A Look at Aleph One (Part 2)
Posted by Sketch at 1/13/2003 7:37 AM PST

A Look at Aleph One (Part 2)

By SketchFactor
Monday, January 13th, 2003, 3:37 PM

Most people wouldn't expect a developer owned by Microsoft to run articles about open-source projects on their web site. But Bungie is no ordinary developer, and Aleph One is no ordinary open-source project. This effort to maintain and extend the Marathon 2 engine has made extraordinary progress in the years since Bungie released the source code, and we wanted to learn more about it. The first half of this story introduced you to four members of the Aleph One team; now we take a closer look at Aleph One itself and discover what the future holds for this fascinating project.

[NB: Jesse Simko's responses did not reach us before we published the first half of this interview, but we've gone back and added them in, so feel free to reread the first article for the complete picture.]

What do you think your greatest or most personally satisfying contributions to the Marathon open source project have been thus far?

Alexander Strange: I've mostly done a lot of small things. Probably most of what I've done has been for the OSX (SDL and Carbon) ports.

Jesse Simko: My contribution to the project is been the source.bungie.org web site, and it's been really satisfying to see people flock to it and read the news and download new builds of Marathon. But since maintaining the site involves no C programming, I'll try to speak for the others, who have done the real work of improving Marathon... The most exciting development had to have been the introduction of Inio's now-infamous "Bridges and Balconies" feature, which added support for 3D architecture like freestanding bridges and (well, naturally) balconies. This combined with features like high-resolution textures and OpenGL smoothing to give the engine the ability to display graphics that were generations ahead of the original Marathon engine- just what I had dreamed of when I learned that the source had become available. Unfortunately the Bridges and Balconies feature was never integrated into the ever-evolving code-base, and now it exists only in the form of a languishing Mac OS 9 build that I rescued from a trash heap of old executables so that it could serve as the engine for my overambitious, half-finished, and now totally abandoned total conversion, Carlos on the Run.

Loren Petrich: The OpenGL graphics support. It's nice to have a more real-looking display on a big screen and an end to that ugly blockiness.

Also good is getting rid of several annoying bugs, like the long-distance bug and the geometry-complexity bug.

Woody Zenfell: Generally, I am quite pleased to have contributed (and to have had published) what I think of as pretty good code to the project. None of my other efforts has really quite made the jump off my disk out into public yet. (I was sort of hoping that having good, working, published code out there would make it easier to get a job working on games "for real". But that hasn't worked out just yet.)

As my mdev-list colleagues could tell you, I've written a fair amount of text (usually in e-mails to the list, but some in voluminous comments within source files) about a variety of A1 topics. There's a list archive, so I'd hope that some of the discussion could help some people down the line that actually attempt to implement some of the things we've talked about. But more satisfying for me is the brain exercise I get thinking through various improvements and what they would take. I feel like I've learned a fair amount.

In terms of a specific area of the code I contributed, well I'm particularly proud of my dialog boxes. Heh heh. Sounds kind of dumb, but I like having little pictures of players pop up instead of little colored rectangles when folks join the game. I'm pleased that folks can choose different Map files from the Setup Network Game box without having to go back over to the Environment settings. But more than anything else I like the Postgame Carnage Report. It took a long time, but I got all the little details exactly the way I wanted them. You know, when you're viewing by team, the little player pictures group together by team. When you're viewing the results for a specific team or player, the player or team highlights and the others dim. If there are only a few graph bars, the bars themselves are labelled "5 deaths" or "3 suicides". But if there get to be more, that'd be awfully cluttered, so it just labels the bars with the numbers and puts a legend in the corner. It's careful to position text so it doesn't overlap. Etc. For me, it's reminiscent of using a Mac vs. using Windows. I use both, and they're both fine for what they're good at, but the Mac usually seems to exhibit this extra level of refinement and polish that only comes with careful craftsmanship - getting all the details just right. And I think that's what makes it so much more pleasant to use. I'd like to think that my Postgame Carnage Report is polished and pleasant to use (at least for the three people out there who have actually played an A1 netgame ;) ). (Note that my dialogs only apply to SDL versions of the game - like the Windows version.)

Are there any features in particular that you'd really like to see added or completed?

AS: I'd like it to be able to start up even if it can't find a map with the default name. That's always annoyed me, and has existed in the original as well.

JS: I'd love to see rock-solid stability restored to the engine. A new offshoot of the Marathon Open Source effort, called "Aleph Modular" is aimed at doing just that by stripping the engine down to its roots, gutting its innards, and establishing a crash-proof, robust core that will be more accepting of future additions such as the Bridges and Balconies feature that we all miss so much.

LP: TCP/IP Networking. I've had difficulty working on it, because I do not have any real experience doing network programming, because I don't have access to some convenient LAN, and because I have only one usable machine at home.

WZ: Well I think everyone would be excited to have a predictive latency-hiding scheme for Internet play. But given the amount of effort that would require reworking stuff all throughout the game engine, I don't really see it happening in practice.

I'd like to see networking working properly on all platforms, not just those that are SDL-based. I'd like to see realtime network audio working on all platforms, not just Windows. I'd like to have pre-game, in-game, and post-game chat.

On another front, I would really like to see A1 break the 30fps barrier. Unfortunately doing this involves a lot of the same things as the predictive latency-hiding stuff, so it's a lot harder than one might first think.

I would also very much like to see built-in support for Marathon 1. The M1A1 project is great, and I appreciate their efforts, but it still doesn't let me play 3rd-party M1 levels.

I think some kind of cleaner scenario packaging/management would be nice. You know, you just pick "Marathon 2" or whatever, not "M2 Shapes", "M2 Sounds", "M2 Images", "M2 Physics", etc. etc.

