|Interview: Bungie's Alexander Seropian|
June 19, 2000 | Tuncer Deniz
Its not very often that you get to interview your ex-boss. I first got to know Alexander Seropian when he and Jason Jones came over to my house in the spring of 1993 to show me sizzling new first person shooter, Pathways Into Darkness. Since then I've seen Bungie grow from two employees to over fifty today, I myself having had the privilage of being one of them for three years from 1996 to 1999.
A few minutes after the infamous announcement, Alexander Seropian, CEO of Bungie Software, was gracious enough to grant us this rather candid interview.
T.D. From a Mac perspective, what people really want to know at this point is whats going to happen to the Mac version [of Halo]. Everything Ive read so far is pretty ambiguous, it just sounds like a lot of
A.S. Nothing answers?
T.D. Exactly. The overall impression I get is that Bungie is dancing around this question and anything can happen. Whats your response to that?
A.S. Well, that is definitely the party line. Its kind of hard to answer that question, because honestly we dont know. I dont know if this is comforting or not to me and to everybody else who is a Mac fan, but it is going to be our decision. At the same time, we will hopefully be concentrating on X-Box stuff. So I guess the real question is how much we actually can do. It really doesnt have to do with what we really want to do. If we end up with a Mac version, itll ship cause itll be entirely up to us.
The one misconception is that
like the people who think Microsoft bought us so that we wouldnt do Mac stuff are completely insane. Then theres another other shade of people who think when a decision gets made that itll be Microsoft who makes the decision. And that if we want to make a Mac version and they dont want to do one, then we wont get to do one
its about as much as I know.
T.D. Fair enough. Can you tell me how this whole deal came about? Theres been some speculation, and my own belief as well, that you guys have been in a tight [money] situation since Oni has been slipping further and further and that may have ultimately forced a sale. Is it that? Or was the opportunity Microsoft presented just too good to pass up?
A.S. It really was a combination of two factors and in our judgement [the opportunity] was not likely to come around again. And that opportunity was to be "the shit" on a new console. If I were to look at the different platforms out there, Id say the company I want to be making PC games is Blizzard, the company Id want to be making PlayStation games is Square, the company Id want to be making Nintendo games is Rare, and if we get to be the company making X-Box games, that kind of opportunity just doesnt come along too often.
Our hand wasn't forced money-wise
but we were certainly in the same situation when we shipped Myth II which is failure would be met with catastrophe. And after we shipped Myth II, thats when we did our funding deal with Take Two and we did that out of necessity. If we got ourselves into that situation again
we would have had to do something even more drastic than that. We would have had to sign a publishing deal just to survive. And thats a pretty scary situation to be in.
One of the reasons why weve always fiercely fought for our independence was because weve never wanted our livelihood to be under somebody elses control. So Ive always had it in my head that if we were to ever get in a situation where we were gonna lose control, we might as well merge with somebody so that we can keep as much control as we can. Meaning, if we did a publishing deal with somebody we would lose control. One of the cool things about this deal with Microsoft is that were able to retain as much control as we can.
I spent most of the day on Sunday reading the posts on IMG and some other sites about the speculation that we were going bankrupt or something. Thats just not true. But it is true that theres only so many times you can take the chances that we take and not be successful. So, if not now, maybe a year from now, two years from now we would have been forced with a big decision on how were going to survive, what kind of road we want to go down. So with that knowledge it made it
When we started telling people here at the office, people were freaking out at first. But once I sent a note around to everybody about the deal and when people when out to meet the people at Microsoft, they were convinced that they werent pure evil.
T.D. Who approached who on this deal?
A.S. Microsoft went on a road show with the X-Box back in January/February or so. And we actually went over to a demo of the X-Box with the Take Two guys. Peter (Tamte) and I were there, we hung out with them all day, and went to dinner with them and stuff. And when they came back, I turned to Peter and said, "You know Ed Fries, right?", cause Peter did a deal with him on Age of Empires for MacSoft. He said "ya". So I said, "Well, this X-Box thing
I bet theyre gonna need to do something
who knows what
but I bet they have a lot of money."
