Breaking In - Reed Shingledecker

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.

Breaking In 12/18/2012 11:37 AM PST permalink

Breaking In - Andy Howell

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.

Breaking In 12/11/2012 8:46 AM PST permalink

Breaking In - Jennifer Ash

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.

Breaking In 11/27/2012 1:20 PM PST permalink

Breaking In - Drew Smith

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.

Breaking In 11/14/2012 11:28 AM PST permalink

Breaking In - Adam Brown

Coding on the go... 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!

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 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.

Breaking In 11/6/2012 12:09 PM PST permalink

Breaking In - Forrest Söderlind

A character among characters...

Happy Halloween! As people bring ghastly characters to life with their costumes and decorations, we’d like to introduce you to a member of the Bungie Team who does this every day in the games that we make. For this artist, realizing our worst fears is all part of the business…

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

I am Forrest Söderlind. The title on my card reads (lambda x: x if type(x) is ‘rigger’ else x=’tech_artist’), but most people know me as a Technical Artist. My job is to create deformation skeletons, control rigs, skin weights, and tools for the animation and cinematics teams. What this means is that when you see the characters moving around in the game world and the cinematics, I played a part in making it so they are alive and how they look as they move.

Before we learn what it takes to give life to these characters, let’s talk about real life. What are your interests outside of work?

What is this ‘outside of work’ you speak of? Actually, I’m really busy outside of work as well. I’m into death metal, black metal, grindcore metal, thrash metal, speed metal, doom metal, power metal, industrial metal, djent metal, and showtunes. I kid, I kid - I’m not that much into doom metal, but I’ll enjoy it occasionally.

When I’m not listening to music, I’m usually found learning a language. This month’s language focus has been C#. I’ve also done some world travelling and we’re aiming to hit all continents. So far, we’ve hit North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Only three left… then it’s time for space! Oh, and I was in a metal band, unsurprisingly, and still make music today of a more glitch nature (still sounds like metal where appropriate).

Are you sure you’re in the right place? It sounds as if you may have wanted to be a rock star when you grew up.

Do we ever really grow up? Philosophical, snarky answers aside; I’ve known that I’ve wanted to work in video games since my family first owned a Commodore64. I have some art skills and some technical skills, so a mashup of both is a perfect fit for me. From then on, it’s been lots of research and development (c’mon, Mom, just one more level?!), drawing, painting, and programming. Actually, when I was a kid, I did see a glimpse of me working on a flux capacitor sometime in the future…

You were wise to settle for more practical aspirations, as we can make games without the burden of generating 1.21 gigawatts of electricity. Has your entire career focused on Technical Art?

I’ve worn many hats throughout my career, including tech support, software support, hardware support, computer building/repair, and game testing. I’ve played a lot of other video games, on console, portable, and PC – my favorite portable system is the Virtual Boy. A Technical Artist is part support, part content and my experiences enable me to assist in a wide variety of tasks, when necessary.

Wearing many hats requires a big head filled with all kinds of knowledge. How did you learn all the things you would need to do this job for Bungie?

I have an AAA in Programming, an AAA in Computer Animation, and a BFA in Production Animation. I use all of the skills I learned in school just about every day. I also learned how to work with other people since, largely up to that point, I was focused on solo projects. In each school, video games were relatively untaught, so I studied short and feature films. Today, there are more options for training in games, but curriculum quality is still being worked out in many schools. There’s much to be gleaned from film about storytelling, character design, environment design, and character development. All of this is transferred into games (hopefully) and blended seamlessly (hopefully) for players to enjoy. A great game will immerse you without you even knowing.

Your hope is a beacon in the night for students who are about to embark on their own adventure. Once your schooling was complete, how did you infiltrate our studio?

I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude. I was part of a couple local meetings and lunches that my current team members also attended and we just got excited talking about the same sort of ideas. We’re definitely on the same wavelength, with the same goals in mind. Also, my appearance is hard to forget. I have a clearly defined silhouette (Character Design Lesson #1, kids).

It sounds like the introduction was like a first date. Was the interview as much of a love affair?

The hardest part was figuring when to stop discussing cool ideas and plans for the future with everyone. Also, the interview room had no windows and my retina UI was disabled on the way in, so I didn’t have any reference for the time that passed. It seemed like the first three months of the interview went by so quickly, that the next three months started without being aware that time had actually progressed. The next few months of the interview were fairly grueling, but once I foraged for food, fresh water, and a razor, I was equipped to handle the oncoming interview years.

(Disclaimer: Forest is exaggerating for effect. The Bungie Interview loop lasts a standard Earth day – but can feel much longer.) What is the reward for all those years of struggle?

The most rewarding thing is working with an esteemed group of people on a fantastic project every single day. It is just amazing to see all the characters coming to life and running around in the world. The feeling that our cinematics give is just breathtaking to me. We make games that we want to play, have fun doing it, and that is very exciting for me.

What does that mean in the course of one day?

After battling several bears and wolves on the way to work, I hit the gym. Sometimes I’ll eat a steak or two before the gym, depending on how many bears I’ve beaten. Then, I’ll have two more steaks to prepare for work. I’ll usually get the latest build, meet up with some of the other tech artists for steak, and discuss the plans for world domination. Then we’ll move on to building a character skeleton or two with our bare hands and checking for animator or artist tool needs. If there are bugs in our tools, we’ll fix those, while fighting off wolverines. After lunch, which is usually a couple of steaks, wrapped in steak, we’ll check out some character designs and plan out upcoming skinning or weighting work. Sometimes, we’ll need to update characters or control rigs, so those are usually longer processes, spanning a couple days. We’ll finish off the day with a nice steak, and sometimes a steak wrapped in bacon to help balance out all the other steaks.

If you’re not going to take this seriously, no one is gonna learn a thing. Please name, as sincerely as you can, you favorite perk as a Bungie Employee. You may only use the word “steak” once.

My favorite perk is definitely the gym membership, so I can be fit for the Zombie Apocalypse. I go every day, and sometimes eat a steak there. It’s vital to have some sort of physical exercise since most of us lead a rather sedentary lifestyle.

But we accomplish so much from that sedentary posture! Among all of your accomplishments at Bungie, which one stands out in your memory as the highlight of all that sitting around?

While I was learning how the vehicle system in Reach worked, I made a test vehicle using a skateboard. I set up a shredder animation set with ollies, airwalks, street plants, ollie finger flips, heelflips, impossibles, kickflips, etc. While it was pretty sweet, there wasn’t enough memory to support the extra vehicle in game. Using our carefully handcrafted tools, I transferred the animation to the Mule character (the giant beast that the Covenant were attempting to wrangle), doing the same tricks on more appropriately-sized Warthog. That was also pretty badass and we tried to find a place to jam it into memory. Sadly, it never made it onto the disc.

It’s just as well. Skateboards have never fared well in battle. With the obvious exclusion of pushing the boundaries for combat vehicles, how have you been able to expand on our skills working at Bungie?

I’m always working on little home projects, trying out different animation controllers in other engines, or testing out MIDI interface devices for DJ software and/or game engines. I never waste my commuting time and always have my laptop active while riding the bus, working on game prototypes or creating music. See other interests for more details.

Aside from sitting next to you on a bus, is there anything you would recommend that hopeful developers do to learn more about our corner of the industry?

Keep working on projects, whether it’s art content, audio, or programming. Find a small team to work with and finish the project. Keep scope small and achievable. Lots of projects get started, but very few are finished. Work on mods, level packs, game prototypes, short films, and anything that will show the skills that you can bring to the table. Playable demos and videos are great. We need to see what you can do, rather than just hear about it.

Get to know people in the industry – attended GDC, Siggraph, E3, etc. The more people in the industry that get to know you, the more they’ll think of you if they’re looking for an engineer or a modeler (or whatever your specialty is). Forums are also a great way to get involved, but be polite and people will respect you back. Ask questions pertaining to your projects and offer good advice to those asking for it.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Forrest. Before we return you to the characters that need rigging, please sort these virtues for us: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

I’ve found a better metric that seems to fit. I show my Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent at all times. That being said, while it’s good to have a balance of all of them, Nerve and Experience are key to my role as it’s important to not be afraid to try things out, while keeping in mind the things that didn’t work in the past. It’s also important to be Flexible and Evolve to develop better workflows and tools that continually improve. I include Charisma since a large part of my job is support for animation and cinematics and it’s crucial to be approachable when dealing with some very complex issues that happen when making a game and have Patience in order to come up with solutions and explain them. Work Ethic is also important, and very imperative to know when to stop working, go home, get some rest, and come back the next day refreshed and ready to dive in again.

Forrest is obviously a character in his own world, and his world is a stage for his own show. We wouldn’t have it any other way at Bungie. As a bonus for this Halloween Edition of the Breaking In series, we give you a startling visage from his time spent next door, enjoying his favorite perk.  Metal enthusiasts call that corpse painting - the perfect accessory for some dead lifting.  We call it just another day at the office.

Breaking In 10/31/2012 9:14 AM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Joseph Ainsworth

Machines making machines...

Game development relies heavily on machines. The more work the machines can do, the more the people who wield those machines are freed up to dream and create. While it sounds dangerous to give machines more and more control of our lives, this guy assures me that we have everything under control…

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

My name is Joseph Ainsworth and I am an Associate Test Engineer at Bungie. In simple terms, I assist developers by testing their amazing features and write tools for the test team to consume. I also help support our automation services by writing script and code to add new automation features. No one can ship a game in this day and age without a lot of automation.

It sounds like you’re creating machines that will eventually take over the world. Until your “automation” becomes self-aware and decides the fate us all, how will you be spending your free time?

Like most gamers, my interests include Games/TV/Movies, but I also enjoy Tennis & Snowboarding. We have a lot of snow up in Washington, so you can always get in some good runs at the nearby ski resort.

Describe for us the trail that you ran to end up working with our Test team.

Before working at Bungie, I worked at a smaller mobile/handheld games developer as a grunt tester. I took this job straight out of college in an attempt to stay in the games industry, and it paid off in giving me practical work experience in test. As soon as I spotted the opportunity on Bnet to test scripts in Halo: Reach I knew that I had to jump at the opportunity! Nine months of contracting on Halo: Reach and post-ship support, I was given the chance to join the Bungie squad full time and haven’t looked back since.

It sounds like you’re a man with a plan. Was your rise to power in the video game industry all by your design?

I have always wanted to be in game development. Since the early days on my Nintendo, I enjoyed playing as many games as possible. Once I reached High school, I found out about Digipen, a game development school in Washington that offered a 4 year degree in game development and programming. It was a huge risk to go down this path, but I was fortunate enough to translate my learning experiences into my actual job.

Luck favors those with courage. Let’s dig deeper into this free advertisement for Digipen. What did you learn there that you still use today?

I have a Bachelors of Science in RTIS. Most of my college career was spent programming in various languages, which I still use to this day.

How did you charm us into inviting you into one of our interrogation chambers as a job applicant?

I was very over-qualified for the position that I applied for, making it easy for the recruiters to bring me in for an interview. The hardest part about getting into the game industry is being able to get a phone call back from recruiting. Once you get the interview then you truly have a chance to shine (assuming you don’t blow it!), and show off your skills to get the job.

Your hubris is showing! Did you still feel so overqualified once we had our way with you during a full day of interviews?

The hardest part of my interview at Bungie was the open ended test questions, as sometimes there is no “correct” answer and they can be left up to a person’s best discretion. On the flip side, the programming portion of the interview went smoothly and I was able to secure the job on that front.

It’s apparent that your confidence will simply not be shaken. Let’s talk instead about the work you’re doing for us now. What’s the most rewarding thing about your gig at Bungie?

Seeing people use and enjoy the products that you make is always rewarding. This further drives you to want to implement even more awesome features and make people’s lives (and tools) a lot easier.

Take us deeper into that experience. Describe for us, if you will, one day in the life of a Test Engineer?

The day starts, everything is on fire, hoses are pulled out, and hopefully by the end of the day all the fires of been quelled! In all seriousness, Bungie is a very dynamic environment. Every day is a new experience and tests a person by keeping them on their toes. It’s in this sense that the firefight scenario is very applicable, because you just never know when something is going to break or someone will have a request that needs to be fulfilled ASAP.

You make it sound so exciting. How do we reward all that time spent in our burning building?

Great benefits, great people, relaxed environment.

What’s your favorite accomplishment in this relaxed environment? Describe that one moment in which someone appreciated your work, and assured you that you belong here.

Adding a tool for managing and tracking BVTs from the test team is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. This tool is in use by a lot of the test team, and it is always a joy to add new features to make their lives easier. When someone literally says to your face, “Thanks for all your hard work, we really appreciate all the new features,” you know you have done your job.

You mentioned the drive to always be implementing awesome new features. How has that drive manifested in your job?

Upon being hired at Bungie, I had spent most of my programming experience in C++. Since being at Bungie, I have learned all the ins-and-outs of C# and WPF. This new coding language has been a god-send for being able to create and iterate on tools in a stylish fashion.

Pass some of that style on to hopeful young developers-in-waiting who want to sit near you. What would you tell them to drive them on to an exciting career as an engineer?

Don’t settle for just the basic qualifications for your job, always try to be over qualified and understand/progress toward future goals. Dedicated and goal driven people are the only people who really make it in this tough industry. Also try meet and make friends with people in the industry, because they always say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

We’re glad that we know you, Joseph. As some of our coworkers have already said: “Thanks for all your hard work.”

Anyone who packs the confidence to take the risk of joining this industry, but lacks a solid plan might find some ideas in our Breaking In archive. Joseph’s gambit is just one way to come work for Bungie. We have a studio filled with risk takers – daredevils of every variety. And, we need more of them.

Breaking In 10/22/2012 4:37 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Tom Slattery

Shooting baddies is fun in any language...

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Habla Español? Parlez-vous français ? Вы говорите по-русски? Across this big, wide world, there are players of Bungie games who would answer those questions “Yes!” To make sure they can love our creations just as hard as players in our own backyard, we keep this guy busy….

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

If you’re reading this, and English isn’t your second or third language, odds are good my work won’t impact you very much at all. If you can’t read this, it’s a good thing I’m here - assuming you can read some other language. If you just can’t read, it’s time to put the controller down and hit those books, son!

“But, Dad, I’m almost an Inheritor in Halo: Reach!” In all seriousness, what is the nature of your job, and how does your work impact people who don’t speak English?

I’m the Localization Content Manager and it’s my job to translate all of Bungie’s game assets — text, voices, manuals, and so on — into other languages so that players around the world can understand the answers to such important questions as “Why am I shooting these baddies in the face?”, “Why are these baddies trying to shoot me in the face?” and “Where should I go next to continue shooting things in the face?”

My day-to-day duties vary, but the main responsibilities of the position are managing the pipeline for text and audio localization (creating software tools for automation where possible), coordinating with external localization teams, managing internal localization staff, and overseeing the linguistic testing process.

So, how many languages can you speak?

Let’s see… English, Japanese, the full arsenal of Spanish profanity, and a handful of phrases my brain managed to retain from three years of French in High School. So, two.

And how do speak the universal language of fun when you’re not building a universal translator into our games?

Traveling, photography, games, reading, being a wine and coffee snob. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about theoretical physics and spending as much time as possible outdoors, making the most of what has been an amazingly long Seattle summer with my wife and giant, floppy-eared Doberman. (Don’t mutilate your puppies’ ears, people. So not cool.)

A coffee and wine snob must be right at home in the gloomy bosom of Seattle. What other localities have you visited to prepare you for this job? What did you do there?

I went to Japan on the JET Program after college and taught English at a public junior high for a couple of years. After that, I was lucky enough to land a job as a video game translator at one of the big Japanese publishers and worked there for a little over five years before eventually coming back stateside for a position at the U.S. headquarters of another major Japanese game company.

My first job in the industry was hands-on, in-the-trenches localization, and that experience was invaluable. I spent years working as a translator alongside development teams on a variety of platforms, and because of that, I understand what translators need in order to produce their best work possible--and what can be done on the development side to ensure the whole process goes smoothly.

The job after that involved more project management than translation. It turned me into a better organized and more effective communicator, capable of juggling multiple projects and competing tasks (i.e., staying sane and keeping myself and others productive when there was more on my plate than I could hope to get through any time in the foreseeable future) while also managing expectations on both sides of a vast physical and cultural divide. (U.S. and Japanese work cultures are…different, to say the least.) I also had an awesome boss who taught me a lot about being a good manager.

