Community director and longstanding Bungie employee Brian Jarrard outlines the studio's ten year plan ahead
The new Activision era for Bungie begins with packed boxes and bare walls.
The group, once given an enviably chic custom-made office at the expense of Microsoft, is moving out.
The analogy of a cheating husband – kicked out of home by the enraged spouse holding a white shirt kissed with red lipstick – is tempting, but inaccurate.
Truth be told, Bungie would have been evicted from its Kirkland studio even if it had renewed marriage vows with the Xbox owner. The building's capacity is for 150 employees, and as community director Brian Jarrard explains below, Bungie’s workforce is already over 180.
That says its own story about the frightening speed in which ambition and expectation grows in this industry.
The first Halo, released nine years ago, was built by a team of 60. Jarrard says Bungie’s next project – the one that is suppose to build a decade-long franchise – will require “the full might” of its expanded workforce.
Following the first half of Develop’s interview, here we speak to Jarrard about the foreseeable, and unforeseeable, next ten years ahead – complete with early pictures of Bungie’s new Beuville office.
It’s interesting that you’re planning ten years ahead. Surely, with all due respect, you can’t.
Well yeah obviously there are things that are unforeseen to us; we don’t have a crystal ball. We do have the benefit of people who have worked at Bungie for fifteen years; these are the same people that have been through long franchise periods.
Halo was about ten years, and that’s kind of become the model for us. If we knew then what we know now with Halo…
There was never a grand scheme and never a grand plan.
Halo Combat Evolved was one idea, and the team at the time had to work extremely hard just to get it working on this platform for launch. And very quickly, after the first Halo was a success, Halo 2 began to take shape, and about half-way through that one we knew we had too much story to fit into one game, so we already knew what Halo 3 was going to have in it.
By the time Halo 3 was wrapping up we moved to be more independent, and we had a plan to do ODST and then our grand finale of Reach.
Now we have the foresight from looking back. Now we can look at how to make a new universe in a similar way, but being more proactive about it.
Believe it or not, we really do have a ten year framework; a ten year production schedule with penciled-in milestones and big moments with the stories we want to tell and the gameplay experiences we want to deliver.
Is that again a focus on story? Is that how Bungie creates games – story first?
Actually yeah, it’s the glue that holds everything together for us. It’s a little bit empowering to feel confident that we have something we feel great about; a plan we believe in.
Obviously we had to do that really to find a publishing partner who met something of that magnitude, but it’s also a little strange to suddenly realise that, wow, my kids are going to be driving by the time we come to the conclusion of this saga.
It is strange to know that much of your future is mapped out in front of you, but it does take a lot of the guesswork out of it. You don’t have to worry about what comes next, what’s around the next corner; the team can just dig in and focus on what it does best.
What surprises me is that you might possibly be working on just two franchises in twenty years – and a string of games one by one.
Yeah it’s no secret that throughout the Halo saga there’s been a couple of times where we’ve tried to spin up and explore some side projects, but ultimately for us what we’ve come to discover is that our team really is at its best when it’s on one singular vision.
Every time we’ve tried to splinter off and explore different concepts, ultimately we’ve folded back into our primary focus.
Going forward we know that, to pull off what we have in mind in our ambitious plans, it’s going to take the full might of our team working collectively on a single vision.
I would have thought that after ten years of FPSes you would have relished the chance to make a driving game, a puzzler, an RPG, a music game.
It’s not to say that within this new universe that… y’know, we’re building a platform in a sense – we’re building this framework. Who knows what types of different experiences we can do? It doesn’t mean that everything that happens in the next ten years is going to be the same old genre.
We’re giving ourselves a lot of breadth to stretch our creative legs. The team wouldn’t be committed to this if it wasn’t going to be a fun creative endeavour.
I take it you’ll be on this one franchise for the next ten years and nothing else.
For the foreseeable future. It’s going to take everything we have, all 180-plus of our people to work on this one singular project, to be able to pull it all together.
Will you need to hire more?
Well we’re always looking for creative people. Interestingly, after I joined Bungie, Halo 2 shipped with about 60 or so full time employees. By the time Halo 3 shipped we had roughly 110, and now we’re at 180.
We’ve had tremendous growth, and with each great successful release, we’re able to get that much better talent and enquiries to join our team. What’s awesome is we’ve hired tons of new talent, but at the core we still have people like Jason Jones – our co-founder – who’s been here the whole fifteen years.
That creative essence that’s driven everything Bungie’s ever done; that’s still there. We have a really great mix of old and new, and that’s what’s helping fuel our next project.
So you’re going to continue building your own engines and tech?
Yeah and I think it goes hand-in-hand with our independent spirit. Just like we don’t want to develop a game off someone else’s IP, we want to push our own technology in the same way. That’s going to be our position for the foreseeable future
Are you working on your own new engine right now?
Yeah, it’s actually in development, so I would say it’s in a stage where, technically we’re still at the end of a pre-production mode. But now that Reach is done the full weight of our team is rolling into the project. Real work is underway.
And you’ve been talking about ‘devices’ as well. I take it that Bungie has built this world, and players can enter it from different platforms including mobile, online and other such devices.
Yeah, that’s definitely our intent. We want multiple platforms and devices for this game, where it makes sense. This isn’t just a bullet-point or sales target; we are looking at how to create more meaningful persistent interactions with our fans and how we can leverage new technologies to do that.
It’s an exciting time to see the advent of all these new input devices and there’s just more ways than ever to reach fans and make them a part of this big universe.