Contact Harvest Prologue
Posted by lukems at 10/30/2007 9:11 AM PDT
***


More than 25 years before Halo 1, humanity was locked in a bitter civil war. Brother against brother – a vicious, bloody scrap. In an odd sort of way, the Covenant saved us from ourselves...and then made everything worse.

One of the soldiers fighting this war was Avery Johnson, aka Sergeant Johnson from the games. In large part, “Contact Harvest” is the story of how Avery became the soldier we know him to be. It’s a sometimes grim and gritty tale, so younger folks might want to check with their parents before reading any further.

That being said, if you do like this prologue, please consider buying the book (which is, as the title suggests, the complete story of first contact between us and the Covenant on the human planet, Harvest). It was a labor of love for me, and I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

-Joseph

***

Joseph's book is available at your local bookstore now and also available at numerous online retailers. Now, onto the prologue for Contact Harvest.



PROLOGUE

 UNSC COLONY WORLD TRIBUTE, EPSILON ERIDANUS SYSTEM, JUNE 16, 2524 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

 

The marines were in the air before dawn. Two four-man squads clipped to a pair of Hornet fast-attack aircraft: compact, high- wing planes that remained nimble despite the marines’ combined bulk. For close to an hour the Hornets had matched the manic undulations of a volcanic plain and now—as they jerked back and forth to avoid the petrified trunks of a forest burned long ago—Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson had to work to keep his boots planted on his Hornet’s starboard landing skid.  Like the other marines, Avery wore charcoal fatigues and matte-black impact plating that bulwarked everything vital from his neck to his knees. His helmet encased his recently shaved head, and its silver-mirrored visor completely obscured his square jaw and brown eyes. The only place Avery’s black skin showed was at his wrists where his leather gloves didn’t quite touch his shirtsleeves.

But even with the gloves, Avery’s fingers were cramped with cold. Squeezing his hands into fists to keep his blood flowing, he checked the mission clock in his visor’s heads-up display (HUD). Just as the luminous blue numbers hit 00:57:16, the planes crested a line of crumbling hills, and Avery and the other marines got their first line-of-sight view of their objective: one of Tribute’s struggling industrial settlements; and, somewhere inside the town, a suspected Insurrectionist bomb-shop.

Even before the Hornets’ pilots triggered green “ready” icons in the marines’ HUDs, Avery and his team were already in motion; slapping magazines into their weapons, yanking charging handles, and toggling safety switches—a well-rehearsed symphony of preparatory clicks and snaps that went unheard in the rushing wind as the Hornets hurtled down the back slope of the hills and came to abrupt, nose-up stops on the edge of town.  The thrusters on the Hornets’ wingtips rotated to keep the air-craft steady as the marines unclipped from their hard-points, leapt onto the frost-covered pumice and began to run.  Avery was the leader of the strike team’s alpha squad, and he took point. Seeing how his own armor stood out in the pale, pre-dawn light, he knew speed was essential if both squads were going to reach the workshop undetected. So he set a brisk pace, hurdled a low, chain-link fence, and wove quickly through piles of plastic crates and pallets that littered the parking lot of what appeared to be nothing more than a rundown vehicle repair shop.

By the time Avery and his squad reached the shop’s front door, they were winded. If it weren’t for the marines’ helmets, their breath would have billowed bone-white in the frigid air.  They didn’t usually wear heavy blast gear for rapid, airborne strikes. But the Insurrectionists had started booby-trapping their bomb shops, and this time, the marines’ commanding officer (CO) didn’t want them taking any chances.  Avery brought his chin down on a pressure-pad inside his helmet, sending a short burst of static across the squads’ encrypted radio COM channel: an “in position” signal for Staff Sergeant Byrne, the leader of bravo squad, now positioned by the work- shop’s back entrance. Avery waited for Byrne’s two-burst response then he pushed away from the workshop’s pitted polycrete wall, raised a knee to his chest, and smashed his boot against the thin metal door, just above the lock.  The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) had suggested there would be stiff resistance. But it turned out most of the Insurrectionists inside the workshop were unarmed. Those that were carried snub-nosed automatic pistols; inconsequential weapons whose rounds simply clattered off Avery’s armor as he and his squad sidled through the shattered door like hulking crabs, weapons up and scanning.

What the marines knew that ONI didn’t was the real threat would come from the Insurrectionists who weren’t firing—the ones with free hands who might trigger hidden explosives and blow the workshop to smithereens. The one Insurrectionist who dared took a three-round burst from Avery’s silenced submachine gun and flopped back onto a steel worktable, arms outstretched and twitching. Avery watched a small, cylindrical detonator slip slowly from the man’s lolling fist...and hit the floor with a harmless ping.

Major threat neutralized, the marines refocused and let the pistol-wielding “Innies” have it.

That’s what Avery had learned to call the Insurrectionists— a slur that was only funny when you considered just how much the Innies wanted out—to be free of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), the agency responsible for security on Tribute and all of humanity’s colony-worlds. Of course the marines had other, shorter and cruder names for the rebels this current campaign—codenamed TREBUCHET—was designed to crush.  But they all served the same purpose: it was easier to kill another human being when you didn’t think of them as human.  An Innie was an enemy, Avery thought. A thing you killed before it killed you.

The young Staff Sergeant had said these words so many times he’d almost started to believe them. 

Avery’s M7 submachine gun was a light firearm. But its five-millimeter, full-metal-jacket rounds ripped ugly holes in his targets’ powder blue clean-suits. Some of the Innies Avery targeted dropped like stones. Others seemed to dance to the bullets’ dull percussion, spinning bloody pirouettes onto the workshop’s oil-stained floor.

Start to finish, the firefight lasted less than ten seconds. A dozen Insurrectionists lay dead; the marines hadn’t suffered any casualties.

“Hell.” Staff Sergeant Byrne’s big Irish brogue filled the COM. “We didn’t even change magazines.”

