed to replicate herself, setting up an epic encounter that will see players not just fighting Fallen enemies in the Exo facility, but also far above the planet as well.
The three words that are perhaps most associated with the Atraks-1 encounter might be “I’m in space!” – exclaimed by streamer Teawrex during his team’s World First attempt on launch day of the Deep Stone Crypt. Indeed, loading into the pods and blasting up past the stratosphere and onto the space station orbiting Europa has become an iconic moment of the raid. It also presented technical designer Darin Lantzy with an interesting challenge. Lantzy recalls his conversations with the team after hearing about the idea in a brainstorm.
“[The idea was] we want to send a person into space. We wanted the experience to be: Open the doors, walk-in, close the doors [and the player] teleports to the new area – open [the doors] and walk out.” Lantzy said the team considered many ideas for what this experience might be like, including a brief third-person cinematic to tell the story of blasting off into orbit.
After a good deal of discussion and iteration the team came up with a different approach that didn’t use teleportation at all but instead focused on tech that already existed in the game. By using a modified form of the same vehicle tech that Destiny uses when players hop on their Sparrow, Lantzy and the team were able to make the “blast off” sequence feel much more immediate and real.
Instead of teleporting, the player is actually physically moving through space, with no need to cut away to a cinematic or any other trickery. Couple that with some effective skybox graphical work seen through the launch-pod windows and you have a much more immersive feel of actually traveling into orbit. As Bungie skybox artist Eric Cassels said, the challenge of the drop pods was in conveying a lot of information in a short period of time.
“The drop pod sequence was challenging in that it was only visible for seconds and had to sell an experience without anything really leading up to it,” Cassels said. “Getting the timing just right for all the elements was a group effort between many disciplines. I was so happy to see it come together and visually link Europa to the space station. It was also a great setup to the reveal of the initial view in the station.”
It begs the question: Why go to all the trouble and technical investigation for a moment that’s only a few seconds long? “Well, we could have done it [another] way,” Lantzy said. “But no matter how I would have implemented it, even [using a teleportation sequence], it wouldn’t really have felt like launching into space for [players]. I couldn't think of any cinematography or any [other way] where it would have the same kind of feeling of them going to space.”
Emerging from the launch pod, the player enters a vast room where the Atraks-1 encounter is fought. With the fireteam split between the lower (surface) and upper (orbit) levels, players will once again use roles in order to identify the correct Atraks-1 copies to attack, grab her replication orb, and carry it to an airlock, where it can be blasted into space, preventing her from creating new replications.
After multiple trips to and from space, and whittling down Atraks-1’s replications and defeating her, even the best of fireteams are exhausted. What follows is a notable change of pace, where players find a brief respite exploring more of the space station, beginning with a series of long corridors, before taking steps outside and into one of the most unforgettable sequences in Destiny history.
WALK AMONG THE STARS
The first few steps onto the outside platforms of the space station are disconcerting to say the least. The enormity of the station is impressive enough, but it pales in comparison to the grandeur of space that surrounds you. And while jumping puzzles are nothing new to Destiny, Ray Broscovak said designing this platforming sequence was unlike anything he’s done before in the game.
“A lot of people thought it wasn't going to work because we didn't have low gravity or no gravity,” he said. “[We wondered] ‘Are people are going to like it if there's gravity outside in space?’ My thoughts early on were, ‘Let's not worry about it too much. We can fictionalize that all we want. We can say that you're still within the sphere of the ships, artificial gravity or whatever. Let's not let that one thing ruin the possibility of this experience.’”
Broscovak was tasked with creating the experience of the walk itself, choosing the path alongside the station’s many platforms to get the players where they needed to go. One of those crucial early choices was the decision between going “over” the station or “under” it.
“I quickly decided, based on Eric Cassel’s work on the skybox, which is so awesome, that it would be a disservice if we climbed over the space station. So I wanted to go under it because, if you go under it, you're jumping from platform to platform, you're constantly looking down at the skybox. So that was the inspiration for the route you take; you spend a lot of time hanging, clinging to the underside of the space station, so you can look and see the sky.”
“A lot of time was spent crafting the look of everything in relation to the sun angle, trying to achieve a view that lies somewhere between believable and sci-fi fantastical,” said Eric Cassels, on the work to bring the skybox visuals to life during this sequence. “The position of Europa changed a few times as I tried a handful of different distances before settling on one that had a good overall composition and was framed well from the space station. It was important to visually stage everything to get the maximum ‘wow’ factor.”
With grand scenery surrounding you, and a challenging series of platform jumps and encounters ahead, the spacewalk is a welcome change of pace from the furious action of the previous encounter. That change of pace was a deliberate choice. As RAD test lead Zach Zoske puts it: “This [is a] very different traversal space and I think the fact that it was slower paced really lends itself to be able to look down and absorb [things].
