Quarterly Interview

This issue's interview is with Jason Regier of Bungie Software, the maker of the best map editor ever: Forge

*** This is a VERY interesting interview, and all of the info we got from Jason was great! ***

Frost: Welcome to #Marathon of ChatNet for the first interview done by Marathon Magazine. We're glad you could join us, and I'm sure all our readers will be very interested in your responses.

JRegier: Glad to be here.

JRegier: We just got finished playing a few netgames of Myth.

Frost: Cool! Good game is it?

JRegier: Myth is shaping up to be a great game.

Frost: Wonderful!

Frost: Some of our younger readers are interested in becoming involved in computers and programming. How and when did you first become interested in computer games and programming? What initially influenced you to move in this direction?

JRegier: First question first... I've played computer games most of my life. My Dad would sometimes bring the Commodore PET computer home from work, and I'd always want to play Adventure, Rogue, or Mystery Mansion on it. So I got interested early on... I started doing a little programming in BASIC in elementary school. I took the AP Computer Science test in high school and was worried that I didn't score high enough to get me out of the first year programming classes at college. So I talked a friend of mine into working with me to write a game to prove that we both knew what we were doing. We started small, and with the help of John Calhoun's Glider source code, we managed to crank out a four-player version of an arcade game called Ataxx. The game got me excused from the first year of CS classes at Harvey Mudd, and I guess the game writing bug just bit me. I attended Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA, and graduate with my degree in Physics.

Frost: When and why did you join Bungie?

JRegier: Well, in college, I wrote a game called AmoebArena which is now marketed by Casady & Greene. Writing that game got me into trade shows and developer kitchens, and I met the guys from Bungie. So at the last San Francisco MacWorld, I told them I was unhappy with my current job, I handwrote a resume, and gave it to them. I followed it up, they interviewed me and before I knew it, I was here at Bungie. I started in March, and Forge was my first product for Bungie. I was very surprised how fast it all happened. I was working at Qualcomm in San Diego, doing work on cellular phones, but writing games in my limited free time, so I was very relieved to get the job at Bungie.

Frost: What is it like working at Bungie?

JRegier: Working for Bungie is great! What else do you expect me to say? It's still a small company, so it has a good small company atmosphere.

Frost: Hahaha! Well, I was wondering, do you sit around programming into the wee hours of the night or do you play netgames all day?

JRegier: Ha! Everybody asks me that. We spend a LOT of time coding. We spend a lot of time testing games out, too, but we don't sit around and play games all day.

Frost: I'd imagine. But I'm sure the netgames afterwards justify the long hours of coding eh?

JRegier: Definitely. There's a funny tradeoff, though... If the gameplay itself isn't really ready for networking, but you try to play netgames anyway, you can have lots of long, not very fun netgame sessions.

Frost: I guess its sort of like trying to play the Marathon Alpha for more than 15 minutes.

JRegier: Yeah, I guess you could say that. :) But the good thing is, you can see your game evolve and become a really great game. We're seeing that now with Myth and it's a good feeling.

Frost: What non-Bungie games do you play most?

JRegier: It's funny, but I haven't been playing too many non-Bungie games lately. I got hooked on Virtual Pool since I love to play pool, and a bunch of us really loved Command and Conquer. I played Red Alert for a little bit and was pleased with it, but we haven't been going crazy... there's a lot of work to get done now, so Command and Conquer for Mac has been banned from the office for a while. :)

Frost: Heheheh, I figured.

JRegier: We tend to play a lot of games for a very short period of time... we like to look at them, see what technology they used, and learn from them.

Frost: Why did Bungie decide to release its own editors for Marathon Infinity instead of leaving it to third parties as they did with the previous Marathons?

JRegier: Bungie has always had its tools for Marathon levels... it's pretty hard to make maps without them. I took Vulcan, Bungie's original map editor, tried to clean up and redesign it, and that became Forge. From what I understand, we've been helpful with third parties in creating editors, but I think we wanted our tools to really be our tools. As it was, I think Infinity was late because of difficulties organizing all the groups working on it... it's hard to get a bunch of third party groups together to form a cohesive product. Thankfully, I think Tuncer did a good job as product manager and Infinity is a good product.

Frost: A few people on USEnet have been asking this: Why wasn't Forge made to be able to edit Marathon 1 maps as well as Marathon 2 and Infinity maps?

JRegier: Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity's map file formats are very similar. In fact, they're practically identical. But Marathon 1 is a whole different ball game. A lot of stuff changed between Marathon 1 and Marathon 2... that's why in Forge, you're forced to Nuke and Pave your map before converting it into an M2 map. About the only thing that was truly maintained between M1 and M2 was the architecture. By architecture I mean the actual layout of the levels.

Frost: What advantages does Forge have over Pfhorte?

JRegier: Ooh... I hate that question. I had to ask it to myself many times when developing Forge! First and foremost, though, it's just a more stable program. Pfhorte, although a good program, does a lot of really bad things with your map files. Every map file made by Pfhorte has a little bit of junk data in it... that's why Pfhorte maps imported into Forge aren't always 100% the same. The stuff Pfhorte writes out into your map files may not crash the Marathon engine, but you never know. That was the biggest complaint I saw from users (especially new users) when using Pfhorte. So I designed Forge to try to prevent as many errors as possible.

Frost: Such as KKV-7s appears as MA-75Bs or something like that?

JRegier: Well, Pfhorte could never do KKV's, but I've heard a lot of little weird things pop up when importing maps from Pfhorte. The problems tend to be texture-related and show up in visual mode. That's why we suggest re-texturing Pfhorte levels. I think Forge's visual mode is also a LOT nicer than Pfhorte's. It's faster, it does a lot of great stuff for you behind the scenes, and it lets you preview your maps just like you would in Marathon.

