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“Good for your career”

The head of the department liked weed. He knew I knew a guy (don’t smoke myself, friend of former roommate), and asked me one day to leave in the middle of the afternoon (during crunch) to go and hook him up. I didn’t want to, but he said it would “be good for my career”.

When I hesitated, he threatened to fire me (temps could be fired for any reason), and then offered to pay me a finder’s fee. I didn’t feel I had much of a choice, and caved.

The next week I was brought into HR, and was asked to explain my unapproved absence from the week before. I looked at the department head who was glaring at me. I told them I went home because I needed some medicine for my stomach and came back when I felt better. That’s when they told me people believed I went out and got drunk, then they told me I was being fired for misconduct, with no evidence.

That night I was sitting at home still going WTF and the department head texted me asking for more weed. I blocked his number. This was a few years ago. Today I have a good design job at a nice company and look back at that time and can’t believe what I put up with.

I found out recently the department head was later fired for coming to work while seriously stoned.


The Trenches - Short But Sweet.

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Short But Sweet.

I started testing on the 360, but after some time was given a PS3 to test on with no cords to hook it up. I asked my lead where to find PS3 cords, but he told me to stay on the 360 for the rest of the week, and he would get them for me.

That Friday I was fired for not testing on PS3. I told them I was waiting on cords from my lead who told me to stay 360 until he found them for me. They told me there was an entire cabinet full of cords in the other room, and I should have gotten them myself, but now it was too late.

I heard later from a friend still there that the lead got drunk at a party and admitted it was his fault I was fired, but wouldn’t help me get my job back.


The Trenches - Gamestop, Hell in a shopping mall.

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Gamestop, Hell in a shopping mall.

I used to work in Television- eight years in Production, then one year the home office sells our station to a local business that managed to scrape together $60,000,000 to buy the station.

After that I was jobless,  I was listed as having “Quit,” so no unemployment benefits.

My friend was the manager at a Gamestop, and he saw that I was having trouble and offered me a job.  “It won’t be many hours but any extra that come up are yours.”  True to his word, any extra hours that came up were mine…. up to the corporate mandated maximum (at the time) of 28 hours per week.

I knew it wasn’t the best, but I needed the work,  so for two years I worked there and saw the steady push for more power-up memberships despite the fact that our numbers didn’t show it was possible.

After the first year I got a 1/2 percent raise. 3 cents.

That AMAZINGLY generous raise put my hourly at $6.78. Did I mention I was making three times that just over a year before?

I bit my tongue and kept plugging along while trying to find another job, it was the later half of 2006, and the job market was non-existent.

Another year passes, and my boss/buddy tells me he’s put me in not only for a raise that would add $2 an hour, but a promotion to a key position and more hours.

My raise was turned down by the DM,  I got 3 cents again.  My promotion was also turned down as they were eliminating the key position I was being offered not a week before.

Our store took a blow when the DM stomped through and fired two employees whom we had working 4 hours per week.  They were our reservists - during the holidays or when one of the regulars were sick, they were called.

So if you got sick, the store gets screwed, and your co-worker/friend had to work a double and caught shit for it for going over hours.
   
As time goes on, I find out that the DM gave NO ONE in the district a raise beyond 10 cents, and that stores all over the district had lost people. We later learned that the DM was promised anything from the raise budget and 10% of anything she could shave from the pay pool as her yearly bonus. We got screwed so she could get a fat bonus.

When the crew found out about this my buddy put in his two weeks, as did everyone but me. I couldn’t afford to.

“You don’t want to work for her or anyone she puts into this place man, believe me,” my boss/buddy told me. I believed him but I needed the job.

On the 14th day from the crew’s two weeks, he worked the close shift with me. We were SLAMMED. Easily 300 trades that day. The back counter was PACKED. Best day of business the store had seen that quarter.

As we locked up, he had me vacuum and straighten while he handled the bank.

He then organized the guts on the counter, made sure the pricing tags were with them. Then he called me over.

“You’re fired.” he told me and marked me as no longer working for Gamestop in the system.