So Peter called them up and then we got together to show them Halo and they showed us the X-Box stuff. We really didnt know what we were going to do
we thought wed maybe do a publishing deal, distribution deal, who knows what. Then we started talking to them about acquisition. The more we met with them and the more we talked, the more it made sense. They said things like, "We need to have a really good plan for internal development and we dont have that yet. And Halo could be the killer app for X." Thats when we started to get excited.
T.D. So, whens the move?
A.S. Our first day [in Redmond] is going to be July 17th.
T.D. Having worked at Bungie for three years, I knew that one of your goals was to eventually sell the company. Was this sale everything you had hoped it would be? I understand youre not leaving the company but will stay on to keep on running Bungie. What else do you hope to accomplish?
A.S. This surpasses anything I ever had thought would be an end-game. My best-case vision was that someone would come along with a large bag of money and it would be all over. This is much better than that.
Im flattered that, during these conversations, that the thing that they liked was of course Halo, and they think all of us are really smart. But the one obvious thing is that they respect how we do our job. When they bought Fasa they stuck them all in private offices and they matrixed them into their management structure. They did a lot of stupid shit like that.
The first thing they said, after they came over here four or five times, was, "you know how to do this better than we do, we dont want to screw it up. So, you tell us what we need to do."
So theyre going let us build out our own space. Theyve never done that before. Theyre going to let me run Bungie
the deal doesnt happen unless I go and I run Bungie
and thats sort of flattering to me. Heh, I never I was important (laughs).
So I think its going to be pretty cool. A lot of it will depend on how successful the X-Box is and Jason is pretty convinced that its going to kick ass.
T.D. Any regrets? Fears? Inhibitions?
A.S. I have one personal regret is that Im leaving Chicago just as Im building my dream house
but thats a pretty minor regret. I think this is going to be great for everyone.
Im hoping at some point in the future that well be able to do something with Marathon and really make it the biggest thing ever. But we have no plans to make a Marathon game at this point, but we could...and wouldnt that be cool.
T.D. Bungie has always had this sort of mystique about it
the Bungie community has always been very loyal. And as youve probably seen, theres been a lot of anger among Bungie fans, especially Macintosh Bungie fans, as evinced in the various forums. How do you respond to people who just label you as a sellout?
A.S. Theres many levels on how to respond to that. But at the core of it is that what the mystique is all about are the people
the people who work here
the people who play the games. The people who work here are sticking around and if the fans stick around, thatll still be there.
The two things that I figured out about Microsoft is that theyre very smart. And more importantly, the people who do the work, do the work. In other words, the decisions dont get made top down, they get made bottom up. Were at the ground level. Were going be talking to the fans and making the games. So itll really be up to us. Maybe thats a leap of faith for a lot of the Mac people to believe. Thats why Im going. I think that if that werent the case they wouldnt want me there.
T.D. What is it about the X-Box that makes it so cool?
A.S. For us, its really easy to develop for and weve basically been developing for it, or close to it. And the X-Box has a lot of power.
T.D. Is Halo going to be delayed for the X-Box launch. Reports had it originally coming out in March 2001 and the X-Box is launching in the Fall of 2001.
A.S. No. Even if that was the goal...to ship it in the Fall of 2001, which is when the X-Box is supposed to come out, I dont think there would have to be any delay to get it there. We dont even know when its going to be done so saying that its going to be delayed doesnt make any sense.
T.D. Are you going to Macworld Expo in July?
A.S. Oni is going to be at Macworld in the Gathering of Developers booth. And one of us from Bungie will probably be on hand.
T.D. And finally
did you get to meet Bill Gates?
A.S. No! (laughs), but Im told that it will eventually happen.