“This one felt so distinctly different because every other [raid traversal section is] over a pit and you can't see the bottom. This is the first time you feel like you're actually clinging to the bottom of this large thing and you could see where you were going. There's this unique moment of ‘Oh my God, I can see all of Europa… it’s beautiful.’”
Ask practically any member of the team what their most memorable moment of the Deep Stone Crypt is and they’ll point to the spacewalk, an oasis of calm in a raid that is full of ferocious action and challenge. But dive deeper into why they all love this sequence, and the same answer pops up over and over: the music.
A MUSICAL INTERLUDE
Moments after the leap onto the outside of the station, the theme music begins – a lone piano playing a distant, soothing melody. Where minutes earlier, players were running for their lives under the constant assault by enemies, they are now immersed in challenge of a very different sort, and accompanied by a soundtrack that is unlike anything they’ve heard yet.
Creating musical moments or “cues” as they’re called, is the purview of Skye Lewin, Bungie audio director and composer, and Bungie composer Michael Sechrist, who are each part of the team that created the music for Beyond Light. Sechrist in particular is credited with originating the ethereal calming “Deep Stone Lullaby,” and he remembers coming up with the tune at a memorable time in his life.
“My son was two years old at the time,” Sechrist said. “And I had just found out a couple weeks earlier that I was going to have another kiddo, so I think that explains the lullaby nature of the cue. Lullabies were definitely in my head when I wrote that.”
However just because a musical piece is composed doesn’t necessarily mean it has a home in the game experience yet. According to Lewin, selecting the right music for the right situation is the result of collaboration between the composers, designers, and other team members. It’s a process that is full of fun challenges and careful coordination, as the nature of the encounters and experiences continue to evolve during development and playtesting. “At the beginning, it's kind of like we're riding on a horse trying to shoot at a moving target with a blindfold on in the dark,” Lewin said. “We're basically just trying to gather as much information as we can and constantly adjusting our approach to the target we're trying to hit.”
“In the case of Deep Stone Crypt, it's got a very strong Exo theme, so we developed a [musical] palette and a feel around that,” Lewin said. “The [‘Deep Stone Lullaby’] cue was one that very immediately fell into that.”
The task of fitting the musical cue to the activity is a process that is equal parts art and math. “[The space walk] was one of those gameplay moments where we were able to collaborate with the RAD team to make sure that we could fit it there,” Lewin said. ”Sometimes a moment might not be long enough for a full piece of music. [For example] that traversal could be two minutes and it wouldn’t be as impactful to insert such an impactful piece of music where it's going to not even get to the climax before [the activity] ends.”
That cross-team collaboration is the key, Lewin said, marrying the experience design with the right piece of music to create something that lifts and enhances both efforts into something special.
“It kind of turned the whole thing into this interesting epic Exo tone poem that was the final result,” Lewin said.
“For me it's a huge honor,” said Sechrist. “It's amazing to see the response. With the weird alternate dimension we’ve been living in this last year, I could be convinced it's not actually happening. I couldn't be happier about the reception.”
CRASH AND BURN
With the spacewalk complete, the respite is over, as the Deep Stone Crypt raid enters its endgame. Players next encounter Taniks himself in the control room of the station. While the players are busily being confounded by a hectic encounter that involves dunking nuclear cores, a new third role called “suppressor,” and tons of enemies all around, they’ll also need to contend with the fact that the construct they’re on is careening through space on a direct crash course with the surface of Europa.
“Early on, I remember when we were talking about the player journey [throughout the raid],” said designer Jake Meyer. “We kept looking at things and comparing how large the [space station] would be in comparison to the International Space Station, and trying to figure out, ‘OK, if we're going to crash this, how do we crash this in the player journey?’
“We were trying to do the math with internet calculators for the relative mass of the space station and how long it might actually take to get into the atmosphere.” With those numbers in mind, the team concluded that it made the most sense for the player journey to crash the space station during the encounter, as opposed to crashing it after the fight was complete. Thus the first Taniks encounter, as the station begins its planet-side plummet.
With the speed and frantic nature of the Descent encounter, it’s easy to miss some of the subtle cues that tease the impending disaster on the space station. As RAD world lead Andrew Hopps put it, “I think about the first phase against Taniks. When you're up in the space station, you're obviously doing a whole bunch of jobs running all around the space trying to survive, but outside the window the space station is slowly starting to tilt and you'll see Europa shifting in the sky. That's pretty hard to notice in the middle of a raid encounter until the whole room is on fire and then you really know what's going on.”
“[The station descent] was a really cool moment and I wanted to capture the feeling of this massive space station you are on listing towards Europa as it begins its descent,” said Eric Cassels, who again contributed his talents to the skybox for this encounter. “This was a custom variant of the space sky specific to the sequence, getting the right speed of rotation to sell this took a few tries but I was quite happy with the result.”
