|It all started with PONG. Well, a ripoof of PONG anyway.
It was 1991 and Alexander Seropian was in his basement apartment in Chicago's Hyde Park, cheerfully blowing off classes at the University of Chicago. Normally this quiet, intense young man would be too responsible to do this sort of thing, but this day was differnt. Alex had stumbled upon a resounding truth while chewing his Cheerios that morning, and his whole outlook on life changed in an instant.
"It is better to be the man," Alex realized, "Than to work for the Man."
Alex scribbled out a list of career options that would allow him to rapidly ascend to the man-hood in comfort and style. "Starfleet Commander" was out; Alex needed a short-term solution. He also crossed out "Sultan of an Oil-Rich Country," although the idea of buxom wenches feeding him goat cheese and fanning with peacock feathers was incredibly appealing. After crossing out "Jimmy Page circa 1970" he found himself left with a single choice: "Benvolent Dictator of a Computer-Game Emprie."
Alex dropped his cereal bowl in the sink, jogged down to the campus bookstore and skulked up to the register with a copy of Think C. He returned home to his Macintosh, determined to do whatever was necessary to become a one-man wrecking crew in the software industry. He agonized over what he would name his company, finally settling on "Bungie" because "it sounded fun."
His first shot at glory, GNOP!, fell somewhat short of the global-dominance mark. A black -and-white clone of the game that started the whole home videogaming industry back in 1972, GNOP! was enjoyable enugh if you had an unquenchable nostaligia for the 'Good Old Days of Gaming,' but most people saw it for what it was: Pong, but backwards.
Alex distributed GNOP! as shareware via online services and the internet. A handful of people sent in their shareware fees, and a few kind souls even took him up on his "Complete GNOP!" Source Code for $15" offer. Encouraged, Alex set about writing his next project, Operation: Desert Storm. O:DS was a more ambitous project than GNOP. Alex spent alot of time researching modern tank warefare and wove a fair amount of detail into the game. Operation: Desert Storm was also the first boxed, shrinkwrapped Bungie product aimed at capturing shelf space. Packaged in Alex's apartment, on flopy disks swiped from Alex's summer internship at a megalithic software company, O:DS was an unknown property from an unknown company and had a hard time finding distribution. Alex still managed to sell about 2500 copies of the game.
Shortly there after, Alex met up with a fellow University of Chicago student, Jason Jones, a talented 23-year-old programmer who had written a game called Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete. Minotaur was a top-down tile-based fantasy game in the tradition of the early Ultima series, with one major difference: it had no single-player scenario. A proper game of Minotaur required two or more peple playing over a network - a remarkable option at the time. Minotaur was little more than a dorm-room diversion in jason's eyes, but after a few all-night Minotaur sessions, Alex realized it was a viable commodity and convinced Jason to publish Minotaur as a Bungie Software title. Minotaur began shipping in teh spring of 1992. Once again, finding distributors for the game proved nearly impossible. Alex and Jason, quickly tiring of their bean-burrito-and-tapwater diet, took a grassroots approach of selling the game at trade shows and directly to the consumer. A handfull of distributors eventually took an interest in the game, but sales once again topped out at the 2,500 mark.
(It's worth noting, purely as a point of contrast, that these days Bungie gives away about that number of copies of each new game to journalists and industry pundits.)