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Breaking In - Shaun Martin

The multiplayer designers at Bungie have a tough job. They’re tasked with constructing a coliseum of the mind where digital warriors will battle with each other for glory and bragging rights. Unlike the architect that cannot hit a fastball out their own baseball park, our guys sample their own competitive venues daily. To keep them honest, and on the run, we staff a whole team of trained killers with their sights set on design careers of their own. Here is one right now.

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

Shaun:  I am a tester for the multiplayer team. I try to make sure that players will enjoy their experience and, hopefully, avoid things like spawning in front of enemies.

So your work is aimed at leading us all into a fair fight?

Shaun:  I hope to make sure that everyone that plays multiplayer gets a fair chance to blow someone else away, and make sure the environment is beautiful to look at while players are staring at it from the dead box.

So morbid! Let’s focus on life, instead. How do you spend your days when you’re not breathing the contentious air of the playtest labs?

Shaun:  I love to play and design games and watch my toddler son learn about the world around him.

Think back to when you were learning about the world around you. Can you remember what you wanted to be?

Shaun:  Honestly, when I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I tried a lot of things from music to martial arts to film. I think it was around age 28 when I decided I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up; a game designer. So I went back to school and earned a BS in Game Design, now I’m here at Bungie as a tester and loving it.

You must have played a lot of games before the ripe age of 28. Which one inspired you above all others to follow your dreams?

Shaun:  I’ll say the Elder’s Scrolls series from Bethesda. I’ve put more hours into the series than I care to share. The environment is near endless, the choices are meaningful, and the customization for characters and weapons is unheard of.

That last sentence reminds me of a game I played… today. You mentioned a degree in game design. That’s a very new trend in education. Where did you earn yours?

Shaun:  I’ve earned mine from Full Sail. I also completed a full immersion program of Film from the Seattle Film Institute and received a Black Belt from the Lenderman’s Academy of Martial Arts.

So you can kick ass in our game and in real life? I’ll be sure to give you a wide berth in the kitchen. No, seriously, you can use the coffee robots first. I insist.

How did these learnings enable you to kick open the door at Bungie?

Shaun:  Martial Arts helped me learn to maintain focus. Studying Film helped give me an attention for detail. My experience in the Game Testers Org at Microsoft got me familiar with games and game testing. After being brought on at Surreal Studio, I learned to dig a little bit deeper into the bugs I was finding.

And then you came to us. But, before you could spar with our designers, you had to survive the trials of a Bungie interview. Can you recall the highest level of difficulty from your time in the hot seat?

Shaun:  I think the hardest part was when I was asked a tough question and every approach I took was wrong. We sat there for a few minutes while I tried to think outside the box. This was after I thought I was already thinking outside of the box.

Now that you are inside the box, what makes it a nice place in which to think?

Shaun:  The best thing about Bungie is the culture and the people that make it.

What then is the Bungie Culture, if you were to describe it?

Shaun: Everyone is here to help make the best game we know we can. If I have a question that one person can’t answer, they always point me in the right direction. It’s also very giving. I get emails frequently about signing posters for charities - pretty awesome if you ask me. When I came on, it was only temporary but I definitely felt at home.

Is it important to be good at multiplayer to test multiplayer?

Shaun: I feel like I have to say “Yes.” I want to say no, because I don’t consider myself good at multiplayer. I’m probably just above average. But we need people that are going to stress the game to find limitations, exploits, and balancing issues.  

What is it about your job that stresses you to your limitations?

Shaun:  My biggest challenge is knowing the project cycle and where the core testing should be happening. Most of my testing experience was at a publisher, where we were given a build and had test cases to run. Here, there are multiple builds to test and as QA we need to know the state and timelines for each of them and their associated features.

Now that you’ve made the transition to developer life, what has been your finest moment?

Shaun:  I’d have to say getting put on as an embedded tester for functional PvP. I was caught by surprise when my manager asked me to take on this task, but really excited for the opportunity. My goal is to get into design and now I’m on the front lines.

What’s your plan to advance that goal? Think of your career like the evolution of a Guardian. What missions do you undertake to upgrade your professional build?

Shaun:  I advance my scripting skills by writing batch files to help our team automate our process. I try to hone my design skills by questioning the rules and mechanics that are currently in our game. I also write emails to the designers to express thoughts I had about game rules and gametypes.

That’s a coveted seat you occupy. I’m sure many people would love to bend their ear. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to join you in our trenches?

Shaun:  If you really want to do it, you have to commit to it. I commute for 3-4 hours a day, have a toddler to raise and a house to clean when I get home; but I do what is necessary for me to be in the industry and be happy.

When players first step into the world of Destiny, what’s one thing you’ll point to and say “I made that!”

Shaun:  There’s nothing that I can point to and say I made that, but I helped to make sure it is quality.

And, finally, what varieties of quality are you looking forward to enjoying yourself?

Shaun:  Everything! Since I really only work on multiplayer, I want to enjoy the game as a whole.

Shaun makes a valid point. Destiny has a wide variety of activities that are designed to satisfy your every mood, be it competitive, exploratory, social, or recreational. There are lots of ways to play, and lots of different developers who are arranging the entire explosive bouquet. You can get to know more of them in the Breaking In archive.
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