The teaching gig — well, uh, that got me to Japan (and gave me deep and profound respect for middle school teachers!).

When you were growing up, did you always want to be a man of the world and its broad spectrum of languages?

I never really had a concrete plan. I went through a bunch of phases as a kid, and even changed majors at the last minute the summer before college. More than anything else, I wanted to learn a second language and try living in another country. There was always a vague goal of ending up in the game industry, but not much beyond that.

Don’t keep us in suspense. When you changed your major at the last minute, where did you land?

Computer science, with minors in Japanese and math. A few general education requirements aside, pretty much everything has been useful to my gig at Bungie in some way. I use the programming in my current position, and learning another language was, obviously, pivotal to getting where I am today.

That’s a unique blend of skills. How did you convince us that we needed them?

I never asked why Bungie picked me over other applicants, but I would guess it was a combination of experience and demonstrating real passion for the specific job I was applying for. Working a position like this — and being responsible for the quality of languages you don’t even speak — you need to be a strong advocate for localization. You need to care about making sure the game doesn’t just get translated, but gets translated well. We need to create an experience in that language for players that’s just as awesome and immersive as the one players of the English version are getting.

Did that same dedication to excellence in linguistics propel you through your Bungie interview loop? What was your inquisition as a candidate like?

It wasn’t “an” interview, it was a full day of them - one interviewer after another, never knowing what topic to expect next. Even lunch was a sort of interview, so there was never any downtime to collect my thoughts. By the end of the afternoon, my brain was mush.

If your ability to translate our games is still intact, I would say that you made a full recovery. Now that you’re here, what’s the best part of your gig?

Knowing that I’m contributing to something awesome that I’m excited about as a gamer, and having the ability to influence decisions that will make the experience better for millions.

We certainly hope that many people will attend the feast we’re preparing. Describe for us a day in the life of setting the table for such a diverse audience.

I usually have some coffee at home, get to the studio a little after 8:00, grab some more coffee, work until lunch, eat, grab a little more coffee, and work some more. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a bit drained, I’ll get a late-afternoon coffee to mix things up. You don’t want your routine to get too predictable, right?

You make Bungie sound like coffee snob heaven. Is that your favorite perk? If not, name the one thing that Bungie does for us that makes you the happiest.

The music in the bathrooms. Why on earth people seem to think making bathrooms the quietest places in a building is a good idea is beyond me. Every restroom everywhere should be pumped full of loud, awesome music. No one wants to hear the things that go on in there.

No one.

Let’s get this conversation out of the toilet. Shall we? No one who works at Bungie is allowed to sit still, at least not in terms of their skills. What’s your plan to become ever better at what you do?

I’m actively involved in the IGDA Localization SIG, and I do my best to keep current on any and all industry happenings related to localization—the good and the bad. Also, I married a native speaker of my second language. Does that count?

That should certainly keep you from getting rusty – especially around the holidays. Would you recommend the path you travelled into this industry? What would you say to someone who shares your passions for languages and gaming?

Don’t do what I did! Moving across the world without any kind of plan worked out pretty well for me, but in retrospect, it’s rather amazing I ended up in this industry at all.

Before we say “Arigato!” please translate this riddle into an answer: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Tough question. Experience is definitely big. Knowing the kinds of issues you’re likely to encounter lets you plan effectively and nip potential problems in the bud. Work ethic is right up there too, though. There are a million ways to cut corners on localization, and all of them hurt the end result. So, maybe it’s a tie between those two, with Talent in third place. Talent is critical for translators, but I’m just the man behind the curtain in my current role.

Bungie needs people who speak all sorts of languages to help us make games. In Tom’s case, some of those languages are literal. In other cases, the languages we speak are rooted in math, or science, or even art. To find out if your favorite language might lead you to one of our seats, you should check out the Breaking In archive. Right this very minute, we are hiring translators from all disciplines.

Breaking In 10/16/2012 12:18 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Matthew Ward

Through the lens...

It was George Lucas who once said: “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” At Bungie, we agree that the eye-popping cinematics that punctuate our games should transport the player to places filled with meaningful events. A new member of our team understands this cinematic balancing act very well, having walked that tight-rope with Lucas himself, as well as a whole list of Hollywood heavy-weights. Let’s invite him to relive the finer moments of his career, and see what led him to us…

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

I’m Matthew Ward, Senior Cinematics Designer on Bungie’s next project. I’m part of the team responsible for creating the cinematic beats between gameplay. In our little world, we know that the only reason anyone is playing the game is to get to the next cinematic!

You assume too much, Sir. I play for the chance to vent my rage in a socially-acceptable vector, but this isn’t about me. This interview is yours, so let’s learn more about your little world. Would you begin by telling us what we might find you doing when you’re not creating virtual cinema?

When I find time for it, I’m usually shooting something with a camera – everything from portraits to little short films. I’m also a big wine-o. I love the stuff, and I love continuing to learn about it. I even make my own wine with some friends down in Sonoma, and we’ve even won a few awards for it. Most of all, I love spending as much time as possible with my kids. It’s fun experiencing everything in life all over again - so many simplicities to remind us of what we forget to enjoy. They give me a good excuse to do “childish” stuff; like playing with trains and Legos, doing arts and crafts, and watching animated films over and over again.

Let’s experience your childhood again in the service of this interview. Think back to when you were a young lad. Did you used to dream about telling stories through the moving image?

I always dreamed of being a Disney Animator when I was young. It was in college when I realized I was more of a filmmaker. I liked organizing teams working on everything to do with telling a story through a camera lens. Soon after, I found myself wanting to be a filmmaker. My industry experience has had me doing so ever since being hired out of school. Several years ago, I ended up working for Walt Disney Pictures’ Imagemovers Digital, animating previsualizations and final camerawork. So, I guess you can say I reached my goal of being a Disney Animator.

Is that what you were doing when we found you? Did you come to Bungie direct from the magical world of Disney?

Right before working here, I was the Director of Photography on an upcoming animated film being produced by the Weinstein Company called “Escape From Planet Earth.” It was my first full-DP gig - a result of nearly fifteen years of working with directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, The Wachowskis, and Robert Zemeckis. I provided them with shot design, previsualizaton, and layout for their films. Prepping to shoot an entire film was great training. It’s been a key component of my contributions here at Bungie, as we’re trying to bring more of that 35mm big-screen feature-film presence to our cinematics.

There are some rather large names on your resume. Who else have you shared a set with that we might know?

I spent most of my career working with Robert Zemeckis on his motion-capture films, and consider myself an understudy to his filming techniques. I’ve presented pre-viz cinematography techniques to Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks to name a few. As for sharing a set, I’ve directed music videos for artists including Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket) and the band CAKE.

You mentioned that you were hired for you first gig right out of High School. Does that mean that you’re a student of the set? Or did you seek some formal education in tandem with your early work?

I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and focused my studies in Computer Animation and Film. The college was great at tearing us down with critiques and pushing us harder and harder to produce better work. They encouraged us all to critique each other, and even our professors. I’ve brought that tradition with me nearly everywhere I’ve worked, though some places welcome it more than others. I critique myself harder than anyone else, and offer thoughts to my colleagues as well. Luckily, at Bungie we thrive on open critiques and learn a lot from each other in the process. Sure enough, our work gets better and better because of it.

You speak the truth. An artist who can’t handle criticism won’t last long at Bungie. How did you convince us to submit you to the most dreaded critique of all: the Bungie interview loop?

After finishing the film I was shooting in Vancouver, some friends here at Bungie heard I was looking for my next gig and invited me down to meet some people. Although I had some inside influence, it wasn’t only up to them if I was going to fit the bill. I had to provide a cinematic test showing my shooting methods and my skills for animation. My interview alone lasted nearly 8 hours with over 10 people! I guess when they tallied the vote, I was offered the job.

That sounds about right. Each of us has had to go that distance. What was the hardest mile for you?

Avoiding the basket of FREE FOOD (Snickers, Twix, chocolate covered pretzels, Doritos, gum, etc.) on the interview table. I think it was another part of the overall interview – testing to see if I could resist pigging out during some question/answer time.

Love of snacks never hurt anyone’s chances of fitting in around here. Now that you’ve joined the crowd, what’s your favorite thing about the work you’re doing with us?

So far, (I’ve only been here a short stint), the coolest thing has been seeing our work pipe into the game engine and come to life in its full glory. When we lay out most of our work, we’re using a hodge-podge of grey-shaded and low-res textured models, low-res rigs, and temp lighting. When we’ve nailed a scene, we spit it out and watch it with the quality turned up to ELEVEN. It’s the result of many departments’ hard work in tools, design, and planning finally coming all together. It’s the pay-off we’re always excited to see and share.

Aside from the professional motivators, what’s something that Bungie does to keep you happy on a visceral personal level?

Currently, it’s our free-lunch program. For the first 6-months of any new hire’s employment, anyone can take them out to lunch on the house. And it’s not just free food that’s appealing, but it’s a great opportunity to meet people you normally wouldn’t ever meet in the studio because your departments don’t interact. It takes the “stranger” effect out of the equation and makes the studio much more an overall team than just a crowd of unknown faces. I’ve been eating a lot of free food lately with some amazingly talented people.

I’ll be sure to exploit you for a free meal before you expire, much as I’m exploiting you right now to the delight of our community. All of this exploitation must be somehow worthwhile, since you keep coming in to work every day. Can you describe for us your finest moment since you joined the team?

On my first day, I was invited to flesh out our camera and lens kits to provide us with a look that was worthy of a big-budget feature. My task was to help our team design shots and tell our stories within the cinematic style they were looking for. To test it out, I reshot one of our cinematics to demonstrate where we could improve upon our pacing and look. It took some great trust from our 3D story lead to drop that in my lap on day one, and the team has complimented the cameras and lens kit several times since. I believe we’re pushing some great drama, tension, and action within the frame of our compositions.

It sounds like you are a man who is squarely on his game. Do you think Bungie will be a place where you can improve your skills as a creator of dramatic imagery? How will you go about enhancing your mastery of the cinematic arts?

I continue to shoot at home, when I can. I continue to challenge myself at work, learning and doing new things. I play games about 1% of the time the average employee here plays. I’ve started playing the Halo series at home from the very beginning, for the first time. Sure, I feel like I’m gonna puke after 10 minutes (I’m one of the few fortunate souls struck with motion sickness from video games), but I’m fighting through, building up my thumb-eye coordination, if anything else.

Awww, I love noobs. It’s fun experiencing everything in games all over again - so many simplicities to remind us of what we forget to enjoy. What would you tell the gaming veterans who are reading these words? If they wanted to follow your path, what should they know?

The best advice I could best give is to explore all aspects of the creative mind. Art, cinema, theater, light, acting, reading, conversing, music, philosophy, espresso, etc. If there’s no reason behind the action of a game, no story to bind it all together, and nothing pretty to look at while doing so… you’re just at home on a couch, staring at a blank canvas. We’re all here because we love making that blank canvas come to life and sharing it with others.

It certainly sounds like we’re lucky to have you. Before I return you to the set, please sort these ingredients based on their importance to you role: Talent, Work Ethic, and Experience. Feel free to couch your answer in a delicious metaphor if it makes things easier to explain.

Experience, Work Ethic, Talent. If I were a cake-baker, I imagine it would go something like this:

I have a lot of Experience baking cakes. I still knock it out of the park most of the time, but occasionally I try something new and learn from it, good or bad. The next time, I bake it right, or even better than before. Work Ethic comes to play in the fact that I LOVE baking cake and I enjoy doing it for 8 hours a day, sometimes even more. And when I’m not baking a cake, I’m THINKING about baking a cake. Talent is why you love my cakes. I’ve got a knack for what makes them good, and it’s usually a result of my experience and work ethic combined.

And with that, we release a very valuable cook back to our kitchen. Matthew may have traveled some unexpected routes to the land of game development, but his story proves that you never know what skills will become crucial in this ever-changing environment. Our Breaking In archive is shaping up to be a museum where all of those skills are on display. If you don’t fancy yourself a filmmaker, you may yet find an exhibit that speaks to you.

Breaking In 10/9/2012 8:19 AM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Stephen Hodde

The sound and the fury...

Last week, David Henry told us all about his work with the Audio Team that is creating the noise that will fill Bungie’s new universe. As you’re about to find out, he’s not a one-man band. The events depicted in our next game happen in a noisy place, and we’ll need entire orchestra of artists to provide the sounds you’ll hear when you play. Let’s collect them all…

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

My name’s Stephen Hodde. I’m a Senior Audio Designer here at the Bungie. I design sound effects for a bunch of different aspects of the game. My favorite part of the job is recording original sounds, whether it’s out in the field or here in our Foley studio. I like giving players a world of sounds they’ve never heard before, even if they’re small and easy to miss. It all adds up to the feeling that you’re experiencing something new and exciting.

To me it just sounds like a bunch of junk. How do you spend your time when you are not filling our game with garbage?

I enjoy Muay Thai kickboxing, reading, eating good vegan food, and spending time with my wife and dog. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Magic: The Gathering and Skyrim.

Knowing these personal details about your life reminds me that you’re a person, which leaves me regretting that garbage remark. Let’s start this whole thing over by going back to beginning. How did this career as a Sound Designer for video games develop?

Sound design was something I just fell into. I thought I wanted to be a composer or a music producer of some kind. After college, I took a job at an interactive design studio writing music and creating sound effects for Flash games and ads. That’s where I started to fall in love with sound effects. The technical side of game sound implementation also satisfied an aspect of my personality that other traditional media couldn’t.

At some point, I decided I wanted to be working in games, and made it a 2-year project to get a job somewhere in the industry. The first thing I did was start reaching out to sound designers of games I loved, and asked for their stories. The one person that kept in touch and gave me some really thoughtful insight was Emily Ridgway (Bioshock, Brutal Legend). She recommended I strip sound from a trailer or some other gameplay footage and replace it with my own. Tim Prebble (Music of Sound Blog) gave me mixing critiques once I had finished editing my own work into the trailer.

Very ambitious. How did you go about getting feedback from other people to push you further down that path of self-teaching?

I was fortunate to have my trailer critiqued at the GDC demo derby by Emily, Paul Lipson, Gene Semmel, and Scott Gershin. There I saw a young woman present a modification of Unreal Tournament where she replaced the sound. Everyone on the panel responded to her demo so favorably that I decided to start working on a mod of Crysis.

I knew I needed to do something that was completely different from what anyone else was doing that was applying for jobs, so I decided I would record all my own sound effects for the mod. I got in touch with Charles Maynes (Letters from Iwo Jima, Resident Evil 5, Killzone 3) to record a gun shoot in San Diego, CA. I recorded and mastered those weapons, and used FMOD and the Crysis Mod SDK to put those effects into the game. I captured in-engine video and edited it together to make my new demo reel.

Three years later, I’m here. I was lucky enough to get some incredible experience at Volition working on Saints Row: The Third, Red Faction: Armageddon, and a few other unannounced/unreleased projects.

Good Games! Let’s go back even further and talk about what inspired that two-year personal mission to break into this industry? Was making games a life-long goal for you?

That question didn’t really enter my brain until I was about 12. I loved computers and playing games - that’s all I really wanted to do. Marathon was kind of a watershed game for me; I didn’t know games could elicit that kind of emotion. I still walk by the Marathon game boxes in a display case downstairs and get a little choked up. The amount of cosmic weirdness that needed to happen to get me from playing Marathon in my bedroom in Charlotte, NC in 1994 to here and now is incomprehensible.

My mom is a musician and she nurtured my musical aspirations and interests. I started playing guitar around the time I was 12 and almost immediately began writing and recording songs. I didn’t seek out music theory or practicing like real musicians do, I just liked the act of capturing something and turning it into something new. Using an earlier version Adobe Premiere or Deck II, I started slowing down the guitar recordings, speeding them up, playing them in reverse, processing flange and chorus effects, and so on.

It’s clear to me now that I wanted to be a sound designer. I thought I wanted to be a composer or musician when I was a kid, but sound design was something I just didn’t know existed.

We never know where the skills we develop might take us. How did your musical education prepare you to end up with Bungie?