Are there any features that don't get as much respect or use as they deserve?

AS: Pfhortran, the scripting language we've added. It can be used to do some really neat stuff.

JS: I'd have to say the most underrated feature is Pfhortran, which is a scripting language used for doing pretty much everything - adjusting lights, moving characters, giving the player items, and so on. I'm pretty amazed that Chris Pruett (now a Game Boy Advance programmer), was able to weave an interpreted language into the codebase. (But according to Chis, "Pfhortran works, and Pfhortran sucks.")

LP:I'm disappointed at the shortage of replacement model-making; progress on that has been much less than progress on substitute wall textures. Maybe I'll have to do some of that myself.

Also, Pfhortran has not gotten much use, but that may be because using it requires some programming ability. MML, however, only requires understanding its format. :)

WZ: Yeah, all the ones I spent so much time putting in there. Ha ha ha. No really, the IP networking stuff has had trouble making it back into the "Classic" version, which is what I suspect most people use, even on Mac OS X. There are some technical obstacles with the scheduling holding us back. And the official Mac OS X version, Aleph One Carbon (which does have IP networking support, thanks to Br'fin's efforts), still is a bit rough around the edges as I understand it - especially if you don't have 10.2. I think Marathon has been (sadly) primarily a Mac phenomenon, so having the most-functional version of A1 be the Windows version is somewhat unfortunate.

Really though, I think A1's cross-platform nature is a huge achievement - and for that I think the credit basically goes to the Bungie code's underlying modularity, the free SDL library, and Christian Bauer, with I gather some help from Loren Petrich (I wasn't around when that phase happened, so I'm not entirely sure who did what). But sadly there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of excitement in the community about non-Mac platforms. We are very fortunate to have Michael Adams making regular Windows builds, and I think a few people use A1 on Windows, but nobody's made builds for platforms like Linux for ages. (Though it was pretty cool to hear that A1 was recently ported to Dreamcast - wish that fellow had contributed to our CVS tree so the DC port won't wilt and die.)

Personally I'm also often surprised by just how many options and tweaks Loren Petrich has exposed via MML ("Marathon Markup Language") configuration files. I suspect a lot of that functionality goes unused in most cases as well.

I would gush about how great it is to have OpenGL rendering, hi-res textures, etc. but I suspect those features are properly appreciated. :)

The Marathon games had a relatively small but extraordinarily dedicated fanbase. Has that affected the development process, for good or ill?

AS: They've mostly been supportive. They mostly understand that we have to work in our free time and that we have to release a lot more often than you could, which causes bugs to occur more often.

JS: The fans that we come into contact with are the ones who write saying "I'm designing this really great scenario, but first you guys have to add features x, y, and z to the engine." When we deliver, they're very appreciative. When we don't they get discouraged and go design levels for Quake or something. Unfortunately that's what happened to most of the "old guard" Marathon fans who populated alt.games.marathon and the marathon.org and bungie.org forums.

Long ago, the most dedicated of Marathon's scenario-designing fans prided themselves on knowing all the ins and outs of Marathon's content creation tools, Forge and Anvil, and also ResEdit, which (according to legend) could be used to make the application completely unrecognizable as the Marathon engine. But the newfangled open source engine must have felt like a moving target. For three years Marathon Infinity had the same stable engine, and the same bugs, which called for the same workarounds. It's a real bubble-burster to learn that everything you know about how to design a scenario that won't crash the engine is no longer true.

Only a truly dedicated programmer would use his talents nurturing an antiquated engine that has been abandoned by many talented scenario designers, as alternative first-person-shooter engines emerge on the Mac platform. To anyone who understands interface design and gameplay, the appeal of Marathon is obvious and undeniable; it still feels like the most Mac-like game engine out there. Even so, you can't overlook the dedication of those who remain committed to this engine after the better part of a decade.

LP: It has resulted in a shortage of development expertise; 3dfx-card support has been imperfect, because nobody with such expertise has been willing to step up and do 3dfx-specific stuff to help display the HUD, save dialogs, etc.

Which has meant that I've gotten lots of feature requests, with me often to implement them.

WZ: Yes, in exactly the ways you might expect. I think the A1 community, given its relatively small size, has put a surprising amount of stuff in there. I'm especially impressed that folks have taken the trouble to create hi-res versions of the various textures (even if those folks occasionally took a little too much freedom for my taste, e.g. breaking up the color scheme of the M2 water textures by giving the doors primary red and blue markings). But of course because the developer community is small, advancements often don't come as quickly as folks would probably like. Because the user community is small, things often don't get very well-tested early on, and it's discouraging as a developer to think that you'll invest a whole bunch of effort and hardly anyone will ever see it.

With all the acclaim the Marathon games garnered for their story, and all the quality single-player scenarios created by players, was there any emphasis placed on expanding the abilities of scenario designers?

AS: Definitely. There's MML, which makes it so you don't have to patch the application to change the weapon names, for instance.

JS: The Marathon Markup Language, Pfhortran, support for high-resolution textures, new level editors like Pfhorge, and features like Bridges and Balconies were all created with scenario designers in mind. Other additions, like OpenGL texture smoothing and support for Windows and Linux, were designed to get more out of existing content. But I'd have to say that most of the emphasis has always been on expanding the abilities of scenario designers.

Recently the pendulum has shifted back towards stretching existing content further - the big effort now is to stabilize the engine and get multiplayer games working better. Maybe it was a mistake to save that for last; I don't have much of an understanding of the process of writing in C, but the new scenario design features might have been better integrated into a solidified engine than the one initially dropped by Bungie back in January of 2000.