To the perspiring officers in the cramped tactical operations center (TOC) aboard the UNSC corvette Bum Rush in high orbit above Tribute, it did seem like a perfect takedown—a rare victory in what had so far been a frustrating cat-and-mouse conflict. But then Avery cautioned, “ARGUS online.  Haven’t seen anything yet.”

The Staff Sergeant pulled his chin off the COM-switch in- side his helmet and continued sweeping the air around him with a palm-sized wedge of black plastic perforated by microscopic holes. This was a tactical version of an ARGUS device: a portable laser spectrometer used to sniff out traces of explosive chemical compounds. Larger, more powerful units were deployed at Tribute’s spaceports, highway toll-plazas, and maglev train stations—all the major choke points of the colony’s transportation grid.

Despite the density of coverage, the Innie bomb-makers had become quite adept at fooling the system by concealing their explosives in ever-changing mixtures of nonvolatile compounds.  Every time they hit a target with something an ARGUS thought was no more dangerous than, say, a bar of soap, ONI would analyze the explosive residue and add the new chemical signature to the detection database. Unfortunately, this was a reactive strategy that heavily favored the Insurrectionists, who were constantly changing their recipes.

Avery frowned at his ARGUS. The thing was clicking loudly, trying to get a lock on what it believed might be a new mix. But the firefight had filled the air with an invisible soup of chemical possibilities. The three other marines in alpha-squad were conducting a visual search, checking the workshop’s clusters of auto synthesizers and machine tools. But so far they hadn’t found anything that looked—as best as they could tell—like a bomb.

Avery took a deep breath then relayed the bad news to the TOC. “ARGUS is blind. Please advise, over.” The Staff Sergeant had been fighting the Insurrection long enough to know what would happen next—the things they would have to do to get the actionable intelligence his officers required. But he also knew these were the kinds of things a smart marine didn’t do without a direct order.

“ONI believes the ordinance is in play,” replied Avery’s CO, a battalion Lieutenant Colonel named Aboim. “Take the gloves off, Johnson. My authorization.”

While Avery’s squad searched the workshop, Byrne’s quickly brought the four Innies who had survived the firefight to their knees in the center of the shop floor. All had their clean-suits’ hoods removed and their wrists bound together behind their backs with black plastic ties. Avery met Byrne’s mirror-visored gaze and nodded his head. Without a moment’s hesitation, Byrne raised one of his thick-soled boots and brought it down on one of the nearest Innie’s outstretched calves. 

The man waited a full second before crying out, as if he were, like Avery, surprised that the thud of Byrne’s boot hitting the floor was louder than the near-simultaneous snap of his leg.  Then the Innie screamed, loud and long. Byrne waited patiently for him to take a breath. Then, through his helmet’s exterior speaker he asked, “The bombs. Where are they?”

Avery guessed one broken leg would be enough. But the Innie was tough—uneager to rat to agents of a government he despised.  He didn’t beg for mercy or toss out any of the usual anti-imperial invectives. He just sat there, glowering into Byrne’s visor, as the Staff Sergeant broke his other leg. Without his feet to balance him, the man toppled face-first onto the floor. Avery heard the sound of teeth snapping—like sticks of chalk against a black- board.

“Next, it’s your arms,” Byrne said matter-of-factly. He knelt beside the man, palmed his head, and wrenched it sideways.  “Then I get creative.”

“Tires. In the tires.” The words bubbled from the Innie’s mouth.

The marines in Avery’s squad immediately moved to the stacks of large tires placed around the workshop’s walls, lifted them gently to the floor, and began probing their wheel wells. But Avery knew the Innies were smarter than that. Taking Byrne’s victim at his word, he guessed the tires were the bombs—that the Innies had mixed the explosives into their synthetic rubber treads—a devious innovation his ARGUS soon confirmed and uploaded to the TOC.

The tires’ explosive compound wasn’t in the detection database. But the ONI officer advising the mission couldn’t have been more pleased. For once, they were a step ahead of the enemy, and it took less than a minute before they got a positive ID. One of dozens of aerial ARGUS drones patrolling the main highway into Tribute’s capital city Casbah caught a whiff of the compound in skid marks created by a sixteen-wheel hauler as it veered into the parking lot of a Jim Dandy roadside diner. Some, if not all, of its tires were bombs waiting to be blown.

As the drone—a tiny disk, a meter wide, kept aloft by a single, shrouded rotor—circled high above the hauler, it detected a second trace of the explosive inside the Jim Dandy. Scrutinizing a live feed of the drone’s thermal camera overlaid with ARGUS data, the officers in the TOC determined the trace originated from the restaurant’s crowded food counter—from a man sitting three stools from the front door.

“Marines, get back to your birds,” ordered Lt. Colonel Aboim. “You’ve got a new target.”

“What about the prisoners?” Byrne asked. The blood from the Innie’s fractured legs and ruined mouth had pooled darkly around his boots.

The next person to speak was the operation’s ONI representative—an officer Avery had never met in person. Like most ONI spooks, he preferred to remain as anonymous as possible.  “Is the one who talked still alive?” the officer asked.

“Affirmative,” Avery replied.

“Pack him up, Staff Sergeant. Neutralize the rest.” There was no sympathy in the officer’s voice—not for the kneeling Innies nor their marine executioners. Avery clenched his jaw as Byrne switched his M7 to semi-automatic and shot each Innie twice in the chest. The three men fell backwards and did not move. But Byrne gave them each a dead check—another single bullet to their foreheads—to be sure. 

Avery couldn’t help staring at the carnage, but he did his best not to let the torn blue fabric of the Innies’ clean-suits and the white smoke curling from Byrne’s weapon imprint in his mind’s eye. Memories had a habit of coming back, and this was a scene he would rather not revisit.

As Byrne hefted their lone Innie prisoner over his shoulder, Avery motioned the other marines out the workshop to the waiting Hornets. Less than fifteen minutes after they’d dropped in, the two squads were clipped back into place. The Hornet’s thrusters surged, and they streaked back the way they came. But this time they flew for speed, high over the volcanic plain. 

