In mid-October 2018 my wife and I took a trip out to Seattle. I have been there over a dozen times due to my work at Amazon; however, this trip housed a couple of firsts. We flew first class, my wife got to visit Seattle and Amazon for the first time, and I got to see my first (and favorite) game studio, Bungie! Let’s chat about how it went, shall we?
How Did We Get There?
To start out our story, I’ll give you some background on how we got the trip. The Bungie Foundation participates in the Seattle Ronald McDonald House “Men In Kilts” fundraiser every year. For a certain donation, you and a guest would get a tour of Bungie Studios. I could not pass up that opportunity. I would be able to donate to a very worthwhile charity and get a chance to visit my “dream” studio. I had to go for it! Once the donation was made, I was contacted by Christine with the Bungie Foundation. We ended up picking dates and sorting out details. It ended up that me, my wife, and another guest would be touring in October. I spoke with my gaming friend, Mudcat, and both he and his wife were interested taking the trip with us. It was bound to be a good time!
Fast forward to October. Using my Alaska Airlines rewards card, I was able to snag two first class, round trip tickets. We would be making the trip in style! When I go to Seattle for work, I typically fly Alaska out of PHL. The flight is scheduled for a little over six hours but it typically lasts for about five and a half hours. I really enjoy flying Alaska. Their planes are clean and their staff is friendly. I have some pictures below from the flight.
When Friday rolled around, it was time to head to Bungie! We started our day at Serious Pie & Biscuit down near Westlake. I’m not a biscuit person but I’ve been there several times before and absolutely love the homemade biscuit with peanut butter, banana, and honey. So we got that. Then we took a ride share over to Bellevue. I’ve never been to Bellevue before and I was quite impressed. From where we were, it seemed to be a big city just like Seattle but it also looked a bit cleaner and with less construction. If we would have had more time we would have checked it out more. But, no time! Bungie was in front of us.
The studio is somewhat hidden in a shopping complex, next to a LA Fitness. It was kind of odd: you head up an escalator, turn the corner, and BAM… there’s Bungie. Security let us in and we went through the visitor sign-in process, including a NDA. Because of the NDA, I cannot talk about certain aspects of the tour. I’ll just state that now and get it out of the way. We were there with about 10 other visitors for the tour. It should be noted that Bungie doesn’t offer public tours so this is not something you can just walk up and do. Figured I would give you a heads up on that one.
After waiting for a few minutes we were greeted by Cozmo, Bungie’s community manager. He was very down to earth and you could tell he knows he has done a couple of these tours in the past. It was really cool to be given a tour by someone you “know” through TWAB and other online interactions.
The lobby area of the studio houses a ton of awesome Bungie artifacts: from the large Fallen Captain, to the ODST armor, to the Master Chief himself you could see all the pride that Bungie has in their work. There were glass cases of Bungie memorabilia, awards they have received, classic arcade games, and various artwork from trade shows and events. It was pure nerd heaven.
We headed towards the back and saw the Spandex Palace, the Audio Studio, and the Gauntlet. During our time in the Spandex Palace (mocap studio), we were able to play around with props and see how the actions translated real-time in the game environment. We were able to pick the brain of one of the leads there and talk about how captures for cutscenes, animation, and emotes work. In the audio studio, we got to see how music and soundtrack elements come together in-game to tell a story. Isolating certain elements really help you appreciate how the audio is developed and mixed. One notable person walking us through this portion of the tour was Skye Lewin, one of Bungie’s audio composers. As a Destiny soundtrack nerd, I was really happy that I got to experience meeting Skye and chatting to him about his work.
We then headed up to the second floor of the studio, which is where a lot of the dev work gets done. I cannot talk about this portion due to the NDA but I will say that this was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences I have had. Seeing how the team works, their environment, and to be where my favorite game is made was just pain awesome.
We then headed into the Bungie Theater for lunch and a Q&A with some of the dev team. We chatted about the development of Gambit, the decision to “kill Cayde” in Forsaken, how the team handles feedback from the community, and more. One thing that stood out to me from the time we got to Bungie, and continued during our Q&A session, was how passionate the entire team is about what they do. The folks we met cared about the work they do and truly cemented the idea that they “make games we [they] want to play.”
We finished out the day with a Gambit gameplay session amongst our other tour members and some of the dev team. Black Armory had not yet been released at the time of our tour so it was neat to play with unreleased weapons. As we left, Christine from the Bungie Foundation again thanked us for our donations and provided us with some sweet “Bungie SWAG.” I really didn’t want to leave but as folks say, all good things must come to an end. I will be forever grateful to the team at Bungie and the Bungie Foundation for giving us a great experience while helping a worthwhile cause.
Other Than Bungie
Bungie was clearly the highlight of my trip; however, that was only four hours of the time we spent in Seattle. The first full day the group was treated to a tour of the Amazon campus, led by yours truly. It was cool to show my wife and my friends more about the place I work. Even though I don’t live in the area, I felt like a pretty good tour guide. I guess that’s what happens after going to the campus over a dozen times in a few year time span. My boss even joined in on the fun! She hung out with us as we toured the Amazon Spheres. I also had my friends checkout Amazon Go: the cashier-less storefront that Amazon has. It still floors folks that you can walk in, pick what you want, and walk out without getting out your wallet. It floors me too!
During our stay we checked out Pike Place Market. Pike Place is kind of a “must do” when you visit the area for the first time. It’s a fairly large-size public market with a ton of vendors. My wife and VerySleepyOwl couldn’t get over the mass availability of the flowers and how cheap they were. I had to go get some award-winning clam chowder. We also found some asian pork rolls, which I don’t get to have often (since I live in the sticks).
We then headed over to the Copperworks Distillery for a tour and tasting. They had a really nice operation and some darn good spirits. We spent about two hours or so there. The owner gave us the tour and he was funny, knowledgeable, and a great guide. Mudcat chatted with him about spirits for a while, as he likes to do tours and tastings whenever he gets the chance.
The last full day of the trip, we spent some time at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop). Since it was around Halloween, we got to see an awesome exhibit on horror movies. There was also a great indie game exhibit that really helped shine a spotlight on how important and influential indie developers are to the game industry. We probably spent about four hours at the museum. We tried getting into the space needle but we did not realize that you needed to buy tickets for reserved times. By the time we got to the needle, we everything was sold out. One of these days I’ll check it out.
I’m really glad that we made this trip. In addition to supporting a great cause, I was able to show my wife where I visit several times a year, spend time with my friends, take in a beautiful week of weather, and hang out at my favorite game studio. I will not be forgetting the trip, that’s for darn sure. If you have any questions about my trip out there, feel free to let me know in the comments!