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Inside Bungie: From bowling alley to AAA studio

Photo Tour: The studio offers a look inside its working environment as it pursues Destiny development

Bungie's built an interesting physical space in which to create its new game, Destiny. The space feels very open, with unusual angles and high ceilings. The environment appears to be as interesting and creative as the people who work there. Bungie has grown considerably since the days of the first Halo. The team at that time was 46 people; it grew to 67 for Halo 2, and then 118 for Halo: Reach. Currently, Bungie has 360 employees, most of whom are working on some aspect of Destiny.

Bungie has a long history in the game industry, but the company has only been in its latest offices for about two years. Located in the Seattle metroplex, Bungie's offices were formerly a bowling alley and theater. COO Pete Parsons explained that the company liked the large open expanses, which are difficult to find in typical office spaces. Of course, before Bungie could move in the existing interiors had to be completely remodeled, Parsons said.

Parsons related how they had to use the second-largest crane in the country to lower the refrigeration units onto the roof; he said they were afraid they'd have to use a helicopter, which would have meant shutting down a wide area of the city, but fortunately that wasn't needed. Refrigeration and air conditioning are important due to the massive server infrastructure required by Bungie's operations; six huge units occupy much of the roof space.

The results are quite interesting, with an unusual arrangement of spaces designed around Bungie's working philosophy. Parsons explained that the entire second floor office space had to be built up by a foot to allow for all the cabling to run under the floors. This allowed Bungie to put all the desks on wheels, so that workspaces could be re-arranged easily when the needs of the team changed. Every day, on average, four to five desks are moved as teams re-shape themselves. One weekend, for instance, the entire floor was rearranged over the weekend; desks were rolled around, plugged back into the network, and everything was ready to go on Monday morning.

The open floor plan is easy to see from the conference room above, each employee surrounded by three monitors in what Parsons said is the standard workstation configuration at Bungie. There's the usual array of amenities found at game companies, of course, with snacks and soft drinks readily available, a wall of trophies and a room stuffed with arcade machines. There are a few less usual things to be found as well, including a climbing wall and a nicely appointed theater.

The bottom floor includes Bungie's motion-capture studio, and the Laboratorium where game testing is conducted. Bungie brings in outside testers for some of their testing, using cameras to observe how they play and their reactions. There is a metal detector outside to make sure no recording devices make their way inside. Some of the areas not shown on the tour include the servers and the other hardware needed to support not only the game development efforts, but the networking needed for massive online play.

Bungie encourages connections among employees, and fosters the numerous clubs for various sports and other areas of interest. For new employees, Bungie makes them immediately popular with a policy that for their first six months, any other employee can take them to lunch and the company will pick up the tab. As you can imagine, new employees have no trouble finding someone to go to lunch with them.

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Steve Peterson

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Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.