The Secret Life of Danger Boy
Friday, January 31st, 2003, 11:17 AM
For a company hellbent on world domination, Bungie prides itself on being an approachable bunch of people. Even our prima donna music guy is approachable. So you wouldn't expect an interview with a member of Bungie's Online Team to be all that difficult to obtain. But this particular exchange has taken longer from concept to completion than any previous interview on Bungie.net. Months, in fact. By the time we put the finishing touches on this article, Chris had gone from the newest member of the Online team to the third-newest - practically an old salt. Are we slackers? Hardly. It is harder to catch up with Chris "Danger Boy" Carney than you'd ever imagine. Even in a company known for its secretive activities, he is difficult to locate, often for weeks at a time, and even more difficult to get a straight answer from. He may claim to be merely a designer, but the whispered rumors of Carney's other Bungie-related responsibilities - the ones that take him around the globe and earned his evocative nickname - are enough to make the blood run cold.
When he's not off on one of his missions, Chris Carney is an affable interviewee. I managed to catch him in a rare dull moment, sitting in his cubicle treating a fresh bullet wound, and jumped at the chance to ask him a few questions. Some of his answers were a little on the evasive side, but perhaps we're all better off not knowing certain things about Danger Boy. Enjoy.
What's your official job title at Bungie?
Environment artist/designer, I guess. Does that sound official?
Official enough, I guess. What did you do before you got this job?
I worked for several years as an architect in Cincinnati, and later here in Seattle.
What was the coolest thing you worked on while you were an architect in the real world?
The "coolest" project was probably a sunshade for a company called Lightborne in Cincinnati. At the time I worked for VOX, which was a small firm that did some truly amazing architecture. They had just finished work on converting an early 20th century industrial laundry facility into a high tech video production studio for Lightborne. Thus the place had this ancient feel of brick and concrete, infused by these corridors of technology. Anywho, I ended up working on the design and construction of a rotating steel sunshade for one of the studio rooms. It is probably best described a circular fan that rotates open to form an eight foot square window shade; although I always imagine it as a metal piece of origami that opens into a blast shield.
Since you started at Bungie, what projects have you worked on?
I worked as an environment artist on HALO multiplayer, which involved working on the design of a few maps, and polishing up the art on a few more. I then worked on several other secretive projects, most of which I can not discuss at this juncture. Currently I am working on multiplayer environments for HALO 2.
Is there such a thing as an average day for you, and if so, what is it like?
Since my responsibilities vary, there is not really an average day. That is actually one of the things that I really enjoy about my position. However, presently my days involve some aspect of multiplayer map design. We have recently completed design drawings of most of the HALO 2 multiplayer environments, and next will be beginning pre-visualizations of many of the maps.
But mainly my day involves staring into a dimly lit screen and moving my mouse.
I've seen some of the stuff you've been doing for Halo 2; it's pretty cool. How do you start working on a level? What inspires you?
Hmmm… inspiration? Most of my ideas come from random sources. For instance, it could come from something I am reading, an image I see in a film, a space I am walking through, or a combination of sources. Yet I guess that I always start by thinking about the experience. What do I want the player to feel when they are immersed in the environment. I then start laying out ideas and functional requirements (i.e. number of players, specific game type considerations, weapon placements, etc.) and begin drawing.
Can you give us an example of some "random source" that has directly influenced something you're doing for Halo 2?
James Turrell is an artist who has been working on hollowing out a volcano in Arizona, called Roden Crater. His intention, I believe, is to form a series of natural observatories of the sky and the desert landscape, which also take advantage of the unobstructed light. Some of the environments in HALO 2 take advantage of similar phenomena.
Does your background in architecture affect your game design work?
Definitely, but it probably effects more my process than the actual results. Being educated as an architect really gives you a nice, conceptual ability to see and rationalize space. In fact, that is probably the strongest part of the architectural education process, as you develop a methodology to design environments in three dimensions. So when I am given a design problem at Bungie, I essentially use the same process that I used at VOX. Thus, in many ways, designing a virtual environment for HALO becomes not much different than designing a library in the physical world... albeit a bit more fun.
Do you have any philosophies of good design that you'd like to share?
