The 2008 Bungie Winter Pentathlon concluded late Friday night, later than anticipated, amidst a never-before-needed a sudden death tiebreaker between Bungie’s vanguard and a ragtag group of junior staffers. But before Bungie reached that conclusion, scores were settled, rivalries were extinguished and ignited and for a day, Bungie was the game – you were who you came up with.
8:30 a.m. – The earliest risers arrive at Bungie, gorging themselves on fruits, double sausage breakfast sandwich and a spread of food that hasn’t been seen since the height (or depths) of Halo 3’s crunch. Stragglers and staffers trickle in and by the “Opening Ceremony” the studio is full of dudes. And lightly sprinkled with ladies.
9:30 a.m. – Ceremonies open with Studio Manager Harold Ryan inundating us with facts, statistics and future secret-talk. Then Jason Jones and Harold honor recent five-year and 10-year veterans of the studio. The five-year veterans this year were Brian Jarrard, Justin Hayward and John Butkus. Only one employee previously received a 10-year ceremony, Robt McLees (as founder, Jason Jones has been here since the beginning and is still here, he did not have a ceremony, however), but this year, Marcus Lehto, Dave Dunn and Charlie Gough were honored as 10-year veterans of the studio.
11 a.m. – Before we get too heavily into the results and how the day unfolded, here’s how scores breakdown for finishes. In the five scored Pentathlon events (there’s a bunch of side events that don’t award anything other than fun), first place teams win five points, second place teams receive three points, third place teams receive one point and fourth place finishers are shamed and receive no points.
The events begin. Simultaneously the Pictionary, Wii Bowling, DDR2 and Halo 3 competitions lure spectators and competitors. A giant screen has been lowered to display the DDR (and eventually, Rock Band) screens to the studio, while competitors dance away in the center of the studio.
One of the playtest labs has been accosted and turned into the Wii Bowling room. A projector beams the bowling lane onto a 100” screen and competitors wield remotes and posture like the Jesus.
Pictionary has teams on either side of a two-sided whiteboard, giving clues through artistic cues to teams of at least three, but often much larger. The first team to four points wins the round and advances to the finals.
The DDR competition has two players from each team “dancing” against another pair. Their scores are summed up and totaled. In the final round, competitors will also receive a style modifier based on their costume, performance artistry and charisma.
The Halo 3 event features six man teams in a best of three series. Round One would be Grizzled Ancients against the Newbies and Old Skool versus Middle School with the winners advancing to the finals and the losers squaring off to try and avoid finishing last in Halo.
- Team Slayer on OK Corral
- Lowball on The Pit
- Team King on Standoff
- Team Slayer on Cottonball
- Land Grab on Rat’s Nest
- Eliminatio on Valhalla
Before the Pentathlon, Joe Tung claimed he would “carry Old Skool on his shoulders like Atlas.” I’m sure he meant no disrespect to teammates Chris Carney, Steve Cotton, CJ Cowan, Luis Villegas and Tom Doyle in making his bold claim, but would that claim be prophetic?
Against Lars Bakken’s Middle School team, Tung’s Old Skoolers were stretched to the three game limit (in fact, all of the Halo matches went the full three games) before overcoming and advancing to the finals.
In the first Halo match of the day, the heavily favored, skilled and practiced Grizzled Ancients were taking on the Newbies. The Grizzled Ancients have a rich history at Bungie of fielding an incredibly skilled, deep and competitive team. The Newbies? Well, their Penatathlon tradition isn’t particularly rich, especially in Halo, where aged wisdom has consistently triumphed over youthful dexterity.
Not on this day, however. After losing Team Slayer 35-33, the Newbies beat the Grizzled Ancients in Lowball and then Team King on Standoff. At the end of Team King, with 30 seconds to go, and the game mathematically out of reach, one unnamed Newbie captain went into the Grizzled Ancients’ room and began talking trash as they desperately reached for a victory just beyond their fingertips.