I wouldn’t be here at Bungie if not for the teachers that took a personal interest in me, encouraged me when I needed it, and pushed me when I got lazy. My mom was my first champion in all my childhood creative endeavors. She is an incredible pianist and I grew up listening to her practice and teach others.

So much of sound design is happy accidents, trial and error, and black magic. I think most sound designers will tell you they are self-taught in the skills they use, but really it’s an amalgamation of everything. The best audio designers - Ben Burtt, Walter Murch, Randy Thom - are all well-rounded individuals with passion and knowledge outside their field. What shapes their craft and grows them as artists comes from everywhere.

Beyond musical theory and basic enthusiasm, how were you able to take all that passion and translate it into actual working knowledge that would make you employable?

I didn’t have any formal training in sound design or implementation. Mrs. Bucy, my 6th grade music teacher, got me my first internship at age 15 for a recording studio in Charlotte, NC. I spent as much time as I could there, learning basic microphone technique, signal flow, soldering, tape machine maintenance, acoustics, and most importantly dedication.

I went to New York University to study Music Technology, where I earned a Bachelor of Music. In college, I worked with a producer in Brooklyn and helped him construct a recording studio, and continued to record throughout my years at NYU in their Music Tech studios.

Do you ever find yourself recalling the things you did to earn your degree? Or was your education more of a rite of passage?

A lot of what I learned from those years I still use today in some form. Orchestration and creating a sound effect are very similar. Beyond the core content, whatever’s at the heart of the music piece or sound effect, you’re thinking about texture, tone, and how to fill out the frequency space over time. The same critique of classical music recording can be applied to a game mix; its width in the stereo space, the sound’s stage depth, how well can you localize a specific instrument or sound within the image, the mix volume dynamic, and so on.

The implementation aspect of the job can be difficult at first, but there have been a lot of developments with middleware that have lowered the technical bar for entry. I took a Computer Science class in high school that has given me most of the basic vocabulary I need to communicate with developers effectively. Learning FMOD and Wwise was something I picked up in my free time.

You have an impressive story about how you learned to do what you do. How did you entice Bungie to listen to it?

I had met Senior Audio Lead Jay Weinland several years prior at an Audio Engineering Society conference. We both delivered presentations on a physics-driven audio systems panel. Getting to know him in a casual environment without work pressure definitely helped get my foot in the door.

Once they decided to give me a chance, I tried to pull out all the stops, to act as if this was the only interview I’d ever have. I worked through Christmas vacation non-stop on my sound design test, and tried to think of any way I could stand out. Bungie gives its audio applicants a radio play script to edit together a short piece without visuals. I went off that script, and it was something that left an impression with them. I knew it was a risk. Gimmicks or novelties can be really off-putting to employers. I wanted to show them who I was at my core, and ultimately they liked what they saw.

And that’s just the first step into a larger world. Next comes the fearsome trials of the interview loop. What was the hardest part about yours?

The waiting. Oh, and the food poisoning I got at lunch. Luckily it didn’t kick in until I was back at the hotel. I’ve done enough interviews and public speaking to learn to just be myself, so I didn’t have to reach too deep and manufacture some kind of special, better version of me. I knew Bungie’s standards are very high, and I wanted the job really bad, so the hardest part was letting go of all that to just relax and be me. I struggled with crippling self-doubt for many years, so the hardest work went in well before the interview.

Have we provided you with rewards that make up for the agony you endured after your interview lunch?

I am so fortunate to have a steady job in a creative field, that in and of itself is reward enough. At this point I’ve been at Bungie for less than 6 months and I’ve experienced the biggest creative growth of my life. I look forward to coming in to work every day, and I think often about how I’m probably one of the few people on earth that can say that. Sometimes it takes a bit of courage because the caliber of talent here is so high, but there’s also a comforting atmosphere of mutual respect.

You have a long history of expanding your own skillset with personal projects and elective exploration. How do you continue that self-education as a member of the Bungie team?

I’m always listening critically to movies, games, and TV shows that give me some kind of inspiration. I will still make A-B comparisons of my work to other games and films. That back-to-back comparison can yield a lot of insight. Mostly I spend free time with tools or techniques I’ve never used. Occasionally I’ll do a freelance project like an independent film to switch things up.

The guys I work with here have incredible ears and their input has been the biggest factor for my growth. Getting my work into the hands of better sound designers that can give me criticism has been the single greatest educational method in my arsenal.

And it’s not just about the creative skill, it’s how you handle that criticism that determines whether or not you can move forward.

You’ve provided aspiring sound designers with a wealth of ideas for how they can explore what you do on their own. Is there any other advice you would heap onto this mountain?

Patience. I suppose if you put it all together, it was 5 years ago when my wife and I decided to move from Brooklyn, NY and I was able to begin my game audio job hunt in earnest - and by that time I had already worked as a professional sound designer for a few years.

Find your own way to stand out. Again, don’t be gimmicky. It still needs to be tasteful and professional. Put that above-and-beyond attitude into everything, cover letter, your demo reel, website, business cards, or resume. It has to come from a genuine place, because people smell -blam- pretty easy. And it smells bad.

I don’t think we’ve ever talked to a subject who had so much to say about how one can join this world we inhabit. I feel like I just passed a course myself. Before we dismiss this class, rank these elements in order of importance to your role: Experience, Work Ethic, and Talent.

Work ethic, experience. I would probably strike Talent from the list. I don’t know if I was really ever “talented,” I’ve just spent a lot of time doing what I do. I was lucky enough to find something I really liked to do early in life and then I just kept doing it.

And with that, this class is dismissed. If you’re finding yourself wanting to join Stephen in our pit, he has provided a whole volume of sheet music for you to follow. If you’re not musically inclined, but you still dream of making games, don’t lose heart. We need all sorts of artists to make a game. You can learn about all of them in the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 10/1/2012 11:15 AM PDT permalink

Breaking In - David Henry

Bring the noise...

Listen… Can you hear that? Well, of course you can’t. This interview makes less noise than a silent film. Now, just imagine if our games were like that. They’d be pretty boring, wouldn’t they? We’re in luck, however, because guys like this are on the team…

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

Why hello! I’m David Henry, and I’m a Senior Audio Designer here at Bungie. Basically that means I make noise – weapon noise, vehicle noise, character noise, ambient noise, junk-sitting-around-in-the-world noise, and any other noise that might be called for. Then I work with the rest of the audio team to help mix all the noise together and end up with a beautiful, rich, and compelling aural palette for the world we’re building.

What are your interests outside of work?

Spending time with my family is the big thing – life is too short not to prioritize the people you love over everything else. Apart from that, I’m a pilot (private, instrument rated for those that understand and care what that means) and love flying. I play a bunch of games, do all the requisite outdoorsy stuff that we are drawn to in the Pacific Northwest, and participate in a few of the Bungie sports teams. I’ve also been getting into gardening in the past couple years – I’ve got this dream or growing a bowl of salsa from seed, although in Seattle that’s probably a fool’s errand. So far I’ve had the most luck with cabbage. People around the office can vouch for that because a lot of them have been given gifts of cabbage. Anybody want some cabbage?

I’m good, thanks. Where else have you applied your green thumb to the act of bringing the noise to games?

I’ve been in the industry for a pretty long time – 18 years, 17 of them creating audio for games. I started at Sierra On-Line making adventure games in the 90’s, moved over to Microsoft for about 10 years, and then joined up with Bungie for about the last year of Reach. Who remembers the grenade launcher? Or the Falcon? Or the assassinations? I made those noises.

Were you a noisy kid as well? If we went back in time, and asked him what he wanted to do with his life, what would he have said?

Astronaut, fighter pilot, studio musician, superstar jazz guy, lawyer. Totally depended on who asked and when.

Well, at some point, someone had to have asked you to declare a major in school. What was your answer?

When I was in school there was no such thing as a game audio program, so people from my generation needed to learn how to take the skills we learned – mostly as music majors – and adapt them to the gaming industry. There were no classes in Pro Tools, nothing about mixing or mastering, no introduction to recording studio technology. There were a couple classes that involved MIDI, but not many and we don’t use MIDI much these days.

I’ve got a music degree in Jazz Studies (Arranging) and a minor in Music Theory from The University of North Texas. Clearly I’m not arranging jazz as part of my day-to-day responsibilities, but a lot of what I picked up in school does cross over nicely to game development. That would include critical listening, striving for perfection in everything I’m creating, and adhering to aggressive schedules all while being willing to work hard on something and then throw it away and start over when it’s not headed in the right direction.

That’s something I see people new to the industry struggling with all the time – spending a great deal of effort on a thing that may be a good thing, but isn’t always the right thing. Then falling in love with it and trying to manipulate it into being the right thing. Sometimes the ticket to success is throwing away the thing you love and starting again. For any creative person this can be a really painful process. It can feel like tearing out a little part of your soul and tossing it aside. In the end, though, letting go of that initial creation is often the path to discovering a better creation.

Honestly, people coming out of a lot of these game audio programs that schools are offering now are a lot better prepared to work in the industry than anyone was back when I started. I think that’s a good thing.

You’re really on a roll. Keep it up and tell us how you started to build your relationship with Bungie.

I’m going to assume people won’t be interested in my real answer to this question (I’d been successfully shipping games for 15 years and was well known among industry-folk), so I’m gonna answer a different question.

Wait. I’m asking the questions here…

“David Henry, please tell the people of Earth how you got into this highly competitive industry with no real experience at all? Sure, you were OK at writing big band music, but what does that have to do with sound for video games?”

Okay. That is a better question (although the “people of Earth” thing was a little over the top). You may proceed with talking to yourself. How did you break in to this business?

I got lucky. It was somewhat directed luck, but it was luck nonetheless. I was working in the Corporate Sales department at Sierra Online and trying to figure out how to wrangle my way into doing music for their games. At the time, they were just starting to move some of their development teams to their new Bellevue office (the one where I worked), and one of those teams signed Michel LeGrand to write “thematic musical material” for the game (drop his name into Google, young people – he’s one of the greatest living composers we’ve got and you should know who he is).

Mr. LeGrand delivered a DAT (look that one up too, kids) of about 10 incredibly wonderful pieces of music performed by himself on piano, sometimes also singing a melody. Nobody on the team really knew quite what to do with this – the music was fantastic, but in a format that couldn’t be used in the game.

It turned out that there was this kid from upstairs in Corporate Sales that had been pestering the Producer of this game and given him a tape of all these big band tunes he written and arranged. Maybe that kid would have the chops to transcribe this fantastic music and turn it into a game score.

Let me guess…

That was me, and I did. It was an incredible ton of work in a very short timeframe, but also hugely rewarding.

I guess the moral of the story is that you never know what an opportunity is going to look like, but it pays to be ready when one comes along. And don’t discount the long-term value of directed luck.

Well, it wasn’t all luck. You did pester the guy, after all – which is what we call “networking” in the modern job market. Can you share your experiences in pestering your way onto the team at Bungie?

I don’t think anyone wants to hear about my interview at Bungie. For one thing, it was about an 18 month process.

Fair enough. We’ll skip the long story and cut to the chase. What is it about working for Bungie that is worthy of an 18 month-long campaign?

The audio team here is truly a spectacular group. Having this much talent and creative energy in one studio – well, I’m not sure it should be legal. In all seriousness, it’s really rewarding to be able to be able to bounce ideas off these people and engage in a real creative exchange every day with everything we make.

How does that creative exchange unfold from day to day?

Arrive early, get coffee, work hard, go home late. Repeat “get coffee” part as needed.

Aside from all the coffee you can drink, what is your favorite perk associated with making noise in our games?

All my son’s friends think I’m cool.

You can't put a price on that.  It’s very likely that a lot of our readers think you're cool, too. Can you give them sound advice on how they might follow in your footsteps?

Get a good education. Work hard. Do something that makes you stand out from the crowd. Be prepared for a lot of rejection. Don’t give up. It’s every bit as rewarding as it seems.

I have pestered you for long enough. Let’s close out this duet with a final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work ethic, talent, experience. Experience means nothing by its self, and both talent and experience are useless without a solid work ethic.

David’s story may be rare, but even the largest body of work begins with one chance. There are many dance steps that lead to Bungie, but many of the first ones are planted elsewhere. To see where many of us started, check out the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 9/20/2012 6:30 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Mike Forrest

Buffing the Banhammer...

When our next game is released into the wild to be played by the masses, we hope you’ll all play it the way it was meant to be played. None of you would ever try to hack our code or cheat the system. Right? Wrong! Bungie knows all about the evildoers who will try to bend our rules to their advantage. Some of you might even pull it off. Fortunately, it won’t be easy, thanks to unsung heroes like this guy…

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

My name is Mike Forrest and I’m a new Senior Engineer at Bungie, but I’m also known around here as “The New Security Guy.” I was hired to bring extra firepower to everything security-related, and that covers a lot of areas: game code, servers, design & code reviews, networking, cryptography, hack/cheat detection, beefing up the banhammer, and so on.

Nice to meet you. Tell us about yourself before you tell us about your work in terms that are vague-enough to deprive would-be hackers of clues about your secret weakness. When you’re not fortifying our new game universe, what might we find you doing?

Gaming, programming, and exploring the area with my two dogs.

Can those doggies sniff out a cheater as well as you can? Where did you develop such a sensitive nose to guide the hands that wield the dreaded Banhammer?

I’ve worked as an IT guy and software developer in a bunch of non-game-related industries. My most recent job was at a hedge fund writing financial trading systems. Part of my responsibilities there included security design and code reviews. Before that I worked for an online auction site writing code and doing anti-fraud work, and prior to that I worked for a software startup that builds authentication systems.

So you’ve gone from busting actual criminals to helping us root out video game villains? Did you always want to be a digital crime fighter?

I’ve always wanted to be a programmer. I started with Apple II Basic in probably around 2nd or 3rd grade and never looked back.

You couldn’t have learned everything from that Apple. Where else did you hone your skills as a coder for the forces of good?

When it comes to programming, I’m largely self-taught with some more formal education scattered around. I learned a lot at computer camp: including Pascal, C, and 6502 and 8086 assembly language. While in high school I took more advanced classes in data structures and algorithms, things no programmer can do without.

How did you first approach us about lending your counter-fraud skills to keep the world safe for honest gamers?

Like many, I emailed in my resume through the link on the web site. It’s hard to say what caught their eye, but the best advice that I got was to focus on what I’m passionate about doing and make sure that it came through in my resume.

Passion will get you started, but it doesn’t win the race. Are the rumors true about the marathon that is the Bungie interview loop? How did you go the distance?

It’s a long day, so staying focused and in the moment can be difficult. It’s not always easy to clear your mind of what happened earlier in the day. It’s also important to not get flustered when the solution to a problem doesn’t immediately pop into your head. I’ve conducted enough engineering interviews to know that the interviewer is often more interested in seeing how you work through the problem than they are whether or not you get to the solution correct. How you think is very often more important than what you know. But it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re on the other end of it.

I like the way you think, and the fact that we’re having this little chat is evidence that Bungie did, too. What’s the best thing about your new role on our team?

The knowledge that I’m helping make life more difficult for cheaters and more enjoyable for honorable players.

You make writing code sound so glamorous and exciting, but what is one day really like inside our secure location?

I started the day before Bungie Day, so my first week was pretty interesting. But it turns out that getting knighted and playing games all afternoon isn’t your typical Tuesday.

You’re right. We usually save the knightings for Wednesday. Aside from being issued a wooden sword, what’s the one thing we do that makes you feel noble and mighty?

So far it’s the mountains of Bungie swag. And they pay me to work on games.

We pay you to defend games from malicious attacks. I still have nightmares about the Halo 2 weapon that launched trains instead of rockets. Have you made progress in locking those ne’er-do-wells out of our next game?

I’m still getting my feet wet so my contributions have been limited so far. My favorite work so far has been learning about the low level architecture of the Xbox 360 while optimizing various bits of encryption code. I’ve always enjoyed squeezing performance out of systems and working within the confines of a console game engine is a great excuse to exercise that muscle.

Pardon me while I extend your metaphor just a little farther. How do you exercise that muscle until it reaches super hero levels of strength?

I try to stay current with what’s going on in my field. “Security” encompasses such a broad variety of areas that being an expert in all of them is impossible. So I try to keep up with the latest developments and techniques so I at least know what to look out for and where to look for assistance if there’s something that could help or hurt us.