I was stunned.  He then handed me a slip of paper with the phone number to set up my unemployment benefits.

He clocked out and hit the lights.

“Not that I care at this point but what about the guts?” I asked, standing by the door waiting to be let out.

“Store’s clean, everything is in order, we just didn’t put it away,” he said and added, “Besides, we don’t work here anymore.”

It was kind of a dick move, but in all honesty the filing would have put me over hours, and he was to be out on time on his last day by order of the DM.

The next day I slept in a bit then called unemployment, request for benefits denied. In the two years I worked for Gamestop, I had not earned enough money to qualify for unemployment.

My friends kind final act was for naught.

Just a word of advice,  NEVER work for Gamestop.


The Trenches - No, the Real Gaming Expert

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No, the Real Gaming Expert

I worked as the media supervisor at a large electronics corporation. Being “media,” gaming naturally fell under my control and, being a “gamer”, this was my favorite place to go and help customers. I played a wide variety of games from Pokemon on my DS lite to lengthy online matches of Halo with all my retail buddies.

Oh, and did I mention I’m a girl?

People seemed to get hung up on that fact a lot. Generally it involves a surprised look or comment of “You play COD? Can you talk to my girlfriend?” but nothing too bad. One time in particular though always stands out in my mind when people ask me to share a unique story of my gaming retail experience.

It was the holiday season and we were packed (of course). I was traveling from aisle to aisle making suggestions to relatives and significant others as to what to get their loved ones for their gaming
consoles. I approach one middle aged gentleman and ask him if there was anything he needed.

“Yes,” He replies, giving me a quick once over. “I have two 16 year old sons and I need help picking out a video game for them.”

“Oh, that’s great. There are a lot of really great titles that came out this year that I’m sure they’ll love.”

He seems genuinely confused at this point and states. “I don’t think you understand. They are 16 year old boys. They don’t play the games you play.”

I see exactly where this is going and merely smile. “Oh, no, I’m the gaming expert here. I actually play a wide variety of different titles, mostly FPS’s and RPG’s. I’m sure we can find something to suit your sons.”

The man stares at me for a moment and then turns around to grab the nearest guy he can find, who happens to be one of my employees walking past the aisle we were in.

“Excuse me sir, can you lead me to your gaming expert?” The gentleman asks.

My employee looks at him quizzically and then looks at me. He then says, “sure, no problem, right this way.” He leads the gentleman out one side of the aisle we were standing in around to the side, ending up directly in front of me.

“This is Quinn, our media supervisor and gaming expert. She is probably one of the most hardcore players I’ve ever met and knows more about video games than anyone else in the store. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

That is why I worked there. Despite all the bulls**t on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis I had to put up with, I had over fifty brothers who had my back. Whether it was cheering me on during a Halo “killing spree” or politely telling a guy he was being a dick, they were always there for me. It’s why I have hope for the gaming industry. If every guy just had a sister to relate to, I’m pretty sure we would end up with more awesome big brothers and less trolls.


The Trenches - Finish him!

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Finish him!

I worked for a my first software company in the late 80s into the early 90s, and we were bought up by a “giant”. We were located in the Seattle area, they were down in San Francisco, and it was a very interesting relationship to stay connected (this was the dark ages before the Internets…!). Over time, our group was downsized bit by bit until the original group of around of 100 (devs & testers) was reduced to about 10 testers. They had us working as a rogue testing group - spot checking the work that the teams in SF were doing. It felt a bit dirty because we knew we were working behind the scenes for higher up manager types who wanted to know if their teams were finding all the bugs.

Then something interesting happened….

Managers came and went, and we were shuffled between a few of them, and eventually we realized that the last person we were working for was gone…. but no one new had gotten to us to let us know what we should be working on next. So, after a few boring days we hooked up a Nintendo to a giant TV, rearranged our cubicles, brought in a couple couches, and played Mortal Kombat (the original one) until we heard what to work on next.

We waited for 6 MONTHS while playing that game all day long.