 
The officers in the TOC briefly debated whether or not the drone circling the Jim Dandy should destroy the hauler if it tried to roll back on the highway before the marines arrived.  The four-lane road was snarled with commuter traffic, and just one of the drone’s Lancet micro-missiles was powerful enough to gut a main battle tank. Even an exact hit on the hauler’s cab might touch off its tires, killing dozens of people in the surrounding vehicles. Far better, the ONI officer argued, to flatten the hauler in the Jim Dandy’s parking lot. But Lt. Colonel Aboim was just as worried about shrapnel hitting the crowded restaurant.

Fortunately, the target individual spent the Hornets’ twenty-minute flight eating a leisurely breakfast. According to the real-time feed from the drone’s camera now mirrored in the corner of Avery’s HUD, the man was just finishing his second cup of coffee when the Hornets buzzed up behind a smoked-glass, multistory office building on the opposite side of the highway.

The feed was a high-angle thermal picture of the restaurant’s interior in which hot objects biased white and cold items black.  The target individual was very pale, as were the food counter’s other patrons. The lukewarm coffee in the man’s mug appeared dark gray—which meant he was due for a refill or was about to settle his tab and stand up. But most important, Avery noticed he was surrounded by a red glow, an indication from the drone’s ARGUS that he was covered with explosive residue.  Avery guessed the man had recently been at the raided work- shop; maybe he’d even helped fit the explosive tires on the hauler. 

As Avery’s Hornet rotated sideways to face the office building, he strained against the black nylon cords clipped to his shoulder plates and loosed an M99 Stanchion gauss-rifle from the aircraft’s wing. The weapon, a two-meter long tube of linked magnetic coils, accelerated small projectiles at very high speed. While it was technically an anti-materiel weapon designed for eliminating bombs and other ordnance at a distance, it was also extremely effective against so-called “soft” human targets as well.

Avery lowered the Stanchion on its shock-absorbing armature and hugged it to his shoulder. Immediately, the rifle’s targeting system established a wireless link to his helmet’s HUD, and a thin blue line angled across the drone’s feed. This was the M99’s aiming vector—the path its five-point-four-millimeter tungsten rounds would travel. Avery angled the rifle down until the vector turned green: an indication that his first shot would pass directly through the target individual’s chest. Almost as if the man could feel the invisible line enter through his left armpit and exit just below his right, he swiped his credit chip against the counter and swiveled around on his stool. 

Avery thumbed a solid-state switch in the Stanchion’s stock.  The weapon chirped twice, indicating its battery was fully charged. He performed two calming breaths, and whispered:

“Target acquired. Request permission to fire.” In the few seconds it took Lt. Colonel Aboim to respond, the target sauntered to the Jim Dandy’s wooden double-doors. Avery watched him hold the entrance open for a family of four. He imagined the man smiled—said something kind to the two parents as they hurried after their ravenous and rowdy boys.

“Permission granted,” Aboim replied. “Fire at will.”

Avery refocused and increased the pressure of his gloved finger on the Stanchion’s trigger. He waited for the man to stroll down a short flight of steps—until a hash mark on the aiming vector indicated his first shot would angle harmlessly into the parking lot. As the man reached into his baggy cover- alls, perhaps for the hauler’s key-fob, Avery fired.

The Stanchion’s slug exited the barrel with a muffled crack and punched through two of the office building’s steel- reinforced, polycrete floors with no adverse effect on its trajectory. Traveling at fifteen thousand meters per second, the round whistled over the highway and hit the target at the apex of his sternum. The man flew to pieces as the round buried itself in a rooster tail of pulverized asphalt. 

Instantly, both Hornets surged up and over the office building and raced across the highway; Avery’s banked into a covering orbit while Byrne’s plunged toward the restaurant. The Irish Staff Sergeant leapt from his landing-skid while the aircraft was still a few meters above the ground and fast-walked his squad to the hauler. Bits of pink and white gore covered the vehicles’ cab.  Ragged pieces of brown coveralls clung to the side of its cargo trailer. One of the target individual’s arms had wedged between two tires.

“We’re secure,” Byrne growled over the COM. 

“Negative,” Avery countered. Checking the drone’s leaden feed, he noticed a persistent red glow near the dead man’s stool. “There’s a bomb inside the restaurant.”

Byrne and his squad sprinted to the Jim Dandy’s entrance and burst through its double doors. The diners twisted in their seats and gawked as the armored marines emerged from the vending machine-packed foyer. One of the waitresses held out a menu, an involuntary gesture that earned a rough shove from Byrne as he muscled past. The Staff Sergeant’s ARGUS clattered like an enraged insect as he pulled something from under the food- counter: a purse, burgundy mesh with a golden chain. 

At that moment, the door to the restaurant’s bathrooms at the far end of the counter swung open. A middle-aged woman in black pants and a cropped corduroy coat stepped through, casually flicking water from her freshly washed hands. When she saw the armored hulks of bravo squad, she stopped mid stride. Her heavily mascaraed eyes darted toward the purse—her purse. 

“On your knees!” Byrne bellowed. “Hands on your head!”

But as the Staff Sergeant lowered the purse to the counter and brought his M7 to bear, the woman leapt toward a table where the family of four had just gotten settled. She hooked an arm around the neck of the youngest boy and wrenched him out of his chair. He couldn’t have been any more than four years old. His little feet kicked as he began to choke. 

Byrne cursed, loud enough for the officers in the TOC to hear. If he hadn’t been burdened by armor, he would have dropped the woman before she moved. But now she had a hostage and command of the situation. 

“Get back!” the woman shrieked, “Do you hear me?” With her free hand she pulled a detonator from her coat—the same size and shape as the one Avery had seen in the workshop. She held the device in front of the boy’s face. “Get back or I’ll kill them all!”

For a moment, no one moved. Then, as if the woman’s threat had pulled some invisible linchpin keeping all the diners locked to their seats, they sprung up and scrambled for the Jim Dandy’s exits.

Avery watched the chaos unfold in his HUD. He saw the bright white shapes of more than thirty terrified civilians surge around the bravo squad, driving them back and confusing their aim.

