Welcome to the new Bungie.net. It’s got a new look, a new feel, new navigation and fresh new tools and technologies to help you enjoy our monomaniacal pursuit. There are going to be some obvious improvements for you to play around with, and some obvious bugs here and there (mostly caused by yours truly as I come to terms with the epic new technology) but overall, we think this is a happy, pleasant and clean new Bungie experience, that’s going to set the stage for added features when Halo 3 launches in the fall.
Although the old Bnet was pretty freaking cool, with loads of patents to its credit, as well as the most robust Stats system for any console game ever, it was starting to show its age after three long years, and the boys in the backroom wanted to give it a new lick of paint. So they did, and how!
We chatted with Tom Gioconda (aka Achronos) and new (ish) Lead Web Developer, Chris Gossett about the new look, feel and functionality of the site and how we made it from an empty whiteboard, to a fully fledged website. But first off, an introduction to Mr. Chris Gossett.
Chris, you’re new-ish, and we haven’t heard much from you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience prior to Bungie?
Having played just about every title from Abuse to Halo 2, I've always been a fan of Bungie games and am excited to work here.
I was educated at a small college in Tacoma, WA called the University of Puget Sound (UPS). No we didn't deliver mail and our school colors were not brown. I graduated with a Computer Science degree and went straight into the workforce.
Before Bungie, my professional experience included about six years of building and maintaining high-volume consumer web applications for companies such as AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and Match.com. At AT&T Wireless/Cingular Wireless I worked as a web developer, a manager, an architect, a tester, a project manager, a business owner, etc. You name it I probably did it. My day was never planned and I really liked it. However, after 4+ years of service I left and moved to Dallas, TX to see if I could help others find love at Match.com. It was a great opportunity and it was good to live and work in another part of the country where a "cold day" is 70 degrees. As rewarding as it was playing matchmaker I just couldn't stay away from Seattle. So I'm back and loving it.
How are you finding the Bungie environment as a new place to work?
Bungie is an awesome place to work. Everyone is very talented and passionate about what they do. We work really long hours mostly because we love the work not because we have to. Why wouldn’t you love the work when your work is Halo?
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
By far the launch of Halo 3 and the build up to it. We have a huge list of features that we want to add to Bungie.net over the next year. It will be a lot of work , but ultimately very rewarding. We’re just getting started.
The new Bnet. Oh wait, you're already here....
Building the New Bnet.
The how, the why and the wherefore. Tom Gioconda gives us the answers.
Why relaunch Bungie.net?
We’ve been wanting to make a lot of fundamental changes to how Bungie.net works for a long time now, and we also needed to redo a few things to get ready for the Halo 3 beta and eventual release in the Fall. This is just the first step.
Is this just a visual overhaul, or are there more fundamental changes?
This is way more than a visual overhaul. Many fundamental changes have been made to the content system, our new layout control system, the profile pages, stat pages, etc. Pretty much everything about the site has changed. Even the forums got more than new look – we’ve changed how profiles/signatures work, for example.
Are any of these changes in preparation for elements of Halo 3?
The best example of preparing for Halo 3 is the merging of the My Profile and My Stats pages. As much as possible, we’ve tried to eliminate the multiple identities players have had between their bungie.net persona and their Xbox Live persona.
What new features should we look out for in the new Bnet?
Better navigation, the new profile pages, better layout for the forums. Moderators will now have the ability to grant “warnings” and see the warning and ban history for users, making it much easier for them to police the forums consistently, which should make the forums just work better. We’ve also laid the groundwork for a few hidden systems to better deal with some of our community’s less savory elements and reward consistently good users; more on that in the future, after groups come back.
What elements are missing or have been shelved?
Groups are the most notable thing that are missing. Unfortunately, due to the need to get ready for the Halo 3 beta, we didn’t have time to get to the groups. In addition, we want to try and make them better, not just convert them to a new design. So, they’ll be offline for a while as we redo them to be more discoverable and to be more interesting in general. The only other thing that you may notice is missing is a Halo 2 for Windows Vista projects section. We’ve elected to point people to the official Microsoft site for the time being instead of creating our own section for that since they can provide far more in-depth PC support than us console monkeys.
How dramatically will the site alter after the launch of Halo 3?
Take everything about Halo 2 in the Profile section, and expand it… plus a few things that you really won’t expect. We intend to completely raise the bar over what we did with Halo 2.
Will we be seeing anything from the Halo 3 Public Beta reflected in the new site?
I think we’re still deciding how much to show, but it is likely that you’ll get what you get with Halo 2 now, perhaps excluding the game viewer, for the Halo 3 beta. After all, we have to save the new stuff for the release.
Frankie says he would put up new movies every day, but Achronos won’t let him. Is this true and if so, why?