We’d show up each day on time, play MK, and then go to lunch, come back, play MK, then head home at the end of a full day. We wanted to be there in case anyone tried to call or email us, but no one ever did. We didn’t know who to call about what we should be doing, because the person we last worked for wasn’t there anymore.

Our paychecks kept rolling in, and over time, one by one, guys on the team found jobs at other companies – because they were getting bored of just playing Mortal Kombat all day long. In the end, there were 3 of us left, and we got a call from headquarters letting us know that they were going to give us a “re-deployment package” and let us all go. It was an extremely generous deal, and I used it to put a down payment on my first house.


The Trenches - Superman’s Useless Morning Jog

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Superman’s Useless Morning Jog

A few years ago, I was a Game Master for a fairly popular MMO. One of the benefits of this job was our ability to play on GM accounts that had access to special commands that could make our characters invisible, invincible, able to take on the appearance of any model in the game, adjust our size.

However, with great power comes great responsibility or at least insane oversight. These accounts were watched over carefully and we were advised to stay invisible any time we used these characters on a live server and to only actually play the characters on the test server where our shenanigans could not have rippling effects on the game’s economy or possibly be overseen by players.

The downside to this is that it absolutely ruined the “normal” game for me. I had somehow found my way into a job that allowed me to literally play an MMO all day long should I want to do so, but the GM tools destroyed all desire I had to actually play it. Once you are given an account that can make that special rare sword appear in a few keystrokes, suddenly forming parties with real players and running a dungeon that only has a small chance of dropping it becomes a ridiculously arduous task for a marginal reward.

You might be thinking, “Well, just play in the test server,” but even that becomes dull after you have god-mode. The game’s verisimilitude is destroyed when you can one-shot kill a world boss. When there is no challenge and there is no reward, you are no longer gaming. It becomes an empty task like Superman going for a light morning jog.

There are a few jokes to make with these types of tools to amuse yourself and other GMs like porting other GMs into deep, deep holes that contain nothing but fire. However, these pranks were really all just permutations of the same joke where we slightly inconvenienced another god for the minute it took them to laugh and type a slash command to restore themselves to immortality.

Maybe the Greeks had it right. Maybe there is a pantheon of narcissistic immortals that invented us and mortality to bring consequence to their squabbles. If so, they had it right. I have no doubt the GM tools would be endlessly entertaining had we permission to unleash them on the foolish, mortal players.


The Trenches - Missed Opportunity

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Missed Opportunity

I graduated college with an engineering degree in the midst of the recent recession. No one was hiring, and after four months I was getting a little desperate. A friend made iPhone games at a small startup which had recently come out with a hit game. He said they didn’t have anyone doing in house testing for them and were looking to hire someone part time with a possible fulltime position down the road. I jumped at the opportunity. The interview went great, I got along well with all six guys that worked there, and they said I could start whenever.

The week before I was to start, I got a fulltime offer from a real engineering company. I was torn. Do I work part time as a tester for a startup company that may never make a hit game again, or do I take the fulltime gig doing what I had actually gone to school for? I took the fulltime engineering job.

The startup was understanding, and I kept in touch with my friend. They hired someone as a part time tester, and within 3 months he was full time. Within a year they had discovered the magic of in-app purchases, and the company expanded like crazy. As of now the guy they hired instead of me is in charge of 3 fulltime testers, has his own office, and plays iPhone games all day while I sit in a cubicle staring at a monitor as my soul slowly drains out of me. How I wish I had taken that opportunity.


The Trenches - Magics of Rockets

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Magics of Rockets

Let me set you the scene for how my first title in QA was shaping up. We had about twenty people in a bay doing multiplayer testing on a AAA title. After a few months of us doing this, they moved us to different bays and expanded our team because the game was falling behind (surprise!) and we couldn’t test fast enough (they felt).

Most of us were not pleased about that as about three fourths of our bugs were coming back with large “working as intended” notes. Those of you have worked in the industry doing QA know that is dev speak for “die in a fire” so we were a little miffed about them adding more people to the title.

