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Breaking In - Rajeev Nattam

If you haven’t heard, Bungie is working on a new First Person Shooter. We call it Destiny.{{more}} When you dissect the core genre of the experience that’s coming to life on the slab in our lab, you can start to imagine its components. For all those first persons, we’re very fortunate to have a thriving community that is not so patiently waiting for new details about what they’ll be shooting. To ensure that they’ll have something worthy to shoot, and that their itchy trigger fingers will find it worth the wait, we have people like this guy…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie? 

My name is Raj and I’m a grizzled Senior 3D Artist. I’m part of the team responsible for all the groovy weapons. Oh, and vehicles too. Equally groovy, in their own way.

There are some among us that would claim that vehicles are even groovier, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself. We’re here to talk about you. What’s the one thing you’re most excited to contribute to Destiny?

Weapons! I can’t wait for players to ogle, collect, and fire all the awesome weaponry we’ve put together for them. Destiny has more weapons than all the Halo games put together - squared and then squared again.

As much as we’d love to talk about all of them, we’ll revisit that mighty arsenal at another time. For now, let’s take a deep breath and explore your softer side.  When you’re not arming the forces of good in Destiny, where does life find you?

I have a twenty-month-old daughter, so I spend most of my time outside of work keeping up with her, and preventing her from falling to her death.

Our game has clearly seeped into your consciousness. Have you always been this imaginative?  What did you want to be when you grew up? A poet?

A Doctor! Sorry, my dad got in here somehow. Once I laid my eyes on the Atari 2600 (yeah, I’m old) I knew I wanted to make video games. Once I realized that, I needed to wait to grow up.

How did you pass the years? Before it was time for you to help us kill aliens, was getting an education a good way to kill time?

After high school, I spent a few years “schooling” in Massachusetts, thinking I’d become a filmmaker.  Doesn’t everyone at some point?

Yes.  At least, that is one more thing that you and I have in common. 

I’d been fiddling with computer graphics on the side, and once I wised up, I decided to attend Vancouver Film School, where I focused exclusively on CG. A year later, I had my first game industry job and the rest is… antiquity? Yesteryear? Man, wish I’d finished school.

What were you doing before your career led you here?  How did those experiences prepare you for this job?

In the beginning? Pizza delivery. Before Bungie, my first industry gig was at a now defunct developer called Oddworld Inhabitants where I worked on Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath. After that, I went to Insomniac Games in LA, where I worked on Ratchet and Clank and the Resistance franchise. Oddworld gave me my first industry experience (and lifelong friendships) and Insomniac gave me incredible next generation training (and more lifelong friendships).

What was more valuable in helping you to infiltrate Bungie? The experience? Or the friendships?

I was in Seattle visiting friends, one of them was a friend of Bungie, he sent in a sample of my work, I get a call from Shi Kai Wang (3D Art Lead) asking to me come hang out, and I end up hanging out at Bungie in a completely informal interview. All that happened inside of an hour. A week later I had a job offer. 
From Bungie. I just wanted to make sure that was clear.

It’s pretty clear where you had your interview. What isn’t clear is whether or not you were entreated to the full experience. Was there a grueling moment that is typical of the Bungie Interview?

The Hao Chen interview. Hao Chen (Engineering Lead) is hands down one of the most intimidating interviewers ever. I was doing pretty good before him. Once he walked in the room and started asking questions, I thought I was done for.

Only you weren’t. You made it. As a survivor, you’re in a unique position to tell us what you find to be the best thing about working at Bungie. What makes you proud to be a member of our team?

The utter lack of ego. You’d think with so many uber-successful Halo games under their belt that Bungie would be fueled by unbridled hubris, but this is a shockingly humble studio. Nothing is sacred, everything can be questioned, and everyone is always hungry to learn and improve their craft.

How does that hunger translate to what you might be found devouring over the course of the average day in our studio?

I start the morning catching up on email and drinking coffee from the in-house barista.  Then, I get cracking on forging the latest fictional firepower and future rides. I’m usually briefly interrupted with the occasional production update with our Team Lead – the honorable Tom Doyle. I wrap up the day with a quick game in the latest build of Destiny. Yeah, we play it every day. And it’s still awesome.

Teasing our community like that is a dangerous game of its own, Raj. You must tread lightly on such unstable anticipation. Aside from constant access to an awesome game, what does Bungie do to keep you a happy gunsmith?

Bungie is exceptionally friendly to families. Daycare, babysitting, time off, etc. Making a game like Destiny takes a lot of time and energy. Knowing that your employer cares about your family’s well-being is a good thing.

Family is certainly important. Can you recall that one moment when you really started to feel like you had earned your rightful place as a member of our family?

During my early days of Bungie, after completing a model, the concept artist who designed said model gave me a great compliment: “That’s exactly how I imagined this would turn out in 3D.”

We’re only as good as our last compliment. What are you doing to upgrade your own personal weapons as an artist?

There’s no reason not to constantly keep trying to up your game. I’m always scanning forums like Zbrush Central and Polycount, studying artist work, reverse engineering, and seeing how I can improve my skills.

You put weapons in the hands of brave heroes who defend humanity against invaders who would crush their civilization to dust. You’re not alone in thinking that’s a pretty cool way to earn a living.  Do you have any advice for people who want to do likewise?

For artists, learn a wide range of skills. Focusing on a single art style will pigeon-hole you and limit employment opportunities.

Our armory won’t forge itself, so we must release Raj to his foundry. His is just one more story about how someone who loves games found a way to make them. He shares a team with Engineers, Designers, Producers, Testers, even heroic Bloggers – and you can read about all of them in the Breaking In archive.
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