“Johnson. Take the shot!” Byrne thundered over the COM.  As Avery’s Hornet orbited the restaurant, the Stanchion’s aiming-vector rotated around the woman, piercing the axis of her chest. But her heat signature was almost indistinguishable from the boy’s.

Suddenly, Avery saw the ghostly image of the captured boy’s father rise from his chair, hands raised to show the Innie woman he was unarmed. Avery couldn’t hear the father’s pleas (they were too soft for the bravo squad’s helmet microphones) but his calmness only increased the woman’s panic. She began backing toward the restroom, waving the detonator, her threats now so furious they were incomprehensible. 

“Nail the -blam!-,” Byrne shouted. “Or I will!”

“Firing,” Avery said. But instead he watched the aiming-vector pivot, waiting for an angle that might spare the boy. “Firing,” he repeated, hoping his words would stay Byrne’s trigger-finger.  But Avery didn’t fire. Not immediately. And in his moment’s pause the father jumped forward, grasping for the detonator.

Avery could only stare as the woman tumbled backward, father on top and the boy pressed between. He heard the rattle of Byrne’s M7, then the muffled thump of the bomb in the purse followed by the earthshaking boom of the hauler’s tires. The drone’s feed bleached painfully bright, slamming Avery’s eyes shut. Then a wall of shock and heat tossed him back hard against the Hornet’s airframe.

The last thing Avery remembered before he slacked inside his armor was the sound of thrusters fighting for altitude—a noise more like a scream than a moan.  

 

###

Breaking In - Reed Shingledecker 

Posted by DeeJ at 12/18/2012 11:37 AM PST

Melting your face with FX...



What’s in a name? An artist by any other name could create environmental effects that are just as sweet. Yet, you have to admit that this guy carries a moniker through life that you’ll not soon forget. We can only hope, for all of our sakes, that his work on our next game will leave an equally indelible impression. Let’s see if he’s up to the challenge…

You there! Identify yourself, and tell us what you’re doing here.

My name is Reed Shingledecker and I’m an FX Artist here at Bungie. I’ll assist in bringing beautiful worlds to life with environmental effects and, occasionally, create a grand explosion that melts faces off.

Thank you for making our game a beautiful place in which to have one’s face melted. Are you an environmentalist in the real world as well? Or just in ours?

Outside of work, I’m usually pretty laid back. I recently picked up playing the violin, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, it’s very rewarding when you can play a song that people recognize and enjoy. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest.

It sounds like you are more of an indoor guy, then. You don’t hear a lot of kids saying that they want to be “Environment Effects Artists” when they grow up. What did your younger self used to dream about doing with his grown up self?

I really wanted to be a professional baseball player when I was younger. I played second base and I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. When I got into high school, I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen after not making the team. I shifted my studies to becoming a chef. I was sure to attend a culinary school, until the day I watched Pixar’s Toy Story. That movie altered my life path to where I am today.

Unfortunately for your ambitions, the only education that Disney provides leads to theme park experience. Where, then, did you decide to seek higher learning that would enable you to melt faces with digital entertainment?

I received my Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institute of Portland. There, I learned most of the principal tools in 3DS Max and Maya. I still use principals of animation and scale, form, and perspective. All of that is extremely useful in creating realistic art in games.

Are we the first place that has had you creating art for games? Or was there another stop for you along the path that leads from watching a Pixar movie to working on our Art Team?

Before working at Bungie, I spent three and a half years at a small FX outsourcing studio in Seattle. I was more than blessed to work on eleven different games: including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2, Darksiders, XCOM, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. I was a level builder on the Call of Duty titles. On all the others, I worked on FX. I was fortunate enough to work under industry vets with fifteen years of experience. They taught me everything I know about creating awesome art.

You’ve got some great games under your professional belt. Was that, along with the dashing name at the top of your resume, enough to convince us that we should take a look at you? How did you get your foot into our heavily-guarded door?

I just kept applying. I must have applied to Bungie twice a year for 6 years. As my portfolio grew, so did my quality of work. I kept removing the older work which wasn’t as good as my current work. I think my work on XCOM is what might have impressed them most.

We’ll never tell. It takes more than a kick ass portfolio to close the deal here, as you know. Do you remember the most challenging moments from your interview loop? Have you repressed those memories like a traumatic episode?

It took me about a year of interviewing at different places to feel confident in my work. I was a little afraid of change but I wanted this job so bad that I wasn’t going to let myself down. The interview was surprisingly easy and their interest in me was apparent so it went really smooth.

You’re shattering our image as a tough sell, but I won’t ask you to fabricate any nightmare stories. Now that you have your dream job, what’s the best thing about coming into work every day?

Getting to work with the most talented people in the industry. I can look over my monitor and see a lot of mind-blowing work that has yet to make it into the game. It makes me work just that much harder to keep up with the quality bar here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Describe a day in the life in our studio.

I usually show up around nine, turn on my lamp, and smile really big knowing I’m at the greatest place on Earth. The studio is already buzzing with creativity. People are chatting about their night or about what they are going to be working on. I start by doing a quick play through of the level I am working on to see if anything has changed. Then for the next couple of hours I work on my task list until lunch. Being a new hire, I usually go out for lunch, since the company pays if you go with someone new every time. After lunch, it’s more creating FX tasks. During the day someone may or may not drop something and the studio will do a unified clap for that individual. It’s quite amusing. I then head out the door a little after six.

Sounds like you’re a stranger to crunch. Give us time. We’ll challenge you. Of course, we’ll give enough perks to help you survive. Which one do you think will help you go the distance?

My favorite perk is by the Bungie love. Being surprised with an onsite barista or random t-shirts is amazing. Every time an email comes in about a surprise I just sit back and smile thinking that I can’t believe this is happening to me.

Oh, it’s happening to you alright. We might have to do a follow up to this piece to see if you’re still this satisfied next year. We have a lot to build, and that’ll require each of us to elevate our own personal game. How do you plan to evolve your work while you work?