If hackers never stop adapting, than neither can we, eh? Imagine that an aspiring programmer is reading these words, and has become inspired to join your fight. What sage lessons of mentorship would you provide?

I’m new to the industry, but it seems to me that game companies are pulling in people with an ever widening variety of backgrounds. Games are transforming into online, multimedia, social experiences. There’s a need for a lot of different skills so don’t be discouraged if you don’t fit into one of the traditional game developer roles.

We’ve kept you from your crucial work for long enough. I can almost sense the hackers getting stronger while we jabber on like this. Before you go, give us some perspective on your priorities: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Security is a mindset more than anything, and that mindset is built up with experience. If you’re in a security-related field and you’re not constantly learning, then You’re Doing It Wrong.

Sitting still is obviously an occupational hazard for Mike, so we will release him to his post. His story reveals that there are many in-roads to the industry that makes games, and not all of them are obvious. A pretty comprehensive roadmap is emerging in the form of the Breaking In archive, if you’d like to explore all of the unseen highways that lead to our halls of justice.

Breaking In 9/18/2012 1:15 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Rachel Swavely

This interview is rigged...

The days of animating digital puppets that dance on the ends of virtual strings are a thing of the past. Real people move through the spaces of our games now. To turn them into the heroes that you play, and the villains that you fight, we must capture the performances of the actors who portray them. This evolving process relies on the rare skills of this young lady…

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

My name is Rachel Swavely and I am Mocap/Rigging Tech Artist here at Bungie. This means I get to put people in those sexy spandex suits covered in reflective markers and capture their performances. Then I get to take it through the pipeline all the way to handing it off to the animators.

That sounds like tremendous fun. We’ll definitely learn more about your work, but only after we get better acquainted. What might we find you doing when you are not animating the actors we lure into our studio?

I love the outdoors, video games (of course), movies, theme parks, traveling around the world, meeting new people and anything that creates an amazing memory.

Do you have any amazing memories of your pre-Bungie career? What were you doing before your world-travels led you to the Spandex Palace?

More Motion Capture! In Los Angeles, I worked as a Capture Operator at one of the biggest studios for mocap in the world. The people that taught me were some of the people that were around since the beginning of motion capture. They improved my skills tremendously.

You’re dealing in some cutting edge technologies that are still very new, so it would be hard for you to tell us that you always dreamt of doing this. What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

A cartoon! I had and still have a huge imagination.

That actually makes a lot sense, given the work you’re doing now. How did you prepare yourself for a job that lets you turn people into pixelated characters?

I got a Bachelors Degree in Computer Animation and an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. Problem solving skills would be at the top of my list of preferred skills. Most everything I learned in college still resonates in my mind. It just takes seeing it again to bring the knowledge back.

Joining our team is a challenge that requires a lot of problem solving. How did you overcome the first hurdle of getting our attention in the first place?

When I was in Los Angeles, three Bungie employees (now colleagues) came down the studio where I was working to see how we ran our shoots and get some training. I assisted with both of these. Guess I made an impression! They sure made a magnificent impression on me!

What was the hardest part about making an equally magnificent impression on the people who sat in on your interview loop?

Not going and hugging Master Chief in the Hallway.

That was a wise choice. The Chief is not much of a hugger, but there are other rewards for working here. Which ones do you enjoy?

All of them! I am surrounded by incredible talent everywhere! Plus there are the times when I get to put on one of the mocap suits and run around the Spandex Palace and get my moves recorded!

Is that your favorite part of the job? Or are there are other things about being at Bungie that you prefer?

Have you seen the kitchen filled with food!! Just kidding, even though this is an amazing perk, my favorite perk is my colleagues. They get to pick my brain about what I know and vice versa. Learning from them has broadened my knowledge, which makes me a better artist.

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

Wish I could but it is top secret. Makes me feel like a spy or CIA agent, until the big reveal of what we are working on.

Tell me about it. There are a lot of secrets to keep, right now. One thing that’s not a secret is that everyone at Bungie needs to be constantly striving to be better at what they do. How do you meet this challenge?

Learning all scripting languages and keeping up with Motion Capture software and hardware. Technology is always changing; have to be in the know.

If someone decided that they wanted to join you on that forefront of evolution for animation technology, what advice would you give them?

For the Motion Capture industry part of my career my advice is learn as much as you can about all the software and hardware out there that captures motion. Then pick up skills like animating, rigging and scripting.

It’s time for me to finish capturing your performance with this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

All of these valuable traits are equally important. I am a firm believer about nothing is impossible, but ranking these three would be extremely difficult.

I guess we'll be left to solve this problem on our own. If you'd like to discover the answer to this question, check out the Bungie Careers page. We need all kinds of professionals to become Rachel’s coworkers. They will come in all shapes and sizes, and from many different backgrounds. To learn more about the various players that complete Team Bungie, there are profiles of just about every sort in the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 9/11/2012 9:15 AM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Chris Owens

This is a test...

Testing code is a cornerstone of the development culture at Bungie. The experiences we design ship when the Testers give us the green light. They support every aspect of the process that goes into creating the games you play. They show us the where the weaknesses lie, and point out the cracks. By the time you get your hands on one of our games, it’s been given a thorough beating by guys like this…

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

My name is Chris Owens and I am currently working on the project as a Software Test Engineer. It will completely change the way you play games, but that’s all I’m allowed to say. Well, except for <CENSORED>. Crazy, right?

That censorship joke never gets old. When you aren’t making me look like the news desk of a totalitarian regime, what pranks are you pulling in real life?

I’m a huge TV and Movie buff, and obviously I’m a lifelong gamer. I’ve always been fan of outdoor adventures. I love exploring new places and meeting new people. I also enjoy a little poker now then.

You’re in luck, then. We roll out the green felt tables about once a month at Bungie. Before we became your dealer, where else did you gamble?

Before coming to Bungie, I jumped around the industry A LOT. I began my career as an entry-level Tester at Activision in Santa Monica. From there, I worked at THQ, Vivendi Universal, Electronic Arts, and Screenlife Games. I value those experiences because no two companies approach software Quality Assurance in the same way, which really gave me a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

You certainly do get around. It sounds like you need to find a nice studio and settle down for a while. Since your vocabulary for games is so vast, what would you say is the most exciting thing that you worked on?

Quake 3 BY FAR. It was pretty early on in my career, but not only did I get to “test” this great game for 10 hours a day I actually got to fly down to id Software headquarters and work side-by-side with the likes of John Carmack and Graeme Devine.

Meeting one’s heroes is certainly a perk of working in this business, but we should also be wary of the villains. What is the most ethically challenging thing you worked on?

Any game that gets shipped without being signed off on by QA. There’s no excuse for that.

It’s good to know that, as a games developer, you’re a man of principal. Do those values come from your childhood? What did you want to be when you grew up?

A stand-up comic. That didn’t really work out because of the whole stage fright thing. I wanted to be a Doctor as well, but I also have school fright.

Did you overcome that fear to get an education that helped you plot course into the video game industry? Or did you find your own way?

I hopped around a lot of community colleges after high school. I was never sure exactly what I wanted to do, I just knew it had to involve gaming. I remember reading an article in some gaming mag about breaking into the industry through Quality Assurance as an entry level Tester. At the time, you had to live in either Seattle or Los Angeles to really have a shot of getting a job in the industry. I chose Los Angeles and spent a good 12 years there before moving up to Seattle.

How did you leverage those 12 years of experience to score an invitation to one of our interrogation rooms as a job applicant?

Well, besides the outright begging/pleading/bribing, I expressed my love for everything Bungie and tried to highlight my experience and dedication to quality. As a gamer, I have certain expectations when it comes to a games quality and Bungie has always been a shining example of those standards. You ship when the product is of a certain quality, and not a minute before.

We apply the same standards to our new hires. You should know, since you survived your interview loop. Can you remember the hardest part about your own test run?

The hardest part had to be the final day-long interview process. First off, I was very intimidated. This made me exceptionally nervous and towards the end of the process I was mentally exhausted. I’m still shocked they hired me, as I’m sure I was just rambling incoherently towards the end of the day. I remember going home thinking about how badly I blew the interview…

Not at all. It’s a part of the trial. If you don’t end up babbling like a fool, we just assume that you don’t care. Passion is a crucial ingredient for a member of our team. Now that you are on the roster, how does that passion manifest?

Knowing that the projects I work on will be appreciated by the rabid fan base. Being a fan myself, I like to think I know what is expected out of us as a company I strive to hit that mark….oh and the FREE BEER.

Don’t go misleading our readers to think that we get FREE BEER every day. We save that for special occasions. What is a typical day like? Is it a stand up and fight mission, or a bug hunt?

I usually get in around 8:30 and get jacked up on caffeine. Then, I scour the bug database to get up to speed on any new issues. After that, I check my email, write test cases, test the latest build, and regress and write up bugs.

So, it’s a bug hunt. What’s your favorite reward for seeking out those critters and making sure that we kill them dead?

Did I mention the FREE BEER?!

Yeah, you mentioned that. I’m trying real hard to diffuse the image of you stumbling around here like the town drunk every day. There has to be something else that motivates you.

Sorry, that was the first thing that came to mind. I also enjoy the bi-monthly poker game.

Spoken like a true saloon rat. Aside from raking in the chips from your coworkers, is there an accomplishment that fills you with more pride than any other?

I am proud of the fact at how quickly I’ve come up to speed on the project I’m now working on. That was not easy. I knew I belonged here that first week when I got to know my co-workers. It was like that feeling you get when you put on a comfortable pair of shoes.

While I would never deprive you of a pair of comfy shoes, we do need to extend beyond our comfort zones at Bungie. Can you learn the new skills that you need to become a more effective tester working here?

I am a SPONGE. I try to soak up as much knowledge as I can, whether that means reading the latest books on web security or picking a co-workers brain. I are hungry for knowledge. NOM!

Imagine a reader who is thinking right now that they want to be just like you. Do us both a favor, and provide them with some advice that has nothing to do with FREE BEER.

Work. Hard. It’s a competitive business, and you really have to shine to make it. Learn as much as you can and try to take advantage of all that experience. Use it and absorb as much information as possible. See what works and what doesn’t and apply that knowledge. Oh, and check your ego at the door. We are all on the same team here.

Your humility does you credit. Let’s explore some other virtues crucial to being a Tester in our last question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work Ethic, Experience and Talent. You have to be dedicated, because the hours are loooong and the work can be tedious. Experience really helps to determine the process of what needs to be done and when to implement it. Talent is last because talent without work ethic or experience is a difficult beast to tame.

Thanks for sharing, Chris. Those bugs won’t crush themselves, so please do get back to what you do so well.

As Chris learned for himself, being a Tester is a great way to enter the video game industry. It’s not the only entrance, though. If you see yourself following a different plan of attack, all of the doorways are clearly marked in our Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 9/5/2012 9:14 AM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Brandi House

Join us in the lab...

Have you signed up for the Bungie Beta? If you haven’t, our User Research team needs you. We know it can be intimidating to donate your body and your mind to Science, but we promise that our series of tests and interrogations won’t hurt a bit. To put a human face on the machinations of our lab, allow me to introduce you to one of the kindest people to ever don a lab coat.

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

My name is Brandi House. I am a User Researcher. This means I do everything in my (significant) power to understand the player-experience goals of our designers and artists, and then translate that into studies that measure how well they are meeting those goals. I bring real people like you into our Laboratorium to play our games, and I watch, and I laugh, and I analyze your delicious precious brains. And! I go back to tell our designers how so many of you delightfully missed most of the cues they thought were so brilliant.

In short, I dissect your brains and kill the souls of designers. Awesome.

That is awesome. We need people to help us know the hearts and minds of the gamer. But, when the day is done, and there are no more gamers to scrutinize, what do you spend your time studying?

Beagles! And, subsequently, hiking and walking – those buggers have more energy than a room full of 5-year-olds. Also, games of course – these days I’ve been stuck on mobile/iPad since I don’t get much couch time. Dead Space on iPad is gorgeous, and the translation of the Catan board game is also pretty sweet.

For as much time as you spend poking and prodding the gamers who submit to our tests, I suppose it’s only fair that you are one as well. Have you always worked on games?

I was a contract User Researcher in the Microsoft IT department. The upside – I got some good experience running usability studies. The downside – I learned that I have no patience for wall-to-wall meetings.

We should schedule some time in a conference room to discuss that. For now, I’m curious if you have always harbored a desire to dissect brains. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Anything but an engineer. My dad’s an engineer, and it sounded sooo boring. Turns out, I should have listened to my 8-year-old self sooner – preferably before I was half way through a PhD in the darn field.

Did you finish that PhD? If I looked at your transcript, what series of accolades would I find?

I have a Bachelor’s in Engineering Science and Music, a Master’s in Electrical Engineering, and I got half way through a PhD in systems biology before I jumped ship to start a career in user research. I took a couple of graduate-level courses in UX Research that were a great start for my current career, and I still use some of the math and statistics from my other degrees.

In truth, a lot of what I learned in my bumpy road is that I need to work with people, and engineering is too lonely for me.

One thing that we have a lot of at Bungie is people. Would you remember for us how you began the process of becoming one of them?



No really…

I was a guild officer for a Microsoft friends-and-family guild, so I lead raids and hosted picnics and board-game nights for locals. I was enthralled by being in a group of people who, on average, were even more awkward than me!

So… I met an engineer at Bungie at a picnic, and she learned that I was on the hunt for a more permanent job in User Research. She gave me a referral. Win #1! I got to a phone interview and learned that John Hopson (known to me only by his game name at that time) was on the other line. He was my first ever raid leader, and I was terrible. My fears were unwarranted – he kindly chose not to mention the number of times I accidentally blink-pulled the boss. Win #2!

What the hardest part of the boss fight that is the Bungie Interview loop?

Endurance. My brain turned into mothballs by about the 6th grilling.

Now that you are a valued member of our “guild,” what’s your favorite thing about aiding our own quest for world domination?

The designer facepalm. It’s great getting a designer in the room to watch people play their part of the game, only to discover that all their fears really can come true.

For the players that live outside of our realm, describe a day in the life of the Bungie village.

Dark man cave, an unearthly glow from the men’s room, occasional climbing of the walls. You know, the usual stuff. Oh and relatively few pointless meetings. Woo hoo!

Aside from the minimal time we spend in our conference rooms, what is your favorite reward that comes from the life of science that we provide?

Newbie lunches. We get to take new-hires out to lunch and get ours covered by the company too. I love meeting people, so this one is a double win for me.

Can you recount your favorite win? What’s that one accomplishment that has given you more pride than any other?

DeeJ thinks I’m awesome.

Sarcasm! You clearly have one of the most important skills to go the distance at Bungie. Of course, having skills is just as important as improving on them. How can a User Researcher learn and grow in this dark man cave?

Finding challenging problems around the studio and learning to apply UR in unique and exciting ways. I’m learning to crush the souls of engineers and artists in addition to designers!

There just might be some would-be scientists lurking out there who would love to crush souls for a living. What would you say to help them join you in the lab?

If you have passion for User Research, go give it a try. Every tech company on the planet needs usability professionals. Take a couple of classes and/or work as a contract UR. If the passion lasts and your talents have been proven, you’ll be ready to tackle the game-specific domain of user research.

There are some eager souls in our midst that need crushing. I can feel their anger. We’ll need to bring this to a close with one final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

1. Passion – love the crap out of studying people, digging through piles of data, and inflicting pain for the good of the whole (work ethic is lame… everyone works hardest when they’re passionate about their job)
2. Talent – UR may sound fluffy, but working with people AND data means you need to have some capacity in both parts of your mind.
3. Experience – Also important, but in truth, anyone who meets the top 2 criteria can learn some of the necessary techniques while on-the-job.

And with that, we return Brandi to craft new and exciting mazes for us rats to run. She practices a very unique (and crucial) discipline that allows Bungie to make games. If the study of the mind is not your chosen quest, there are many ways to raid our world. You can learn more about all of them in the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 8/27/2012 5:59 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Veara Suon

Animating the baddies...

When we talk to our community about why they love games, they often spice that conversation with a question like “Who is your favorite video game villain?” The fact that a target in a game can evoke such an emotional response is the product of many design disciplines. One of them is Animation. Bringing those antagonists to life and capturing the imaginations of the players who make them dead is the job of (among others) this guy…

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

My name is Veara Suon and I’m a gameplay animator at Bungie. I pretty much create animations for those baddies you all love to fight, as well as for the player who is fighting them.