LP: MML is an obvious one -- I've succeeded in exposing the large majority of engine parameters to scenario composers, though it does not get used as much as one might hope.

WZ: Not on my part, but other efforts like Loren's MML configuration, Chris Pruett's Pfhortran scripting, and Ian Rickard's abortive Bridges and Balconies attempt have tried to extend scenario author's reach. Of those, I think the MML configuration is the most exciting, because Loren has exposed so much stuff for tweaking. Pfhortran is probably pretty valuable for single-player scenarios, but currently it's very much broken for any sort of network play (including cooperative play), so I probably value it less than it actually deserves.

Of course, we're also in the debt of folks, like Joshua Orr, who are making tools to encourage developments that exploit A1's capabilities.

Recently Aleph One acquired TCP/IP support, one of the most-requested features for Marathon for years (even before the source was released). What's next?

AS: Making the networking work better :)

It's still mostly based on the old Appletalk networking stuff, which was great if you were all on a Token Ring network, but not for Internet games or something with a lot more lag.

JS: The effort to stabilize the engine seems to be picking up steam, and that will probably be followed by a serious attempt to get network play working better. As it stands, Marathon uses a fault-intolerant networking model - rather than transferring the game state across the network to the various players, only players' keystrokes are sent. So games occasionally get out of sync even on fast networks, with different computers showing the same character in two different positions. The problem just gets worse on slow networks, and it's horrible on the Internet, where dropped packets result in lost keystrokes.

LP: I've long hoped to start work on using the open-source Crystal Space engine, http://crystal.sourceforge.net as an alternative platform for running Marathon-engine stuff -- I'd write some code that composes a CS map internally from a Marathon one. The nice thing about CS is that one can easily do the equivalent of B&B in it without much trouble.

Also long in the works has been B&B itself -- Bridges and Balconies. However, that has been coming along slowly, and it is still feature-incomplete. One can see B&B's, but one can't walk on them. I'm disappointed that its developers have not incorporated partial versions into the main code.

WZ: I would hope that smoothing out installation problems and support in the Carbon version for pre-10.2 are near the top of the list. I'd also like to be sure that networking works right in Carbon - there have been some problems reported.

But realistically, I think it's hard to predict what the next big improvement will be. We're just a loose batch of developers who work on whatever catches our interest.

As developers, you must spend a fair amount of time testing things out.

WZ: Hmm, obviously you haven't actually TRIED Aleph One. Ha ha ha. No, really on Windows and Mac OS X with the "Classic" version, I think it works pretty well, once you get it installed right. But there are some lingering problems here and there, and the installation process could probably stand to be improved and made more friendly. Aleph One Carbon might work great on 10.2, also, but since I only have 10.1.5 I probably have a less-positive view of it at the moment than I should.

What's your all-time favorite Marathon map?

AS: Some of the Marathon 2 maps, and Tempus Irae. Rubicon is also nice, but tends to stress my video card.

JS: Glad you asked! I must confess, I was never one to actually buy games, so that meant I spent an inordinate amount of time playing and replaying the Marathon 2 Demo. My favorite map from those days was undeniably "What About Bob?" Nothing matched the thrill of racing a rising stream of lava up a set of spiraling staircases, leaving the cyborgs I so elegantly circumvented to be toasted by the flames below. But my all-time favorite Marathon map was made by the geniuses at Double Aught. The first level of Marathon Infinity, Ne Cede Malis, provided a rather tedious and frustrating gameplay experience, but from an aesthetic point of view, I was really blown away by the advanced mapmaking techniques that went into creating that level. The use of floating switches and 5D space made for the Marathon trilogy's coolest elevator shaft, and the very small polygons throughout the level allowed for intracate geometeric detail and fantastic lighting effects. There's so much atmosphere there. It's a darn shame Double Aught disbanded before they could complete their next project, Duality - which is, among games that never came out, far and away the best!

LP: I usually use Marathon 2 for that purpose, and sometimes some test maps I've created. I'd sometimes use maps from other scenarios, however.

WZ: Oh c'mon, nobody can pick just one! For me, there are a lot of net levels that have some nostalgic value, particularly M1 levels. "Mars Needs Women" for obvious reasons. "Waldo World Arena". "What goes up...". Suicide levels like "Which One?". Marathon: the Gathering levels like "Lord of the Pit". Some Bungie M2 net levels like "Ok, honeybunny" and "Everyone's Mortal But Me".

On the single-player front, M1's "Arrival" for obvious nostalgic reasons. Lots of M2 levels, like "If I Had a Rocket Launcher, I'd Make Somebody Pay" and "Eat It, Vid Boi!!" (if only for the name ;) I'm sure I'm not the only one who still goes "Eat THAT, Vid Boi!" when I do something especially vicious to another player). But the Infinity single-player levels might be the most memorable (sorry Bungie), since that game succeeded in building such a disconcerting, surreal feeling, and some had ridiculously complex level designs like "Aie Mak Sicur."

Many thanks to Alexander, Jesse, Loren and Woody for answering all our questions, and for their continuing efforts to preserve and improve the Marathon experience.

Breaking In - Reed Shingledecker 

Posted by DeeJ at 12/18/2012 11:37 AM PST

Melting your face with FX...

What’s in a name? An artist by any other name could create environmental effects that are just as sweet. Yet, you have to admit that this guy carries a moniker through life that you’ll not soon forget. We can only hope, for all of our sakes, that his work on our next game will leave an equally indelible impression. Let’s see if he’s up to the challenge…

You there! Identify yourself, and tell us what you’re doing here.

