Former Destiny leads have a new studio and a new game

A team led by the former creative director on Destiny announced Tuesday that they’re working on a new game under parent company ProbablyMonsters, the studio founded by former Bungie president and CEO Harold Ryan. That new development team is named Hidden Grove, and is working on an original “multiplayer competitive adventure game” built on Unreal Engine 5.

Former Bungie creative director Chris Opdahl is serving as general manager of Hidden Grove. Opdahl is joined by design directors Raylene Deck and Grant Mackay, who worked on Destiny as senior design leads. Hidden Grove also includes talent that has worked on Halo, Destiny, Mass Effect, Dungeons & Dragons, and other AAA gaming properties.

Developers on the Hidden Grove team didn’t add much detail about what their unannounced game will be, but Opdahl hinted in an interview with Polygon that it will have battle royale elements. The team’s project has been fully incubated, developers said, and will go into a closed alpha sometime this summer.

Hidden Grove joins another internal team at ProbablyMonsters known as Battle Barge, which is developing a “next-gen co-op RPG game.” ProbablyMonsters was founded in 2016, after Ryan left Bungie.

To learn more about Hidden Grove’s new game and ProbablyMonsters’ mission “to change the way games are made,” Polygon chatted with Opdahl via email. You can find our conversation below.


Polygon: What do you think makes Hidden Grove unique or different from teams you’ve worked with in the past?

Chris Opdahl: The Hidden Grove team shares a lot of DNA with the other teams I have worked with in the past; exceptionally talented people working together to make something that players care about and want to dive into. And we do that by finding a way to work together, resolve conflict, and push each other while also celebrating our successes, all to make an awesome game and hitting our dates. I think the biggest difference is that I have made many mistakes in my career over the years. I’m hopeful I have made enough mistakes leading teams so that I have learned to get the mistakes out of my system, and this team can benefit from that key learning.

As far as uniqueness goes, the unique part of this team is both the amazing members and how ProbablyMonsters operates. You rarely work on something new that has all the benefits of real funding and a strong central team to help guide you. We get a lot of that here at ProbablyMonsters and it is a key part of our success.

Can you describe what a “multiplayer competitive adventure game” is? How does that compare to your work on Halo and Destiny?

One of our beliefs is that part of the battle royale’s genre is that they are more adventurous than previous game modes. They shifted away from the more sport aspects of arena and tactical shooters and into something more free form, something more adventurous. We think there is an opportunity for something new and different than a battle royale by pushing even further into adventurous territory, which has opened up additional options for new types of teamwork and competition.

What was the project’s incubation period like? How did you know you’d found the game you wanted to make?

When I first started, I had a couple months before the first three members of the team started. I was nervous about getting too far ahead of what we should make before that core team started. I wrote up 12 different game seeds, and shortly after starting, Raylene and Grant, our two design directors, looked through those seeds. They said they were excited about part of one game and part of the other, so we made a new seed that was a combination of both. We then wrote up a user story (a text description) of what we thought the game would play like when we were done. The current game is surprisingly consistent with the core experiences of what we were going for to start.

Photo: ProbablyMonsters

The longer answer is that one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was when I started on a new project while the rest of the team was finishing up the previous one and was coming in hot. It took longer for people to join than initially planned and I ended up working on the creative and plans for the next version. When the previous version started to wrap, and a bunch of people joined the project, there were a lot of people frustrated that I had already solved too much of the game without them. My takeaway from that is to do the work as needed to understand, but you don’t need to show all of that to people when they start. Instead, turn that work into higher level ideas and talk about these ideas and not the execution. Those higher-level ideas were the game seeds that we ended up discussing and merging.

We knew we were onto something when the game we made matched up with the initial plans and had the team cheering and excited during playtests. The next big step is to put it in front of players and see how they respond.

How far into development are you? What can you tell us about the game at this stage?

Our production timeline is going well so far, and we are planning an external user research study with our Friends and Family Alpha coming later this summer. We are excited to start putting the game out in front of people who don’t work on it directly so we can see how they respond.

ProbablyMonsters describes itself by saying it “aims to change the way games are made” — what does this mean to you? What are the practical implications?

When I started, I asked Harold [Ryan] “what does success look like to you during development?” I have tons of friends who find it difficult to move their project through the process of getting buy-in from all the decision makers at whatever company they are working at or with. Harold said there are three ways he evaluates if a project is going well. One – are the leadership and development teams excited about what they are making, and do they believe in it? Making games is hard and that team is going to need to make a lot of hard calls during development and being excited about what they are making is the only way to effectively work through those challenges. Two – Is there a believable business case for the game? Part of making the game is also talking about who you think is going to play the game and if there are enough of them to justify the cost of the game. Three – Do external play testers give the game a high “recommend to a friend score?” Recommending a game to a friend, especially a team-based game like what we are making, is one of the strongest indicators of a player’s interest in a game. Having a high enough score here is important. And while he never said it specifically, I also know that there is a fourth one as well which is, can your team consistently hit their milestone dates and make progress towards shipping?

That is different than what I have seen at other companies where the usual way to move forward is to convince a large group of decision makers to justify the game you are working on.

Games are becoming increasingly expensive to make. How are you managing costs and keeping budgets in check?

Set believable milestone dates and then scope the content and effort put into each aspect of the game to hit them. Solve the key innovations in your game early when the team is at its smallest. In my opinion, hitting your dates is one of the more important aspects of effective development, and doing the work early to hit them is vital. You won’t hit every aspect of the game for every deliverable, but you don’t want to miss so much that you are carrying heavy risk into the next phase. This team has really impressed me with how much they have over delivered for all our key milestone gates.

Given that you’ve worked on your share of live-service multiplayer games, how do you see that space evolving?

One of the most challenging things in games is making new genres. You tend to see them start initially via mods or from very small teams. In my experience, players tend to attach strongly to new genres that let them experience something new and stick around with those games for a long time. After that genre is proven, publishers try to find new space inside those genres to attach to that market, using higher budgets and production values as the key drivers. That is getting expensive. A company that can fund reasonable budgets to define and ship new genres for players is likely to create real long-term excitement with players. I am curious who ends up being able to do that.

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