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friday, july 14 2000

  as we keep marching onward towards the completion of the project, everything is starting to either fall into place or fall away. fortunately everything that I've been working on has gone relatively smoothly, but not as quickly as would be necessary to hit all of my personal goals. so some things are up for the axe, which always hurts. it's a real change from working in research, and I'm starting to miss being able to take the time to do things thoroughly. still, it will all be over in a surprisingly short space of time.

  and that time is now, for the chicago office! as of today, they're moving out from their home on the seventh floor on west ontario... the movers have been there for a few days and today the network got ripped out, with the last servers going out the door. so we're temporarily adrift on the internet sans email access... fortunately we managed to reconfigure our gateway so that we can actually get out! still, for the next week or so anyone trying to contact me would be advised to do so at my usual address. alas, prompt replies may not be forthcoming.

  speaking of prompt, most of bungie went to see x-men at the movies tonight (its opening night). all of the showings for the evening were sold out by 5:40pm, so it's rather fortunate that we actually got organised before then and bought tickets in advance. one thing I do love about silicon valley is the ability to buy almost anything over the internet (although I do wonder how companies like webvan and peapod ever expect their business model to be profitable!)

  the movie was pretty good, and I'd certainly recommend it. particularly good casting was the key to putting the movie together; the action scenes were perhaps not as memorable as you might expect from a film based on a comic book, and the dialogue had some spotty moments, but for the most part the actors were able to carry it.

  and now, back to trying the breath of life on our lead designer's hard drive, which kicked the bucket at about 11pm last night. he's been wanting to upgrade to windows 2000 for a while now, but at this stage a single missed day of work can set us back significantly. scary, really. I suppose we'd better all do our best not to get hit by a bus in the next few weeks...

monday, july 03 2000

  life is sweet... after a harsh weekend, we're done with this milestone. it's official, we now have a game on our hands instead of a disconnected series of tech demos; and, you know, it feels remarkably good.

  now, it's time to (briefly) catch up on the state of the art as far as other games goes. installing deus ex now, and based on others' reports I'm expecting to be pleasantly surprised by this little gem.

saturday, july 01 2000

  the fun never stops around here; we're powering towards our current milestone and I'm trying to juggle an extremely convoluted set of systems integration problems. that's the trouble with complex systems like our game's AI model, I guess; fortunately I anticipated a lot of the issues that are cropping up now, and the design accomodates most of them without too many changes.

  words cannot express just how neat it is to see a game taking shape under your hands. the atmosphere in the office is really positive despite the pressure, and everyone is starting to feel excited (finally!) about the finished product.

  we're going to crush.

saturday, june 24 2000

  while I was walking in to work this morning, there was a broken water pipe in the irrigation system for the building next door. torrents of water were sheeting out of the flowerbed and flowing across the empty parking lot down towards the road. it was almost like a miniature stream complete with rapids and as I waded through the water I had the most vivid flashback to a valley that we tramped through high up near the U pass in fiordland.

  kind of saddening really that the closest I've come to that natural beauty recently has been a burst irrigation system. but once the project is complete I plan on taking an extended vacation, probably back in new zealand for at least part of that time. and there is a great deal of gorgeous scenery in northern california and washington, which I plan on enjoying once I get myself some transportation.

  speaking of washington, how about this whole microsoft thing? well, my feelings about the whole deal have mellowed greatly over time. initially, I was more than a little shocked, like everyone at bungie I'd imagine. but the more I talked to alex about the reasons for the deal it became apparent that this wasn't quite as cut and dried an issue as anyone would like it to be.

  on the plus side, there's no doubt that the x-box is a totally unique system to develop for. it's hard to overstate the raw graphics power of the system that nvidia's put together to drive the video side of the box, and unlike other next-gen consoles there aren't any huge technical hurdles that have to be cleared before your developers can start writing for it. granted, there will always be problems associated with using dedicated hardware, but you can start writing code today on a conventional PC that writes to APIs that will actually exist on the production box. contrast this with the highly specialised vu0 and vu1 arcanum that must be mastered before you can produce any halfway competent ps2 title, and you can quickly see how ms can get away with not having final hardware as far before launch as the ps2 had to be.

  of course these benefits would have been available to bungie as any other third party x-box developer. but by moving to redmond and being literally in the same building as the hardware, os and tools guys, bungie have the opportunity to really influence the development cycle for x-box at every level. will this actually come about? I can only assume so. during the twenty or so minutes that we were there on our trip, we got to speak to michael abrash and several other members of the tools development group, and there was definitely a feeling of flexibility just in that brief meeting.

  the other parts of the plus side are pretty obvious. microsoft's marketing muscle is just astounding; they say 'jump' and every computer store in the world asks 'how high?' - quite a change from the struggle that bungie has faced to get their product into the channel, even despite consistent high quality and an excellent sales team. their resources are virtually unlimited; most projects at ms have roughly twice the staffing and many times more funding than the corresponding bungie projects. and, their test teams are some of the best in the games industry.

