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The Bungie Years - Part 1

Every once in a while a friend of mine will ask me if I ever get bored of doing the same thing over and over. I started IMG back in 1993 and have been involved in the gaming industry for 13 years now. My answer to the question is no…if you have a passion for something, you will succeed, and hopefully you'll have some fun doing it.

Every once in a while I'm also asked to reflect on my days at Bungie Software. I was fortunate enough to work there for three years and in many ways it was the best time of my life and the worst. Working at Bungie taught me some valuable lessons about life, work, and the madness that is developing games.

The other day I skimmed over an article about getting into the game business. Someone at E3 last week had asked a bunch of hot shot game developers about how to get into the game business. All of them pretty much said to forget it. With game budgets now in the millions, it is practically impossible to be successful in the gaming business.

Whenever I hear people say that the barriers to entry are just way too high, I can't but stop to think about Bungie. Of course, Bungie's success had a lot of mitigating factors and their timing was impeccable. But the one thing that made Bungie such a big success story was a passion for making great games.

So when I look back at my Bungie days, I have nothing but fond memories. I've written down a few things that I thought readers might find interesting about the old Bungie days. At the end of the article is a movie of me taping the Bungie guys when they were developing Marathon for the Mac back in 1994.

The Bungie Lessons
I first met the founders of Bungie, Alexander Seropian and Jason Jones, in March of 1993. I had just started Inside Mac Games back in February and at the time IMG was a floppy disk magazine. I called Alex one day and asked him to come over to my house to show me their new game, Pathways Into Darkness.

Have you ever met someone and been immediately impressed by that person? That's kinda how I felt about Alex and Jason. They were the perfect match. Alex was the money guy…he knew how to sell, how to talk, and how to motivate. Jason was the genius behind the software. Jason had a passion for showing how cool his creation was. Jason was never that interested in chitchatting or talking about money or cars. His interest was always about making games that he thought were fun to play.

Which brings me to my first "valuable lesson" when it comes to creating games. And I'll pin this squarely on Jason for this. If you're going to be successful in gaming, you have to build a game that is fun to play. If it isn't fun, then forget about it, no one is going to play it. Jason had a vision when making games that was hard to describe but very noticeable.

First, Bungie's games had to be different. When Pathways and Marathon were being developed, dozens of other companies were developing clones of DOOM and Quake. Bungie games were different. They concentrated more on the gameplay aspects and making fun and unique levels rather than gory, super frag fests, with super whiz-bang graphics technology.

After Marathon, Jason started working on Myth and once again, his vision was to create something different. At the time strategy games like Command & Conquer had come out and were the rage of the computer gaming world. Companies like Ensemble created clones like Age of Empires. Jason wanted to build a strategy game but didn't like those types of games because he felt resource management was boring. During the early development, many of his co-workers, including myself, tried to convince Jason that Myth had to have resource management. Jason insisted there be none. He wanted to build a game that you could play online for 15-20 minutes, not one hour.

That's not to say that Jason didn't listen to feedback. In fact, he was the ultimate listener. He always made time for you. He listened to your opinions, took it in, and provided you with great feedback. In the end, I attribute Bungie vast success to Jason ability to surround himself with great people who have the same passion as he does.

I remember this one time…Jason and I were interviewing several programmers. One person, in particular, was obviously very smart and a very good programmer. Jason started to drill him though about what kind of books he read. What kind of movies did he like? After hearing the types of books he read and types of movies he liked, Jason knew he wasn't Bungie material. Ultimately, though, it was this guy's arrogance that turned Jason off, so he wasn't hired.

Many business leaders will tell you that if you surround yourself with passionate, smart people, you will be successful. Having a vision, of course, also helps.

If you are interested in getting into the game business, I've drawn up a few conclusions and ideas based on my days at Bungie Software and years of working on my own business.

1) Have a passion. Nothing shows a potential employer more than having passion for what you do. If you are an artist, have pride in your artwork. Find your weaknesses and better them. Read books. Watch movies. Go rock climb. Whatever it is, have a passion for it.

2) Have a vision. What do you want to do and what kind of tools do you need to get there? Setting clear-cut goals is the foundation to success. If you want to be an artist, learning how to draw before learning how to make 3D models on the computer. Want to program? Learn your math first. Become a genius at math. Then learn how to program.

3) Have attitude, not arrogance. Being confident is good but nothing sucks more than arrogance. In the gaming world, arrogance is a big turn off. In the gaming world, you live and breath day to day with people who love games. Trouble makers, arrogant asses, and over the top people just don't make it.

4) Start small but think big. Bungie, for the most part, hired people who had raw talent. If you knew how to draw by hand, it really didn't matter how good a 3D modeler you were. So if you want to become a 3D modeler, learn early on the basics…drawing, creating, and sculpting. Want to become a level designer at a game company? Study architecture and learn how buildings are made. Design your own game levels and master level design before going in for an interview.

5) Keep the faith. If you get turned down, don't give up (unless of course you completely suck at what you do). If your skills aren't there yet, keep working on them. Set your expectations accordingly.

Marathon Home Videos
My fondest memories of Bungie are, of course, the Marathon days. It was really exciting to see how 3 programmers, an artist, and a level designer were able to create this amazing game. I was lucky enough to see the game on a weekly basis come to be.

So when I saw a forum link on IMG a few days about my days at Bungie and of a hidden video that I had put on the Marathon Trilogy CD, I began to think it might be a fun thing to post it in my IMG blog. Thanks to those who dug it up!

In the video below you will see several people who are worth mentioning, many of which are now Bungie Alumni. They are: Jason Jones (head of Bungie Studios), Alexander Seropian (went on to found Wideload Games), Ryan Martell (after Marathon 2, bought a boat and went sailing around the world…lost contact), Alain Roy (worked at Bungie while a college student…lost contact), Reginald DeJour (after Marathon 2, went to work at several game companies), Greg Kirkpartick (after Marathon Infinity, left Bungie and moved to New York to create his own game company, Double Aught. The game, Duality, was never released…lost contact), and Doug Zartman (now at Wideload Games).

One final word of warning…there are several "bad" words in the video (those Bungie guys like saying the F word a lot). Please do not view this video if you are under age.

Marathon Home Videos
(73 MB)
(mpg 240x180)

Posted on May 18, 2006 at 12:56 pm | 12 Comments

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