Q. How is working for Bungie different than any other jobs you've had?
Broken In gets back on track this week, bringing in one of Bungie's better known Grizzled Ancients, Mat Noguchi, to offer up the tasty tidbits. While he's not willing to part with all
of his secrets, he's open to sharing some of his select studio memories, providing you with insight into what it takes to ship a title at Bungie, and ready to give you a few pointers should you find yourself wanting to take a ride in Bungie's Partywagon. Sound good? Scroll down and engage your brain's frontal lobe.
Q. Who are you and what do you do for Bungie?
A. I’m Mat Noguchi. I’m a senior programmer responsible for the unexpected, whether it’s figuring out why throwing a grenade when jumping off the Pelican crashes the game, making the game load faster for artists, or helping designers figure out how to reduce loading times in game. Basically, anything that someone else isn’t officially responsible for in the game.
Q. When did you sign on with the studio and what were you "officially responsible for" prior to working here?
A. I started at Bungie in December 2000. At the time I was six months into my first full-time job as a programmer in Visual Studio and bored out of my mind. Or rather, my intern mentor gave me a kick in the brain and told me that I needed to get into game programming. So when I saw a position over in Bungie for a tools programmer for Halo, I took the test, aced it, got the interview, and here we are. I managed to write the level editor for Halo 1, upgrade the sound engine and provide some clutch work for Halo 2, and write the caching engine for Halo 3. (Plus some other stuff that I can’t talk about.)
A. Bungie is a place where we always optimize for individual contribution. I haven’t had the punishment of working elsewhere for long, but I get the distinct impression that most companies treat their people according to their jobs; grunts are treated like grunts, and CEOs are treated as kings. That’s great for a shareholder report, but when most of your people at your company are responsible for making the things that make you money, you want them to be happy; treating them like -blam!- doesn’t get you there.
I’m not saying we’re necessarily the exact opposite of that, but we try to treat everyone as people, not as their job. Everyone here with few exceptions has an open door policy: if you have an issue you want to raise, you go right to the person who can deal with it. It may not be dealt with immediately, but there’s no pressure to keep your head down and not raise important issues when you need to.
Q. During your near nine year tenure with Bungie, what's the one moment that stands out for you? What has changed from when you first signed on until now?
A. When we launched Halo 2, we had a huge celebration in the Experience Music Project. We had people from all over either drive or fly or otherwise transport themselves; I saw a five or six year old drag his mother inside to get a chance to play. But the best part for me that night happened when we kicked everyone out, partied for a few hours, and then took the Bungie Partywagon (three tour buses) to hit all the major establishments holding midnight sales of Halo 2. It wasn’t the screaming throngs of fans; it was having my wife there to see what all the work and crunch meant to other people. And not divorcing me after Halo 2. (Or Halo 3, for that matter.)
While Bungie has expanded in terms of people and sheer scope of vision, the biggest change for me has been how much more focused I have to be in my day to day work. Most of the things I work on affect a lot of people, so if I break something, almost everyone is affected. It puts the work I do in stark relief to know that at any point I could make a change that brings down the entire studio. Even if that is only for a few minutes, multiply that down time by the number of people it hits and you start getting into some very uncomfortably large numbers. On the flip side, it also means that the work I do can have that much greater of an impact.
Q. How do you maintain the high level of focus and engagement your position requires?
A. The thing that keeps me going is knowing that while I may not have as much time to get work done, I can get more work done in the same amount of time if I keep learning and testing my skills. Plus, in the position I’m in, I have to do that anyway. We aren’t going to wake up one day and decide that the engine we have is good enough; we will always need to improve things in a way that allows us to keep shipping the games people expect from us.
Q. Looking back over your time with the studio, is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
A. Looking back, I can’t see anything I’d want to change; everything I’ve done, even the really stupid stuff, has transformed me in small and big ways, and I’m happy with the results of that. Although I could probably use a little more sleep.
Q. If you could issue one ominous warning to upstarts looking to bypass security and ultimately be held "responsible for the unexpected," what would it be?
A. What’s taking you so long? I could use the help!
Q. Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? If you had to select one quality in an artificially constructed scenario, which quality would you go with?
A. A highly developed prefrontal cortex. The part of our brain that separates ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to wait; even in the fast paced world of game development, a little bit of discipline goes a long way. There’s a whole philosophy of mine behind that, but I don’t want to give away all my secrets!
Q. Bonus Round! Give us the top three things people looking to get into the gaming industry should or shouldn’t do.
A. Don’t accept the status quo, don’t do what others tell you just because they tell you, and listen to that voice inside your head that makes you feel bad or uncomfortable. It’s telling you that something stupid is going on. (That stupid might be you, but you should listen to it anyway.)
Unfortunately for us, the little voice inside our own head is telling us that our time with Mat has come to a close. We want to thank him for burning a few of his valuable cycles to offer up thoughts on his tenure here at the studio and for offering up some invaluable advice for those looking to make a name for themselves in the gaming industry and ultimately at Bungie. If you count yourself among the latter, and your prefrontal cortex is already highly developed, you should check out our Jobs Page
. We're hiring.