A truly great game happens in a place that should feel real to the player. In order for that to happen, there must be rules to govern things like gravity or structural integrity or ballistics. Making all of this a virtual reality is the job of a Sandbox Engineer. These architects of code see the world in ones and zeroes. To understand that unique perspective better, we have the pleasure of a conversation with this gentleman…
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
I’m Ryan Juckett and I’m a sandbox engineer. Guys like me get to spend their days building and fixing all the fun parts of a game. To explain, let’s take a game like Halo: Reach. If you can shoot it, someone like me probably worked on that. If you can drive it, someone like me probably worked on that. If it explodes, someone like me probably worked on that. If you can shoot it while driving it while things explode, someone like me definitely worked on that.
Tell us about your own personal sand box. What do you do when you are not providing the variety of mayhem that gamers love?
If I’m not working, I’m probably at the gym, out to eat, or on the couch. I play a lot of console games and do a fair amount of hobby programming and art when time allows.
Hobby Programming! It’s nice that you managed to find yourself a gig where you get to do work that you would do in your free time. Is Bungie the first place where you channeled your hobby into your career?
I’ve been in and around the games industry for a while. I started off programming artificial intelligence at Neversoft on “Gun” and the “Tony Hawk” series. I later spent some time at Pandemic and then worked on a game called “Project Offset” which never saw the light of day. After that, I went mercenary and contracted myself out to the masses before settling down at a small studio working on games for Capcom, DreamWorks, and Disney.
You get around. Has your campaign as an engineering mercenary forged you into the perfect weapon in the fight against bad code?
I think having been a part of so many different teams and codebases has given me a broad view of the patterns, good and bad, that appear when building games. Referring back on those experiences is certainly helpful in my day to day work.
Let’s refer even farther back to your humblest beginnings. Was making games something that you have always dreamt of doing?
Somewhere in a box at my parents’ house, there is a drawing I made in elementary school to answer this very question. I’m sitting in front of the TV with a controller in my hand and it says that I want to play Nintendo.
What were the first steps you took when you left your parents’ house? Can you describe for us the education you earned to prepare you to engineer sandboxes?
After high school, I went to DigiPen and got a Bachelor’s of Science in Real Time Interactive Simulation, which is a fancy way of saying game engineering. I use almost all the math I learned, but the most useful part was getting to work on game projects from start to finish with like-minded peers.
Following the string of mercenary contracts you completed after college, how did you convince Bungie that you could be one of our like-minded peers?
One benefit of having worked with so many teams in the past is that I have colleagues spread across the industry. I’m sure having a few referrals already working at Bungie didn’t hurt.
Who you know is certainly a crucial component to any worthy job search. What was the hardest part about our testing what you know in the Bungie Interview?
Waking up. I was in and out of crunching at my prior job and my already late flight to Seattle was delayed. If I recall, I got about four hours sleep at the hotel before having to wake up and meet everyone here.
Thriving on less sleep than we would like is part of the experience, after all. What is the most rewarding thing about the many waking hours that you spend at Bungie?
Anytime I get to make something that hasn’t been done in a game before is a pleasure. With our size and talent pool, we have the luxury to push the industry forward.
This next question can be a hard one to answer, given the shroud of secrecy that blankets our development floor, but can you describe a day in your life in our studio?
Working on gameplay, I get to interact with a pretty broad group around the studio which keeps each day interesting. It’s a pretty great place to work, but we do keep it a bit too dark and cold for my tastes after living in L.A.
Seattle is not famous for its sunny skies, to be sure. Is there something about your life at Bungie that makes up for your newfound Vitamin D deficit? What aspect of your job makes you the proudest?
Every time I get to work alongside the design team to prove a new feature is satisfying. I always find more pride in the player-facing result of my work than the engineering it took to get there.
New features require new skills. Is this environment a place where you can find new toys to add to your professional sandbox?
Games are always changing and I do my best to play and analyze the latest and greatest. I follow the consumer facing news and churn through whatever I can get my hands on regarding the development process. Then, if I’m lucky, something in that mess of information will allow me to think about or solve a problem from a different perspective.
It’s a safe bet that there are aspiring developers among our readers who pour through that news with a similarly analytical mind. What wisdom would you share with those people who dream of being one of your like-minded peers?
Work on a simple game on your own or in school and take it from start to finish. Most people find it to be nothing like they hoped, but for a few it’s fantastic.
Thanks for opening a window into your world, Ryan. Before we release you to wrestle with new and exciting code, please engineer a solution to this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
It depends on the task at hand and the amount of time available to do it. If you need something done fast with few mistakes, experience is very handy. If you want to break new ground and do something new, you’ll want talent. Work ethic, however, will only get you so far without the experience or talent to back it up.
If your experience matches Ryan’s, you may well find your calling in our sandbox as one of his fellow engineers. If hobby programming is not your bag, there are many facets to making a game, and Bungie needs people to own all of them. Our Breaking In
archive is always a great place to learn about all of the like and unlike minds that come together on our current project.