Inside Bungie: how the Halo developer is gearing up for Destiny
Issue 250 of Edge, on sale today, features an exclusive profile of Bungie, the studio which cemented its place in videogame legend with the 50 million-selling Halo series and which is now working on its first project for Activision, codenamed Destiny.
The game has been shrouded in secrecy ever since Bungie signed a ten-year deal with Activision in 2010 – until last November, that is. Art assets which had been handed to an advertising agency ended up in the hands of gaming websites; Bungie, to its credit, took ownership of the leak, giving fans a first official look at some of the game’s concept art in a post on its website. Speaking to us as part of an in-depth studio profile, writer and design director Joseph Staten recalls the day of the leak.
“I was in a conference room,” he tells us. “And Pete [Parsons, COO] walked in with his laptop. Pete has this look on him when he’s a little nervous and his eyes get really wide; his entire body was quivering.
“I think our response was typical Bungie. We just took it in our stride and, instead of making it a negative, we turned it into a positive. We initiated a conversation with our fans, which we hadn’t done in a really long time. And I think having done that, the great reaction that we got from it really made us all very excited internally. It motivated us.”
The feature charts the history of Bungie, which began life as a Chicago-based developer of Mac games before Halo caught Microsoft’s eye, the studio upping sticks and taking up residence on the Xbox maker’s Redmond campus. Time magazine once described that office as “a low-rent nerd farm in the middle of a pumpkin patch”; now the company occupies a sprawling converted multiplex cinema in Bellevue, the Seattle suburb that Valve also calls home.
And the similarities with Gabe Newell’s company don’t end there. All Bungie’s desks are on wheels – and have been since 2005, Parsons assures us, lest we think it was a change made last year after Valve’s workplace culture was exposed in a leaked staff handbook – and even the most junior staff are given creative input.
It’s a remarkably stable company, too, avoiding falling into the hire-ship-fire loop to which so many big studios succumb. Success helps, of course, but stability is an important part of the Bungie philosophy, as music director Marty O’Donnell explains.
“There was a very conscious decision when we went independent from Microsoft,” O’Donnell, the man behind Halo’s classic soundscapes, tells us. “We wanted to make a game company that didn’t get into the habit of swelling its ranks in order to finish a project, and then letting a bunch of people go. We wanted to figure out a way to make a place where people could come and work and stay.”
And so it’s proved. Half of the team that worked on the original Halo is still at the studio. Staff are shareholders, so everyone stands to benefit from the studio’s success – which could hit new heights this year, given that Bungie, not Activision, owns the Destiny IP. For the full story of how Bungie is preparing for what looks to be a very interesting year indeed, you’ll need the latest issue of Edge.
E250 is on sale now, and it’s a packed issue, with the inaugural Edge Developer Awards – our pick of the 50 best studios on the planet. There’s a 12-page feature on the number one studio, Valve, and reviews of the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry and Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch. Edge is available in print, on Android through Google Play or Zinio, and in award-winning, interactive form for iPad on Apple Newsstand.