Interview with Dan Miller: Mission Designer
Dan Miller is our new mission designer. Missions don't just design themselves. Take Halo 2, for example. You think it's a coincidence that the first evidence of a Wraith on the bridge level is its ballistic plasma mortar lobbing over the curve of the bridge span? Somebody thought of that, planned it, placed it and tested it to see how fun it was (and yes, they knew that by the fifth time you played through that, you'd just be racing past it on a Ghost as you skipped the encounter because you wanted to try to boost a Banshee past the toll booth).
To follow is a quick interview with Dan, that will hopefully explain to his parents exactly what it is he does, what he'll do on our next project, and why it matters. We imagine his parents will be somewhat baffled by the Contra level, however. Unless they're really good at Strider…
Hey Dan, welcome to Bungie. You seem like good people. Where are you from originally And where did you go to school?
I started life 29 years ago, blah blah blah. Let's get to the point. I made my home up in a small Washington village called ‘Lynden'. I attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, home of the Vikings. During this time, I worked at various video game stores in the area and survived long enough to graduate WWU with a Communications major. I was going into public relations so I got an Internship at Monolith Productions (home of Shogo) in Kirkland, Washington.
What's your prior work experience?
I was working as a Full-Time PR guy at Monolith and was given the opportunity to work as a Designer. I jumped at it, helped ship Aliens Vs. Predator 2, No One Lives Forever 2, Tron 2.0 and worked on The Matrix Online. I moved from there to Cranky Pants Games in Kirkland, shipped Evil Dead Regeneration and Bungie came a knockin'. Now I'm sitting here working on awesomeness.
It says on this napkin, that you're a mission designer. What does that involve ?
WHERE DID YOU GET THAT NAPKIN?!?!! A mission designer is the glue that binds the project together. We work with art, sound, engineering, quality assurance and combine their crafts and feedback into one slick package of fun. Simply speaking, a mission designer adds bad guys into play spaces and makes things go boom.
What makes you so special? I had this idea for a mission where bad guys spill out of a toilet and eat your face, but it got rejected. What constitutes a great mission design?
Well Frank, when you proposed that idea to me, you were wearing no pants. A great mission designer takes an overall vision for a story and tells it in each level while taking into account pacing, flow, objectives, enemy encounters and by blowing stuff up.
Pants are for nerds. Can you point to an example of a great mission in a non-Bungie game that you loved, and why?
I loved the mission in Contra III: The Alien Wars where you started off on hoverbikes shooting things in the air, mid-way through you jumped onto and grabbed a gunship with a primed missile. The gunship takes off and you are still grabbing onto the missile, shooting everything in sight. Once you get up high enough, the gunship actually FIRES the missile that you are holding onto towards an enemy ship. Now you are hopping between missiles firing your gun at the ship while avoiding the ship's attacks in mid-air. The whole thing is crazy, if you really think about it. That experience got my adrenaline pumping and really got me interested in design and the ability to create experiences for others that blew them away.
You must be totally pumped! What advice would you give a prospective mission designer?
Basically, work every day like they are going to fire you tomorrow. Work on your writing and speaking skills. Constantly try to think outside of the box to solve problems- no idea is a dumb idea- it will just lead to better ideas. Play lots of games and also be able to explain why things in them are fun or not. Be able to pick up and use new tools relatively quickly. Be excited about what you are doing. Be willing to keep learning for the rest of your career. Don't take yourself too seriously either.
How have you settled into Bungie, and who makes your life hardest?
Everyone is good at getting their rubbings in. The Marty and Noguchi talk is a bit overrated, they're good guys.
They tell you to say that? You're one of the regular Bungie online players, what other games are you enjoying right now?
I have a variety of games that I'm into. I'm at the beginning of Nippon Ichi's Makai Kingdom for the PS2. I've been digging Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and The Outfit demo for the tree-sitty. I'm also playing through Exit for the PSP, Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube and just finished Psychonauts for the Xbox.
So Beardy has his tricked out Audi S4, half the other staff drive some flavor of Infiniti G35, and Frankie drives that sweet 2001 Mazda Protégé. What wheels are you rollin' in right now?
Beardy needs his Audi S4 to compensate for Halo 2 multiplayer lackings. Real men roll in a 1994 Suzuki Sidekick or a 2002 Honda Civic.