Read the full Weekly Update here
This week at Bungie, each of us focused all our attention on “a thousand tiny things.”
Those words belong to a fresh face named Leif Johansen. As one of our newer gameplay designers, he brings a nova hot passion for player-versus-player encounters to our team. When you shoot a fellow Guardian in the face and taunt them with a friendly wave while they fume in the deadbox, you’ll understand where he applied his personal elbow grease to polishing Destiny.
To get better acquainted with his meticulous attention to detail, I took him away from the studio for a New Hire Lunch. It’s an old Bungie tradition: When we dine with a Newbie, it’s on the house. It’s a great way to get to know our reinforcements and (you know) eat foods. On the day of our planned activity, a surprise meeting about website enhancements made me late for our encounter.
Lars Bakken caught me snooping around the design corner of the dev maze, looking for my date. “Leif got tired of waiting,” he said, sensing me on his six. “He went to play.”
I bounded up the stairs to the mezzanine and found my meal ticket in his lab. We have many dens of science at Bungie. In the Gauntlet, for instance, we test for Bugs. In the Laboratorium, we test for Usability – among other things. In Reef, we test for Fun. It’s there, in that glass vault, that Designers like Leif butt heads against the unique breed of testers we hire to kick their ass. He was locked in a game of cat and mouse on the Moon – at the same time evading and hunting the army of trained and highly educated killers sworn to keep him honest.
As his Hunter rode waves of Light from rooftop to rooftop, he wrestled with the same details that you might contemplate as you play your own favorite game. The only difference is that he’s responsible for those details. It’s his job to own them, to be married to them and make them perfect.
“The rate of fire on this weapon is too high,” he observed as he emptied an entire magazine into an unsuspecting Titan in the blink of an eye.
Moments later, that same Titan ambushed him from above, sending him into the black void before he could land his final killshot. “Yeah,” he sighed as the game ended. “I think I’m gonna talk to Hamrick about that assault rifle.”
A confab about firing patterns would have to wait. First, there would be lunch. Over a pepperoni pizza (not bad for West Coast standards) two veterans of the shooter wars explored common ground. We swapped dozens of war stories from a bunch of virtual fields of battle that we had stained with our own blood. Halo. Battlefield. Call of Duty. Each of them had their own moments. Each of them had their own flavor.
“Destiny is shaping up to be its own game,” he mused. “It’s hard to make a difference in this space.”
That’s Leif’s challenge – both his and ours. At Bungie, we want to make a game that matters – to break new ground in your imagination. We don’t want to make something that’s just good enough to ship. Our goal is to change the way you think about all the games you play. We want to redefine what you come to expect when you have a weapon in your hands and your own hunt and evade scenarios are afoot. To do that, a designer needs to be intimate with the product.
“You can’t just flirt with your better ideas,” Leif told me. “You gotta put a ring on it.”
Every day, we delve deep into those details. According to Leif, striking the right mood in an action game “takes a thousand tiny things that need to be well made.” His Bungie colleagues would agree with him. That’s why we play our own games during every spare moment – to gain an intimate understanding of them.
We immerse ourselves in this brave new world every day. Each of us has our own thousand tiny things to marry, whether we’re tuning a rifle, creating a sound effect, perfecting a cluster of code, or making beautiful art that will tempt heroes to explore the treacherous landscape that awaits them.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
New hire lunches aren’t the only way we forge new bonds of teamwork at Bungie. Playtest Labs aren’t the only arenas where we play games. Sometimes, in beautiful storied moments, we clear the development floor to make room for a legendary battle. All work is set aside, and our place of business becomes a bloody coliseum.
The Pentathlon is an orgy of celebration and competition. We celebrate games. We battle each other. Our team morphs into four dueling schools, all struggling to claim glory and honor for themselves.
Now, if you’re waiting for Destiny, you might think that this is a poor use of our time. If you could access the public address system in our compound and broadcast your voice over the speakers hung from our lofty ceiling, you might compel us to get back to work like an angry god. Allow me to assure you, impatient Guardians in waiting: This year, the Pentathlon is in your most anxious interests. To find out which school is bravest, we’ll use Destiny as the proving grounds. At this very moment, our team is sprinting to complete a new build of the game. During the Pentathlon, we’ll abuse it as fiercely as we abuse each other.