My name is Reed Shingledecker and I’m an FX Artist here at Bungie. I’ll assist in bringing beautiful worlds to life with environmental effects and, occasionally, create a grand explosion that melts faces off.

Thank you for making our game a beautiful place in which to have one’s face melted. Are you an environmentalist in the real world as well? Or just in ours?

Outside of work, I’m usually pretty laid back. I recently picked up playing the violin, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, it’s very rewarding when you can play a song that people recognize and enjoy. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest.

It sounds like you are more of an indoor guy, then. You don’t hear a lot of kids saying that they want to be “Environment Effects Artists” when they grow up. What did your younger self used to dream about doing with his grown up self?

I really wanted to be a professional baseball player when I was younger. I played second base and I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. When I got into high school, I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen after not making the team. I shifted my studies to becoming a chef. I was sure to attend a culinary school, until the day I watched Pixar’s Toy Story. That movie altered my life path to where I am today.

Unfortunately for your ambitions, the only education that Disney provides leads to theme park experience. Where, then, did you decide to seek higher learning that would enable you to melt faces with digital entertainment?

I received my Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institute of Portland. There, I learned most of the principal tools in 3DS Max and Maya. I still use principals of animation and scale, form, and perspective. All of that is extremely useful in creating realistic art in games.

Are we the first place that has had you creating art for games? Or was there another stop for you along the path that leads from watching a Pixar movie to working on our Art Team?

Before working at Bungie, I spent three and a half years at a small FX outsourcing studio in Seattle. I was more than blessed to work on eleven different games: including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2, Darksiders, XCOM, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. I was a level builder on the Call of Duty titles. On all the others, I worked on FX. I was fortunate enough to work under industry vets with fifteen years of experience. They taught me everything I know about creating awesome art.

You’ve got some great games under your professional belt. Was that, along with the dashing name at the top of your resume, enough to convince us that we should take a look at you? How did you get your foot into our heavily-guarded door?

I just kept applying. I must have applied to Bungie twice a year for 6 years. As my portfolio grew, so did my quality of work. I kept removing the older work which wasn’t as good as my current work. I think my work on XCOM is what might have impressed them most.

We’ll never tell. It takes more than a kick ass portfolio to close the deal here, as you know. Do you remember the most challenging moments from your interview loop? Have you repressed those memories like a traumatic episode?

It took me about a year of interviewing at different places to feel confident in my work. I was a little afraid of change but I wanted this job so bad that I wasn’t going to let myself down. The interview was surprisingly easy and their interest in me was apparent so it went really smooth.

You’re shattering our image as a tough sell, but I won’t ask you to fabricate any nightmare stories. Now that you have your dream job, what’s the best thing about coming into work every day?

Getting to work with the most talented people in the industry. I can look over my monitor and see a lot of mind-blowing work that has yet to make it into the game. It makes me work just that much harder to keep up with the quality bar here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Describe a day in the life in our studio.

I usually show up around nine, turn on my lamp, and smile really big knowing I’m at the greatest place on Earth. The studio is already buzzing with creativity. People are chatting about their night or about what they are going to be working on. I start by doing a quick play through of the level I am working on to see if anything has changed. Then for the next couple of hours I work on my task list until lunch. Being a new hire, I usually go out for lunch, since the company pays if you go with someone new every time. After lunch, it’s more creating FX tasks. During the day someone may or may not drop something and the studio will do a unified clap for that individual. It’s quite amusing. I then head out the door a little after six.

Sounds like you’re a stranger to crunch. Give us time. We’ll challenge you. Of course, we’ll give enough perks to help you survive. Which one do you think will help you go the distance?

My favorite perk is by the Bungie love. Being surprised with an onsite barista or random t-shirts is amazing. Every time an email comes in about a surprise I just sit back and smile thinking that I can’t believe this is happening to me.

Oh, it’s happening to you alright. We might have to do a follow up to this piece to see if you’re still this satisfied next year. We have a lot to build, and that’ll require each of us to elevate our own personal game. How do you plan to evolve your work while you work?

I try to stay ahead of the curve by seeing what others are doing and trying to do better. If I cannot do better, I ask them to show me how to. I’m always asking questions and also answering them when others ask. As I learn a new technique or a solution to a problem, I can take that knowledge forward and that becomes my quality bar. It like a giant never ending staircase and it so funny to look back at stuff you thought was awesome six months ago think that it’s not nearly as good as you could have done today.

You’ve made your job sound just as fun as some people might have imagined. You may have altered a path or two of your own through the course of this conversation – like your very own Toy Story. What would you suggest to the inspired?

To break into this industry I believe you have to really want it. It’s hard, there are long hours, crazy deadlines, and lots of coffee. But the reward is beyond amazing. Seeing people line up at midnight in the freezing cold to buy a game you worked on is an amazing feeling. When trying to break in, I made the classic mistake of having everything I had ever made in my portfolio. I quickly realized that I need to make better quality art and only show the very best. I ran through games and tried to recreate what I was seeing. Once I could make a model with a texture that would ship in a game, I knew I was ready to submit a portfolio that would be taken seriously.

Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent, Work Ethic, Experience. Talent will get you in the door. Work ethic will show your willingness to learn and Experience is a combination of the previous two.

We’re as thrilled to have Reed on the team as he is to be here with us. He’s not kidding about this being a nice place to work. If he’s sold you on the idea of making games for a living, but you don’t fancy yourself an artist, there’s no reason to lose hope. You can always browse the Breaking In archive in search of many paths to walk.

Tags: Breaking In


Breaking In - Andy Howell 

Posted by DeeJ at 12/11/2012 8:46 AM PST

Make me a match...

