Breaking In - Daniel Auchenpaugh
We’ve talked a lot about the fact that your bravery will be rewarded in Destiny. The question is: How? There is an entire system brewing behind closed doors that will shower you with gifts, in the event that you’re able to survive that close encounter with the Hive Ogre, or any other combatant in the wild who would rather see you dead. To make sure that system works as designed, we hired this guy.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
Daniel: My name is Daniel Auchenpaugh. I’m the Investment Test Lead here, which means I lead our army of testers that focus on all things investment. We make sure that loot is dropping correctly, you get experience for your experiences, and a number of other things like [redacted] and [redacted].
Right out of the gate, you’re gonna rile our readers with the old [redacted] joke? You better soothe their teased nerves with some context for how you’re making their game. Quick! What will they notice about your work?
Daniel: Hopefully, no one notices our job. If we do it well, the investment side of the game should be delightful. You should never get upset by loot not dropping from a boss, or by getting double-charged for something by a vendor. I’m here to make sure your glimmer is gained and your rewards are not plundered.
Coming off the holiday season, we can only wish that real world vendors were so careful. What do you with your life when you’re not inspecting Tower merchants?
Daniel: This may come as a shock, but I play a lot of video games. At the time of this writing, I’m playing a lot of Starbound, in fact. We play a fair bit of board games in my household as well, with a recent favorite being Ladies and Gentlemen. I also am into classic cocktails and homebrewing, and the wife and I are always looking for an excuse to try new restaurants.
Being hungry is excuse enough in my house. With such a passion for games, did you always want to make them?
Daniel: When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut, because space is absolutely awesome. However, turns out I have terrible vision, like the Hubble had at launch. So I abandoned those dreams and toyed with the idea of going in to games journalism for quite a while. I was part of the podcast In-Game Chat for a year back in ’08. That’s when I realized that I liked the creation side of the fence better, and made it a goal to jump over to making games when I could.
What was the one game that made you want to be a maker of games?
Daniel: Oh man, DeeJ, I have to pick one? That’s just cruel.
It’s the only way I know how to be anymore. The Internet changes a man. Now pick one!
Daniel: The first game that really got the hooks in good was SimCity 2000, but I don’t feel like that really locked in a career choice for me. I started playing games online back in the CompuServe days with text-based games (Any Islands of Kesmai and/or Gemstone players out there?) and I moved on to a lot of different things. It was that variety, I think, that really got me excited about the medium. Games could be so many different things, and provide such a huge array of experiences. It’s a really cool industry.
As cool as it is, it can be a puzzle to join. Did you learn things in school that helped you to infiltrate our crazy corner of the workforce?
Daniel: I’m mostly self-taught when it comes to computers. A good friend of mine and I started a website business in high school. I think it really helped that I grew up in a very tech-savvy household, and my parents were never afraid to take the time to teach me things.
What did you do with the things you learned before you enlisted with Bungie?
Daniel: Prior to working here, I spent a year over at another studio as a team lead there. Before that, I spent six years in the US Air Force doing a variety of things, from running A/V equipment at Officer Training School to spending time sniffing for nukes as a Scientific Applications Specialist (shout out to all the 9S100s out there!). The leadership experience I learned in the military, combined with a good technical background from both my work and personal life, led me here.
You got the skills, for sure, as well as a crucial respect for the chain of command. How did you convince us of that?
Daniel: I was jovial, honest, and knowledgeable. I also wasn’t afraid to admit to things I didn’t know, rather than trying to cover up knowledge gaps with bullshit. Protip: people that actually are knowledgeable about a subject can see right through it. It didn’t hurt that my former lead when I was at Microsoft had migrated here, either.
Never underestimate the charms of a true bullshit artist, Daniel. But this is about you. Think back to the darkest corner of your mind, where memories from your Bungie Interview are stored. What’s lurking there, staring back at you?
Daniel: Mark Uyeda’s constant face of disappointment with everything that came out of my mouth.
You must not have been a complete disappointment. After all, you’re here! Have we lived up to your expectations?