In the first round of the finals, Team Slayer on Cottonball, the Newbies dismantled Old Skool’s crack slayer team with good old fashioned patience and map control. Map control is something Old Skool demonstrated against the Newbies in the second game – Land Grab on Rat’s Nest – and the Newbies lost by a single capture.
And the finals came down to one game, Eliminatio [sic] on Valhalla. It’s a sniper’s paradise, a mode where a single performance can completely change the game. Joe Tung, promising to carry his team on his shoulders just like Atlas did (but with less shrugging) and Old Skool beat the Newbies emphatically and won the Halo competition.
The boys with the matching outfits – they all look like holdovers from Rockstar’s Bully – won in glorious fashion.
Wii Bowling was claimed by the Newbies on the arms and wrists of Jason Sussman, James Parks, Aaron Lemay and Tim Williams, while the Grizzled Ancients reclaimed some dignity – some – by claiming the highly skill-based Pictionary crown.
Dance Dance Revolution 2’s a.m. events placed the Grizzled Ancients’ lovely pair of Dave Dunn and Adrian Perez against the Newbies’ Tristan Root and Matt Richenburg, the men in black outdanced the tranny surprise and brought home another win. A smattering of images from the DDR final round is below.
Without a doubt the most memorable event from the 2008 Winter Pentathlon was the Rock Band event. Coordinated by Brian Jarrard, who also authored the below text wrapping up the event, the Rock Band competition was, for many at the studio, the Pentathlon's most memorable event.
Sketch’s Rock Band Recap
This year I was given the honor and privilege of being on the esteemed Pentathlon Planning Committee. At least that’s what I thought until I realized all it really means is committing to a dozen hours worth of meetings and donning a giant target on my back for any studio outrage or controversy that may arise from the event. In all fairness, it was probably only 10 hours of meetings, but Bungie Engineer and Grizzled Ancient Charlie “Chucky” Gough sure runs a tight ship and takes this very, very seriously. In fact, I think we had more meetings for our Pentathlon than we did for the huge Halo 3 reveal at E3 a few years ago.
The job of the committee was to determine the five games to be played and then come up with all the rules and details (we are a very detailed oriented group of competitors) and then pull it all together in a well executed, efficiently scheduled day of fun. It’s like real work.
I immediately gravitated towards Rock Band and volunteered to run this year’s marquee event. It’s true that the only game that really matters is Halo 3 in terms of bragging rights and competition. However, with Rock Band we were finally able to introduce a game that had real spectator appeal and a giant opportunity for Bungie team members to make complete fools of themselves. And that is exactly how it all worked out.
Ever since the intense vocal battle of “Karaoke Revolution” in the 2006 Pentathlon (the same one which had Marty belting out a chilling version of a Cher song) I’ve wanted to do something to spice up the performance and incentivize teams to go above and beyond and put on a real show. Thus the idea of the “style bonus” was born – a 1 to 5 score awarded by an impartial jury based on a team’s flair, showmanship and performance. This multiplier wasn’t enough to negate actual skill and the score earned in the game but if things got close, it could be enough to decide a victor. Mostly it was just a way to encourage shenanigans which, as you can see in these photos, is exactly what happened. Some of you were even lucky enough to catch this live as it happened via our Bungie.net webcams (if you missed it, don’t fret, we are working to compile embarrassing video footage now).
Middle School's Blitz
Desks were cleared out in the middle of the building with our giant HD projector providing the backdrop. Our crack team of IT professionals rigged up reference monitors for the band to play to while the audience could watch on the big screen. We brought in external lighting and hooked everything up to our building-wide audio system. Regrettably the only things we couldn’t pull together in time were the pyrotechnic display, lasers and groupies. Maybe next year.
Rock Band started off with a qualifying round with each team playing two songs that were randomly chosen out of a hat. Style points were not in play for this round, just pure in-game skill. Using the Rock Band leaderboards, I tried to pick a variety of songs that were all within a fairly close spread in terms of maximum score potential.