Fast forward a month and we are on day 30 of what will become 45 days of “voluntarily” overtime at 12 hours a day in an attempt to find a version of the game that won’t have the fans of the franchise screaming for blood in the streets outside the design studio. By this time anyone that has worked those hours can tell you tempers get short and ideas get crazy.

This is when I found the issue with the autolock with the RPG. You see, simply by pointing the screen (this was a third person shooter title) and jumping the way you were running you would ensure that the rocket would find a nice cozy home in the target’s chest. Since his seemed broken I wrote up the bug and submitted it to be sent to our devs and was greeted by our lead a few minutes later who wanted me to show him why I thought it was an issue. I then proceeded to go through about three games with nearly no deaths before he gave a heavy sigh with the words “They’re not going to like this.” before he went to send the bug in.

Can anyone guess what the dev response was? That’s right. “Working as intended, this is not a bug.”

They then patched it within three weeks of the title launching after the forums exploded about how broken it was.

So do us all a favor, if you are a dev and your testers submit something that seems to be broken don’t give them the knee jerk reaction of saying it’s not a bug. Actually look into the issue and see if it might be something that needs fixing.


The Trenches - Pucker Up

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Pucker Up

It’s quite obvious that QA can be an egregious environment. Racking up over 2,000 hours of test time in less than six months will wear down anyone’s sanity. As testers, we always made sure to keep that among ourselves, and not to let it affect our testing or bug writing. At the dev studio however, there were apparently no such rules.

Enter Jason. This rather eccentric audio dev began telling fantastic tales on our bug comments. Every audio bug was apparently fixed by him reaching into the netherverse and fighting off a rabid unicorn or three headed pigeon to fix a bit of audio jittering.

We were fascinated by his stories, and would often climb through the bug database looking for his comments. That’s when I found the anus pucker bug. A specific monster in the game had a very slight delay when shooting at enemies, and he described it at thus:

“The anus pucker thing doesn’t make a noise right away when firing its anus pucker discharge at enemies” This went on for paragraphs, describing in detail about how the anus pucker would sometimes misfire, and that the anus pucker should fire correctly.

That bug was printed out more times than I can recall. It was even taped to the side of my monitor for those times when our sanity was wearing. Nothing like a good anus pucker to pick you up when you’re down.


The Trenches - The elephant in the room.

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The elephant in the room.

I worked at a fairly large company that would seasonally hire in large volumes of temporary extra customer support staff. During one such period I was graced with a position in their phone and email support teams.

A few hundred of us temp staff worked there for several months, but as the customer contacts started to diminish, the company started their ‘Wind Down’. Every week a group of 10-20 people was escorted past my desk to the Office and told that some of them would not have jobs the following week. After a couple of these parades I made a comment in my team’s local chat room to the tune of “Ah, nothing cheers you up in the morning like the smiling faces of a group of us temps being sent on a death march to the Office.”

Immediately all conversations in the chat died. One of my managers finally broke the silence and said “That was out of line, man. This is a terrible situation and could do without your jokes”. I responded that I, as one of the temp staff with the axe above my neck, was in a good position to understand what they were going through. None the less I apologized as I could see that my choice of humour was a bit coarse. The rest of the chat chimed in to say that I shouldn’t make comments like that again.

Eventually another of my managers came back from lunch and read over the chat logs and promptly called me over for a meeting.

She said that she’d read over my exchange. I quickly mentioned that I understood that it was a sensitive issue and that I’d stop making jokes about it. She then said “Yes, jokes are one thing, but actually we don’t like to talk about the Wind Down at all here. You see, it’s not just hard on you - we’ve all become friends here so it’s hard on us to see you leave as well. It’s a depressing issue, so we just don’t talk about it.” Her utterly cheerful smile never wavered once.

I tested the water occasionally by bringing up the waves of firings in the chat in the following days, but every time my comments were unceremoniously ignored.

A few days later I cleaned out my desk.


The Trenches - While the Publisher may be evil, the QA Department is AWESOME!

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While the Publisher may be evil, the QA Department is AWESOME!

Note: This is not technically a “war story”, but still very much worth telling.