As this section of the raid developed, so too did the dramatic nature of the station’s plunge to the Europan surface, according to RAD test lead Zach Zoske. “We had an interesting moment where [play testers didn’t know] the space station is crashing. We weren't getting that feedback.”
Zoske said the team began brainstorming ways to increase the intensity. “[We talked about] what if we made fire outside [the station]? What if we made it so there was screen shake and rumble?’ We tuned it so high that all of a sudden, you’d be mid-encounter and your screen would shake up and down like a snow globe and you would just splatter and die. We were like, ‘Oh no, OK, let's bring it back.’”
After the inevitable space-station crash that follows, players escape the burning construct only to find themselves right where they began the raid, near the entrance to the Deep Stone Crypt, with the burning remains of the station all around, as they prepare for their final encounter. The final fight against Taniks the Abomination is the culmination of all of the mechanics that players have learned – full of role switching, core dunking, frantic fireteam callouts, and lots and lots of enemies to contend with.
SPOILS OF VICTORY
After an intense fight the rewards of victory are suitably grand. As in previous Deep Stone Crypt checkpoints, the rewards include raid-specific weapons and armor, complete with a set of new bespoke perks designed by the gear gurus at Bungie. Designer Chris Proctor, who leads design on Legendary and Exotic weapons, said the goals for raid gear are varied but balance is a key. “We try to make sure that [rewards] are not too concentrated in a single weapon slot; so we have the Kinetic, Energy and Power slots, and we aim to have an even spread between those.
“There's generally some conversation about weapon count and normally raids get six Legendary weapons and often an Exotic as well. Generally they tend not to have specific [design] requirements. We do try to have weapons that you get from the raid be useful in the raid. For example, the slug Shotgun Heritage that you get from Deep Stone Crypt is the best damage weapon for the final Boss Encounter, if you have a Warlock with Lunafaction Boots. [That] worked out really well for [the raid].”
Alongside the raid gear, there’s also a new set of bespoke perks for the raid weapons: Recombination, Redirection, and Reconstruction. While Proctor said the team generally knows which gear players will favor, guessing which perks will rise to the top is more unpredictable. “It's just hard to tell in advance how much players will take to perks,” Proctor said. “[For example] Reconstruction will slowly load the magazine over time to double its capacity. It does take a pretty long time to fully load, [so] it was hard to be sure upfront that it was going to be as desirable as it ended up being.”
Proctor said that while he likes it when players enjoy the perks he and his team create, there’s value in all kinds of feedback. “It's always instructive if they [don’t like] a perk and we can figure out why, and maybe we adjust it later or we avoid doing that kind of thing again, so it's all good. But when players love something that you've made, that's a really satisfying feeling.”
Chasing those perfect perk combinations is nothing new for Destiny fans. With the Deep Stone Crypt raid, players who want to chase “god rolls” now have more options than ever with the introduction of raid caches. By spending their earned Spoils of Conquest currency on raid caches, players have some control over the kinds of rewards they earn. As Bungie’s Peter Hood explains, giving players choice is part of creating a positive raid experience.
“All the early conversations we had did revolve around providing players agency in what they specifically wanted to try and go after, as well as giving more hardcore raiders a reason to play a raid more than once a week and still feel rewarded for it.”
The new raid currency also created the opportunity to increase the value of playing the other raids in the game. Internally these concepts were well received when playtest groups saw them for the first time and the team says that after all the investment design and test work in building and tuning the economy it has been rewarding to see a positive response from the Destiny community as well.
A common theme when discussing the making of the Deep Stone Crypt raid with the Bungie development team is how in-synch everything feels – the story, the setting, the characters, the way the encounters flow from one set piece to the next, with each scene effectively setting up the next. The cross-discipline integration that manifested itself in the Deep Stone Crypt feels like a glimpse of Destiny’s future – a place where adventure can come anywhere, from the heights of space to the lowest subterranean reaches, and where experiences come in a variety of flavors, from the surprisingly mellow to the utterly intense.
Still, the ultimate reward for Bungie has been watching players enjoy themselves as they uncovered the raid’s mysteries, be it for the first time or the twentieth. From unforgettable shared moments like “I’m in space!” to personal instances like humming “Deep Stone Lullaby” to one’s self while working, the raid is a collection of individual elements that is much larger than the sum of its parts.
Bungie’s Michael Sechrist perhaps sums it up best. “Writing music, being in art in general, and doing what we do can kind of feel self-serving sometimes, because you're doing what you love so much. And building a game or a raid like the Deep Stone Crypt while in isolation from each other can feel a bit like, ‘I’m just here doing my music or whatever.’
“It’s nice to actually see it matter to people. And it's not just me doing what I love. It’s affecting people in a positive way, which is hugely important to me. I'm thrilled.”