At Bungie, we believe that anything that's fun to do is more fun to do with your friends. This obviously includes playing a great game. But making a game that you can play with your friends over the Internet is no easy feat. Fortunately, we have can-do leaders like this guy to make sure we get it right…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Andy Howell. I’m the Matchmaking Test Lead here at Bungie! My team ensures that Matchmaking in our game is painless and fun. Without us, you would never be able to play with your friends. We help to push for quality across the entire matchmaking process, from start to finish of a game.

Sorry I can’t tell you more, you know... super-secret stuff.

I know all too well, my friend. Keeping secrets is a part of life at Bungie right now, but someday we’ll get to enjoy a conversation with our community about what we’ve been developing. Until then, how will you be passing the time?

Super-secret stuff. And Star Trek, other science fiction, motorcycles, fast cars, photography, comic books (mostly DC), and weird giant robot models. I also am very interested in honing my skills. I volunteer for many projects and make different “tech demos” and mods outside of work. I love breaking and building new fun things, usually in that order, followed by breaking them again.

With all this talk of breaking things and seeing them fixed, it would seem that you were born to be a Test Lead. Has this always been your plan? What did your inner seven year old dream of being?

A Starship captain, for reals. I wanted to protect the earth from aliens and explore the galaxy. Find strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civil… you get the idea.

It does sound familiar. Since mankind didn’t get around to creating a Starfleet you could enlist in by the time you reached a working age, what sort of schooling did you seek for yourself?

I studied Computer Science and Multimedia Production. I use what I learned EVERY DAY. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was tailoring an education to assist me in my future career, funny how that works.

A lot of people would call that lucky, rather than funny. Tell us how that worked for you. How did that future career start to take shape?

I started out in Information Technologies for education, teaching computers how to use teachers in their class rooms. Wait, I mean the other way around, maybe…

Then I moved on to become a multimedia producer for a church, which was really fun. Not only did I get to help people, but I was able to create cool new multimedia experiences. When I was laid off due to downsizing, I found out that Microsoft was looking for testers for their new super-secret project on the (then new) Xbox. I was testing Xbox LIVE functionality across all games a few weeks later.

The migration from working on Xbox LIVE to working at Bungie makes total sense, but can you recall the steps that led you to us?

I was found by a headhunter who needed to fill a contract role at Bungie. Next thing I knew, I was helping to finish up Halo: Reach. After we shipped the game, I went on to work for a few other game studios. However, Bungie had wanted me to come back, and the timing was finally right!

Welcome back. We missed you, but not enough to let you sidestep the standard interrogation in our interview chambers. Can you face those memories and provide would-be applicant with a warning about the horrors of our recruitment process?

Here at Bungie, we like to ask “interesting” questions. It helps us know how you think. My interrogation was an all-day process, so I would say my last few interviews started to get harder since I was very tired. I had just flown to Seattle from Rhode Island - the other side of the world almost – so I had Jet Lag, and my brain was fried from a day filled with questions. Someone asked me a logical testing question about a device I had never heard of or even thought to test. At first, I hit a brick wall. Then I started to think outside of the box. Obviously I pulled through.

Now that you’re in the box, what’s the best thing about the work that you do for Bungie?

I love that we take time to play our game here. When we bring a new system online, it’s great to see people playing with it, or interacting with it – and even better if they aren’t even aware of it. It’s very rewarding. We create fun, and I get to see it on the faces of my co-workers.

You paint a vivid big picture, but what is one day like around here?

FUN! I love what I do. I love the games we make. I can’t imagine doing anything other than making video games. Our average day is to break things and do science, what could be better than that?

It sounds like you’re pretty happy with your Bungie experience. And yet, we go well out of our way to keep guys like you content. What’s your favorite perk as a member of the team?

I would say it has to be the Bungie love we receive. For instance, Bungie will arrange for pre-screenings of movies, outside events, and other fun group activities.

What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? Describe that one moment in which someone appreciate your work, and assured you that you belonged here…

I would have to say when we work on a bug that ends up being a hornet’s nest, and we have to spend time unraveling the issue. Once we get to the core and can identify the problem with certainty, I am satisfied in my job. I try to recreate that moment every day.

Another thing we need to do every day is enrich our skills. What is your plan to become ever more dangerous to the bugs you’re hunting?

I talked a bit above about how I try to expand my wheel house with personal projects. I also spend a lot of time just playing video games. I’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, so that can be a task at this point. However, when I just play games, I find it makes me better at my job. The simple joy of playing a game makes me want to make our game as fun as I can.

That sounds like hard work, but it’s work that many people would like to do. What would you tell them to help set them on the path of becoming Test Lead?

Give it everything you have. I would suggest this to anyone trying to do anything they’re passionate about. You REALLY need to grab on with both hands and hold on to that dream. Learn all that you can about game development, build mods, play betas and alpha tests, read books. Do what you can to enrich yourself, because just wanting it is never enough. Dreamers just want it. Doers will build it and make it happen. You will never get what you want by just wanting it.

Andy is here because our games won’t test themselves, so we must return him to his daily pursuit of that perfect moment. While our Test Teams are the bedrock of our development process, Bungie needs doers of many different varieties. The Breaking In archive is a great place to learn all about the different kinds of fun that beckon from our development floor. We need doers of all kinds.

Tags: Breaking In


Breaking In - Jennifer Ash 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/27/2012 1:20 PM PST

You can't pick your own brain...