Between the Summer of 2006 and the Fall of 2007, I worked for the “sports game” division of a MAJOR Video Game publishing company, that as a whole, is consider to be one of (is not THE) most evil, corrupt, and responsible for ruining any game and/or franchise they touch.

But, here’s the twist: I absolutely fucking LOVED the job.

This story is not about how much they suck… it’s about how much the the people who work there are kickass fucking awesome!

This is a story of my tie with them, or at least… the highlights. :)

First, the hiring process IS INTENSE. They give you a phone interview first, which is easy to pass, as long as you’re not a psycho or a douche (though apparently people manage to fuck this part up).

Then they get the top ~20ish people into a room, and tell you what to expect during your time there, which surprisingly enough includes a guy who -actually says- something to the equivalent of: “While we do not condone Prejudicial/bigoted speech, it may still happen, so if you don’t have tough skin for that sort of thing, this job may not be the place for you.”

Now, that statement wasn’t meant to discourage any person of any race/creed/gender/orientation/etc. from sticking around, he was just stating a simple fact that on the testing for, sometime people can be crude. The general idea was that since they couldn’t patrol everyone every minute of everyday, you had to take personal responsibility to “know your audience”. Again, a very smart, common sense, approach.

When I first got hired, I was sent to a building -across the street- where I (and another girl that was hired on the same day) were told to play a game that the company had already RELEASED… why? Because they we’re making the 3rd game, and wanted to make sure me and this other girl (who was in the same hiring class I was in), I spent 2 days working on this before one of the Senior Leads from the QA department came over and told both of us to follow him.

When went down the stairs, back across the street, entered the -main- QA Building, and were given our assignments, she was given the “Major movie license game that had been scrapped after a YEAR of working on it and restarted from scratch with 6 more months to go before the DVD release which was to coincide with the release of the game.”

However, I was lucky! My first project was a “European version of Baseball” game, and I kinda liked it I got to work of the PC version of the game, and got to tweak Windows settings in order to screw the game over in weird and complicated ways. I even got a free copy of the game! (Note: we got free copies of any game that our names appeared in the credits, and in order to get into the credits you had to work on the game -officially- for at least 2 weeks).

Over the course of the next year I work on some MAJOR titles, some lesser titles, got moved to a specialty team that was considered THE hardest team to get into and learn from, became “first officer” of a team (3rd in line under the Senior lead and the Team Lead), and genuinely enjoyed my time there. In fact if it wasn’t for other opportunities that came to be, I would still be working there to this day.

But, here’s the best part: (and the point of my whole story).

The QA PARTIES.

You see several times a year the QA Department would use their left over budget and throw parties for it’s team members.

KEG PARTIES.

That’s right, we’d come into work one day, clock in, GET PAID, and proceed to eat, and GET DRUNK!!!

I kid you not.

Our -bosses- would be grillin’ various meats outside, there would be KEGS (plural) for you to drink from, a cotton candy machines (which made a HUGE mess that had to be scraped off the wall), video game competitions, the whole bit… it was epic!

My best memory of this time is in fact, having myself, a buddy of mine, the 1st officer from project I was working on at the time, and an actual developer for the same game we were working on, all sitting around in a conference room, finishing off the last “foamy bits” of beer out of the bottom of a keg” (i.e.: floating the keg). And here’s the most important thing, everybody felt like a TEAM, the idea of “devs vs QA”, and “the company thinks of us as robots instead of human beings” ... all of that? It went right out the window… They made sure we had fun, and more importantly, that made sure we were SAFE: They paid for ANY and ALL cab rides people may of needed in order they made it home safely, and a lot of times, it was the leads and developers themselves driving people home.

Moral of the story: Sometimes, even the “Worst Company of the Year”, really does care about it’s employees, and isn’t as bad as people actually believe it to be. :)


The Trenches - Math

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Math

I used to work at the major game/pawn/retailer shop, and I learned something interesting about the way they operate.  A metric quite common among retailers is the ‘shrink rate.’  I’m not sure how other stores calculate it, but at Gamestop it’s something like this:

(money made on stuff sold / (money lost on stuff (lost | stolen | handed out) *100)) = shrinkrate

Think of the ramifications of that.  If your store does well, you can give stuff away and it’s all gravy.  Given that every store loses track of a few things here and there, if your store stagnates, you obviously have thieves on your staff.

