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Breaking In - Mike Poe

During pre-production for Destiny, we kept our work hidden within in a self-imposed cone of silence. It was a time that we referred to as our “Dark Phase.” Now that our game is more worthy of your attention, Bungie can shed some light on the subject. Today, we’d like to introduce you to one of the newer artists on our team who is taking that agenda quite literally. To make sure that the heroes in our world (that would be you) can see where they’re going, we have this guy.

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

MP: My name is Mike, and I’m an Artist. I work alongside other artists to help realize and create the destinations of Destiny.

We’re packing a lot of art into this game. Which category are you making prettier?

MP: I’m a part of the Lighting team, working on Venus to develop the Vex lighting palette.  Aside from a general overview, before I joined the Lighting team, the Vex didn’t really have a defined direction for their environments. I’ve been able to contribute to the feel of the Vex and the spaces they occupy. Vex environments need to feel different from Fallen/Cabal/Hive environments. They need to be instantly recognizable as Vex.

What do you personally explore when you’re not to be found here in the safety and relative darkness of our development environment?

MP: Video games. If I’m not here working, I’m probably either playing a few rounds of Halo 4 or Animal Crossing New Leaf. That contrast, am I right?  I’m also having a great time exploring Bellevue and Seattle. I’m from Maryland so everything here is new and interesting to me.

Was chasing a dream from one coast to the other the realization of a lifelong goal?

MP: When I was younger, I wanted to be either an Artist or an Architect… or Spiderman.

You could be the first interview subject from the Breaking In series to ever express an unrequited ambition to be a super hero. [Editor’s note: He's actually not.]

Moving right along, why make games?

MP: I’ve always enjoyed making things with my hands. I’d spend hours building Lego sets and model airplanes or tanks. In high school, I gravitated toward making wood sculptures. I spent the better part of three years making guns and vehicles out of wood, most of which were based off of the Halo universe. My second sculpture was actually a 2x6 foot warthog chain gun. After that, it wasn’t much of a jump to pursue 3D modeling and game design.

What stops did you make along the way of that pursuit?

MP: Just one month before starting work at Bungie, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design’s Game Art and Design program. There, I learned to hone my art skills and aim them towards the game industry. My education at Ringling culminated in a year-long team project in which myself and two classmates designed a game pitch and created a trailer for said pitch. The trailer was meant to showcase our environment art skills as well as showing our ability to think about possible gameplay. Our intent was to make something shiny and badass so we made Swarm Protocol.  Check it out!

That easily beats the crap out of anything I've ever turned in as homework. Was that the lure you used to capture a job interview with Bungie?

MP: I had actually applied to Bungie a few times while in college hoping for a chance at a summer internship. Each time, I did not get a response. After the third time of not hearing back, I took more time to build my portfolio. Then, I tried again, this time with a recommendation attached. I heard back about three or four weeks later and my month-long journey through Bungie’s application process began.

That’s a long journey. What was the hardest step?

MP: Though I hate to admit it, the hardest part for me was calming my inner fanboy. Bungie and Halo were the main reasons that I pursued a career in game art and design. Had I not played Halo CE when I was in middle school, my life would be completely different today. Having seen every Bungie ViDoc, listened to every podcast, and played every game over the course of the last decade, it was easy to see the passion and commitment (as well as the talent) of the people here. Meeting them and having them critique my work was a fantastic, though extremely intimidating, experience. 

And so, you survived the audition and joined us on the development floor. Have we shattered all of your illusions of making games yet?

MP: The best thing is that the view I have of Bungie has only gotten better since I started here. It’s easy to build something up in your mind when you’ve never experienced it first-hand and I had definitely built Bungie up in my mind. It’s about 100x better than that now that I’m here to see it in person. 

It’s not all fun and games, though. We work hard to make the magic happen. What’s your biggest challenge as a member of our team?

MP: The biggest challenge for me right now is getting used to how things are done here at Bungie. I’ve been here for a bit over 2 months now and I have a good overall grasp of how things work but there are still plenty of things that I don’t know how to do yet. I’m getting there, but it is definitely a process that takes time.

Is there anything we do to make the time pass more easily?

MP: The people working here make the hard work easier. I can’t walk two feet without seeing someone working on something that blows my mind and inspires me to work harder so that I can inspire them in the same way.

What has been your favorite moment ever since you ascended the staircase to our inner sanctum?

MP: So far, my favorite accomplishment has been receiving my Bungie Noob sword alongside all of the other new hires. I’m sure there will be plenty of other great moments but I’m still riding that high.

The longer you’re here, just like the weapons in our game, the more dangerous those swords become. Just like the characters in our game, you’ll have to become more skilled to earn them. How will you add new talents to your skill tree?

MP: Besides learning from the ever-growing number of talented people here at Bungie, I’m continuing to work on personal side projects here and there on my own time to keep my environment art skills up outside of work. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the time after a long day, but it happens.

What would you tell your fellow Halo fans if they too wanted to devote their careers to making kick ass games like the ones they have loved to play?

MP: Given that I’ve just begun my foray into the industry, I think anything I were to say here would be a bit premature. I have a long way to go before I’ll feel comfortable handing down life lessons, but I will say that the route of getting a formal education in game art and design is beginning to be a more prominent means of getting into the industry. It certainly worked for me. If you’re really excited about the idea of working on games, but don’t have enough experience to land the job you want, taking some classes may be a good place to start. Lastly, always remember that while living in a perpetual state of hoodies/soda/and dim lighting seems like a lot of fun, it is.

Finally: Titan/Hunter/Warlock? How do you prefer to play Destiny?

MP: Before coming here I was sure that I would only play as a Titan because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be a brick made of steel, dipped in kickass with a gun? But I’ve actually converted and now play as a Hunter. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the hood. Either way, Hunter it is.

And, with that, we’ll bring this spotlight to a close. The world of Destiny is a big place, with many dark corners that require Mike’s attention. Like we said, it takes a lot of art to build a world like the one on our blueprints. Mike is just one member of large and diverse team that wields art and science – and even magic. To learn more about the people that work with Mike, check out the Breaking In archive.
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