I try to stay ahead of the curve by seeing what others are doing and trying to do better. If I cannot do better, I ask them to show me how to. I’m always asking questions and also answering them when others ask. As I learn a new technique or a solution to a problem, I can take that knowledge forward and that becomes my quality bar. It like a giant never ending staircase and it so funny to look back at stuff you thought was awesome six months ago think that it’s not nearly as good as you could have done today.

You’ve made your job sound just as fun as some people might have imagined. You may have altered a path or two of your own through the course of this conversation – like your very own Toy Story. What would you suggest to the inspired?

To break into this industry I believe you have to really want it. It’s hard, there are long hours, crazy deadlines, and lots of coffee. But the reward is beyond amazing. Seeing people line up at midnight in the freezing cold to buy a game you worked on is an amazing feeling. When trying to break in, I made the classic mistake of having everything I had ever made in my portfolio. I quickly realized that I need to make better quality art and only show the very best. I ran through games and tried to recreate what I was seeing. Once I could make a model with a texture that would ship in a game, I knew I was ready to submit a portfolio that would be taken seriously.

Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent, Work Ethic, Experience. Talent will get you in the door. Work ethic will show your willingness to learn and Experience is a combination of the previous two.

We’re as thrilled to have Reed on the team as he is to be here with us. He’s not kidding about this being a nice place to work. If he’s sold you on the idea of making games for a living, but you don’t fancy yourself an artist, there’s no reason to lose hope. You can always browse the Breaking In archive in search of many paths to walk.

Tags: Breaking In

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Breaking In - Andy Howell 

Posted by DeeJ at 12/11/2012 8:46 AM PST

Make me a match...



At Bungie, we believe that anything that's fun to do is more fun to do with your friends. This obviously includes playing a great game. But making a game that you can play with your friends over the Internet is no easy feat. Fortunately, we have can-do leaders like this guy to make sure we get it right…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Andy Howell. I’m the Matchmaking Test Lead here at Bungie! My team ensures that Matchmaking in our game is painless and fun. Without us, you would never be able to play with your friends. We help to push for quality across the entire matchmaking process, from start to finish of a game.

Sorry I can’t tell you more, you know... super-secret stuff.

I know all too well, my friend. Keeping secrets is a part of life at Bungie right now, but someday we’ll get to enjoy a conversation with our community about what we’ve been developing. Until then, how will you be passing the time?

Super-secret stuff. And Star Trek, other science fiction, motorcycles, fast cars, photography, comic books (mostly DC), and weird giant robot models. I also am very interested in honing my skills. I volunteer for many projects and make different “tech demos” and mods outside of work. I love breaking and building new fun things, usually in that order, followed by breaking them again.

With all this talk of breaking things and seeing them fixed, it would seem that you were born to be a Test Lead. Has this always been your plan? What did your inner seven year old dream of being?

A Starship captain, for reals. I wanted to protect the earth from aliens and explore the galaxy. Find strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civil… you get the idea.

It does sound familiar. Since mankind didn’t get around to creating a Starfleet you could enlist in by the time you reached a working age, what sort of schooling did you seek for yourself?

I studied Computer Science and Multimedia Production. I use what I learned EVERY DAY. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was tailoring an education to assist me in my future career, funny how that works.

A lot of people would call that lucky, rather than funny. Tell us how that worked for you. How did that future career start to take shape?

I started out in Information Technologies for education, teaching computers how to use teachers in their class rooms. Wait, I mean the other way around, maybe…

Then I moved on to become a multimedia producer for a church, which was really fun. Not only did I get to help people, but I was able to create cool new multimedia experiences. When I was laid off due to downsizing, I found out that Microsoft was looking for testers for their new super-secret project on the (then new) Xbox. I was testing Xbox LIVE functionality across all games a few weeks later.

The migration from working on Xbox LIVE to working at Bungie makes total sense, but can you recall the steps that led you to us?

I was found by a headhunter who needed to fill a contract role at Bungie. Next thing I knew, I was helping to finish up Halo: Reach. After we shipped the game, I went on to work for a few other game studios. However, Bungie had wanted me to come back, and the timing was finally right!

Welcome back. We missed you, but not enough to let you sidestep the standard interrogation in our interview chambers. Can you face those memories and provide would-be applicant with a warning about the horrors of our recruitment process?

Here at Bungie, we like to ask “interesting” questions. It helps us know how you think. My interrogation was an all-day process, so I would say my last few interviews started to get harder since I was very tired. I had just flown to Seattle from Rhode Island - the other side of the world almost – so I had Jet Lag, and my brain was fried from a day filled with questions. Someone asked me a logical testing question about a device I had never heard of or even thought to test. At first, I hit a brick wall. Then I started to think outside of the box. Obviously I pulled through.

Now that you’re in the box, what’s the best thing about the work that you do for Bungie?

I love that we take time to play our game here. When we bring a new system online, it’s great to see people playing with it, or interacting with it – and even better if they aren’t even aware of it. It’s very rewarding. We create fun, and I get to see it on the faces of my co-workers.

You paint a vivid big picture, but what is one day like around here?

FUN! I love what I do. I love the games we make. I can’t imagine doing anything other than making video games. Our average day is to break things and do science, what could be better than that?

It sounds like you’re pretty happy with your Bungie experience. And yet, we go well out of our way to keep guys like you content. What’s your favorite perk as a member of the team?

I would say it has to be the Bungie love we receive. For instance, Bungie will arrange for pre-screenings of movies, outside events, and other fun group activities.

What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? Describe that one moment in which someone appreciate your work, and assured you that you belonged here…

I would have to say when we work on a bug that ends up being a hornet’s nest, and we have to spend time unraveling the issue. Once we get to the core and can identify the problem with certainty, I am satisfied in my job. I try to recreate that moment every day.

Another thing we need to do every day is enrich our skills. What is your plan to become ever more dangerous to the bugs you’re hunting?