I worked as a ‘game adviser’ in a store in a mall that had been undergoing renovations for what seemed like years and there were two other much larger stores within about a mile radius.  We didn’t sell very much outside of Christmas.  I recall a dry spell where the weekly equation frequently read somewhere in the ballpark of (500/(50*100)). This would give us the rate of 10%.

The funny thing is what happens with this information.  The immediate assumption with a high shrink rate, is that someone on staff is stealing from the store.  It wasn’t too long before they brought in a regional inventory control manager to interrogate the staff, calling everyone’s character into question, and generally trying to weed out the thug.  However, the only people who weren’t clean, and/or attending the local Baptist university were the managers.

After scouring the staff, they decided the only thing worth mentioning was that the assistant manager (the only person who gave a shit) had used his discount card for customers, which he bought and paid for, to help make some sales.  Interestingly enough, since he was a pretty good salesman, the amount he wound up saving people was disproportionate to the store’s total volume.

They fired him.

I have a real job now, and I just went back a few weeks ago to visit. The store has been replaced by a local clothing retailer.


The Trenches - Schedule Coordination

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Schedule Coordination

There’s this stigma in the video game industry that QA is always the lowest rung on the ladder.  Whatever happens, everyone else’s skills and time are more valuable than yours.  If a programmer or artists makes a mistake or misreads a bug, it’s up to the tester to admit fault and ask roundabout questions in an attempt to lead that programmer or artist to the solution you’ve already figured out, because nobody can afford to have the ego of a highly-trained programmer/artist bruised by a tester.

So I was working QA at a AAA developer on the latest entry in one of gaming’s most popular adventure franchises of the time.  We had already been in crunch for several months, working anywhere from 10-16 hours a day 7 days a week nonstop to meet our title’s ship date and were on what we had been told was our last Saturday that would be sacrificed to finish the project.

Because it was the last few days before final code lock the head of QA had given us a little speech that night about how we needed one big push to finish it up that night and would need to stay so late that it would be early by the time we left, but one of the foreign SKU’s still needed to be tested we would have to come in the following morning as well.  Because of this, everyone was given the option of leaving then or staying until everything was done.  A few people left then, with 1 or 2 more an hour later and a handful sent home within the next hour when they passed out in their chairs.  By the time we finished and those of us that had stayed the whole time left, it had been roughly a 21 hour shift that ended just after 6am.  We had to be back by 11am that same morning (Sunday) to get the final disc for the foreign SKU tested.

Five hours and 3 red bulls later I was back at my desk, wasting time on the finished local SKU while we waited for the foreign disc.  It was 3pm when the programmer in charge of making the discs entered QA to tell our head that he had gotten in about an hour ago and just started making the discs.  Disbelief collided with exhaustion, causing my head to drop straight on to my desk.  The audible “THUD!” this created caused the room to go quiet just in time for my next words to be clearly audible: “You JUST NOW started making the discs?  We’ve been here for 5 hours!”  The programmer and QA department head, who were standing directly to either side of me, stared at me in silence for an eternity of seconds before moving on to the plan for testing those discs.  I’m not sure if my obvious exhaustion excused me or they just decided I had a point, but no one ever said anything to me about it and, a few months later, I finally unclenched. The foreign SKU discs didn’t have any issues and we went home 2 hours later.


The Trenches - Test Lead

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Test Lead

Many years ago I was a test lead on the certification team for the original XBOX. Every game that went out had to have a certain amount of regular game-play by a team of testers to be released. This was the classical tester dilemma, yes you get to play games all day, but you don’t get to pick what you play.

