Breaking In turns to the most visible man behind the Banhammer this week, swinging some questions his way that are hopefully much more poignant and evocative than, "Can I haz Recon?". Chad Armstrong, or Shishka to fans, speaks out on his inspirations, his unique path into employment at Bungie, and what you can do to improve your chances of snagging an interview at the studio.
Q. Who are you and what do you do?
A. My name is Chad, but these days most people (inside the office and out) call me “Shishka.” I’m Bungie’s Multiplayer Community Designer, which means my job is to update and maintain the Halo 3 Matchmaking experience while the rest of the team works on to-be-released projects. With the help of the test team and the online team, I make decisions that we commit to Matchmaking on a monthly basis. These decisions are often based on player behaviors, such what maps and games are vetoed, and which ones aren’t. I also take in a lot of feedback from the fan community itself and weigh their thoughts in while I’m considering changes. I make sure double exp weekends are selected and implemented and in general it’s my job to keep the testers on their toes between projects.
The short version is that my job is to maintain the Halo 3 online experience for the millions of people playing it, but I don’t like to think about the “millions” part. I feel like if I think about the numbers, I’ll go insane. Er. Insane-er. I’m technically a designer, but I sit with the Community Team as stepping out on the front lines is a regular part of what I do.
I’m also part of the team of people with the keys to Halo 3’s more “special” controls. By that, I mean I can give people Recon. I’m also part of the team that investigates cheating and metes out Bungie’s vengeance on those that trod on the experience. Conversely, that means I also read the appeals of people who have been banned (In a thread on the Halo 3 forum) and review what they were banned for. The Banhammer is never far from reach.
Q. When you're not making Matchmaking changes and meting out vengeance, what do you do to keep yourself entertained?
A. I play a lot of games. Seriously, a lot. Being a misanthrope means I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to play games. I enjoy watching kung fu movies. When I’m not doing either of the above (or working on another Matchmaking update), I’m doodling in a sketchbook or Photoshop.
Q. Complete the following sentence as you would have at twelve years of age: When I grow up, I want to be a…
A. …Paleontologist. Incidentally, Marathon 1 came out around the time I turned thirteen, and that’s when my answer changed to “Video Game Developer.” Well, since I was thirteen it was probably something like “Video Game Maker,” or “Guy that makes video games,” or “King of Town and also owns an awesome video game making company.”
Q. Assuming "King of Town" wasn't on the list of valid occupations, what occupation did your High School Guidance Counselor or Aptitude Tests urge you to undertake?
A. Actually, my high school never offered one of those job aptitude tests and the only counselors I ever spoke to were the ones that pulled me aside to tell me to find a healthier outlet for my rage. Not that it would have mattered. From the first time I managed to replace the Marathon pistol with a crudely drawn dinosaur claw I was hooked on game content creation and the fantasy of working on games for a living. That and I pretty much never listened to anything any adult would tell me, anyway.
Q. Did you listen to what the adults told you and go on to earn your college degree?
A. No, I didn’t earn a degree, and I doubt my parents will ever let me forget it. I spent four years in college, two at the University of Alaska Southeast (Juneau), and two at a college that shall remain unnamed. The latter two years were so terrible that I dropped out of school with a massive chip on my shoulder, but no degree. I wager most of my teachers thought I’d never get anywhere, but I landed my first job at Bungie only four or five months after I left school.
The moral of my story is not that college is unimportant. Instead, consider my story a cautionary tale. Be careful when choosing what college you attend. Do some research, and make sure your choice in school can actually provide the education it offers. Ultimately, whether or not you’ve “got what it takes” is a result of your own dedication, but it should be the role of the college to ensure you have all the tools you need to make your goals a reality.
Q. How did you use your own tools to initiate contact with Bungie?
A. Like I mentioned before, I’ve been a Bungie fan for fifteen years or so. People call me “Shishka,” now, but back in the day it was “Shishka-BOB,” a reference to my attitude toward the hapless human NPCs that populated Marathon. The first time I ever came into contact with Bungie, though, was writing a letter as a fan to Doug Zartman in response to a soapbox article he wrote for Bungie.com many, many years ago. Fast forward to 2002, I met Bungie employees in person (as well as several prominent community members) at E3. Keep on truckin’ into 2004, opportunity landed me a job working for Lorraine as a contract graphic designer, and I worked at Bungie for two years. After a year off in Texas, I returned to become a multiplayer designer and took charge of Halo 3 Matchmaking.
Q. When you met with Bungie employees in person on the interview loop, did you bring anything along with you to help bolster your confidence?
A. I brought the terrifying realization that I had never been through an interview process before. When I did graphic design work for Bungie, the “interviews” were a formality as I had been offered the job rather than having applied for it. Prior to that, the closest thing I’d ever had to a job interview was “Are you good at computers and the internet?”
Ultimately, though, there was nothing I had to bring that wasn’t already in the room. Other than some idea sketching on a whiteboard, there wasn’t much need for props anyhow.
Q. Is there one moment in the interview that etched itself in your long term memory?
A. The entire interview process was a little surreal. With the exception of one or two people, I already knew and had worked with everyone in my loop. Despite that, I was given no special treatment and was given the same questions any person who applied for the position would have received. The entire process took a full work day, and I ended up talking to ten or twelve people from various disciplines when all was said and done. I guess I made a good impression. I did get the job, ‘n all.
Q. Now that you've landed the gig, in one sentence, describe what it’s like to work at Bungie.
In the men’s restroom, in the last stall, a picture of yours truly looking at a picture of yours truly has been signed by someone pretending to be yours truly; it sits amongst portraits of such luminaries as William Shatner, Dick van -blam!-, and Don Knotts.
Q. Any advice for aspiring applicants looking to see the men's room portraits firsthand?
A. Be confident, but be flexible. Bungie is a fun team and a family, but game development is not simple and there are always unseen complications waiting to surprise you. You can’t have all the answers when you can’t know what all the questions will be, so be ready (as well as anyone can be) for curveballs. They happen all the time in development, and you can be sure they’ll happen in a Bungie interview gauntlet.
While Chad is correct, you can't have all the answers, he's answered all the questions we've lobbed his way. We couldn't even get a curveball past him. If you've read this brief question and answer and think you'd rather be on the swingin' side of the Bungie Banhammer, and are willing to test your might in an interview gauntlet of your own, hit our Jobs page
and give it a go. We're hiring.