I talked a bit above about how I try to expand my wheel house with personal projects. I also spend a lot of time just playing video games. I’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, so that can be a task at this point. However, when I just play games, I find it makes me better at my job. The simple joy of playing a game makes me want to make our game as fun as I can.

That sounds like hard work, but it’s work that many people would like to do. What would you tell them to help set them on the path of becoming Test Lead?

Give it everything you have. I would suggest this to anyone trying to do anything they’re passionate about. You REALLY need to grab on with both hands and hold on to that dream. Learn all that you can about game development, build mods, play betas and alpha tests, read books. Do what you can to enrich yourself, because just wanting it is never enough. Dreamers just want it. Doers will build it and make it happen. You will never get what you want by just wanting it.

Andy is here because our games won’t test themselves, so we must return him to his daily pursuit of that perfect moment. While our Test Teams are the bedrock of our development process, Bungie needs doers of many different varieties. The Breaking In archive is a great place to learn all about the different kinds of fun that beckon from our development floor. We need doers of all kinds.

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Breaking In - Jennifer Ash 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/27/2012 1:20 PM PST

You can't pick your own brain...



Making a video game is not an exact science, but that doesn't stop us from trying to come close at Bungie. Before our next game makes its way into your hands, we'll run wave after wave of lab rats through its maze (that’s a metaphor, not a clue). Those beta testers will show us the dead ends and point out the tastiest pieces of cheese. One of the proctors of these wicked experiments will be this nice lady, who only recently brought her white coat into our lab…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Jennifer Ash and I’m an Associate User Researcher. In this role, I look at how people play and perceive games. I like to pick your brain. User Research for games is particularly challenging, because everyone has their own interpretation of events. Some ways we explore this are analysis and visualization of game data, eye tracking, user tests, and surveys. Through our studies, we hope to create the best game experience for you!

When you're not picking (or analyzing) our brains, how do you amuse yours?

I enjoy playing board and video games, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching movies, TV, or Anime.

Let’s talk about the journey that led you to us. Bungie is rarely the first step in a career path. What were some of your first steps?

Prior to Bungie, I was the curriculum owner of the Academic Initiative for System z team at IBM. We connected professors, clients, and students in meaningful ways to aid with enterprise skill obtainment. For the last two years, I was also attending NYU for my Master’s degree while designing educational tools and games. Before that, I was a User Experience Designer for z/OS at IBM, which meant performing heuristic evaluations, designing prototypes, and performing user testing on various parts of the operating system.

Each experience provided something that helped prepare me for this job. Both industry and academia contributed to different communication and people skills over a variety of situations, which is useful in pretty much any role. Working on school projects, academic research projects, and client presentations required me to learn new skills and adapt to new situations.

It’s hard to imagine that you chose this adventure for yourself as a child. How did these goals come into focus?

Up until Junior High, I wanted to become a teacher. I’ve always been interested in math and science, so my dad suggested looking into engineering, which seemed a good fit, so I pursued that through freshman year of college. I was particularly interested in animatronics, combining robotics with behavior. Game development was a natural progression when I found out I could combine all of my interests in one career path!

You mentioned the value of your experiences in academia. Would you be so kind as to recall your full trek to higher learning?

I have a Master’s degree in Digital Media Design for Learning from New York University, focusing on design for games for learning. My undergraduate degree was a dual Bachelor of Science degree in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences with a concentration in Human-Computer Interaction, and Psychology, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

I still use a lot of what I learned from both majors. Game design and user research both require pulling from a wide variety of skills, so having a breadth of knowledge from computer science, engineering, cognitive science, psychology, and game design has helped a lot.

We’re pretty lucky to have a person of your skills to help us create a game that will make sense to the player. How did that courtship start? Can you tell us how you stood out among the people who want to work for Bungie?

I used purple ink on my resume. No, in all seriousness, we don’t get told what specifically made us stand out as an applicant. If I were to speculate, it was probably the breadth and depth of my resume/experience. I’ve always been focused on game design and user research. I am knowledgeable in a variety of programming languages which helps when performing data analysis and tooling. I have experience with research and scientific procedure for user studies. While a game design focus can make you a wary candidate in user research, understanding where the design team is coming from in their decision making process can be useful as long as you can stay objective. A lot comes down to timing, and being at the right place at the right time, but knowing the company and skills necessary helps a lot.

It helps get you in the door, but it doesn’t guarantee that you can stay. You have to survive an interview loop to enjoy that privilege. What was the hardest part about your trial as an applicant?

The interview questions. Some of the questions are more about your thought process and considerations, so it’s very difficult to know if what you gave was a ‘right’ answer or not. Not to mention the interview lasts for a good majority of the day, with a wide variety of interviewers, so you never know what to expect next. It’s both exhausting and exciting at the same time.

Your exhaustion has served you well. Now that you are one of us, what is the most exciting thing about researching the user?

Seeing people enjoy the game! We get to interact with users at very early stages, and it’s great to see how people feel about the game, and the changes made over time based upon early feedback or discoveries from our studies.

You speak of how your work evolves over time, but how would you describe just one day in the lab?

I typically get into work and grab a cup of coffee and read through emails. After, it comes down to tackling one of many projects, be it prepping a study, performing data analysis/visualization on a previous study, or playing a new build of the game. Then there’s lunch, which may or may not involve a newbie lunch (for the first 6 months of employment, teams can take a new employee out to lunch for free). After lunch, its back to working on projects, with an afternoon break to grab coffee with my team. Throughout the day, there’s usually multiple discussions regarding various upcoming or past studies, or hunting down people to find out further details regarding specifics of the game. With an open floor work environment, it makes it easy to start a conversation to discuss a particular aspect.

Other than the office-less floor plan and the free coffee, what’s the best thing about working here?

The people. The expertise and talent of the people who work here is incredible. There’s a high concentration of passionate, knowledgeable people that makes problem solving and brainstorming of any kind extremely effective.

I know you just got here, but is it too early to ask about your proudest moment in our studio?

I MacGyver’d a Halloween costume in a weekend made of spray paint, Christmas ornaments, electric candles, epoxy and a black dress that people actually recognized.