That’s an important gig – certainly essential to our experience. What’s your most important consideration when you’re animating heroes and villains?

Response is key. We try not to hold the player back when it’s not necessary. It’s important to us that we communicate to the player exactly what is going on visually without taking them out of it. At the same time, we want it to feel as good as it looks.

It sounds like you’re a man who values “immersion,” and gamers like me thank you for it. What do you immerse yourself in when you are not delivering action to gamers through the visual arts?

Sports are my life outside of this industry. It’s a nice change of scenery not sitting in front of the computer all day.

Do you play sports? Watch them? Bet on them? Imagine running a dream team in them?

I grew playing football and basketball so it’s something I’ve always became attached to. And of course watching it is just as fun, especially when having certain players on your fantasy team.

What were you doing before your career led you here? How did those experiences prepare you for this job?

I used to work in the world of Rapture (Bioshock) and a world taken over by aliens (Xcom). I was even in a world as a firefighter (Real Heroes). Now I’m in a whole new world again.

Did you used to dream about creating worlds like those when you were younger? What did you want to be when you grew up?

An NBA or NFL player as a kid, but then a 3d animation movie (Monsters, Inc.) came out. It struck a chord in me and I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I was in middle school: an animator.

Middle School leads to High School, and High School usually leads to an institution of higher learning on a more focused path. Where did you learn to become an animator?

I went to an art school that pretty much taught me the basics and some programs. I figured that wasn’t enough so I tried out an online animation school that gave me a better insight that focused more on animation. They harped on the 12 basic animation principles and it is still engrained into my mind.

It’s nice to know that you are a man of principle. How did you bring those virtues to our attention?

I was fortunate enough to have known the Animation Lead here. As a student, I used to contact inspiring animators asking for advice on what to expect from the industry as well as advice on my current skillset if they had time to check out my reel. Sometime later, I found that one of the animators became the lead animator here at Bungie. Around the time I was shopping around for other opportunities, I shot him an email to see what he thought of my reel to see if I had a shot to work alongside one of my inspirations.

That’s a question that can only be answered in a Bungie Interview loop! Can you prepare future challengers for that experience?

I was surprised that there were actual test questions. All of my previous interviews were more about getting to know me, because once you get to the interview you’re usually pretty much in. The only way you cannot get the job is if you’re not a fit with the team - it’s all about your personality at that point. But nope, not at Bungie. I got caught off-guard answering questions to see if I knew my stuff or not.

We do want people who know their stuff. I guess we are funny like that. Now that we know that you know yours, what would you say is the best part of the experience of working here?

We all strive to make the best possible game we can that people will enjoy. The mindset here is all about being the best, so when I do my task I try my best.

Now you know why we scrutinized you carefully in that interview. Fortunately, not every day at Bungie is an inquisition. For instance, what is your favorite thing that we do to keep you in the right frame of mind to do your best work?

Everything! Honestly they just take real good care of you. I can’t choose just one. Swag is always a plus.

Aside from wearing fashionably rare t-shirts, what might you expect from a day in the life of a Bungie animator?

I come to work, eat my breakfast. Get the latest update of our game. Check out the news a bit to see what’s going on outside in the real world. Check out the task I have to do for the day or the week. Ask questions to those who can answer them so I make it crystal clear I know what I am doing. After that, setup a plan on how I will achieve this task and then execute it. Test it out in game. Start all over again.

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

I think it’s more of a team accomplishment as we all put an effort into making these characters come alive. I am fortunate enough to be able to touch almost all of the characters and be involved in developing them for players to enjoy.

Those players can be pretty demanding. Their praise is never guaranteed. Do you think you can stay on the bleeding edge of your craft so that we can keep surprising them?

Studying animation is pretty much studying life. Anything and everything can benefit you in this art form. Observing those around you as long as you don’t get caught, experiencing moments in life will also give you more tools to work with. There are plenty of books or even blogs that have a wealth of information. The animation community is huge and helpful.

You are a leader of that community now, and you have a chance to pay forward some of the help that you got from the people who inspired you. What would you say to a student of animation if they asked you for advice?

This industry is not all fun and games. You must have a passion for it if you want to survive because when things get tough it’s that passion that keeps you in for the long run.

Thanks for sharing, Veara. You have some baddies to bring to life, so we’ll conclude this kinder, gentler interview with one final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent, experience, then work ethic.

Like we said, Animation is just one of the design disciplines that provoke you to fall in love with the villains you fight. If you dream of being an Animator, Veara has left some good footsteps to follow. If you think your skills lie elsewhere, but you would like to work with him, check out our Breaking In archive to learn about the variety of coworkers who complete him.

Breaking In 8/20/2012 3:12 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - David Johnson

Wielding math so that we can wield tools...

You might have heard that Bungie is building a new universe. To build anything, you need tools. When the thing you’re building will live exclusively in a virtual space, the tools you end up using depend heavily upon a dark art known as “Math.” That’s why Engineers like this guy are really valuable to our construction site. Let’s visit his workbench and behold his mastery with crunching numbers…

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

My name is David Johnson, though I’m occasionally referred to by the moniker DJ. I’m one of the several engineers working on the Content Tools team. That’s just fancy talk to say that I help build and construct all of the various internal tools our artists and designers use to edit and visualize game content before it gets sent through our fearsome world domination engine, whereupon it will become a physical component of our game. Whether it’s fiddling with file wizards, world editors, or custom Maya modules, chances are that my team has a small hand in getting everything in the game into your hands.

I’m gonna have to admit that a lot of that sounds like a foreign language to me. Before we try to understand the true nature of your work, let’s get better acquainted. How does a guy like you spend the time that he doesn’t devote to making tools for us?

Recently, I’ve been swept up in the wave of the new dawn of board games. There’s a group here who games during the lunch hour, and I pretty quickly sought them out! Of course, it’s no secret that I love video games as well. I’m a particular fan of RPGs and adventure games—pretty much anything that tells a good yarn. To those ends, I read a lot of fantasy, and I dabble here and there with writing stories of my own.

As the person tasked with writing a story all about you, I must ask what you were doing before you became one of my smarter coworkers. What’s on your resume below the description for what you do for Bungie?

Before I landed in the games industry, I was a contractor for the US Air Force for several years where I helped construct virtual worlds in which to test the effectiveness of military projects before they were physically constructed and sent out into the field. Through some luck or divine intervention, I was hired on at Zipper Interactive as a Tools Engineer, where I lovingly built and nourished our level editor and other internal tools for MAG, SOCOM 4, and Unit 13. And this experience has led me to Bungie.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve had a single job that wasn’t focused on building virtual spaces. Was this all part of the plan? You seem to have traveled a narrow path to where you are now.

Ever since I was a wee lad discovering the wonders of the Atari 2600, I’ve always had the dream to make video games. I didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time though; I was only six! That dream caused me to create notebooks full of maps, drawings, and crazy ideas for game concepts during elementary school. In high school, I started designing and programming games for my friends on the TI-83 calculator. Despite my love for video games, Ohio was a scary land where no video game companies lived, so I temporarily settled into just being a run-of-the-mill computer scientist. That wasn’t nearly as fun as what I do now, let me tell you.

Before you escaped Ohio, did you go to school there to become the world-class mathlete that you are now?

After high school, I went to Wright State University (or as we liked to say, Wright State Wrong University) where I got two Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Science and Computational Mathematics. Since I was a glutton for punishment, I stuck around for two more years to get a CS Master’s as well. All of the math (even some of the weird, abstract, advanced stuff) and physics have really paid its dividends in so many weird and unexpected ways, and my CS courses have given me a large toolbox of techniques to draw upon. Even if there are pieces here and there that I don’t ever use, a lot of it is still good and certainly worthwhile and helped hone my problem-solving skills.

Scheduling a job interview with Bungie is one of the hardest problems to solve. What did you say to make us take you seriously?

I told them they needed to ask more math questions on their programming test! What can I say? Math is really my first love. But seriously, I think what really spoke leagues about me was that I had several years’ experience solving the same difficult questions that most game studios have to deal with. I think it also helped that I was really strong in problem solving and demonstrated some sweet C#-fu during my interview.

Contrary to some of the horror stories I’ve heard about the Bungie interview loop, you make the process sound easy. Was it? There had to have been something that stumped you, even if for just a moment.

As much as I would love to say that it was Charlie’s evil mindbender problems, I think the hardest bit about the interview was maintaining my composure and cool from 9AM all the way through the end of the work day. While I had a lot of fun during the interview (Oh wait, was I not supposed to admit that?), it was a long day and certainly no walk in the park. My interviewers ran me through the gauntlet over nine hours. With all that said, it certainly was worth every minute to get here.

Tell us more about your reward for surviving that gauntlet. What is the most rewarding thing about the work that you do for Bungie?

There’s absolutely nothing better than getting to see someone in the studio using the features I developed to create something awesome. It gives me a secondhand feeling of awesome.

Aside from the work, do you find some reward in the workplace? What’s your favorite perk available to the people who work in our studio?

You mean, outside of learning from and fraternizing with some of the best folk this side of the Mississippi? Do I have to choose just one?

I might not know a lot about math, but I’m competent enough with language to verify that the word “favorite” does in fact lead you to just one thing. You must choose, DJ, but choose wisely.

I honestly don’t think I can; Bungie does so much to make us feel at home. I remember getting here on Day One to find this gargantuan box sitting on my desk with a big “Welcome” written on it, just waiting to be opened. We’ve been given free movies, tickets to sporting events, and bottomless stockpiles of food and drink. Maybe that’s it really: the never-ending message of: “Welcome to Bungie. We’re glad you’re here with us.”

It’s the truth. Without mathematicians like you, I would have nothing to write about – and we would have no tools at our disposal. Now that we’re making your story public, what would you say is the most newsworthy thing you have done since your arrival?

I think that would have to be the first foray I’ve ever taken into the code for our world editor. It’s pretty amazing, but it’s not the only hammer in our content creators’ toolbox. They use 3DS Max and Maya quite a bit. Wouldn’t it be great, I was told, if someone could actually see more or less what our levels looked like in those tools? Rather than taking crazy guesses as to where the ground actually was? I was assured that, if I could get that done, I would make many people really happy.

Little did I know. About the moment I had the task in a workable state (though by no means completely finished), I had several people swarming my desk asking for demonstrations and if I could actually get them some data right now if I would be so very kind. That was the moment I knew I had made a solid contribution here.

I always like to ask how people can get better at what they do in working for Bungie, but you’ve already admitted to tackling new frontiers. Is that just part of the life of an engineer?

The best thing about working on internal tools is that, quite literally, you have no idea what exactly you’ll be working on next month. We become jack-of-all-trades and red mages, dabbling a little in AI, graphics, user interface, data compilation, the whole works. So work challenges me quite a bit in and of itself. Outside of these majestic walls, however, I dabble a lot with web programming, which has always been a particular hobby of mine. I also tinker with the occasional project or new technology I discover, and for a time I was really into solving the problems at Project Euler.

Count for us the factors that add up to complete one day in your life as a Bungie Engineer.

After a grueling walk up the flights of stairs, I am sometimes met with bagels or donuts pristinely laid out upon our kitchen table, cheerfully bidding me a wonderful morning. Following that, I get out my trusty programmer’s pickaxe and start mining for the raw code ore that drives the gears and furnaces of our tools. This process is interrupted by our morning standup (whereby producers demand updates to know whether or not our code or quotas are being maintained), lunch (a fun ritual usually involving gaming against coworkers for supremacy and bragging rights), and the general bestowment of TLC for our artists and designers, ravenous for the Next Big Thing™ to come out of the Tools pod.

A workday like that might appeal to a lot of people who aren’t scared of math. Can you share with them your equation for success?

I’d love to say that I know the secret, inside track on how to find your way into the video game industry, but I still feel like I was incredibly lucky to break in. I can’t give any direct advice on how to get there, but I can say that it’s definitely in your best interest to dream big and to never stop challenging yourself to go the extra mile. Even if you’re not always met with success, you always learn something in the process, and people will see the passion that drives your life and want you to be a part of their visions.

Thanks for sharing with us your words of inspiration. I have a final problem for you to solve: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

I believe Work Ethic is the most important of the three. You can be talented or have lots of experience in a certain field, but without the drive or passion to actually hunker down and actually execute that vision, ultimately nothing ever gets done, and your talent or experience is wasted. After that, the other two are fairly coequal, and I think any team worth its salt needs a little bit of both, experience to know how problems have traditionally been solved while talent allows for new insights on how to solve them.

David’s insights on breaking into this industry represent only one avenue. Getting a job making games is a problem with many solutions. It this one sounds like it might not be for you, there is no reason to assume that you don’t belong making games. Our Breaking In archive is a good roadmap for people will all kinds of skills.

Breaking In 8/13/2012 1:10 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Ondraus Jenkins

It's business time...

Life at Bungie is not all fun and games. I am told that, beyond the creation of an exciting new universe, there are business concerns that also command our attention. Recently, our community asked us to unmask some of the more practical members of our team – the negotiators who keep the world safe for our best ideas and make the deals that let you experience them. I didn’t have to walk too far from my desk to find such a person. This guy sits right behind me…

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

My name is Ondraus, but my nom de guerre is OJ, finely tailored to drive terror into the hearts of Bungie’s enemies. My title rotates day-to-day for security purposes. Once upon a time I was a lawyer. These days, I am known as Head of Business Development and Strategy.

Strategy! Does that make you the go-to guy for multiplayer tactics? I have always had a hard time defending a base on Hemorrhage.

I will have precisely no impact on the game our fans will play. They can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and stop reading now.

You gotta help me sell this, man. Before I try to figure out why we even need someone like you in the first place, let’s make you a little more interesting to our readers. What might we find you doing when you’re not developing our business?

Sorry, I don’t understand the question.

How do you have fun? Does a strategist even know what fun is?

If you press me, I would say that I love all things aerospace related. Like say, a rover the size of Harold Ryan’s truck lands on Mars with an impossibly intricate and amazing landing system. You might find me up in the dark of the morning to consume every last detail of such a thing. Wait…you’re telling me that actually happened?

I’ve also been known to windsurf, scuba dive and I like my dog. Are we done here?

We're just getting warmed up, spaceman. Settle in and prepare for a full deposition. Assuming Bungie needs a businessman (and I am not yet convinced that we do), where did we find one that understands our crazy variety of business?

Prior to my current engagement with Bungie, Inc., I was a member of the Worldwide Business Development team at Electronic Arts. Before that I was an associate in a boutique law firm in Beverly Hills which represents A-list film, television, and music talent. And before that—in a time before time was time—I was a corporate associate in a very large law firm and often slept under my desk while still wearing my suit for warmth.

You know, that’s actually pretty cool – except for the part about wearing a suit. Since it seems like you’ve reached some lofty goals; I’ll cut you some slack. If I asked your younger self what he wanted to do with his life, what would he have said?

Fighter pilot and astronaut. I abandoned those dreams when I was told that I was better suited to nuclear service than aviation due to my less than stellar eyesight. Bummer, right? After graduating, I flirted with the idea of covert service in the CIA but…wait…I’ve said too much.

Too late! I will now spend the rest of this conversation assuming that you have been sent here to spy on us. Your role as a businessman is a brilliant cover. How did you prepare yourself for such an elaborate charade?

My misspent youth is a tale of woe writ in the halls of many and varied institutions. Let’s just say I’m overeducated.

I graduated from a university founded by a robber baron. Then I spend the next four years earning a Masters Degree in International Policy and a Juris Doctorate. For those really interested, I went to Stanford, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Columbia University School of Law.

And there goes all your cool down the drain… No spy would talk like that.

If you’d be so kind, allow me to elaborate on this question for a moment. We often have the instinct to follow well understood paths, and there is logic behind that approach. But I’d like to suggest that people listen to their passions. Starting from the other side of this story, nobody could draw a straight line between where I started and Bungie. But looking back, resting firmly in some crazy non-Euclidian space, is that roughly straight track. This is a long way of saying, there is no single path. Learn from folks that have done it before you, but don’t get stuck in the ruts.

I’ll allow that testimony, counselor. You’re very convincing. How did you convince us to cross-examine you as a job applicant?