Making a video game is not an exact science, but that doesn't stop us from trying to come close at Bungie. Before our next game makes its way into your hands, we'll run wave after wave of lab rats through its maze (that’s a metaphor, not a clue). Those beta testers will show us the dead ends and point out the tastiest pieces of cheese. One of the proctors of these wicked experiments will be this nice lady, who only recently brought her white coat into our lab…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Jennifer Ash and I’m an Associate User Researcher. In this role, I look at how people play and perceive games. I like to pick your brain. User Research for games is particularly challenging, because everyone has their own interpretation of events. Some ways we explore this are analysis and visualization of game data, eye tracking, user tests, and surveys. Through our studies, we hope to create the best game experience for you!

When you're not picking (or analyzing) our brains, how do you amuse yours?

I enjoy playing board and video games, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching movies, TV, or Anime.

Let’s talk about the journey that led you to us. Bungie is rarely the first step in a career path. What were some of your first steps?

Prior to Bungie, I was the curriculum owner of the Academic Initiative for System z team at IBM. We connected professors, clients, and students in meaningful ways to aid with enterprise skill obtainment. For the last two years, I was also attending NYU for my Master’s degree while designing educational tools and games. Before that, I was a User Experience Designer for z/OS at IBM, which meant performing heuristic evaluations, designing prototypes, and performing user testing on various parts of the operating system.

Each experience provided something that helped prepare me for this job. Both industry and academia contributed to different communication and people skills over a variety of situations, which is useful in pretty much any role. Working on school projects, academic research projects, and client presentations required me to learn new skills and adapt to new situations.

It’s hard to imagine that you chose this adventure for yourself as a child. How did these goals come into focus?

Up until Junior High, I wanted to become a teacher. I’ve always been interested in math and science, so my dad suggested looking into engineering, which seemed a good fit, so I pursued that through freshman year of college. I was particularly interested in animatronics, combining robotics with behavior. Game development was a natural progression when I found out I could combine all of my interests in one career path!

You mentioned the value of your experiences in academia. Would you be so kind as to recall your full trek to higher learning?

I have a Master’s degree in Digital Media Design for Learning from New York University, focusing on design for games for learning. My undergraduate degree was a dual Bachelor of Science degree in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences with a concentration in Human-Computer Interaction, and Psychology, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

I still use a lot of what I learned from both majors. Game design and user research both require pulling from a wide variety of skills, so having a breadth of knowledge from computer science, engineering, cognitive science, psychology, and game design has helped a lot.

We’re pretty lucky to have a person of your skills to help us create a game that will make sense to the player. How did that courtship start? Can you tell us how you stood out among the people who want to work for Bungie?

I used purple ink on my resume. No, in all seriousness, we don’t get told what specifically made us stand out as an applicant. If I were to speculate, it was probably the breadth and depth of my resume/experience. I’ve always been focused on game design and user research. I am knowledgeable in a variety of programming languages which helps when performing data analysis and tooling. I have experience with research and scientific procedure for user studies. While a game design focus can make you a wary candidate in user research, understanding where the design team is coming from in their decision making process can be useful as long as you can stay objective. A lot comes down to timing, and being at the right place at the right time, but knowing the company and skills necessary helps a lot.

It helps get you in the door, but it doesn’t guarantee that you can stay. You have to survive an interview loop to enjoy that privilege. What was the hardest part about your trial as an applicant?

The interview questions. Some of the questions are more about your thought process and considerations, so it’s very difficult to know if what you gave was a ‘right’ answer or not. Not to mention the interview lasts for a good majority of the day, with a wide variety of interviewers, so you never know what to expect next. It’s both exhausting and exciting at the same time.

Your exhaustion has served you well. Now that you are one of us, what is the most exciting thing about researching the user?

Seeing people enjoy the game! We get to interact with users at very early stages, and it’s great to see how people feel about the game, and the changes made over time based upon early feedback or discoveries from our studies.

You speak of how your work evolves over time, but how would you describe just one day in the lab?

I typically get into work and grab a cup of coffee and read through emails. After, it comes down to tackling one of many projects, be it prepping a study, performing data analysis/visualization on a previous study, or playing a new build of the game. Then there’s lunch, which may or may not involve a newbie lunch (for the first 6 months of employment, teams can take a new employee out to lunch for free). After lunch, its back to working on projects, with an afternoon break to grab coffee with my team. Throughout the day, there’s usually multiple discussions regarding various upcoming or past studies, or hunting down people to find out further details regarding specifics of the game. With an open floor work environment, it makes it easy to start a conversation to discuss a particular aspect.

Other than the office-less floor plan and the free coffee, what’s the best thing about working here?

The people. The expertise and talent of the people who work here is incredible. There’s a high concentration of passionate, knowledgeable people that makes problem solving and brainstorming of any kind extremely effective.

I know you just got here, but is it too early to ask about your proudest moment in our studio?

I MacGyver’d a Halloween costume in a weekend made of spray paint, Christmas ornaments, electric candles, epoxy and a black dress that people actually recognized.

Ah, yes! You were our human Dalek (ardent fans of Dr. Who can plunder our Facebook page for more details). Aside from impromptu fashion challenges, how do you plan to enrich your skills in the service of great games?

I’ve always kept myself busy with side projects and volunteer opportunities. My Master’s program stays in touch via Facebook, and that always provides a number of interesting developments across academia and industry. I’ve found industry conferences are useful, not just for the information obtained, but the people I meet and the energy and motivation from being amongst others with similar passions and skills.

I had little doubt that you would keep the tip of your spear sharp. Would grindstone would you recommend to aspiring user researchers who want to be just like you when they grow up?

Don’t rely on just school work to get you in. It is a VERY competitive industry, and breaking in is often the most difficult part. Having side projects or research projects can really help demonstrate the unique skills you can bring to a company. Understanding what skills are necessary for the position you’re interested in helps a lot. And don’t stop networking. The games industry is still fairly small, all things considered, and it doesn’t hurt to know people.

