When I arrived at their new, specially built headquarters in Kirkland, Washington, the first indication that this was the home of Halo was the full-size replica Warthog in the car park, nestled among the hatchbacks. “That belongs to Mr Jones” mumbled one of Bungie’s inhouse security team (made up entirely of disgruntled ex-Swiss Guard members) as he ran a hand-held PSL scanner over my coat. Once the check was finished I was swiftly moved forwards to be greeted by the vehicle’s owner, Jason Jones, lovable CEO of Bungie and my guide today.
He escorted me into the cavernous main lobby and I was amazed to see an 100 foot tall artificial waterfall. Several people were standing under it with their heads back and their mouths wide open. “The water is enhanced with vitamin chains and several useful corticosteroids.” indicated Jason. “It keeps you operating at a peak of mental and physical health.”
Each of the important sections of Bungie’s finely oiled business model ( programming, game design, genetic research, Voodoo,) has its own uniquely tailored environment with the building. To tour the entire facility would take roughly a week, so my visit was confined to the East wing: game development.
The entrance was marked by an airbrushed 50 ft high mural of Master Chief engaged in tantric sex with Samus Aran. I tried not to look directly at it as we moved through the iris door into the ‘idea lab’.
The room bristled with ergonomic desks struggling under the weight of state-of-the-black-arts computer equipment, but very few employees could actually be seen. I wasn’t expecting to actually meet Peter Jackson but I thought at least the project head might be there. Jason noticed my confusion and grinned.“We don’t manacle our employees to our desks. As long as they hits deadlines and bring the good they can take advantage of any of the buildings facilities. The ice rink, the isolation tanks… I mean, our second basement level has been turned over to a giant hydroponic forest for any employees who want to go on safaris, or have spirit journeys.”
In fact Bungie hate it if their employees even stand still for more than ten seconds, which is why the floor is underlaid with a pressure sensitive gel that discharges a brief electric shock to any loiterers.
A massive 3-D printer took up roughly a quarter of the room, used by the team to produce plastic-molded mannequins of any characters, equipment or props they have designed, and by the machine was a small pile of NPC characters they had produced.The room was constantly suffused with a golden light that picked out tiny motes of what I thought was dust. “There’s no dust here!”
laughed Jason. “That’s prototype nanotech floating in the room. It cools and cleans the computers and monitors our employees heart rates and cholesterol level. Anyone in a danger category gets moved to the gym complex for a week’s enforced…play.”
The light itself is exceptional, being refracted by a series of computer controlled mirrors from the direct sun, ensuring that every room in the building gets direct sunlight dawn until dusk. Most of the employees were wearing thick sunglasses and even thicker sunblock. But they seemed happy.
The games design wing also housed a 150 seat auditorium specially designed to show 30 second you tube clips, an extensive wig warehouse and the USA’s first entirely automated vasectomy clinic.
Feeling parched, Jason then took me for cocktails at the East wing’s bar, where the bartenders are all classic eighties programmers. I sipped a white wine spritzer mixed for me by Jet Set Willy creator Matthew Smith, while Jeff Minter poured Jason some Snapple into a cup that I suddenly noticed was in fact the true grail.“Hey, you’re only going to be here once, on your way out why don’t we take the underground bullet-monorail?”
As the burnished brass carriage sped away from the main dome I reflected on my visit, then suddenly I noticed ranks of brightly lit, glass-fronted rooms.“Those are the tech-crèches.”
Jason said casually, gripping my shoulder with a surprising strength.
“Inside those units we use holistic bio-tech and NLP to breed the designers and programmers of tomorrow. Of course, once we’ve installed the retirement bunker next to the dormitories we’ll be able to accommodate our employees needs from cot to rot. We’re creating a bright new world, Mr. Jessup. A Bungie world. Our vision of the future is that of a virtual boot crushing a remarkably well rendered face. Forever.”Oh yeah, and the game was OK.