Flattery, plain-and-simple. I maneuvered myself into prime flattery-delivery position by meeting and becoming friends with a guy who knew a guy.

In all seriousness, years ago when I was in Hollywood I was on the other side of a deal with a person who often works with Bungie. I had known him for years and he introduced me to a personage-of-significance at Bungie. I met a couple of key dudes in the company a couple of weeks later and the rest is history. The moral of this story is you never know who is going to open doors for you, so treat folks accordingly until you have enough power to crush all who defy your will.

I’m not lying about the flattery. I had played (almost) every Bungie game to date. I was and continue to be a huge fan that was and is passionate about games and entertainment. I believe that passion, and the ability to appear to know what I’m talking about, came through.

Okay. This is starting to come into focus now. So there you were, on the stand. What was the hardest part about delivering all of that flattery to our judges?

This is a tossup between my nervousness and the fact that my interviewers often didn’t know what to make of me. I’m not a designer, engineer, artist, animator or sound guy, so it can be challenging to prove your value in the compressed context of an interview.

By the way, we are hiring. Come prepared to your interview because the bar is very high and we can smell the delicious fragrance of your fear.

Alright, alright… Give it a rest for a minute. You can negotiate contracts later. I want to know more about the parts of your job that you really love.

Impact. All of us need to make a difference, and that is an incredibly satisfying feeling. To be honest, I think I have the best job in the world for somebody with my background and interests, and I suspect everybody here feels the same way.

That and the t-shirts.

They do suit you better than a suit. You seem to be here every day when I arrive. How do you fill a whole day in our chambers?

Bagel. Soda. Burrito at Oobas. Soda. Beer. Before you know it, 16 hours have passed and your wife wants to know if you got lost on the way home.

Is it the soda that drives you, then? What is your favorite perk about being on our team?

The biting sarcasm…and the t-shirts.

Don’t make me ask for permission to treat you like a hostile witness. You will answer the question.

Working with an incredibly talented team all moving in one direction to build something amazing. It’s the constant challenge, excitement and humor that make it worth getting out of bed at silly hours and going home at stupid hours.

That’s more like it. Let’s enter into evidence your favorite accomplishment during your time here.

This would have been difficult for me to answer but for the fact it was published in the LA Times. I’d also say reorganizing Bungie to become employee-owned.

Independence is a word that is often thrown around, but in my view, it is core to what makes Bungie a special place to work. Imagine you have a choice: to follow a well-understood track with a calculable expectation of success, or start from a fresh piece of paper to create something new not knowing whether it will be accepted. It’s as crazy as it is hard. But every Bungie employee owns a piece of that dream which is extremely rare and gratifying.

Further to the point of gratification is the act of getting better at what we do. Given that your skills were so hard to earn in the first place, is there anything you can do at a place like Bungie to learn new things?

Surfing the Internets and playing games?

On my way out the door at EA I told a colleague that I wanted to get closer to the “product.” Ah, what a fool I was then. I try to extend myself beyond the business details to the actual production of the game we are making.

It’s funny, I first heard the use of the word “product” in connection with the entertainment industry when I started working in Hollywood, and it always stuck with me. I get it—hell it’s my job—making games and movies is a business.

Imagine, if you will, that an aspiring young businessman out there wants to follow their own passions to a place where they get to work with people who make games. Is there anything you can tell them about the chaotic trail you have blazed?

I had something for this…hang on.

Don’t sit down, play a great game and say to yourself “I want to do that,” because that is not what making games is about. You simply must be passionate about this industry to do great things, feel fulfilled and have fun while you are doing it because, and please hear me if only this one time, making games is really, really hard.

Perhaps more important, don’t imagine the game you want to play next week or next year. Imagine the experience you want to have in five years, because that is the only way you can change the world.

Before our closing statements, please rank the following in order of importance to your role: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent?

I think you nailed it, although I believe—except for those very rare exceptional people on whose shoulders we all stand—talent is a combination of the first two.

This court is adjourned. You are free to go.

We will admit that Ondraus’ story is a rare one, but it does prove a point that you never know where a career will lead you, given the right passions. Bungie needs professionals of every breed to bring our game to the marketplace. You can learn about all of them in the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 8/7/2012 5:13 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Chris Chambers

The Doctor will see you now...

When you play a video game, how do you know you’re any good? Are you rewarded for blowing stuff up with a sense of accomplishment? Do you feel like you get better over time? These questions belong to a team that schemes behind the scenes to keep you feeling engaged by the games you play. Because these plans are hatched in a piece of software, they require the support of Engineers. Let’s corner one of those guys and ask him how he became engaged in a career making games.

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

I am Chris Chambers. I work on the engineering side of the "investment" team, which mostly does progress bars! A progress bar wants to be displayed, networked, persisted, and its strategy for advancement needs design, so the investment team works with lots of others. You'll feel my influence when you are watching something increment.

So guys like you write the code that keeps guys like me salivating over my next rank upgrade? Tell us about your own personal sense of investment. While I am chasing a virtual promotion in front of my console, what are you chasing?

Sunlight! (It's dark in the studio.) Also parenting, volleyball, video and board games.

Ah, yes. The darkness! Different types of people lament different types of studio darkness for different reasons. Before you committed yourself to our light-proof cave, where might we have found you?

I started in the games industry 5 years ago because I wanted to work on software I actually used. Other careers I discarded included teaching computer science to undergrads and writing software I didn’t use for medical offices and manufacturing companies.

I could argue that both medical and manufacturing software help us live our lives every day, but I know what you mean. It’s easier to become really excited about software that lets us play games. Did you always plan to find yourself a job that was related to your passion?

This was a hard question when growing up; when I asked people how they got to where they were, it sounded like they fell into their careers by chance. I think I wanted to be idle?

Well, you certainly strayed from that path. There are not a lot of idle hands at Bungie these days. We have skilled craftspeople hard at work on every discipline that goes into a game. Tell us how you learned the skills of your chosen trade. Care to recount your education for us?

I earned a Ph.D in computer science. My research topic was cheat prevention and scalable strategies for hosting on-line games, which has been, you know, relevant. I did learn a lot of handy computer science in academia too, but a lot more about intrinsic motivation.

Beg your pardon, Doctor Chambers! Thank you for your service in the war against cheaters. Is that how you instilled in Bungie the intrinsic motivation we needed to size you up as a potential member of our team?

I did research in on-line games specifically for an industry position, but Bungie was an inside job. My graduate school confederate had just been hired onto the Bungie networking team, and he convinced them that the office Feng Shui wouldn't be right without me.

Considering how often we rearrange the floorplan around here, Feng Shui is hardly a laughing matter. Before you could join our never-ending game of musical chairs (and desks), you had to survive a full day of interviews with Bungie people. Was that as hard for you as it has been for others?

I'm a nervous interviewee, so the hardest part was trying to hear the tiny voice of reason in the back of my brain over the blaring voice of panic in the front. Towards the end of the day I was just tired, so that made it hard in a different way.

At the end of that dreaded day, your progress bar as a candidate was full. Well done. What happens on the other side of that boss fight? Can you pick a day in our studio and tell us what you do?

Eat a bagel. Write code. Promote synergy. Check in code. Sit in darkness.

Promoting synergy is an important part of keeping a team this large focused on one objective. Is there something that we have done that made you feel at home as the member of a really big family?

The Pentathlon! That one day was the most fun I've ever had at work anywhere!

Ah, yes. Nothing like a little healthy competition to inspire us to band together. When we are not trying to etch our names onto the Pentathlon trophy, there are other progression systems to occupy us. For instance, is Bungie a place where you can get better at what you do? Is it hard to tackle new challenges and add them to your skillset?

I don’t have to try very hard; I work with an amazing team, and the work environment really promotes collaboration. For personal projects, I mess around with mobile development and recommender systems.

Ph.D’s in computer science can be rare, but there are a lot of people out there that would love to work alongside you. Short of commanding them to become a doctor of code, is there any advice you can share to help them realize their own dreams?

What worked for me was developing expertise in an industry area that I had a real passion for (eff cheaters). I think it's a good approach!

Let’s test your approach to this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

(I object to those so I will rank my own):

For this role, Fervor is most important, then Mastery, then Bravery!

You totally cheated – and we were doing so well up to that point.

Despite his creative solution for that last scenario, we appreciate Chris taking a moment away from investment engineering to tell us his story. Don’t lose heart if you want to become one of his confederates, but can’t imagine yourself becoming a Doctor in an area of study. The backgrounds of our people are as diverse as the roles they play. Don’t take my word for it. The Breaking In archive does a better job of making that case.

Breaking In 7/30/2012 2:41 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Ryan Juckett

Building castles...

A truly great game happens in a place that should feel real to the player. In order for that to happen, there must be rules to govern things like gravity or structural integrity or ballistics. Making all of this a virtual reality is the job of a Sandbox Engineer. These architects of code see the world in ones and zeroes. To understand that unique perspective better, we have the pleasure of a conversation with this gentleman…

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

I’m Ryan Juckett and I’m a sandbox engineer. Guys like me get to spend their days building and fixing all the fun parts of a game. To explain, let’s take a game like Halo: Reach. If you can shoot it, someone like me probably worked on that. If you can drive it, someone like me probably worked on that. If it explodes, someone like me probably worked on that. If you can shoot it while driving it while things explode, someone like me definitely worked on that.

Tell us about your own personal sand box. What do you do when you are not providing the variety of mayhem that gamers love?

If I’m not working, I’m probably at the gym, out to eat, or on the couch. I play a lot of console games and do a fair amount of hobby programming and art when time allows.

Hobby Programming! It’s nice that you managed to find yourself a gig where you get to do work that you would do in your free time. Is Bungie the first place where you channeled your hobby into your career?

I’ve been in and around the games industry for a while. I started off programming artificial intelligence at Neversoft on “Gun” and the “Tony Hawk” series. I later spent some time at Pandemic and then worked on a game called “Project Offset” which never saw the light of day. After that, I went mercenary and contracted myself out to the masses before settling down at a small studio working on games for Capcom, DreamWorks, and Disney.

You get around. Has your campaign as an engineering mercenary forged you into the perfect weapon in the fight against bad code?

I think having been a part of so many different teams and codebases has given me a broad view of the patterns, good and bad, that appear when building games. Referring back on those experiences is certainly helpful in my day to day work.

Let’s refer even farther back to your humblest beginnings. Was making games something that you have always dreamt of doing?

Somewhere in a box at my parents’ house, there is a drawing I made in elementary school to answer this very question. I’m sitting in front of the TV with a controller in my hand and it says that I want to play Nintendo.

What were the first steps you took when you left your parents’ house? Can you describe for us the education you earned to prepare you to engineer sandboxes?

After high school, I went to DigiPen and got a Bachelor’s of Science in Real Time Interactive Simulation, which is a fancy way of saying game engineering. I use almost all the math I learned, but the most useful part was getting to work on game projects from start to finish with like-minded peers.

Following the string of mercenary contracts you completed after college, how did you convince Bungie that you could be one of our like-minded peers?

One benefit of having worked with so many teams in the past is that I have colleagues spread across the industry. I’m sure having a few referrals already working at Bungie didn’t hurt.

Who you know is certainly a crucial component to any worthy job search. What was the hardest part about our testing what you know in the Bungie Interview?

Waking up. I was in and out of crunching at my prior job and my already late flight to Seattle was delayed. If I recall, I got about four hours sleep at the hotel before having to wake up and meet everyone here.

Thriving on less sleep than we would like is part of the experience, after all. What is the most rewarding thing about the many waking hours that you spend at Bungie?

Anytime I get to make something that hasn’t been done in a game before is a pleasure. With our size and talent pool, we have the luxury to push the industry forward.

This next question can be a hard one to answer, given the shroud of secrecy that blankets our development floor, but can you describe a day in your life in our studio?

Working on gameplay, I get to interact with a pretty broad group around the studio which keeps each day interesting. It’s a pretty great place to work, but we do keep it a bit too dark and cold for my tastes after living in L.A.

Seattle is not famous for its sunny skies, to be sure. Is there something about your life at Bungie that makes up for your newfound Vitamin D deficit? What aspect of your job makes you the proudest?

Every time I get to work alongside the design team to prove a new feature is satisfying. I always find more pride in the player-facing result of my work than the engineering it took to get there.

New features require new skills. Is this environment a place where you can find new toys to add to your professional sandbox?

Games are always changing and I do my best to play and analyze the latest and greatest. I follow the consumer facing news and churn through whatever I can get my hands on regarding the development process. Then, if I’m lucky, something in that mess of information will allow me to think about or solve a problem from a different perspective.

It’s a safe bet that there are aspiring developers among our readers who pour through that news with a similarly analytical mind. What wisdom would you share with those people who dream of being one of your like-minded peers?

Work on a simple game on your own or in school and take it from start to finish. Most people find it to be nothing like they hoped, but for a few it’s fantastic.

Thanks for opening a window into your world, Ryan. Before we release you to wrestle with new and exciting code, please engineer a solution to this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

It depends on the task at hand and the amount of time available to do it. If you need something done fast with few mistakes, experience is very handy. If you want to break new ground and do something new, you’ll want talent. Work ethic, however, will only get you so far without the experience or talent to back it up.

If your experience matches Ryan’s, you may well find your calling in our sandbox as one of his fellow engineers. If hobby programming is not your bag, there are many facets to making a game, and Bungie needs people to own all of them. Our Breaking In archive is always a great place to learn about all of the like and unlike minds that come together on our current project.

Breaking In 7/23/2012 1:38 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Ryan Cooper

He's an Engineer.  He's a Tester.  He's both!

When you play a multiplayer game over the Internet, an explosion of code rages through the tubes that connect you to every other player in the world. Our developers make this pastime easy for the gamer to enjoy. Creating that experience, and making sure those tubes don't rupture during gameplay, is anything but easy. The servers that host your never-ending battle are tested like bomb shelters. To learn more about those proving grounds, we can talk to this guy…

Stop where you are! Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Ryan Cooper. I’m working as a Senior Engineer in Server Tools and Test. My role is unique in that I straddle the boundary between Engineering and Test. Our team’s primary goals are to make sure everything server-side works and you don’t see any errors when we launch. On the scale at which Bungie works, this is a very, very scary task. To ensure that we are successful, I develop tools that enable us to simulate traffic to stress the server system while it is in development.

We’ll explore the depths of your very worst fears in a moment. First, let’s talk about the happier moments in your life. When you’re not confronting the demons that lurk within netcode, what might we find you doing?

Gaming, cooking, wandering aimlessly around Redmond…

That sounds like a nice balance. Gamers gotta eat and get some exercise, after all. Describe for us the aimless wanderings of your career prior to putting Bungie on your resume.

I bounced around the Xbox teams as a Software Development Engineer in Test for just under 7 years. I filled many different roles for many things – testing or leading teams that were testing billing, parental controls, data analysis, security, friends lists, parties, matchmaking, system updates, networking, drivers, file systems, etc. It was quite a bit of fun, and I learned enough to work in just about any area. This came at the expense of extensive knowledge in any area, but it made me fearless when walking into new areas. I am still not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

Did you always dream of being an ambassador between Testers and Engineers? What did you imagine you would be when you grew up?

Game developer. What can I say? That made certain life choices really easy for me.

That’s it? People usually confess to long-lost fantasies about becoming superheroes or celebrities. With such a singular path laid out before your younger self, how did you prepare to walk that walk?

I got two degrees in Computer Science from WashU (not to be confused with UW, WWU, George Washington University, or any university located in Washington State or Washington DC). There, I learned all the basics I still use almost every day.

That sounds like a great foundation. How did you build on that in a way that would make us want to bring you onto our team?

Well, besides the long resume… The Xbox team and Bungie have a long history of working together to produce features. I had helped out on a couple of Reach requests before coming here. On top of that, over the years, I had gotten to know a few people who were now working at Bungie.

Did you curse their names once they helped you schedule an interview? We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the inquisition that we use to get to know our applicants.

I was actually very ill on my interview day and had roughly three hours of sleep the night before. I ended up taking some twelve hour medication just before I started interviewing to hold off my symptoms. The interview had been set up for weeks and I was not going to get another chance for a while if I missed that one. I was very determined. The engineering interviews are tough and maintaining focus was hard given my state of mind. However, it did give me one advantage: I could not physically get nervous because of how tired and loopy I was. Fortunately, it worked out for the best.