Frost: That's true. Forge uses the Marathon engine, Pfhorte looks like Doom in clipping mode.

Frost: One other question that has something to do with this one. A couple of people have asked why Forge can't copy and paste maps around like in Pfhorte.

JRegier: Copying and pasting levels within a map file is a heinous task. I seriously doubt Pfhorte did it properly all the time. It's very difficult to do given the compacted Marathon source files. Let me try to explain more...The Map file on your Marathon CD has a bunch of maps that have been compacted together. Now, say I want to add a polygon to level #1. That means level 1 has more data than it did before. So you've got to somehow move all the data after level 1 down somehow, and squeeze in the data for your new polygon. When your map file is huge, this sucks. That's why Forge works with individual level files... Once you're done with all the levels you merge them together to create the larger map file.

Frost: I see, so this could be one of the causes of Pfhorte's crashes.

JRegier: It could be... I'm not really sure. It's just not an easy problem to deal with, and I much prefer the way Forge deals with individual map files. Believe me, though, we've learned from our lessons, and our file format is going to be a lot better for future products.

Frost: Well, I'm sure that'll improve shelf-life!

Frost: Ok, I've never merged maps before, but a friend was wondering why you can't just select physics, pics, and terminal messages in a window to merge into the map file, and why current merging method is necessary instead.

JRegier: Hey, Marathon's shelf-life has been pretty good... but as for why there's not a merging window, I'm not sure. I think it just was never suggested. The way merging works now is a bit ugly, I admit. Improving the merge process was sorta pushed to the side as we raced to get Infinity out the door.

Frost: Do you think or know if Bungie will ever make another Marathon game?

JRegier: If we ever do another Marathon game, I seriously doubt it will look like the Marathon games we've got now. Currently, there are no new Marathon games in the works. We're spending our time working on Myth. But you never now... I have to admit, I was a bit impressed by the screenshots for the Marathon 4 hoax.

Frost: If you do, it ought to have jumping, ducking, and true 3D.

JRegier: Jumping and ducking could have been in Marathon, but true 3D would definitely be a nice addition (and probably a necessary one) to a future Marathon.

Frost: Thank you, let's move on to Myth now. Are parts of Myth first person like someone on USEnet said, or is it all bird's eye?

JRegier: It is all birds-eye. The camera is free to move around in 3D, but there is no first person perspective.

Frost: What is the story line for Myth?

JRegier: The story is similar to some old epic sagas... there's an important cyclical nature to it. Throughout the ages, there's a recurring battle between good and evil. After the last battle, the savior of good has been corrupted by his power and now returns with other evil lords to conquer what he once saved. The story line will be compelling and huge like Marathon's. You control the forces of good, and you're their last hope. The main force of the good guys is getting beaten badly by the forces of evil. You control a smaller force, which must somehow come through overwhelming odds and save the day.

Frost: Is it close to being done or will it take a few more months?

JRegier: Myth is not nearly done, in my opinion. We're excited about it, and we're showing it to the press, but it is several months off.

Frost: Will it support large multi-player netgames as in Marathon, or just two players?

JRegier: It's going to support large netgames and will also feature a good single player game. In fact, we're not sure exactly what the limit is going to be on the number of net players. We're currently playing 5 player netgames without any problems at all. It's a simultaneous cross-platform development, and it WILL incorporate cross-platform networking. Right now, the PC and Mac versions are identical, so we're hopefully not going to have anybody complaining that they got a cruddy port.

Frost: Are you one of the programmers for Myth?

JRegier: Yep. There are 4 programmers here at Bungie: Jason Jones, Ryan Martell, Alex Rosenberg, and me. And we're all working on Myth right now. For a while, as you know, Alex and I were doing Marathon Infinity, then I did Super Marathon for Pippin, but now we're all getting our hand's dirty with Myth.

Frost: Only 4 programmers? Wow, you must be a dedicated bunch.

JRegier: Yep, 4 programmers and 2 artists constitute our core development team. As you can see from the credits, the whole company gets into the games, though.

Frost: I think our readers would like to hear about Weekend Warrior as well. What is Weekend Warrior about?

JRegier: You play a contestant in a wacky game show in Weekend Warrior. You can choose from a variety of characters, and you have to maneuver through the various rooms in the game show. It's definitely not as violent as our other Bungie products, so don't expect a 3D Smash TV remake.

Frost: How is the programming coming along with WW? Think it'll be done within the next 5 months?

JRegier: I think it went GM (Golden Master) recently, so it should be available soon. I'm not exactly sure what shelf availability will be like... it pretty much requires 3D hardware, so as you can see by the ATI bundle on our web site, we're trying to market it that way.

Frost: If that's the case, might a WW Demo be available to the public soon?

JRegier: I don't know if a demo is in the works or not. I'd have to ask Brian Greenstone (the author) or one of our marketing guys.

Frost: Ok, so it would probably be a PowerPC only game?

JRegier: Yes. And a 3D accelerator card is DEFINITELY recommended.

Frost: One final question for tonight: Do you think Marathon will ever make it to the Silver Screen?

JRegier: I honestly don't know. I'm pretty sure we've been approached about it before, but for whatever reason, we didn't think the proposed film treatment would be good enough.

Frost: So you're still open to anyone who comes up with a great script or story? <BIG GRIN>

JRegier: I think it would be cool to see on the screen, so sure! Go petition your favorite Hollywood producer. And if we get bit parts, even better!

Frost: Alright! Well thank you for joining us tonight, Jason. We've enjoyed having you as our first guest.

JRegier: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.