Interview with Max Dyckhoff - AI Engineer
The Bungie team has been steadily growing over the past few weeks and months. We're not "doubling in size" as some internet rumors report, but we are staffing up in key areas to assist us with the development of our next project. Graphical eye candy has been touted as an obvious feature of the next generation of gaming but there are other systems that are also growing and evolving. With the extra horsepower of the Xbox 360, we can create even more immersive worlds which means there are more opportunities to make in-game characters act and behave like real human beings. After all, even pimps on the high sea require some degree of intelligence.
To help us achieve these goals we've hired a new guy who will focus exclusively on blurring the line between real life and code. I recently sat down with Mr. Dyckhoff to learn a bit more about his history and to help introduce him to our Bungie.net audience. Sadly, this interview was thoroughly censored to remove any hints at our next project.
Sketch: Hey Max, welcome to Bungie! What is your job here at Bungie? Tell us a little about what you'll be doing (of course without revealing any secret details of our next project!).
Max : Hi Brian! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to interview me - it's a real honour. I've been brought on board as a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) engineer. I work with Damian Isla on making the AI in the next game so amazing that it will make you feel as if you are playing with or against human players all of the time..
Seriously, Damian and I have a plethora of very cool ideas for things the AI characters can do that will draw you even deeper into the game world. I will be implementing behaviours in characters that will really engage the player – possibly even making them want to marry them.
What were you doing prior to joining the Bungie crew? Why make the switch to a new job halfway across the globe?
Before I joined here, I worked at Free Radical in Nottingham, England for two years. Previously, I was the AI programmer for Timesplitters 3. Last summer, I was directed to the opening for an AI engineer on Bungie.net. At that time, Timesplitters 3 had just been released and I was just itching to move onto something new.
I applied for the job, and during the phone interview with Damian, it turned out that Bungie needed someone to do exactly the part of AI that I love doing. I managed to impress Bungie with my skills - the rest is history!
I also thought it would be nice to be a little closer to my significant other, although I didn't seem to realise quite how big your country is; she's only about 100 miles closer than when we were in separate countries! Also, I heard it was easier to get Xbox 360's over here, although that appears to have been bold-faced lie. (ed. note: sadly, Max joined Bungie right after the team received our 360s...)
You hail from Scotland yet you seem to have what is clearly an English accent. What's up with that?
The guy in the elevator on the Washington Memorial thought I had a Scottish accent. What's up with that?
The reason for my lack of a nice Scottish accent is the fault of my upbringing. While I was born and raised in Scotland, neither of my parents have Scottish accents. I grew up in Fife, which has a very soft local accent, and I went to boarding school where there were a large number of English accents. However, I can do a better impersonation of a Scottish accent than most people at Bungie, based on the voice talent in certain earlier Bungie games. :)
Is it true that Scottish National Hero, Frank O'Connor, was your inspiration for wanting to join Bungie and make a mark in the gaming industry?
Frank O'Who? Isn't than an Irish name anyway?
Frankie wants to know if it's true that you once blathered wi'a radge bampot at a ceilidh on Hogmanay?
Away an bile yer heid ya numpty, ye dinnae ken whit yer talking aboot.
How does it feel living in the U.S. of A compared to merry ole England? Have you taken in ample amounts of NFL Football, NASCAR, Apple Pie and the other staples of American culture?
It is very eerie living here. So many things are the same and then so many things are so different: you all drive on the wrong side of the road; the drivers aren't very aggressive; things are a whole lot cheaper; your television programs are really bad in general; the weather is bizarre; and so on. I have been led to believe that Seattle is the liberal region of America, so I'm sure things are different elsewhere. So far, I have avoided American Football completely. I fell asleep watching NASCAR the other day. And, I have failed to find any Apple Pie.
However, for lunch one day last week I did have pancakes with two rashers of bacon and an over-easy egg, covered with whipped butter and maple syrup. America is the only place where that is not referred to as "a heart attack waiting to happen."
How have your first few weeks at Bungie been? You seem to be taking the new-hire hazing and harassment initiatives quite well...
Fabulous! I was here for the Winter Pentathlon, in which the Newbies lost horribly. I was here when Peter Jackson visited the studio, although I couldn't get him to sign my copy of Bad Taste . The project I am working on is very exciting, and a couple of days ago I got the chance to playtest some of the new things that other people on the team are doing, which was great.