Before, Frankie might have had a point. In the previous version of bungie.net, it was very difficult to change much except for new stories. Starting about January 2006 or so, I made it my personal goal to make sure that the content tools are never the reason the content doesn’t get updated. The result was a refined content system for entering “standard content” (not just news, but anything), controlled by a layout control system that allows for lots of flexibility. This is the first full implementation of this system, the prototype has been powering the Halo 3 games page for a while. I hope to give at least some of this flexibility to the groups to restore some of their lost “uniqueness”.
Anyway, the point is that now, it is almost certainly always Frankie’s fault if there isn’t content now, because the new site is designed not to restrict him in any way. And if it does, it is way easier for us (Chris and myself) to add to the content system feature set than it was before.
Whatever! What are the big technical challenges in the relaunch of this site?
There is the usual challenge of having lots of dynamic, personalized content for our large community of users. Caching is the primary tool we use to solve this problem. Being mindful of what data has to be up to date, and what data can get a little stale, and making it make sense to the average user is very important. Another big challenge is the migration of data from a lot of the static files to our content system. That requires a lot of patience and a little bit of magic to essentially merge our preproduction data entry database back into the live database. Finally, integrating with our games is always a huge challenge – we have lots of specialized systems and processes going on behind the scenes to get data from the thousands upon thousands of games being played. Just dealing with the size of the data itself is a big deal, let alone accessing it efficiently.
Who’s responsible for the new visual look of the site?
We started with an outside company called “if/then” to help us develop the general look and feel of the site. After we got the general parameters down, we started to apply our own artistic and branding viewpoints to it. Midway through we got Colm, one of our Halo 3 UI guys, to help with the site. You see, one of the goals was to not only make the site “Bungie”, but also make the stats section of the site feel like it matches the general feel of Halo 3’s UI. Who better than the guy designing the Halo 3 UI? Anyway, along with him and the help from several Bungie artists (like Lorraine McLees, Chris Barrett, and Aaron LeMay), the new Bungie.net has a much higher production value than our previous design.
Who’s responsible for the new navigation?
The new navigation was a primary design goal of the site. While our previous bottom navigation was novel, it wasn’t incredibly functional. It lead to a lot of dead ends and wasn’t obvious. So, between myself, Chris, and if/then, we came up with the idea of the simple single level pull down. There are no sub menus, just important destinations. We also added a “breadcrumb” navigation that shows you where you within the rest of the site, allowing you to quickly go back up to a main section from a deep area, automatically. Finally, Colm came up with the “hub” style menu you see in the Profile and Projects sections that is used for specific sub sections within a main menu area. They’re very handy in having a central location for all the places you can go in a section, without forcing us to clutter up the main menu navigation with sub menu options.
What were the disadvantages inherent in Ye olde Bnet design?
The old design had two main issues. The first issue was that it was very image heavy and complex. It used a lot of CSS tricks and images and tables to force layout on multiple browsers that made things very complicated. Most notably, though, is that it required a lot of images on each page to be loaded, and even if you had them cached in your browser, images can take a while to load. We solve this in the new design to restricting our style sheets to simply five files, with no special browser-specific style sheets like before. Furthermore, most of the layout is using text and CSS, with few images. This is especially apparent after the first load – after your browser caches the images, the site loads very quickly.
The second problem we had was content flexibility. Much of our content was contained in flat files, and changing or adding new content that wasn’t a top story required both knowledge of HTML and changing multiple cryptically named files. That’s all gone. Now, content is edited in place, stored in the database, doesn’t require Frankie to write HTML, and can be made to automatically appear where it is supposed to. Furthermore, some sections of the site even have an adjustable layout where needed. The idea is that a programmer (myself or Chris) should never be required to publish content. Previously, that was only true for top stories. Now, pretty much everything is fair game.
One final thing – let us know what you think by talking about the new design in the Bungie.net Community forum (formerly the Septagon). Bugs, feedback, feature suggestions, comments, questions, etc., and even criticisms – as long as it is constructive.
Did you know? Bnet Stats Stats:
So before the old Bnet went to the great data graveyard in the sky, it managed to log the following frightening figures in the Halo 2 stats section.
- 4,536,153,393 Player Games – that’s over 4.5 billion player games (basically counting each player in a match).
- 669,894,344 Games - Yup, Almost 670 million actual games ( a game being one entire session of say, CTF or Team Slayer).
- 4,756,377 Players – That’s just what it looks like. 4.75 million Gamertags.
- 6,897,295 Clans – Folks change clan a lot, But that’s still a crazy number.
* Special thanks to Tom, Chris, Aaron, Colm, Dave, Brian, Roger, Stosh, Doug, Zach and everyone else who contributed to the new look and feel of the site, and got the thing up and running with minimal pain.