Your secret about performance enhancing over-the-counter drugs is safe with me, and everyone else on the Internet. Having made the cut, what’s the best thing about being on the team?

For me, Bungie is a place where you are given problems to solve not solutions to implement. Being trusted to design and implement solutions to the problems you are presented with and having them improve the lives of the other people working at the studio is very rewarding.

I was really tempted to say that playing on the winning team for the newbies in Call of Duty during the Pentathlon was my finest moment.

The CoD Captain from Team Newbie would agree, but the Bungie Pentathlon is a rare day in our lives. Take us through the paces of a more regular day at Bungie.

Get in, check for free food, check mail, go heads down for 2-3 hours until lunch (occasionally have a meeting before/during lunch), have lunch, go heads down another 5-6 hours (maybe take a coffee break in the middle), go home. In crunch, add to that list: have dinner, go heads down for another 3+ hours.

That sounds like a lot of time with your nose to the grindstone. Do we do anything special to make that life more livable for you?

Scheduled crunches. I know it’s odd that I list that as a perk, but I’m horrible at saying no to work. At Microsoft, it got to the point where a General Manager came into my office and told me to go home. Our production schedule has improved my overall quality of life tremendously, because it is predictable and defined well in advance.

Spoken like a true Engineer with a flair for Test. Within the logical structure that we cultivate for you, is there something you have accomplished that makes you exceedingly proud?

Having a large chunk of what I considered to be test code getting reused for production code has been pretty satisfying. Where I worked previously, test code was test code, never to see the light of day, ever. I have been informed that appropriating test code for production purposes is a tradition at Bungie.

Another tradition at Bungie is challenging our people to get better at what they do. How do you engineer new skills for yourself?

I have no fear in using new technology if it fits my problem. I don’t see education as inefficiency. I dive in, find the issues, and fix/work around them as necessary.

For a guy who spends all day tackling very scary tasks, you sure do sound like a man without fear. What would you tell an aspiring developer who considers themselves to be equally brave?

Be passionate, develop something that proves your passion that you can show off, keep educating yourself, don’t make excuses for why you don’t work on your passion, and don’t be afraid to work around the edges for a while to get in if that’s what it takes.

You’ve managed every unit of stress that I manufactured for this interview, Ryan. Thank you for taking the time to educate us about the many roles you have played over the years. This last question is easy: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

All are important. For my particular role, experience comes first, then work ethic, then talent. I’ve learned quite a few hard lessons over the years, and my experience prevents me from having to relearn those lessons. That is important because my role can easily generate tons of “throw-away” work if I am not careful. Over the lifetime of the project, it allows me to get much more done. Work ethic comes after that, because servers don’t decide to fail on a schedule. And finally talent, because when you are having server issues at 3 AM, it’s best to resolve them as quickly as possible.

Ryan has a lot of work to do, so we’ll cut him loose to return to it. Testers and Engineers practice some crucial disciplines that enable Bungie to turn out kick ass games. In the coming months, we’ll need many more of both. If you would like to know more about the trades that we seek at Bungie, our Breaking In archive has a variety of stories preserved for your reading pleasure.

Breaking In 7/16/2012 2:17 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Coolie Calihan

Building cool environments...

Building a new universe happens on a construction site that blends art and science. A team of Engineers lay the foundation. A team of Environment Artists plot the maze that will ensnare the gamer. They take the raw space, and turn it into a place they hope will feel as real to you as your own back yard. If you want to know more about how that happens, and how people prepare themselves for such fascinating challenges, check out this guy…

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

Hey all, I’m Coolie Calihan (real name no gimmicks) and I’m just one cog in the exceptionally well-lubricated machine that builds Environment Art. I help create gameplay spaces by modeling in 3D, painting in Photoshop, and engaging in stimulating critiques. Occasionally, I’ll even drag a pencil around on a piece of paper.

We'll delve deeply into the intricacies of that stimulating work in a moment. First, let’s get to know that man behind the badass name. How does life occupy you when you're not dragging pencils?

I’m a pretty average guy. Besides typical dude stuff like drinking beers and watching Kung Fu, I snowboard and enjoy watching the Sounders play every now and again. I think my girlfriend is pretty rad too, so we hang out. I’m also a big fan of RTS games, especially Relic’s Dawn of War games. I still play Retribution quite a bit.

You've also been known to play a game of Battlefield 3 from time to time, not that I'm keeping track (but I am). What stops did you make on the road to turning your passion as a gamer into a career making games?

Shortly after graduating architecture school I found a nifty job doing some drafting work for a small firm outside Cincinnati. It was a classic ‘from A, go to B so you can get to C’ job where I learned a good deal about being a man in the 21st century. The job afforded me the spare time I needed to develop my game art skills as well, so it was definitely time well spent.

Was building things all part of your plan? What did the young Coolie dream of doing when he became the old(er) Coolie?

It varied quite a bit from marine zoologist to automotive engineer at Mercedes Benz’s AMG division. At one point I wanted to become a hydraulics engineer so that I could design the world’s first walking tank, but when my parents asked me how I would feel knowing my life’s work would undoubtedly kill lots of people, I shifted my attention to fine arts and architecture. Now I get to create structures that will inevitably be filled with the symphonies of death. So it works out.

Video games do provide a victimless war. What sort of education prepared you to realize that happy medium of conducting symphonies of death where no one has to actually die?

I have a B.A. in Architecture from the esteemed Miami University (of Ohio). A lot of the knowledge I rely on daily is self-taught, but the experience of going through architecture school is absolutely priceless. One of the most valuable lessons (that I’m consistently re-learning) of my education was how to receive constructive criticism without getting your feelings hurt. I’ll never forget the first critique in our studio class where one professor, which turned out to be one of my favorites, made a few of my classmates cry. At that moment I just smiled and knew I was in the right place.

Speaking of making people cry, let’s change the subject to how Bungie recruits brave new talent. How did you entice us to scrutinize you in the first place?

In a blind stroke of luck, I made a great connection to Bungie through Miami’s Architecture Department. Bungie Professional and Grizzled Ancient, Chris Carney, also attended Miami for architecture schooling. I corresponded with him for several years, which included a Bungie studio visit in 2009, before consulting him on a formal application for employment. He was able to get me an art test under the ever watchful eyes of HR which turned into my invitation to interview.

Way to work the contacts. Once Carney threw you to the wolves, how did you survive your interview with a whole pack that was looking to pick your bones clean?

The hardest part was convincing the interviewers I would be useful (and even a benefit) to the company with no game development experience. I knew that hiring me was a risk for Bungie and if I wasn’t confident, there’s no way they could be. I didn’t mind the length at all, since every interview was a fun, unique challenge. That said, I was exhausted when the day was over.

That doesn’t stop with the interview. Exhaustion is half the fun at Bungie. Tell us about the other half of your fun. What’s your favorite thing about working here?

Being an artist at Bungie means that even a noob like me has real responsibility and every chance to make as big an impact on the game as some of the more senior artists. For me that’s the best part, and it reflects the commitment to quality that Bungie strives for when looking for new recruits.

Take us through a day of that responsibility. Put us in the shoes of a Bungie Environment Artist on a day of your choosing (choose wisely).

It’s Friday, obviously, and literally millions of bagels adorn the kitchen counter. I grab one, but not before Jerome says ‘have a nice day’. I walk across the studio to my desk, look out of the tall, blurry windows behind my monitors, log into my workstation and spend the morning continuing whatever task is at hand. Lunch is usually with a few coworkers, and lately a lot of us have been playing Diablo 3 over lunch hour. After lunch it’s back to game art, maybe a meeting or two. Usually the day flies by.

I'm not sure that we consume millions of bagels on a Friday. That might be hyperbole, but we do like to keep our people happy. Of all the tactics we employ toward that end, which one makes you happiest?

The benefits are too numerous and generous to pick just one. But I am a huge fan of the carpool tally sheet where, if you carpool or bus to work, Bungie gives you a dollar to your favorite retailer. It adds up pretty quick.

And how do your skills as an artist add up? We're never done learning at Bungie. Can you tell us how your time here has enriched your craft?

I lean on my fellow artists for help all the time and I have yet to find someone that isn’t happy to lend a hand. Everyone has a different way of doing the same thing, so I try to soak it all in then add my own special sauce on top. After a little while people start asking you how you did certain things and that feels pretty cool.

It is very likely that an aspiring artist or architect is reading this right now, thinking about how they would love to do the work you are doing. Impart to them some wisdom that will put them on the path that you have traveled…

If you want to work in the industry, you have to make something first. Nobody gets a job in this industry from knowing a certain tool or being able to write in a certain programming language. I don’t care if you can draw out the entire interface and every menu of 3ds Max from memory. If you haven’t made anything, you can’t prove that you would be useful to the team.

But also don’t be afraid to start small. Every person that works here was a noob once. I think the first thing I ever modeled was a bike rack. A stupid, curved tube. And it took me something like 3 1/2 hours. Pick a project that is just out of your current capability and don’t stop working until you nail it. That’s how you get on a roll to something great.

Your wisdom is appreciated, as is your willingness to share your story. Let’s take this home with the final question we always ask: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work Ethic, Talent, Experience. Nothing trumps wanting something so bad that you’ll give up sleeping for it.

If this sounds like work you would like to do, there are many ways to lose sleep at Bungie. Coolie is a member of one of many teams at Bungie that work tirelessly to delight our fans. The rest of the teams are also looking for new blood. Our Breaking In archive is a great place to learn about all of them, and how to make your own case to join.

Breaking In 7/9/2012 1:40 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - John Stvan

From the Community, to the Community...

Team Bungie brings together artists from a whole galaxy of disciplines. Some of these artists imagine the experiences that are poured into our games. Other artists design the graphics that are enjoyed by our community right here at Who better to do that work than someone from that very same community? Bungie has a long history of recruiting passionate players of our games to make sure that the community experience stays vivid for the next generation of gamers. In fact, there goes one right now, trawling the snack bar for Swedish Fish. Before he can escape with his snack, let’s throw him up against the wall and make him reveal his secrets.

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

My name is John Stvan.  I’m a graphic designer who supports the Visual Identity team, Marketing team, as well as the Online and Mobile teams. My job is pretty unique in that I work on many internal-facing projects, as well as a lot of the things that our community sees. Marketing and VizID are responsible for the identity of our team and the games they create. My work focuses on web, motion graphics, print, and digital graphic design. I have a rare opportunity currently to work closely with the wizards of the web and mobile teams to help design the next iterations of

Let’s see how many points of common interest you have with our readers. When you are not designing graphics that delight them when they come to, how do you spend your time?

I’m a gamer, so you’ll likely find me on the battlefields of some games. More than that, I love golfing, jamming on my guitar, going to movies, long walks on the beach, holding hands…

…wait is this

Honestly, I’m pretty much your average fan of fun. I like hanging out with friends for a beer, grabbing a bite to eat at new places, and heading out to discover what Washington has to offer.

It sounds like you are a man of many interests. Has that wide spectrum of talents manifested in your career as well as your life?

I’ve had almost every job imaginable. I was a waiter, bar back, teller, telemarketer, journalist, but mainly a salesman. I worked at AT&T for a number of years, but found I was incredibly fond of making digital art. Halo 3’s screenshots were the perfect playing ground for new ideas, skill training, and art creation. I messed around with my own work and collaborated with people in the community. Just for fun.

There were a lot of unlikely stops along your road to working for Bungie. Before you began that journey through sales and customer service, where did you hope it would end?

I wanted to be an actor. I studied at Second City for a time. I’ve been in plays and small films, but that was just something to do. I like making people laugh. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. When I was young, I used to wish I could go into my drawings or see them move and interact with them.

As your goals shifted, did you shift the way you would prepare yourself to reach them?

I got as far as a few years of college. I tried, I really did, but I hated school. I did go back to online schooling up until my job here started. School is so important these days, and I’ve always had plans to finish. I really, really, lucked out with how things ended up for me. I left school and sold phones for 8 years. That wasn’t fun. I really wish I just sat down and figured out what made me happy a long time ago. I wouldn’t trade any of my struggles and experience for anything. I’m extremely happy with how it all worked out.

Tell us, then, exactly how it did work out. How does a purveyor of mobile phones make the jump to being a designer in the service of a developer of kick ass games? It seems an unlikely leap.

I’ve been an avid member of the Bungie Community for a long time. Urk was kind enough to feature some of my art on the main page. I made a few posters that got shared around the studio. Lorraine McLees found some art that I posted in her group and we talked about it for a bit – little did I know that she’d be my senior artist one day. Around the time of the Reach Beta, I noticed that Bungie was hiring for a content coordinator position and I applied. My stomach flipped when I got a call from Kirkland, but the message was that they found someone better suited for the job. The silver lining was that the person I talked to told me they would be looking at me again soon for some contract work with the same team.

As a graduate of Bungie Community College (not accredited), did your accomplishments as a fan give you the chops you would need to shine in your interview with Bungie? What was the hardest part about that final exam?

I hadn’t planned on having the phone interview that day and took the call from the golf course. I dropped the call four times, but still got invited to work for Bungie as a contractor. True story.

Congratulations on passing the test, even if the fairway was your classroom. Now that you have made the grade, what do you find to be the best thing about working here?

I think the best part for me is the fact that I get to do SO MUCH that people touch and see and use. From Xbox Themes, avatar shirts, web design, and box art to internal sites and events… our team gets to do it all. This is not to say that it’s easy. We usually have a very short turnaround time on a lot of the things we do.

Tell us more about those aggressive timelines. If you would, take us through a day in the life of a graphic designer at Bungie.

Well, I get in at 9… 9:15… ok 10 some days. It really depends on how late I worked the night before. Normally, I already have my coffee and get ready for the daily meetings. I try to hammer out first iterations by noon and get some feedback. We normally do a 1pm lunch. After that, I make changes based on the feedback. Coffee O’Clock is at 3pm, which always helps break up my day. After that it’s back to work until whatever hour at night when the project is done. Is it 11pm yet?

Is there something that Bungie does to make your long days and nights of hard work a little sweeter?

The Swedish Fish.

Editor’s Note: I can attest to John’s love of Swedish Fish. Asking for just one is met with violent protest.

What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? When did you know that picking up and leaving home had been the right move for you?

My favorite thing that I’ve ever done at Bungie was an internal project that I can’t really talk about. I created a web solution for sharing project updates with the studio (despite not being a web programmer or developer at the time). It’s helped to keep a growing team on the same page as we create this new universe.

Externally, my proudest moment was creating the “Burn Bright. Burn Blue.” avatars for Xbox LIVE. We were able to sell that item to raise a lot of money for charity.

As impressive as those accomplishments might be, we can never rest on the laurels that we build for ourselves. How does Bungie make you better and better at what you do?

My boss is the best at teaching me how to enhance my skill. I’ve learned so much by rising to his various challenges. We all push each other on the VizID team. If we don’t know how to do something, we figure it out. Time and time again, you hear that Bungie is not a place for complacency. We are always challenging ourselves and our coworkers to do better and do more.

You know better than most that the Bungie Community is filled with artists who channel their creativity into expressions of their passion as gamers. What would you say to people who become inspired by your story?

Find out what you love to do, and do it. One of my favorite sayings is “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. This job is tough most of the time… but being successful in a tough environment is part of the fun. I’m not even close to as talented as some of the people here, but I work extra-hard to become valuable. If you love what you do, and work hard, good things will come.

Thank you for sharing, John. You have earned your Swedish Fish for the day. Before you tear into that snack and return to your drawing tablet, please tackle this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work Ethic, Talent, Experience.

I had little experience before getting hired on at Bungie. I took full advantage of every opportunity I was given here. Because I have a thick skin (thank you Chicago), I persevered through some really tough times and gained the knowledge and experience I needed to continue doing great work.

There are many roads that lead to our studio. The one that John traveled is only one of them. Bungie still believes that our thriving community is a great place to find people with the passion to do what we do, assuming they have the right skills. You can find more of us profiled in a similar fashion in our Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 7/2/2012 3:19 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Scott Kankelborg

Put to the test...

