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Breaking In - Dave Matthews

The Breaking In series of interviews is usually a chat with a fresh face who has found a way to join the Bungie team early on in their career.{{more}} Every once in a while though, an industry veteran takes a moment to shake the dust off their memory and recount the steps they took through decades of making games. This is one of those rare and special moments.

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

Dave: I'm Dave Matthews, 3D Manager and SpecOps Lead. On paper, I manage our Hard Surface Team while they create amazing weapons, vehicles, and ships.  I also manage the Character Team as they craft new interesting and unique visuals for our player characters, combatants, and NPCs. And, I lead a team that creates large scale impactful moments throughout the game. Overall, I help amplify the player experience through much of the active visuals in Destiny.

When they get to sample those visuals first hand, what are you most excited to see them reliving on our forum?

Dave: I tend to sit at the epicenter of those great water-cooler moments throughout Destiny. I’m eager to hear all the great stories what will come out of those moments where players will say, “I can’t believe what happened last night, Holy crap! It was awesome! Andy, Mike, and I were on the surface of Mars and we ran across…” 

Hey, now!  That’ll be quite enough of that, mister!

Dave: You get the idea. I’m looking forward to sharing moments that are so amazing that players are compelled to share them with their friends.

Sharing with friends in essential to Destiny, so we should have plenty of those moments to enjoy. When you’re not busy planning our water cooler time, how do you spend your own?

Dave: Sailing, Scuba, Travel, Playing and writing music. Exposing the wonders of the world to my two sons, Alex and Gryffon. Fabricating props and making costumes, Halloween is one of my favorite days of the year and I take my time in preparation. Working on cars (looking for my next 240Z for racing). I pretty much have more hobbies than I have time in the day.

You’re a renaissance man, is what you are.  With so many inspirations in life, was it hard to choose a path to follow in your career?  What did you think you wanted to be as a lad?

Dave: A long time ago, aside from wanting to be Han Solo, I always thought the makeup and special FX for film would be awesome, but I had no idea how to get into that industry. For my young brain, that was something magical and made by faeries. After discounting that path, I was reading The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells and the notion of what science could achieve sparked my interest. I was able to take a few science classes and felt an undeniable pull toward them. This desire to explore the unknown and help solve those mysteries pulled me further towards Organic/Biochemistry. But the creative itch was always present, how was I to solve that too?

Seems like you’ve answered your own question, since you use science (fused with fiction, and a dash of fantasy) to create things every day. Was your education a manifestation of that dual nature?

Dave: I went to college as a Biochemistry Major with a Fine Art Minor. During my time of having both halves of my brain assaulted, I found that I was being uniquely prepared to solve challenges with a creative and technical mind. Being able to see both perspectives at the same time has been invaluable over the years. 

Pardon me for saying so, but you’re not one of those bright-eyed twenty-somethings who hang in our kitchen telling stories that begin with the phrase “When I was in college…”  How many years has it been?

Dave: Last year, I celebrated my 20 year anniversary in games. That makes me Grizzled no matter what school I’m in during the Pentathlon. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work on some great projects with great people. There was the high-impact visceral gameplay of God of War, the dark and creepy qualities of FEAR and FEAR2:Project Origin, the Post Apocalyptic combative/exploration of FallOut: Brotherhood of Steel, the calm and serene world of puzzles in Myst, and many things in between. Since my first game on the Sega Genesis, every game has taught me more and more about the player and what engages them. I think the culmination of my previous projects has prepared me for the scope, diversity, and scale of Destiny.

It certainly does sound like you have a deep pool from which to draw. How did you convince Bungie to bring you, and your wealth of experience, to our camp?

Dave: I was myself. I displayed my strengths, admitted my weakness and illustrated the values I could bring to the effort of world domination. I briefly hit upon many of the inexplicable events that have occurred around the globe, and did not talk about the covert ops that may or may not have happened, as that would imply some type of admittance to said activities and any involvement I may or may not have had in them.

So mysterious!  Seriously, though, was there anything about the Bungie Interview that was able to throw a seasoned developer like you for a loop?

Dave: I think the duration. My interview loop lasted close to ten hours. Meeting many different leads of the company and talking on such a varied set of topics was pretty taxing mentally. By the time I met the last person, I was feeling pretty spent. Bungie gave me a thank you package for the experience and it was nice to see a bottle of wine to soothe me after the day’s activities.

We do believe that challenges should be met with rewards. On that note, what’s the most soothing thing about being a member of our team?

Dave: Hands down, the people. Bungie has brought together such an amazing group of individuals. The talent that I see each and every day not only excites me, but inspires me to constantly raise the bar and my personal skillsets.

What’s your best strategy for leveling up your skillset?

Dave: Since I wear a couple of hats here as a manager, I tend to read a lot about management/leadership. I watch a lot of Ted talks and think about how I can leverage them in my daily activities. I share insights with my peers in and out of the industry. As a creative lead, I draw, sculpt, and get my hands on as many different types of media as I can. Inspiration comes from everywhere. We just need to know how to listen.

If you were to describe one day in the life of a Bungie developer, I can assure you that we would listen.

Dave: I like to say that every day we create a miracle. We create an exhaustive list of items that need to happen to create the impossible, including “and then something magically happens” or “then a mangod makes X.” We don’t sleep. We sacrifice a chicken to Gumbo Yaya. Then, in the middle of the night, there is an epiphany that allows us to create that magic. Most often, we don’t wait until the morning to execute. The sun rises and we are faced with a new challenge.

That’s why we need people as crazy as you to work here. There must be something that Bungie does for you that keeps you relatively sane?

Dave: All that is the launch party. It starts with a celebration of the team’s efforts. We exhale from a long rough road that is developing a game. Then we breathe in new energy by meeting our fans at a midnight launch, the connection to our community and the anticipation that they exude is the reward that fuels me for the next game and solidifies my choice to be a game developer here at Bungie.

So, it’s not about the perks, it’s about the game. In that case, tell us about the one thing that you contributed to Destiny that cemented your role as a leader of our tribe.

Dave: I’d like to describe an accomplishment that I think sealed my fate for Spec Ops, but I’d be giving away too many spoilers. We’ll have to loop back around and answer this question after Destiny comes out.

It’s a date. If our community is still listening, we’ll challenge them to ask you that question (maybe even in the Mail Sack) once our game is their game. In the meantime, what would you tell someone that wants to do the sort of work that you do?

Dave: As an artist, never stop drawing. Every day you don’t draw, you lose two days that you did draw. Find you niche. As teams get larger, roles become more specific. Hone you skills in your primary focus, and bolster yourself by staying abreast of areas outside of your main skillset. Target the type of games you want to make and saturate your knowledge and skills for that type. Understand who are the leaders in that genre and digest what makes them great. Incorporate those ideas into yourself, and craft your resume/portfolio to show of those skills specifically. Target your choice companies, send off your goods, and then sacrifice a chicken to Gumbo Yaya.

Disclaimer: Mr. Matthews is kidding, and Bungie does not employ animal cruelty as a component of our creative process.

We do, however, rely heavily on Dave’s vast array of skills, and we thank him for sharing them with us. The development of Destiny will depend on many blends of skills – every combination of art, science, and madness. To learn more about the people on our team, and what they add to the mix, dig deep in the Breaking In archive.
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