Ah, yes! You were our human Dalek (ardent fans of Dr. Who can plunder our Facebook page for more details). Aside from impromptu fashion challenges, how do you plan to enrich your skills in the service of great games?

I’ve always kept myself busy with side projects and volunteer opportunities. My Master’s program stays in touch via Facebook, and that always provides a number of interesting developments across academia and industry. I’ve found industry conferences are useful, not just for the information obtained, but the people I meet and the energy and motivation from being amongst others with similar passions and skills.

I had little doubt that you would keep the tip of your spear sharp. Would grindstone would you recommend to aspiring user researchers who want to be just like you when they grow up?

Don’t rely on just school work to get you in. It is a VERY competitive industry, and breaking in is often the most difficult part. Having side projects or research projects can really help demonstrate the unique skills you can bring to a company. Understanding what skills are necessary for the position you’re interested in helps a lot. And don’t stop networking. The games industry is still fairly small, all things considered, and it doesn’t hurt to know people.

The lab awaits your triumphant return, so we will conclude what has been a lovely chat with this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent and Experience could be interchangeable. Experience is necessary because many best practices aren’t well documented in this field yet, so having the knowledge of techniques or analyses that work well for a particular area is useful. Talent is useful because with any study that involves subjective data, it takes some intuition to know where to push for more information and what is important. Good work ethic is necessary for any role to be successful, so not as important as the other two to user research specifically.

We have picked Jennifer’s brain enough for now. It’s time to return her to the eager test-subjects who are lining up to do their part for Science. If her story has inspired you to become one of her coworkers, but Science is not your thing, don’t lose hope. We need all types at Bungie, and you stand a good chance of finding someone with skills like yours in the Breaking In archive.

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Breaking In - Drew Smith 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/14/2012 11:28 AM PST

Producing our message to the world...



Someday, Bungie will emerge from behind this self-imposed curtain of secrecy with wondrous tidings of an impending game. There will be thunderous announcements, introspective discussions about our creative process, and cryptic forecasts about the adventures that await you as the player. When we cross that glorious threshold, we’ll need to be organized enough to not trip all over ourselves. To keep us on our feet, we lured this fresh face into our midst…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Drew Smith. I’m a Producer charged with managing Marketing, PR, and the Writing Team. My goal here is to build out a schedule, facilitate communication with developers, manage the workflow for the narrative team, and to wrangle Pete Parsons.

Parsons defies the act of wrangling. He’s like vapor, seemingly everywhere at once - but enough about him. When you’re not attempting to control the weather in our world, what’s happening in yours?

Games, duh. I play lots of Dota 2, although a six-week break did not help my skills. I’ve been practicing Muay Thai for about a year and a half and I’m a pseudo-wine snob. I read books on astrophysics and The Economist on a regular basis, I do math for fun, I write, and I hoard like a dragon. I’m really trying to work on the hoarding part.

Don’t go changing on our account. Your compulsion to hold on to every little detail will only do you credit here. From what I’ve heard (when I eavesdrop on your conversations), you’ve been around the block of the video game industry. Tell us a little bit about the companies you used to hoard for before we invited you to join us at Bungie?

I spent seven years in different roles at Take-Two Interactive. I did everything from Marketing, Business Development, Publishing Production, and Development Production. Take-Two gave me the opportunity to work on some huge games/franchises (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, BioShock, Borderlands, Civilization, NBA). I also got to see the industry from multiple perspectives. It helped me build a good understanding of the needs, demands, and goals of each discipline.

You’ve climbed some serious mountains, and your resume is a reminder that this industry is not all art, design, and programming. It takes a few suits (that don’t actually wear suits) to put a game in the hands of a gamer. Were your ambitions always so business oriented?

When I was nine, aside from the obvious Astronaut/Scientist dreams, I sent two letters (one to Nintendo and one to Lego) asking for a job. They told me to apply when I got older.

So your adventure began. Of course, getting older is the easiest part of qualifying for a job making games. What else did you do to prepare yourself for this exciting career that led you to us?

I went to undergrad in NYC and majored in Economics. From there I started taking grad school classes in marketing, conflict resolution, storytelling, public speaking, string theory, and physics. Had I not been hired by Take-Two, I would have gone for an advanced degree of some sort. Economics is extremely useful in understanding trade, the market, monetary policy, and a basic understanding of how the world operates.

And string theory is good for understanding, well, everything! Although, that’s the first time anyone has ever mentioned it here. Was it your dabbling in theoretical sciences that enticed us to take a closer look at you?

I like to think it was my awesome list of prior experience, along with a few sprinkles of magical pixie dust.

We don’t believe in pixies, and dust is bad for the machines. It was the experience. Nevertheless, no one just skates into this place. Would you agree? What memories from your interview loop haunt your dreams?

Nine hours in a small room downstairs. Also, Matt Priestley is a hard guy to read.

Like playing poker with a cyborg, that one. I, on the other hand, wear my heart squarely on my sleeve. How would you describe the experience of being my newest and closest neighbor?

Pretty magical. I’ll be working and minding my own business and out of the corner of my eye I’ll see you look over and give a little nod as if to say, “Get back to work. This isn’t happy hour.” Then, I remind you that something on your schedule is overdue.

You mean like this weekly feature? The one that’s usually published two days ago? Fair enough. Aside from keeping me in check, what’s the most rewarding thing about your new home?

I’d say getting to work with an extremely talented team on groundbreaking stuff.

That’s far enough. We’re not in marketing mode yet. We still need to be vague about what’s going on around here, so just describe a day in the life of a Bungie newbie.

It’s chock’full’o’meetings (and potentially nuts as well).

Guilty as charged. There are enough nuts in this place to stock a snack bar. Speaking of which, what’s the best perk you enjoy as a member of our team?

So many good benefits. For me, the best is an instant feeling of camaraderie and appreciation.

Give it time. Someday, we’ll hassle you to tell us what you’ve learned since you showed up here. What will you do between now and then to have a snappy answer at the ready?