First up was the Grizzled Ancients who selected “Gimme Shelter” and “Run to the Hills” for their qualifying set. Things got of a really rocky start as Adrian “Cuban” Perez apparently got an entire button off on his guitar licks resulting in a near immediate fail out. His bandmates had no overdrive to rescue him which led to all four of them being booed off the stage, resulting in an opening score of ZERO. They came back with a vengeance, scoring an impressive 557k points on “Run to the Hills” but that goose egg would hurt them for the final seeding.
The Newbie team took the stage next and unleashed a solid performance of “Celebrity Skin” and “When You Were Young” for a combined total of 993k points – enough to carry them to second place for the qualifying round. Old Skool followed with “Go with the Flow” and “Wanted Dead or Alive”, shatter the 1 million point mark and locking down top seed for the finals. Middle Skool closed the qualifier with “Day Late Dollar Short” and “Electric Version” and finished up with the 3rd seed.
The qualifying round only served to determine the seeding in the do-or-die finale later in the afternoon. Each team got to pick their final song from a pre-determined list and the picking order was tied to their finishing order earlier in the day. Once again I tried to pick songs with a fairly close potential point spread but naturally there were some songs that were more desirable than others for both score and entertainment value.
The finals would also introduce the “style multiplier” bonus which meant that teams were going all out to blow away the judges and put on one hell of a show. Our judging panel consisted of unbiased external people including one of our HR consultants and the return of Alta, former Bungie Princess, and her friend from work. After a quick stop at the beer keg, the judges were ready, the lights were dimmed and the Newbie team took the stage.
Los Newbies in full costume.
The noobs decided to all wear suits and wrestling masks for their flair. They delivered a stoic, rigid performance but their technical prowess was solid. Their rendition of “Dani California” netted a cool 1.1 million points after the judges bonus score of 3.67 was applied. All in all it may not have blown anyone away but it was a solid performance.
Old Skool followed with their version of “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins. Before my team took the stage we made sure to refresh the beverages and snacks for our judge panel (anything to win!). We had a ringer on our team as Jeremy “Fones” was an “Expert” level drummer which helped to bring in some extra points for our band. Jay Weinland howled into the microphone while chugging a faux bottle of bourbon, a la Jim Morrison. We had a group of sweater-clad roadies up front for security and Vic DeLeon performed homage to an old INXS video by holding up hand written signs with real-time commentary and trash talk during the song. All told, this solid technical performance and crowd pleasing arrangement gave us 1.2 million points and a whopping bonus of 4.8 from our style judges.
The Middle School was third, led by Allen Murray on vocals (who happens to be real life bassist in a real life band). Their song was “Ballroom Blitz” and though they performed admirably, their score just didn’t measure up to the competition. They ended up with a mere 688k including their style bonus of 4.67.
Old Skool was feeling pretty good going into the last performance with a healthy first place lead. After a disastrous qualifying performance, could the Grizzled Ancients rebound? Indeed they could. And they did. Introducing the band was Dave Dunn, in full drag, who was part emcee, part groupie and exotic stage dancer. The Grizzled Team came charging out of Marty’s office in full glam rock regalia. Joseph Staten was adorned with long, flowing locks of blond hair, a wife beater and some very disturbing tights. Dave explained that “Yes folks, he’s packin’.” You don’t want to know. The real spectacle of this band was none other than Bungie Music Maestro Marty O’Donnell. Dressed in eye liner, ruffle shirts, tights and a huge wig, he was equal parts Slash from Guns-n-Roses circa-1992 and Howard Stern’s Fartman. Even more disturbing was the fact that Marty’s shirt was missing a few buttons, exposing far more flesh than anyone ever wanted to see. Ever.
It's not a full band...
...unless you have a singer. Our very own Jame Gumm.
I gotta hand it to the Grizzled Ancients… they came back from a terrible first round and they blew away the crowd and rocked hardstyle. They did “Welcome Home” and owned it. The crazy costumes and onstage gyrations of Dave Dunn earned them the highest possible style points from our judge panel. Which, along with an impressive in-game score of 2.2mil, brought them victory and the title of Rock Band Champion for the 2008 Bungie Pentathlon.