I think I have become accustomed to methodology here. I was very quick to reject Visual Studio as my code editor, and I think I'm almost up to speed on everything that's going on. Everyone here is very dedicated to making great games; it's a wonderful machine to be a part of. Apart from Lazlo threatening to tow my car when I first arrived, I have gotten off rather lightly with the hazing.
Speaking of hazing.. you know your last name was the subject of much joking and shenanigans before you arrived. For the record, how is it supposed to be pronounced? (not that it will change anything)
However you want! Having suffered smart-alecky comments and plain incompetence concerning my last name since the age of four, I answer to pretty much anything that starts with a "D" and ends with "off". You should see some of the misspellings I get on mail— you'd think that someone with absolutely no grasp of the English language typed the addresses.
Have you met Ling-Ling yet? What about enjoying a tasty Tijuana Mama?
Ling-Ling was one of my first ports-of-call when I was looking around the office! I waggled the jar and watched her ears and tongue loll about. She's so sweet! It was rather great seeing Tiny as well when I first got here; that was when I first realised exactly what I had gotten myself into.
I don't think I even want to know what a Tijuana Mama is. Is it legal?
I understand you have somewhat of a history with the Bungie community? What types of things were you involved with and when did you first become a Bungie Fanboy?
I like to think of myself as the stealth fanboy. There are a handful of people in the community that know me from back in the pre-Halo days, when the community was so much smaller. My history goes back to the original Marathon, which back then, was one of the few games for the Mac. I played it to death and then fell in love with the rest of the trilogy. I made maps for Marathon 2 with the third party map editor Pforte, and then more when Marathon Infinity came out with the official tools.
When Myth came out, I played furiously on bungie.net even taking part in various tournaments with little success. I then started to hang out on The Core (hi Rex!) and discussed "Blam!"— which of course turned into Halo. I was watching, via the internet, when Halo was first announced at the 1999 Macworld Expo in New York. Around the time when The Core turned into Rampancy, I was one of the initial members of Pax Nimbus, the first ever Halo clan.
When Bungie sold out to Microsoft, Pax Nimbus largely fell apart. A group of us sought refuge by founding Subnova , lead by 3of9. Since then I left University and started work, so my participation in the community waned. I like to think I have been the community's #1 lurker, appearing occasionally on HBO to make some obnoxious comment and then disappearing into the ether.
I have met a lot of friends in the community, too many to list here, and indeed over the last couple of years I have started meeting up with them at various places in the United Kingdom and America. I am even dating one of them, and working with a few others!
Speaking of Bungie fanboys... It just so happens I met you for the first time in E3 last year under totally different circumstances. If I recall, you were stuffing ice cream sandwiches into your mouth for a shot at a free action figure. Funny how things work out, eh?
I would like to point out that that whole competition was actually my idea. I wasn't in it for the action figure, I was just interested in how much ice cream I could persuade other people to eat. I can't remember the name of the guy that won the competition, but he deserves more congratulations. That man could stuff ice cream into his face faster than I would have thought possible.
Due to recent HR issues, the ice-cream eating requirement has been removed from our interview process.
We get tons of questions from people hoping to get into the 'biz' some day... What advice would you give to people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
The advice is simple: be the best at what you do, and don't give up. The interactive entertainment industry, specifically the video game industry, is very demanding and competitive. There are a lot of people that you will be up against to get a position.
If you want to be a programmer, become the best damn programmer you know. Practice your coding. Write stupid, small programs to train your skills, and try your hand at working on a bigger project too. They don't have to be novel; you just have to show that you have the ability to write very good code. If you can program some small demo for a technique that might be used in a game, that's even better. Accept criticism from people, and ask for help if you don't know how to do something. You don't have to master every aspect of programming a computer game, just get a feeling for what you like and master that.
It goes without saying that you have to have an interest in games too. Play a wide variety of games and try to understand how things are working— why some things work and some things don't. If you play a game which you don't like, don't just throw it aside, try and figure out what you would have done differently to make it better. And whatever you do, don't give up. Get another job in the interim that can improve your skills, and keep applying to games companies all the time. Good luck!
Any final words you'd like to share with our community or parting shots you'd like to take at our community team?
I just hope that I make the community proud with my work on this game; I think it's going to be brilliant, and I hope they think so too. You are really going to have to introduce me to this Frankie guy sometime. Is he the one that's running around under the floor making scratching noises?