Aside from reaching out to my fellow Producers for tips, I’ll learn more about the challenges my teams face so that I can better support them. Learning about the way Bungie makes games has also inspired me to familiarize myself with the tools we use.

Your trek to the desk behind mine is one that many people might not have imagined. There’s a chance that one of our readers has poured over all these interviews looking for a way into this industry, only to lose heart that they aren’t an artist or a scientist. How can they follow your business acumen?

Be persistent and look for openings. Reach out to people you know. If you don’t know anyone, join the IGDA, go to GDC or use LinkedIn (people are willing to offer their advice and you never know what you might learn). There are a lot of jobs in the game industry so don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. If all else fails make something cool… or consider sending Deej flowers (he loves flowers).

I do not love flowers. In fact, I hate anything that cannot be delivered digitally.

What I love is exploring all of the many ways in which people find work doing something that they love. Drew is just one of the newer recruits that now walk our development floor. His freshman classmates are taking a seat in the Breaking In archive one by one.

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Breaking In - Adam Brown 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/6/2012 12:09 PM PST

Coding on the go...



Bungie.net can reach you wherever life finds you. There is no escaping our charms!  Which device is it that’s enabling us to share a small piece of our world with you? You could be nestled into a comfy chair in front of your favorite computer, or propped up work pretending to look busy. If you find yourself on the go, sampling some Bungie culture right from the palm of your hand, you can thank gentlemen like this…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Adam Brown and I do mobile development at Bungie (that means iOS and Android). I’m looking forward to getting some awesome apps out there for everyone to better communicate through Bungie.net!

It would be very hard to sustain a community without the means for communication, so we appreciate your work. What do you do with your life when you’re not building bridges between the passionate players of our games?

I love hacking on all sorts of quirky projects outside of work: hardware, software, Arduino, whatever comes to mind. When I do manage to get away from the digital world, I love backpacking, camping, sailing, whatever outdoor adventure I can think of.

It’s great that you take a break from all that serious coding to channel your inner-child. Speaking of childhood, when outdoor adventures were your only responsibility, what did you foresee as your grown-up occupation?

Train Conductor. Not Superman, or an astronaut, but a Train Conductor. I was really shooting for the stars. After that, it was always a Software Engineer. I started modding games and making maps for Half-Life, and began to get the idea that I might like making games.

Someone needs to make sure the trains run on time! Once you had found the right track for you, how did you prepare yourself to steam into the station?

I got a Computer Science degree, and I get to use it every day! The theory matters too, kiddos!

What were some of the experiments that you conducted as a Computer Scientist before you joined us in the Bungie lab?

I actually had a pretty wide range of programing jobs before this. For my first job out of college, I worked at a tiny game company where I was the main programmer. I wrote the engine and game code. It was a huge learning experience, but the company went out of business after shipping our first game. I went on to do front-end web programming for monster.com. It turns out I’m not a fan of big corporate environments. Who knew? Later, I did low-level programming for DirecTV set top boxes. Finally, I began doing some consulting making Android apps for companies. That is ultimately what brought me to Bungie, so I guess it all worked out!

Slow down, now. You make it sound like joining the Bungie team is easy. Let’s back up and relive your interview loop to appropriately strike terror into the hearts of would-be applicants.

There was a phone screen first, so I guess said something right. The final interview is fairly long and intensive, and you keep having these minor freak outs in your head: “Holy crap, I’m sitting in Bungie’s office and the guy talking to me worked on Halo. Crap what did he say while I was thinking this?” It still seems a bit surreal that I work here.

You’re here alright. This is not a dream. What’s the most rewarding thing about this surreal existence?

It’s honestly hard to pick. As a Software Engineer, I have to say Bungie’s dedication to software quality, the fact that they really care and want to take the time to do things right, is a breath of fresh air after coming from other development houses where the software is just a means to an end.

We do a lot of other things to keep you content and banging out quality code at Bungie that have nothing to do with software. Which of those perks make you the happiest?

There is a cabinet in the kitchen just labeled: Meat.

We keep it stocked just for jerks like you (pun intended). How does a delicious dose of salted meat factor into your daily routine?

I stroll in around 9AM. Never did I think that getting in just after 9 would make me the “early guy” on the team, but here it does. I scan over reddit quickly (you know, just to check and see if there’s Bungie news). Then I get down to business! My team leader does a pretty great job of keeping distractions and bureaucracy away from us, so I probably get more actual programming done at this job than anywhere I’ve worked before. When lunchtime comes around, we usually go grab some take-out and come back to the studio to eat and play Magic: The Gathering. Post lunch is a medley of programming and deciding which beef jerky to try from the Meat cabinet. It’s a veritable nerd paradise.

Oh, man, you’re one of those Magic geeks? In that case, tell us about the time you cast your favorite spell at Bungie.

I was prototyping some features in an app and testing them on a tablet. A producer who was looking over my shoulder cut in with “You have a cool job, that looks awesome.” I thought to myself, “Yes I do.”

Having a cool job isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Getting better and better at doing that cool job all the time. How do you make that happen?

It helps that I love what I do. I’m always reading articles about new things in software development and working on little side projects to try out new ideas.

Imagine if you will that your tale of programming and magic has inspired someone to become your apprentice. What wisdom would you share with them?

Play games, work hard! Playing games is as much about keeping up with the state of the industry as it is a cultural fit. And work hard, because making games is hard work!

And you have some hard work that demands your attention, so we’ll wrap up this chat and return you to the trenches. Before you go, please stack this deck in order of importance to your role: Experience, Work Ethic, and Talent.

Hard to rank ‘em, but: Experience, Work Ethic, Talent. Experience because Mobile development is still the Wild West, so there are some really strange bugs that you can only solve from having seen them before. Work Ethic, because Bungie is ambitious! And of course, Talent is always an important base to build your experience.

Mobile development is just one frontier that we’re exploring at Bungie. Prospectors of every variety are being lured west on our careers page. To learn more about the different types of precious metals in our hills, you can check out the Breaking In archive.

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