The lab awaits your triumphant return, so we will conclude what has been a lovely chat with this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent and Experience could be interchangeable. Experience is necessary because many best practices aren’t well documented in this field yet, so having the knowledge of techniques or analyses that work well for a particular area is useful. Talent is useful because with any study that involves subjective data, it takes some intuition to know where to push for more information and what is important. Good work ethic is necessary for any role to be successful, so not as important as the other two to user research specifically.

We have picked Jennifer’s brain enough for now. It’s time to return her to the eager test-subjects who are lining up to do their part for Science. If her story has inspired you to become one of her coworkers, but Science is not your thing, don’t lose hope. We need all types at Bungie, and you stand a good chance of finding someone with skills like yours in the Breaking In archive.

Tags: Breaking In


Breaking In - Drew Smith 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/14/2012 11:28 AM PST

Producing our message to the world...

Someday, Bungie will emerge from behind this self-imposed curtain of secrecy with wondrous tidings of an impending game. There will be thunderous announcements, introspective discussions about our creative process, and cryptic forecasts about the adventures that await you as the player. When we cross that glorious threshold, we’ll need to be organized enough to not trip all over ourselves. To keep us on our feet, we lured this fresh face into our midst…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Drew Smith. I’m a Producer charged with managing Marketing, PR, and the Writing Team. My goal here is to build out a schedule, facilitate communication with developers, manage the workflow for the narrative team, and to wrangle Pete Parsons.

Parsons defies the act of wrangling. He’s like vapor, seemingly everywhere at once - but enough about him. When you’re not attempting to control the weather in our world, what’s happening in yours?

Games, duh. I play lots of Dota 2, although a six-week break did not help my skills. I’ve been practicing Muay Thai for about a year and a half and I’m a pseudo-wine snob. I read books on astrophysics and The Economist on a regular basis, I do math for fun, I write, and I hoard like a dragon. I’m really trying to work on the hoarding part.

Don’t go changing on our account. Your compulsion to hold on to every little detail will only do you credit here. From what I’ve heard (when I eavesdrop on your conversations), you’ve been around the block of the video game industry. Tell us a little bit about the companies you used to hoard for before we invited you to join us at Bungie?

I spent seven years in different roles at Take-Two Interactive. I did everything from Marketing, Business Development, Publishing Production, and Development Production. Take-Two gave me the opportunity to work on some huge games/franchises (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, BioShock, Borderlands, Civilization, NBA). I also got to see the industry from multiple perspectives. It helped me build a good understanding of the needs, demands, and goals of each discipline.

You’ve climbed some serious mountains, and your resume is a reminder that this industry is not all art, design, and programming. It takes a few suits (that don’t actually wear suits) to put a game in the hands of a gamer. Were your ambitions always so business oriented?

When I was nine, aside from the obvious Astronaut/Scientist dreams, I sent two letters (one to Nintendo and one to Lego) asking for a job. They told me to apply when I got older.

So your adventure began. Of course, getting older is the easiest part of qualifying for a job making games. What else did you do to prepare yourself for this exciting career that led you to us?

I went to undergrad in NYC and majored in Economics. From there I started taking grad school classes in marketing, conflict resolution, storytelling, public speaking, string theory, and physics. Had I not been hired by Take-Two, I would have gone for an advanced degree of some sort. Economics is extremely useful in understanding trade, the market, monetary policy, and a basic understanding of how the world operates.

And string theory is good for understanding, well, everything! Although, that’s the first time anyone has ever mentioned it here. Was it your dabbling in theoretical sciences that enticed us to take a closer look at you?

I like to think it was my awesome list of prior experience, along with a few sprinkles of magical pixie dust.

We don’t believe in pixies, and dust is bad for the machines. It was the experience. Nevertheless, no one just skates into this place. Would you agree? What memories from your interview loop haunt your dreams?

Nine hours in a small room downstairs. Also, Matt Priestley is a hard guy to read.

Like playing poker with a cyborg, that one. I, on the other hand, wear my heart squarely on my sleeve. How would you describe the experience of being my newest and closest neighbor?

Pretty magical. I’ll be working and minding my own business and out of the corner of my eye I’ll see you look over and give a little nod as if to say, “Get back to work. This isn’t happy hour.” Then, I remind you that something on your schedule is overdue.

You mean like this weekly feature? The one that’s usually published two days ago? Fair enough. Aside from keeping me in check, what’s the most rewarding thing about your new home?

I’d say getting to work with an extremely talented team on groundbreaking stuff.

That’s far enough. We’re not in marketing mode yet. We still need to be vague about what’s going on around here, so just describe a day in the life of a Bungie newbie.

It’s chock’full’o’meetings (and potentially nuts as well).

Guilty as charged. There are enough nuts in this place to stock a snack bar. Speaking of which, what’s the best perk you enjoy as a member of our team?

So many good benefits. For me, the best is an instant feeling of camaraderie and appreciation.

Give it time. Someday, we’ll hassle you to tell us what you’ve learned since you showed up here. What will you do between now and then to have a snappy answer at the ready?

Aside from reaching out to my fellow Producers for tips, I’ll learn more about the challenges my teams face so that I can better support them. Learning about the way Bungie makes games has also inspired me to familiarize myself with the tools we use.

Your trek to the desk behind mine is one that many people might not have imagined. There’s a chance that one of our readers has poured over all these interviews looking for a way into this industry, only to lose heart that they aren’t an artist or a scientist. How can they follow your business acumen?