Next year Rock Band will return and we’re already talking about ways to make it even more crazy and more of a spectacle. Fortunately we have all sorts of incriminating photos and even some hi-def video that we will be sharing with all of you in the near future (despite Marty’s protests).
With overwhelming victory in Rock Band, the Grizzled Ancients and Newbies were tied at 14 points each in the Pentathlon, with no way on site to break the tie and the Pentathlon Council and Captains agreeing that it shouldn’t just be a rehash of an earlier event to decide the crown a new tradition was born.
Fitting that the tiebreaker would be Seven by Seven by Seven, a combination of seven players from the tied teams, answering seven trivia questions in seven minutes – surely a winner would emerge. Each team was given a sheet of paper with seven questions on it, and as a team, they had seven minutes to answer the questions.
Christian Allen, a newbie at Bungie, but a trivia veteran provided the Newbie team with a spark during the grand finale – which took place at Bungie’s debaucherous post-holiday Holiday party. As Harold Ryan read aloud each team’s answers, both teams got the first six questions correct and then missed the seventh.
With yet another tie, the two teams would now engage in heads-up showdown, one question, whichever team answers first wins.
“Greg Allman said that the term “rap” was an abbreviation for what?”
Ancient hands shot up immediately, the correct answer on their old, chapped lips: “Crap.”
Lasting from 11 in the morning until almost 11 at night, the Winter Pentathlon was finally over. Considering what Bungie and its leadership team had gone through in the last year – the divestiture from Microsoft, finishing and shipping Halo 3 – it’s incredibly appropriate that the first Pentathlon trophy, chalice, cup, whatever it ends up being, will have the 2008 Grizzled Ancients engraved on its’ side.
In Their Words:
Some thoughts from Bungie participants in the Penthathlon.
“What is there to say about the 2008 Winter Pentathlon? There are events and then there are events. And then there is Halo. Some might say this year’s Pentathlon came down to Grizzled Ancients vs. Newbies in a “nail-biting” final round of Trivial Pursuit. But everyone knows that the true test of wills took place hours earlier in Bungie world HQ during the Pentathlon Halo finals.
We in Old Skool don’t want take anything away from the Newbies’ mighty Wii bowling prowess or the Ancients’ tactical superiority on the battlefield of Pictionary. But let’s be honest. Who really gives a -blam!-?
So gratz on the DDR trophy guys. We’ll keep ourselves warm at night recalling the sweet taste of the bitter tears of our fallen Halo enemies.
Old Skool” – Joe Tung, Old Skool
“Last Friday saw the return of the Annual Bungie Halo Tournament, where teams from the four tiers of Bungie tenure compete in an all day event to see who is the master of Halo. To keep the less skilled players amused during this epic, manly tournament of awesome Halo action, we have some side games like Wii Bowling and so on, that are played purely for fun, in a noncompetitive, friendly atmosphere. This annual tournament is called the Pentathlon, because Halo is five times more important than anything else we do that day. To cut a long story short, Old School won the Bungie Annual Halo Tournament, but we told Luke he could write about the other little silly games they played that day, so that the other teams didn’t feel too bad.” - Frank O’Connor, Old Skool, played Pictionary in the Pentathlon
“Every year, one remembers a few things from the Pentathlon. This year, I’ll remember us Ancients sucking hard at Wii Bowling, despite the valiant efforts of Jason Jones getting above 100 despite claiming such a thing wasn’t going to happen. I’ll always remember the amazing Rock Band performance of Marty’s hair band. But, above all, I’ll remember that the Grizzled Ancients won, because our names will be on the new Pentathlon cup that will be displayed in all its glory in the trophy case. And that Joe Tung can keep his Halo 3 win, because really, when that is all one has, it would just be mean to rub it in when his team didn’t even come in 2nd overall – even with their matching uniforms.
Cup stays here.” – Tom Gioconda, Grizzled Ancient
“This year’s Halo 3 competition had all the emotional impact of ‘Sophie’s Choice’. I witnessed an unbelievable victory by the Newbies over the Grizzled Ancients. It truly lifted my heart.