Testers at Bungie have all the fun. It’s a super easy job, too. Not only is it a great way to translate your favorite pastime into a career, but all you have to do is sit around and play games all day. Who wouldn’t love a gig like that? To be honest, what you just read is one of the most vicious myths about the video game industry. Testing games is a rigorous occupation. A good tester possesses unshakeable patience, a surgical attention to detail, an ever-evolving understanding of the systems they are proving, and a hatred of bugs that runs as deep as their love for games. The process that “assures the quality” of our work is the backbone of our culture as a developer. But don’t take it from me. There goes a brave member of the team right now.

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

My name is Scott Kankelborg. You blocked my test pass, prepare to die. In fancy-speak, my job is “Quality Assurance”. The most uplifting description of what I do: “To be an advocate for the consumer.” My current deployment has me embedded deep in the heart of the User Interface team where I scream battle slogans like “Standard Definition” and “Aspect Ratio.” I’m also helping to lay the foundation for testing on multiple platforms. I owned the Saved Film system for Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Reach, and dabbled in other areas such as Performance, File Sharing, Configuration, and User Interface.

You must get so tired of holding a game controller. Once we release you into the wild, how do you unwind?

True to stereotype, I spend a healthy portion of my time outside of work gaming (including sacred duties as a Minecraft server admin), eating pizza, and drinking Mt. Dew. I also spend a bunch of time doing Pen & Paper RPG’s; I’m running a Pathfinder game at home and here at Bungie, and am a player in both a Pathfinder and Star Trek game. While working at a previous job I also picked up a nice side hobby of heading to the gun range. Sorry ladies, I realize at this point you can’t control yourselves, but I’m already happily married to an amazing woman (and she games too!).

That last reveal is sure to break some hearts, but breaking things is what testers do best. Right? How did you cultivate yourself into being such a catch?

I’ve done all sorts of things before I found my true calling at Bungie. I’ve been everything from a camp counselor to an armed guard at a military base (and probably everything in between). Every job has had mountains of useful experience leading to my current job. For any job, you should look back and find skills and experiences that you can build from. For example, security work teaches you all about documenting events, which translated into filling out bugs with repro steps that explain exactly what happened to somebody that wasn’t there. Darth Jevans and Uncle Sam both love their complete documentation!

Was an exciting career in complete documentation something you have always dreamt about? What did you used to tell people when they grilled you about what you were going to do with your life?

Funny story time! Back in middle school, we had to do a written report with a presentation to the class on that very subject. I was deep into SimCity and SimAnt at the time and felt my report should be all about how I wanted to work at Maxis when I grew up. Most gamers probably know that company, but my teacher was no gamer. As I stood up to give my report, my teacher announced, “You want to work at Maxi’s? Like…the pads?” I spent the rest of my years at that school convincing everybody that “Maxis” was the name of a company that made games. I was scarred for life.

You are among friends now, Scott. Just imagine what teachers ask students who say they want to work for Bungie. Was the rest of your schooling that traumatic?

I went straight into the workforce from High School. I took some classes at a college in my hometown but never finished. After I had begun working as a contract tester I began attending weekend classes on Quality Assurance and coding at Bellevue Community College (remember that sweet consumer advocate line? This is where I heard it).

Truth be told, I learned that I should have finished college. There is a lot you can learn while at college, aside from the things you learn in college. To some degree getting out alive with a diploma in hand proves you know how to work long hours, write detailed reports, and study up on subjects that you once knew nothing about. I had to prove those skills on the job. Don’t like the assignment? You better work extra hard because some day your boss is going to give you an assignment you don’t like. I also learned that if you tackle every assignment as if it was of upmost importance, it will absolutely pay off.

As a student of the world, was it hard to infiltrate our studio? How did you seduce Bungie into taking you seriously as a candidate for a Test position?

I made it clear I was ready to dig deep and work. I had zero experience in the software/gaming industry but I had a love of gaming and the willingness to work hard. I had actually worked for Microsoft/Bungie as a contractor for 3 years before I got called up to the major leagues.

If you asked Darth Jevans, I’m sure he’d say something about my zealotry. I’ll take on any assignment I’m given (I suspect he has given me a few just to see if I’ll say no) and I’ll also be the over-zealous maniac at his desk when things need to get done and e-mail just isn’t cutting it. Warning: You gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em. Be over-zealous in things because you believe in them and want to see the job done as best you can; you better be sure you are really ready to die on that little mountain of yours.

Such drama! You could have been a thespian with bravado like that. Can you apply that storytelling flair to recount your interview with us?

My initial contracting interview was easy compared to all the guys that went thru Bungie’s normal interview loop. The hardest part was that the real interview lasted 3 years! Nobody told me I was interviewing and nobody promised me riches or dangled a sweet job offer in front of me. During that interview, I asked a bunch of questions like; “How can I automate this process”, “How can I do this so an Engineer doesn’t have to”, and “How does this whole process work?”

Your work has spoken for itself. Now that you have ascended that personal mountain that threatened to kill you, what has been your proudest memory of reaching the summit?

My biggest test-related moments of pure happiness come when I nail a hard-to-reproduce bug. I once spent nearly 3 weeks on a film error that occurred in Halo 3 that we wanted to patch in a title update. I stared at the reports I had, the films uploaded, and the few screenshots I had until I could recite them from memory. Finally it hit me and I had it nailed immediately. Outside of direct testing, it’s the amazing time I get to spend with the Make-A-Wish kids that come thru our studio. It’s a complete honor and privilege to be able to run playtests for and get to know these kids.

Is every day packed with such heroics? Tell us what happens between sunrise and sunset – not that we can see either from our windowless fortress...

For test the day starts out with our BVT team’s ritual sacrifice to the build gods. These “lucky” souls have the honor of arriving early in the morning and scouring the build for any blockers. Embedded testers such as me roll in at whichever time best suits the needs of their area. After we arrive all bets are off. A tester’s schedule rarely goes as planned. You’ll quickly get randomized for playtests, BVT support, or just to be an extra eye on some area that needs a little extra love. Of course no day in the life of any tester is complete without test cases. Lots and lots (and lots) of test cases. Test Status Reports are like unholy offerings to our test leads. Go too long without sending one and they will rise from their deep slumber to eat your soul.

Bungie tries to balance those unholy offerings with perks and rewards. Which ones warm your weary soul the most?

If I answered anything other than “the free Mt. Dew” every friend/family member I have that reads this would call me a liar. There are a ton of sweet perks showered on us regularly but this really does it. Every time I brag to anybody I always start with the Mt. Dew.

Your honesty is most appreciated. Since you are so willing to share, tell us what you still have to learn. How can you become a more powerful tester?

Having a deeper knowledge of software is a good place to start. Learn coding, learn to multithread, and learn to create an app or two on your PC, Smartphone, Xbox, or whatever. Having an understanding of how code works can benefit any tester. I also ask the folks in my areas how they do their work. I can now say that I have built my own functioning UI screen. It had rainbow pancakes and looked amazing.

The Internet is filled with gamers who would love to duplicate your journey. What would you offer them as sage counsel?

The folks that I see flourishing all have a deep hunger to improve. They don’t just show up, file the required number of bugs, and go home. They learn coding, and then show the manager all the bugs their automation caught while they did their normal work, they free up developers by handling some of the load, they give good feedback from playtests (Hint: “this is stupid and I hate it” is not good feedback), and they all show a love for the job.

One of the biggest reasons I didn’t get into the industry sooner was the fear that it would make me hate gaming. This was absolutely not the case for me. I now appreciate all of the work put into the games I love so much more than I ever did.

Do not fear this final question, Scott. You have met this challenge with grace thus far… Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work Ethic > Experience > Talent. I don’t think talent or experience will get you very far without the work ethic. It’s that ethic that will give you the raw experience and it’s also a good ethic that will help direct that raw talent into form. Even if you have talent you need to be experienced and be productive with it.

With that, we send Scott back to his hunt for bugs. They won’t bash themselves. If his story inspires you to climb a mountain of your own, our Careers page has many to choose from. If you would like to explore the whole range of possibilities at Bungie, check out our Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 6/25/2012 3:49 PM PDT permalink

Breaking In - Joe Venzon

Even art needs a vehicle...

Never mind what doubters or pundits might tell you. Video games are driven by art. At Bungie, we stretch the boundaries of our imaginations to create vivid worlds where you can fight for your lives. Yet, without the right necessary programming, that art would never reach you. That’s where Graphics Engineers come into play. They are some of the most crucial players on our team – and we need more of them. What does it take to fill this role? Let’s ask one of them to find out.

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

I’m Joe Venzon, a graphics engineer at Bungie. As a member of our graphics programming team, I work on designing and implementing the rendering techniques that turn cool source art into pixels on the screen. That’s a pretty broad work statement, which can mean anything from working out the math for physical phenomena we’re trying to approximate, to engineering a multi-threaded rendering pipeline, to using a bit of artistic sensibility to figure out how to meet artists’ feature requests. I enjoy the fact that one week I can get really nerdy and work on the nitty gritty details of engine programming, and the next week I might be engaging my creative side and working with artists to help bring their concepts to life.

We would like to know about the Engineer, as much as the Engineering. What are you bringing to life when you are outside the studio?

My number one interest recently has been my nine month old son. Being a dad changes your life like that. When I can find the time, I also play a lot of video games. Lately I’ve been into hardcore PC simulations, like DCS A-10C Warthog (an A-10 flight sim), Dangerous Waters (a submarine warfare sim), WRC (rally racing sim), Arma 2 (infantry sim), and of course Day Z (zombie survival sim). Sometimes on the bus to or from work I also fiddle with little game side projects. I have too many hobbies and not enough time: basketball, skiing, shooting, photography, working on cars, you name it.

Working at Bungie seems like a logical extension of most of those hobbies, although we don’t do a lot of skiing in the studio. Would you plot for us the career path that prepared you to join our team?

I worked at Flying Lab Software on the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO, and before that I designed flight control system components for the Boeing 787. Working at Boeing was a good first job and I learned how to be an engineer there. It also gave me a broad survey of practical engineering and physics that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise (anyone want to know how an electro-hydraulic servo-actuator works?). When I got an opportunity to get into the video games industry, I jumped. Working at Flying Lab was an interesting change because it was such a small company, and I pretty quickly had a ton of responsibilities, including being the only graphics programmer at the company. It was a fun time, and I worked with some great people, but when I saw Bungie was hiring, I made another leap.

Was that leap a long term goal? I mean to say, when you were just a wee lad, was making video games a component of your playground agenda?

I assumed I’d be designing boring consumer electronic devices or something; I knew I wanted to be an engineer, and I loved video games and did a lot of game programming side projects for fun, but I had no concept that I could end up doing that professionally! My first PC was an 8088, the precursor to the 286, with a 4-color video card and built-in BASIC interpreter. I also had a Nintendo, and I played both PC and console games. Once I got a 486 with a sweet 256-color video card (talk about graphics!), I became a huge fan of LucasArts adventure games like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which I can still enjoy today. On my 486, I wrote an early DirectX (back when it was 2D-only) clone of Escape Velocity, an old Mac-only top down space exploration and shooter game. In college, I took an open-source physics engine and made a 3D racing game out of it. That’s how I got my start writing 3D engines. I also started making a first-person 1600s naval combat game, and a Privateer-style space sim; those didn’t get finished, but they were a lot of fun to work on.

Oh, my wasted youth! It seems like you are self-taught in many ways. Did you enhance all of that personal exploration with any formal education?

I have a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington with a specialty in embedded systems and a minor in Mathematics. The embedded systems track gave me a lot of exposure to programming and especially low-level programming. I originally was going to do a Computer Science degree, but they had just switched the coursework over to Java when I started there (and they switched it back to C++ the year I left!) and I wanted to go a bit lower level than Java. I also did a semester at USC in their Computer Science Master’s Degree program, but haven’t had time to go back and finish it.

I bet you were quite the party animal. With all of that higher learning in hand, what was your grand strategy to put it to work as a Bungie Engineer?

When I saw Bungie’s job posting, my company was pivoting to do more casual games. I knew I wanted to continue to do 3D graphics, and Bungie’s job description made it clear they’d be right there at the bleeding edge, writing a new graphics engine for a cool new IP. How tempting! In my cover letter to Bungie, I showed off the work I had done at Flying Lab revamping the character lighting for the Pirates of the Burning Sea expansion. It involved spherical harmonics, and graphics programmers are suckers for spherical harmonics. I also showed off my side projects, and even pointed to a game I wrote for a 48-hour game competition called Ludum Dare. My entry was the first written entirely in Haskell, I believe.

Speaking of the bleeding edge, let’s relive the nightmare that we intend to be the Bungie job interview. Which cut was the deepest?

The math! I had taken a lot of math and physics classes in college, but it had been a while, and only the bits I had used recently were fresh in my mind. At one point, I had come up with a solution that involved some matrix multiplication, which I was pretty sure was correct, but the interviewer (Hao!) requested I multiply it all out symbolically to check my math. Half an hour later, the board was filled with writing, and that really ground me down. It was a very long interview in an uncomfortable chair.

Now that you have successfully made that leap, is a more comfortable chair your favorite perk? If not, reveal for our readers the best thing about working for Bungie…

Being able to work with other professionals that are at the top of their respective fields! I’m blown away by the consistently amazing people that work here. It’s actually a bit intimidating being around so many sharp engineers. There’s just no dead weight around here. And the artists we have are the kinds of people that can make amazing, gorgeous art and do it on a schedule.

If you would, break that schedule down to one 24-hour unit. What is one day like inside our studio?

I’m usually one of the first people in my row to get in to work in the morning, arriving at around 8:30. I’m lucky in that I don’t have a lot of meetings, so I can maximize my time working. Most of the time that means the usual “coding, compiling, testing” loop familiar to any programmer. Some days I get to make dumb programmer art to test out new features, that’s always fun.

Of all the things that we do to make that coding, compiling and testing worth your while, which one is the most worthy?

Free lunches with new employees! That’s a great way to meet people and spend some time interacting with co-workers without talking about work.

You are supposed to talk about work at those lunches, Joe. That’s the whole point. I am so telling on you. Once I get you into proper trouble, what is the one accomplishment about which you will boast to save your job?

Huh, how am I supposed to answer this without revealing too much about what we’re working on? Well, I’m pretty happy with how the atmosphere system turned out. It’s got a nice blend of a plausible physical basis, artist controllability, and speed. We looked at a ton of different papers and implementations, plucked the best ideas from all of them, and then turned it into something artists could control in a straightforward way. It’s super gratifying to then put that in the hands of a talented artist, and then watch him turn his renders into badass in-game content.

The approach to your work that you are describing sounds very investigative and improvisational. Can you apply that same aesthetic to keeping your skills on the forefront of evolution?

For graphics, I try to keep up with graphics papers and blogs. When I see something that seems cool, or have an idea, I’ll try and implement it in my free time to see how well it works. There are a lot of techniques that are presented as “real time” but wouldn’t work in a game for various reasons. To keep up my general programming skills, I like to work on small game projects as a way to learn new languages. I’m especially interested in applying functional programming to games.

You’ve set an example that many young geeks would no doubt love to follow. Let’s pretend that they are gathered into a classroom, and you are perched proudly at the lectern. What would be the meat of your lecture to them?

Make games. It doesn’t matter how simple or stupid they are. Pick a super simple idea or clone an existing game design; something that you know you can complete. Even if your main talent is as a programmer or designer or artist, you should learn enough to wear all the hats for your simple projects, and see if you can do them alone. This is the best way to learn about the game industry, and it will provide you with an impressive portfolio if you decide you want to make a career of it. Game competitions like Ludum Dare that provide a deadline and short timeframe are a great way to get you to learn how to reduce scope and complete a project, skills that are incredibly useful.

You have a lot of Engineering to get back to, so let’s wrap this up. Here is your final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Talent, experience, work ethic. I put talent first because if you’re sharp, you’ll gain experience over time. I put work ethic last because, at least for graphics programming, just hammering away on code doesn’t always yield the best results. Stopping and thinking and playing games and watching movies can be pretty important; we’re not just banging out widgets here. That said, everyone who works at Bungie has a fantastic work ethic, because to get here, you must.

Readers, please join me in thanking Joe for taking a break from his most important work to describe it to us. If you are a Graphics Engineer, or know someone who packs the gear to serve as one, apply within. There is more work to be done in realizing our next universe. In fact, we need developers on all fronts, and you can explore them all in the Breaking In archive.

Breaking In 6/18/2012 6:03 PM PDT permalink