Be persistent and look for openings. Reach out to people you know. If you don’t know anyone, join the IGDA, go to GDC or use LinkedIn (people are willing to offer their advice and you never know what you might learn). There are a lot of jobs in the game industry so don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. If all else fails make something cool… or consider sending Deej flowers (he loves flowers).

I do not love flowers. In fact, I hate anything that cannot be delivered digitally.

What I love is exploring all of the many ways in which people find work doing something that they love. Drew is just one of the newer recruits that now walk our development floor. His freshman classmates are taking a seat in the Breaking In archive one by one.

Tags: Breaking In


Breaking In - Adam Brown 

Posted by DeeJ at 11/6/2012 12:09 PM PST

Coding on the go...

Bungie.net can reach you wherever life finds you. There is no escaping our charms!  Which device is it that’s enabling us to share a small piece of our world with you? You could be nestled into a comfy chair in front of your favorite computer, or propped up work pretending to look busy. If you find yourself on the go, sampling some Bungie culture right from the palm of your hand, you can thank gentlemen like this…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Adam Brown and I do mobile development at Bungie (that means iOS and Android). I’m looking forward to getting some awesome apps out there for everyone to better communicate through Bungie.net!

It would be very hard to sustain a community without the means for communication, so we appreciate your work. What do you do with your life when you’re not building bridges between the passionate players of our games?

I love hacking on all sorts of quirky projects outside of work: hardware, software, Arduino, whatever comes to mind. When I do manage to get away from the digital world, I love backpacking, camping, sailing, whatever outdoor adventure I can think of.

It’s great that you take a break from all that serious coding to channel your inner-child. Speaking of childhood, when outdoor adventures were your only responsibility, what did you foresee as your grown-up occupation?

Train Conductor. Not Superman, or an astronaut, but a Train Conductor. I was really shooting for the stars. After that, it was always a Software Engineer. I started modding games and making maps for Half-Life, and began to get the idea that I might like making games.

Someone needs to make sure the trains run on time! Once you had found the right track for you, how did you prepare yourself to steam into the station?

I got a Computer Science degree, and I get to use it every day! The theory matters too, kiddos!

What were some of the experiments that you conducted as a Computer Scientist before you joined us in the Bungie lab?

I actually had a pretty wide range of programing jobs before this. For my first job out of college, I worked at a tiny game company where I was the main programmer. I wrote the engine and game code. It was a huge learning experience, but the company went out of business after shipping our first game. I went on to do front-end web programming for monster.com. It turns out I’m not a fan of big corporate environments. Who knew? Later, I did low-level programming for DirecTV set top boxes. Finally, I began doing some consulting making Android apps for companies. That is ultimately what brought me to Bungie, so I guess it all worked out!

Slow down, now. You make it sound like joining the Bungie team is easy. Let’s back up and relive your interview loop to appropriately strike terror into the hearts of would-be applicants.

There was a phone screen first, so I guess said something right. The final interview is fairly long and intensive, and you keep having these minor freak outs in your head: “Holy crap, I’m sitting in Bungie’s office and the guy talking to me worked on Halo. Crap what did he say while I was thinking this?” It still seems a bit surreal that I work here.

You’re here alright. This is not a dream. What’s the most rewarding thing about this surreal existence?

It’s honestly hard to pick. As a Software Engineer, I have to say Bungie’s dedication to software quality, the fact that they really care and want to take the time to do things right, is a breath of fresh air after coming from other development houses where the software is just a means to an end.

We do a lot of other things to keep you content and banging out quality code at Bungie that have nothing to do with software. Which of those perks make you the happiest?

There is a cabinet in the kitchen just labeled: Meat.

We keep it stocked just for jerks like you (pun intended). How does a delicious dose of salted meat factor into your daily routine?

I stroll in around 9AM. Never did I think that getting in just after 9 would make me the “early guy” on the team, but here it does. I scan over reddit quickly (you know, just to check and see if there’s Bungie news). Then I get down to business! My team leader does a pretty great job of keeping distractions and bureaucracy away from us, so I probably get more actual programming done at this job than anywhere I’ve worked before. When lunchtime comes around, we usually go grab some take-out and come back to the studio to eat and play Magic: The Gathering. Post lunch is a medley of programming and deciding which beef jerky to try from the Meat cabinet. It’s a veritable nerd paradise.

Oh, man, you’re one of those Magic geeks? In that case, tell us about the time you cast your favorite spell at Bungie.

I was prototyping some features in an app and testing them on a tablet. A producer who was looking over my shoulder cut in with “You have a cool job, that looks awesome.” I thought to myself, “Yes I do.”

Having a cool job isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Getting better and better at doing that cool job all the time. How do you make that happen?

It helps that I love what I do. I’m always reading articles about new things in software development and working on little side projects to try out new ideas.

Imagine if you will that your tale of programming and magic has inspired someone to become your apprentice. What wisdom would you share with them?

Play games, work hard! Playing games is as much about keeping up with the state of the industry as it is a cultural fit. And work hard, because making games is hard work!

And you have some hard work that demands your attention, so we’ll wrap up this chat and return you to the trenches. Before you go, please stack this deck in order of importance to your role: Experience, Work Ethic, and Talent.

Hard to rank ‘em, but: Experience, Work Ethic, Talent. Experience because Mobile development is still the Wild West, so there are some really strange bugs that you can only solve from having seen them before. Work Ethic, because Bungie is ambitious! And of course, Talent is always an important base to build your experience.

Mobile development is just one frontier that we’re exploring at Bungie. Prospectors of every variety are being lured west on our careers page. To learn more about the different types of precious metals in our hills, you can check out the Breaking In archive.

Tags: Breaking In



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