Then I cheered on my Old Skool teammates as they slaughtered the Newbies; reveling in the carnage Finally I was confronted by the true impact of these events. The crestfallen, scraggly face of my good friend Luke Smith whose performance almost delivered his Newbie team a victory of unprecedented scale. Almost.
The snacks, pizza and beer throughout the day also touched me on a spiritual level.” – Lee R. Wilson, Old Skool
“There are winners, and there’s everyone else. Grizzled wins. But more importantly we win with style and grace. Everything that occurred, every small loss, every glorious victory, was destined to imbue the day and evening with the dramatic importance that we wise ones knew would get all of Bungie excited and energized. I’m glad everyone enjoyed themselves.” – Marty O’Donnell, Grizzled Ancients
“Winning the first Pentathlon after we’ve detached ourselves from M$ was extremely important for us as Grizzled, and necessary. We needed to prove to everyone that haven’t been in Bungie as long as we have, how much hard work and how much of a fool you must make yourself before you can be considered a Pentathlon champ. I think Marty illustrated that quite well.
Names of champs that get carved into the cup will last forever, whereas losers will come and go.” – Shiek Wang, Grizzled Ancients
“The dance floor was looking a little sad, so Shiek and I felt we needed to take the initiative and jump start it. We started a train to P-Funk’s ‘flashilight’ in no time at all we had everyone who was not on the dance floor on the dance floor. Life was good… for about 20 seconds. There were screams, horrifying screams, and the crowd scattered as if they discovered a briefcase bomb. It was Glessner, his right arm, twisted over his head, hopelessly entangled in his sweater, his left trying desperately to pull his pants over his exposed junk. He was naked from ankle to neck. Sweet lord Jesus, I would pour drain-o through a hole in my skull if I knew it would erase that from my mind…
…A couple of tables away Mini Griffin was staring, glaze eyed at the floor, giggling like Regan MacNeil did after killing Father Merrin…” – Paul Russel, Grizzled Ancient
“Before the Pentathlon started, Frank O’ Connor said to me, ‘Middle School is tough. Nobody is really rooting for you, and nobody is really rooting against you.’ He’s right, and the name was apt for this plucky group of lads. We had some great talent, and we worked very well together, but in many ways it just wasn’t meant to be. We scored well in Bowling and Pictionary (2nd on both), but got our butts kicked in most other events. We would rally in the Halo event only to be beaten in both match ups, but we put up good fights everywhere. Much like being stuffed in a trash can in middle school in real life, we were destined to be trounced by the other teams. Don’t worry middle schoolers, there is always next year.” – Lars Bakken, Middle School
“I think we can all agree that the most important thing we need to do before next year’s Pentathlon is to design a precise alcohol regulation system for the Rock Band style judges.” – David Aldridge, Newbies
“Tor-Kul-Na the Marro is way overpowered.” – Justin Hayward, Old Skool
“There were wigs, tights and heavy eyeliner this year …. I think maybe I’m scarred for life. But the trophy was ours!!” – Lorraine McLees, Grizzled Ancient
“Lessons I learned this year:
1) Schedule the style judges more than a day in advance and have a back-up plan.
2) Make sure we have concrete plans for a tie-breaker!
3) Don’t give the Grizzled Ancients, and especially Dave Dunn, an opportunity to wear a costume.” – Charlie Gough, Grizzled Ancient and Pentathlon Committee Chair
“This was my first Pentathlon. Aside from the launch of Halo 3, this was the most fantastic experience I have had as a team member at Bungie. The fact that it was an all-out competition with the thrill of victory and the crushing blow of defeat made it amazing. There was no hand-holding or false compliments, there was very little fair play, and there was more testosterone and competitive trash-talk than I could have imagined. After all was said and done I feel that much closer to my fellow coworkers as we all went through it together. This is what Bungie is all about. If your goal in life is to work for Bungie, the Pentathlon is the reminder that you have achieved that goal.” – Matt Richenburg, Newbies