Daniel: I know most people say this, but working with such an absolutely kickass group of motivated people day in and day out is rather satisfying. Having such an enthusiastic fan base is a great motivator, too. It’s easy to be excited about your work when you know other people will enjoy it.
Let’s not cut to that part of the chase just yet. There’s more to do before we can welcome our community to browse the Tower under your watchful eye. How do you move us closer to that grand opening over the course of just one day?
Daniel: Show up in the morning, log in, give the ole inbox a once-over for anything super-urgent, and then get coffee. Review the investment design and engineering changes from the previous day to see what we need to jump on today, and then get coffee. Plot out any test passes that need to get built for any new features, make sure our older passes are up to date, and run those. Go back and regress any bugs that have been marked as fixed, grumble and send them back if they aren’t. Throw in a smattering of helping out other teams when our areas cross paths, and training new folks when necessary, and that’s basically how the day goes. Despite what one might think about testing, on investment test we spend a lot more time in ugly tester-made maps built to check content, digging through databases and event logs for bugs, or reading over yet another spreadsheet.
That’s a lot of action to pack into a daily mission. Does Bungie provide sweet loots that keep you going from day to day?
Daniel: Really, it is more of an intangible thing, but I think the best perk here is the feeling of being a valuable part of the team. I’ve worked at a number of companies in my life, and aside from my time in the military, most places didn’t seem to really care about their employees. Here, everyone is valuable, and the sense of being one big team working together is super satisfying.
You’re in our army now. What would you say is the toughest obstacle on the course at Bungie ?
Daniel: Letting things go. Working in a studio like this, you get attached to ideas. Seeing features get cut or change, or even not change, is sometimes tough. You have to trust the person in charge of that area that their choices are the best ones, even when you don’t agree, and that can really be challenging at times. Sometimes, you get attached to an idea or feature, and not letting it get to you when it gets cut or changed is rough. I’d tell you a specific instance, but then you would have to kill me.
I’m not allowed to kill you. That’s just another thing we do to make you feel valuable here. Has there been one moment, above all others, where you really felt like you established your worth at Bungie?
Daniel: I beat Urk in competitive multiplayer on Bungie day. Josh Eash still beat me out that match, but the three of us were in a close race to victory and I squeaked ahead of him in the last minute. Once I vanquished the mighty Urk, I knew I had earned my seat.
I didn’t realize that Urk had become the watermark of a proven warrior. Multiplayer skill is just one way to shine at Bungie. Is there a way to hone your skills as a developer in the same way a Guardian might perfect their aim with a freshly acquired rifle?
Daniel: I read everything about Destiny that I can get my hands on. Trying to absorb as much information about the game leads to better testing; you’re better able to identify problem areas where different aspects overlap, you know more overall about how the pieces of the puzzle work, and it makes it quicker to identify where breaks are occurring. Beyond that, learning various technical fundamentals helps QA folks track down problems in content or code and speed up the ability of designers to solve them.
Picture in your mind the person who is reading this article and thinking: “I want to do what this guy does.” What would you say to them? They’re listening…
Daniel: Learn to love Excel. This industry lives and dies by spreadsheets, tables, and data. Also, take a basic computer science course or intro to programming course. Even if it is just a thorough tutorial online, get yourself some basic knowledge of how a program works. These kinds of basics can help a ton.
You told us that your work on Destiny should be invisible, but let us know where we might be vaguely aware of your presence as we stalk the dunes of Mars.
Daniel: Every time loot drops, just picture me whispering “You’re welcome” in your ear. That’s not creepy at all, right?
Super creepy, in fact. Once we put this game in the hands of the player, aside from whispering in their ear, what will you be doing?
Daniel: Watching while everyone tries to figure out what loot drops where on various wikis across the internet. I know all!
But seriously, I can’t wait to get some matchmaking on with you guys. I’m sure I’ll be dead a lot, but I can’t wait to meet all of you on the battlefield.
That, dear friends, is a thing we all look forward to at Bungie. In the meantime, Daniel is just one developer working hard to see to it personally that we get it right. He’s surrounded by artists, scientists, producers, enforcers, and all the people that help them to work in harmony. You can meet people from each category in the Breaking In archive.