There are ways to design that work for me, which might not work for others. Whether or not these are means for producing "good design", I am not sure. Nonetheless, I believe that good design captures all of the necessary functions of a problem and presents it in a beautiful solution. This can be in architecture, industrial design, or even programming. With virtual environments, I consider the functional needs of a space, while never forgetting the potential of the experience.
As far as "good design" principles go for multiplayer environment design, there are several that I follow. The first is that environments must contain good circulation for the player. Especially for multiplayer maps, it is critical that players can run through an environment without constantly trying to figure out how the spaces are organized. In addition, I try and create maps that always provide means of orientation, thus making the space easy to navigate. This can be done through geometry, lighting, or textures, but helps to reduce player confusion. There is nothing worse then getting lost in a multiplayer map where everyone seems to know the layout except you. Finally I try to design specifically for how a player moves, fights and reacts in an environment. Subtle decisions such as the height of a ledge, the spacing of a window, or width of a rock bridge can all effect game play. Thus for a multiplayer map to have a long lifespan, design decisions need to be carefully considered to even a minute level.
How does a good multiplayer level differ (structurally or otherwise) from a good solo level?
HALO multiplayer maps are built with several game types in mind and are also usually focused on a central experience. The main reason for this is to get as much gameplay and reuse out of the environment, within the constraints of the engine. So for instance, with Battle Creek, we created a natural arch surrounded by a stream and boulder field that allowed players to fight and hide, yet stay in contact. On the other hand, HALO single player levels are usually more focused on a linear experience, as you travel from one point to another. Sometimes you can combine the two, but that is becoming more and more difficult with today's "savvier" players.
Well, enough of the work stuff. What do you do in your copious spare time?
I spend time doing various "activities" outdoors, but am also studying for my architectural registration exams. Of course I have been studying for these things over the last two years, so there is also a fair amount of procrastination involved. One of these days, though, I need to finish the damn things.
For the benefit of the uninitiated (such as myself) what are architectural registration exams? Is that the architect's equivalent of the bar exam?
You are correct and they are almost as painful. Essentially it is a series of 9 exams which, when passed, allows you to become registered in your State. The main advantage of registration is that you become legally responsible for every drawing you stamp. So then your clients can sue.
Do you have a favorite video game?
Metroid on the NES.
It was such a cool experience for me. Not only did it have a huge, expansive world, like Zelda, but it was so damn cohesive. You would explore a room, find cool stuff, come back later and suddenly you have the ability to discover a connection that initially you thought was nothing. Moments later you are suddenly bomb jumping your way into other hidden spaces. That was one of the few games I remember where exploring was totally fun.
I also really enjoyed the music.
You recently participated in the Bungie Pentathlon. Were there any highlights from your perspective that you'd like to share with Bungie fans?
Not really. This year we divided up into four teams based on our Bungie start date. Thus I was lucky enough to be on "Team Newbie". I actually think that this was part of some large plot for the elders at Bungie to proverbially hold down the masses – yet, I digress. Anyway, we got our tails handed to us, so there is not much else to say. However, I should note that we Newbies are already training for the Summer Tug of War. We have some very large folks on our team (including myself) and we are not happy.
I think I've beaten around the bush long enough. They call you Danger Boy. Explain.
Although it is not too exciting, I guess that I will reveal the source. One of my friends from Cincinnati draws a comic book where the hero has a sidekick named "Decoy Boy". Anywho, Decoy Boy's special power is that he attracts any projectiles (i.e. bullets, bombs, and other pain) which are directed towards his hero buddy. Thus the hero experiences a nice long existence, while keeping Decoy Boy on a weekly schedule of Emergency Room visits. "Danger Boy" is my simple homage to him.
A likely story. Is it possible that your prosaic explanation of your "Danger Boy" handle is merely a ruse in the style of Clark Kent, and that you project an outward appearance of a mundane or even boring existence while living the life of a jet-setting action hero? You might as well come clean about it now.
I always just wanted to be a farmer.
Well, you're pretty far from that now. The Halo National Championship show broadcast on G4 introduced your face to the world, and of course now we'll have this interview on Bungie.net, and everyone knows you're working on Halo 2 and your so-called "outdoor activities." It seems like an international cabal of Carney groupies is inevitable. This may well blow your cover. Thoughts?
Alas, I am just a simple man.
So you say, Carney. So you say.