  if only things were perfect! but bungie as a wholly owned subsidiary of microsoft is hardly the company that I signed up to join. let's face it, microsoft's in-house offerings in the gaming arena haven't exactly been stellar, and there is of course a lot of dark history behind how they've gotten where they are. however, with the recent spinning-off of a real games group away from the broader consumer entertainment division, there's a lot of positive thinking about the future going on at the redwest campus.

  but don't take my word for it; read what ed fries (head of microsoft's games group) had to say in an interview he and alex seropian gave ign. after coming back from the trip up to redmond, I felt a lot better about the whole deal. it was made abundantly clear to us that microsoft's intentions are to retain bungie's internal structure in every way that they can, and to even start adopting some of our development practices in their other internal teams if things go well. my gut feeling is that these intentions are honest and that they'll remain so for at least some time. further down the road it's entirely possible that the status quo will fall apart, but for the time being everyone seems to be lined up behind the idea of bungie studios.

  if only the fans could see it that way. of course they can't be expected to, but nobody at bungie believed me when I said that I felt we'd probably lose between 80-90% of our fan base almost immediately. and the reaction of the myth and halo communities was just as violent as I thought it would be. most of these people just aren't interested in understanding bungie's situation in terms of economics and in terms of game development; practically none of them even have the terms of reference to grasp the situation, the dangers or the opportunities.

  that would be true for bungie's acquisition by any console company. but a significant and vocal minority of the bungie fan base is strongly tied to the mac as a gaming platform, often in an almost evangelical fashion. never mind that the mac is just a collection of software and hardware, and as such is merely a tool. these people are content to project their feelings onto bungie - the great defenders of the mac as a games machine; after all, weren't they showing halo as part of the keynote at a macworld expo? most of these fans hate microsoft irrationally, basically because by identifying with the mac they can be the elite gamers of the world that don't stoop to using other rubbish.

  more power to them. for the most part, the commotion in the halo community seems to have settled down for now. many of the aforementioned microsoft-haters have left already, and everyone else is waiting impatiently to see if their keep halo on the pc and mac petition succeeds. at the time of writing, it has 22,000 signatures which has certainly been raising some eyebrows around here. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how much of an influence it has on the halo team. I certainly really don't want to see halo drop the possibilities that are available on the pc and mac platforms.

  trouble is, one of the main advantages of becoming an x-box developer is that we get free rein to really hammer its polygon hardware. the difference in capabilities between today's pcs and the x-box is roughly an order of magnitude, and it's three or four times greater to step down to today's macs. while scalable content is definitely where the gaming industry is going, it's a big headache to deal with. you can probably push about two to three times as much content on the high-end if you don't have to worry about the low end. and that's not even counting radically different features like nvidia's pixel combiner engine. x-box is a huge draw card for a cutting-edge graphics engine like halo's. plus, the networking, control and user-modification features that are available are totally different on the console to those on a workstation. trying to make the same game for two such separate platforms; well, it would be a huge challenge. personally, I hope that jason and his team take it on, but we'll see.

  amusingly enough, microsoft have a generous allowance available for employees to undertake work-related tuition. so I can probably get them to pay for my phd enrolment fees at otago (said degree, by the way, being totally and utterly stalled right now). who would have thought?

  the prospect of physically moving up to seattle is an appealing one. I like seattle a lot more than the great san jose area; there's less of a chance that you'll walk down the street and see someone tapping on a palm pilot, or notice that the guy at the next table at a restaurant is working in visual C++ on a laptop. plus the climate is a lot cooler and has more variety, something that I really miss about dunedin. I'm even wondering about the possibility of buying property up there, just because tax laws in the usa give you serious, serious benefits for doing so. there are some gorgeous places for ridiculous price tags, but after cruising around for a while the rents seem more affordable than here (of course!). the only hurdle will be that I'll definitely need to drive around up there. but I figure there should be time to solve that one in between gaps in frantic coding for oni.

  ah, oni. things are coming together very well right now - we have another milestone a week from today, which is the main AI milestone basically. I don't think I'm going to get a lot of time off for rest and relaxation until everything is up and running smoothly. and so far every indication has been that they aren't right now, and won't be without a great deal of effort. sigh.

  sorry for the monster of a news update, but I had a lot to get off my chest. it would be nice to write a special rants / articles page for these monolithic brain dumps, but again that takes extra time. maybe next week. always next week.

wednesday, june 21 2000

  well, in case you haven't heard, bungie software has been acquired by microsoft. after we finish oni, bungie west will be moving up to seattle to work on microsoft's new games campus.

  wow. quite a change from the daily routine, and we are all desperately trying to stay on schedule under a new load of meetings and various relocation worries. hence the lack of updates; hopefully within a few days I should be able to take a chunk of time off to post a more complete report on what exactly is going on.

  in the meantime, there's a bunch of information on bungie's website that you might find interesting.

  more details soon! honest! and believe me, it's not at all what you might think. if we were being acquired and absorbed, there's no way that 100% of the development staff would have agreed to come along. some people have even used the term 'bright new future', although I certainly wouldn't go that far.

updated 02.21.18
© chris butcher 2000-2003