To understand how this moment in time will shape the game we’re making, we’ll hear from two faithful stewards on the Exalted Winter Pentathlon Committee. When Matt Priestley isn’t operating as a Senior Producer for Bungie, he’s planning a full day of events across various activities in Destiny. When Charlie Gough isn’t overseeing the smartest guys in the room, he’s keeping the spirit of the Grizzled Ancients alive.
Let us come to order, Gentlemen. Traditionally, why is the Pentathlon so crucial to Bungie culture?
Matt: It keeps us in touch with our roots, playing games at LAN parties, eating bad food, and talking trash with friends.
Charlie: It’s how the old guard puts the young revolutionaries in their place! Way of the sword. Boot on the neck. That is the Bungie Way.
I have come to know this. Tell us what makes this Pentathlon a critical milestone in the march to launching Destiny.
Matt: When it hits you that your work is about to be played by your friends, it makes you put in that extra effort. It’s one of the surefire ways we have to motivate the team – a great way to start a new year together.
Charlie: More importantly, it allows everyone to vent all the frustration and pent up resentment that comes from the development process. Personally, I can’t wait to kick Priestley’s ass to get him back for all the times he’s talked back to me over the last year, when he knows I’m in charge!
Aside from the pecking order hidden in our org chart, what do you hope to learn about Destiny?
Matt: Pentathlon competitions are all about winning. The knives come out. Nobody’s above dirty tricks. It’s hilarious to see all the ways people bend the rules to get an advantage. That’s actually great testing for Destiny. We stop being polite and play the game hard.
Charlie: All I hope to learn is how gracefully everyone loses to my team, the Grizzled Ancients!
In either victory or death, how might these events change the way we work as we reassemble as one team in the coming weeks and months?
Matt: The stone keeps rolling. This build is just the first in a long line of playtests from here until 9/9/2014. We’re going to feed off the excitement from Pentathlon and plow it right into the next test.
Charlie: Every bug, every feature triage, every contentious discussion I have with Priestley will be accompanied by the delicious taste of victory in my mouth, and the sour taste of annihilation in his. Like a beaten dog with his tail between his legs, I expect him to acquiesce to my every whim.
The Fist is watching, and waiting. Its judgment will be harsh and unflinching. It will hold the glorious in its grasp, and cast the damned into the chasm of their shame.
Tune in next week to witness the lightning strike in real time.
Fear My Laser Face!
Earlier in this Weekly Update, we mentioned the Laboratorium. It’s the research facility where we gain a fresh perspective on what we’re creating here at Bungie. To see our work through eyes not tainted by insider information, we lure gamers (just like you) in off the street to lay hands on a controller connected to a fresh build of Destiny. Of course, the selection process is much more calculating than that.
The mad scientists from Bungie User Research are very deliberate about choosing the best mice to run a specific maze. Different test subjects are recruited to satisfy different curiosities. We need every breed of gamer to represent the diversity of our community – from the most casual to the hardest of the core. It’s another way we work with our community to better understand our games from every angle. We even took the name for the Laboratorium from Bungie.net user Zaphog (your prize will be in the mail soon, by the way).
Very recently, brave test subjects were sent on a mission to face a dreaded enemy in Destiny. We committed them to an engagement with very little to prepare them for the slaughter that we knew would ensue. Once the fighting and dying was over, we interrogated the survivors. A crucial part of science is feedback, especially when the data we seek is an emotional reaction to a good skirmish. On this day, the electronic systems we use to collect thoughts and opinions were out of commission, so a good old-fashioned paper questionnaire satisfied our appetite for information.
Here is how one very creative infantryman answered the question:
“Do you have more comments about this enemy?”
Wherever you are, soldier, we thank you for your service. Next time, work with your Fireteam to draw his fire. It always helps.
That poor, huddled mass grumbling about his fate from behind cover could be you. Are you registered as a willing participant in the Bungie User Research database? We need more unsuspecting souls to enter our lab and show us if we’re as smart as we think we are. Join up!
Questions between Bungie and Community flow both ways. We don’t need to don white lab coats to talk with you about games. Sometimes (every week, if you’re counting) all we need to do is open the Sack. Check out what people asked last week, while me and Urk flew through the air like a bird.