For one week my team was playing “Kabuki Warriors”. This title remains one of the worst games in history. Graphics were comically bad, combat was so simple that you could close your eyes and repeatedly press the A button for 1/2 hour and have beaten the entire game. Within 2 hours my team was crawling the walls, bemoaning the fact that they knew they would be playing this game 40 hours a day for a week.  My favorite point was when a tester took a bug form (bugs had to be written out long-hand on a form and handed to the “lead” for entry) and made a pirate hat out of it, saying “I’m a pirate!” every time he won a game.

One day, one of the other teams got a new game in, Silent Hill 2. Everyone had heard about it and that team was loving playing it; everyone but one tester. Within a few hours of playing it, he started getting motion sickness, and halfway through the day, he said he had enough and needed to be moved to another team. Immediately every person on my team begged to be his replacement, anything to get out of this bad-game hell they were in. Rounds of Ro-Sham-Bo were thrown and one of our testers got the honor of switching over to “the new cool game”.

For 15 minutes… because that was all he could play before running to the bathroom and almost losing his Ramen and Mountain Dew. That day, we rotated through no less than 4 testers until finally we found one that could manage to play it all day. We tried different monitors, moving the testers around the lab, everything we could think of, but it was clear, for my team, this was the game equivalent of the vomit-comet.


The Trenches - Happy Little Trees

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Happy Little Trees

I’ve been working in the Software Test Industry for numerous years, and been witness to the some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in humanity because of such. That said it was during the first six weeks of my tenure at a very large and well known game studio that I witnessed what I like to call my “Thrice Trumped” stories of raising the bar.

The first happened during my very first week at the company. On my lunch break I had the misfortune of entering the bathroom to see what appeared to be a murder scene. Blood coated the floor, the walls and was splashed all along the stall walls. Rumor has it that someone just had a serious nose bleed and never cleaned up after themselves. Which would explain why they were missing the next day, and a new fresh faced worker was in his place.

The second and third happened during my last week there, and had the convenience of happening on the same day. The morning starts off with a hallway covered in vomit, someone had not made it the door, and much like the first incident they didn’t bother to try and clean up their mess. A meeting was called to discuss hygiene and appropriate handling of incidents of that nature. A crime most foul indeed, but nowhere near what greeted us all later that afternoon.

Happy Little Trees. That’s the only way to accurately explain the poo-artistry that coated the bathroom walls. Someone had spread fecal matter all over the bathroom walls and created a scene the likes of which Bob Ross would have been proud of. There was a valley with a stream with trees that overlooked it and pea nutty clouds in the sky. A true master’s work in the medium, I’m sure.

I put in my resignation later that afternoon and never looked back.


The Trenches - Saving Private Armchair

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Saving Private Armchair

I could write a series of harrowing stories about game QA, but much of what I would write has been said in some terrific stories elsewhere on this site. So I will instead share a different tale, a tale about a team of testers and their chairs.

It was a few years back whilst working on a large FPS franchise on the PS3 that this story takes place, and it centers around four of the finest testers to walk the hallowed halls of games development.

It had been a hard slog of working 6 months on this cherished first party title, from its early bug heavy days in alpha, to the gradual wind-down as we neared Gold master. The team had lost any joy from shooting nameless AI, and had been posted back to a level which they had seen a million times before.

As their self-appointed leader (with no pay increase or acknowledgement), I rallied my band of testers for what we hoped would be the last push. We had become such a close knit set of friends and there were few things I didn’t know about these guys. Some of them I have no doubt I wouldn’t have liked or associated with out in the real world, but in here they were my brothers.

About mid-day on a sunny English summer day one of the testers, a bright young thing with a talent for breaking games, decided that he wasn’t going to settle for C class bugs; he was going to escape the level. The rest of us laughed it off and a few bets were placed that he couldn’t do it; we had tested this level to death and it was tight. It was nice to see he still had spirit after these long months but it would have been sweeter to win that bet.

One hour later, he was out.

He had stumbled upon something we had previously over-looked, that the armchair in this level had physics, but was indestructible. Using his standard issue Pistol he was able to maneuver the chair next to the wall before making a leap of faith above the invisible collision. Now, most people would just report this and move on, not this fellow, he decided that he was going to find every single place this chair could let him escape and report each and every instance, just to wind up the devs.

He wasn’t alone, the next two days the whole team spent finding places to escape using the chair, storing the bugs ready for the haul of bugs to be reported all at once. This in itself would have amused us greatly,  but the meme had grown, and instead of the chair featuring in just the bugs where it was needed, we placed it in screenshots, videos and repro steps for every bug. If an enemy AI was killed and his model was broken, we would place the chair next to his body with a gun strewn on its cloth surface, if we saw a distant section of level which was textured incorrectly we would shoot the chair over before taking the screenie. That single chair ended up in over 50 bugs from crashes to z-fighting textures, I cannot imagine what the devs must have thought when they saw such an insignificant piece of scenery in every bug.

I do know this though; for two days in that summer we were no longer a four man team, we were five. Our comfy friend was there with us through fire fights and broken gameplay, and more than that; he helped us escape the game.

On the third day, he was MIA.

RIP Private Armchair


The Trenches - Fowl play

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Fowl play

A few years ago I was working as a tester on a AAA title that you’ll all have heard of, when I ran into one of the most amusing and bewildering bugs I have ever experienced. After around 20 minutes of play, all projectiles in the game would turn into chickens. Your guns would fire chickens, the enemy guns would fire chickens, and tanks would fire chickens as shells.

Whilst this was initially rather amusing, it was obviously not intended behaviour. Furthermore, it wouldn’t reproduce on any other computer but my testing station. I filed a bug, and was instructed by one of the devs to re-install the game. I did so, but the problem persisted. Several other suggested solutions failed to work, too. By this point, my ability to test the game was rather diminished.

A couple of days later, a developer showed up in the testing department along with the project manager. I walked them through the bug, and after we all stopped laughing we set out to find a solution. During a re-install, the developer spotted something strange. My installation image was on a shared network drive, but it was not the usual one. I’d had my machine set up by the testing manager, so I had no idea that anything was amiss. They switched to the correct image and the bug disappeared.

I was later informed by the developer that the image I was using was an unofficial build on a developer’s machine, which had had some of the copy protection code removed. The computer also had a BitTorrent client installed, seeding an ISO of the build on a popular torrent site, months before the game was due for release. Thankfully, in this case, our office internet connection had horrendously poor upload performance and we managed to kill it and fire the developer before the whole file was leaked.

The “feature” still exists in the release and, from what I’ve read, plagued most people who downloaded the first pirate releases.


The Trenches - We wouldn’t want to confuse anybody, would we?

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We wouldn’t want to confuse anybody, would we?

Now, focus testing is a great tool for a developer. It gives them an invaluable opportunity to see first-hand how their game is perceived by actual people; how they respond to the controls, the game mechanics and the overall presentation. It’s an insight that testers sometimes can’t contribute since they have grown so accustomed to the game that they have a hard time seeing it from the eyes of a new player. Focus testing can help fix balancing issues and make the game and interface a lot more intuitive.

Or it could give you carte blanche to completely maim the game due to fears that people won’t “get it”.

I was working on an American Football game that was based entirely around motion controls. The game was already a heavily simplified facsimile of the sport since you could only pass the ball, perform kick offs and move left/right or jump to dodge tackles. The game wasn’t fantastic but the dodge mechanic worked pretty well and it was a pretty exhilarating experience to manage to dodge every single defender and score a touchdown. There was even an achievement specifically for doing this.

One day we all get an email about a new build which explains that there has been some changes to the game. Readers familiar with this site can probably guess what these changes entailed.

Yes.

Dodging had been scrapped as some participants of the focus testing had found it to be “too confusing”. Bear in mind that this was before any tutorials or UI had been implemented and that focus testing is largely done without giving any help or suggestions to the tester. Oh, and that this was a sport whose rules are almost entirely unknown outside the US developed and tested by a British company. Instead of adding one line of text to the game they decided that scrapping the main feature of the game entirely was the preferable course of action.

In the end dodging was never put back in or replaced which made the game little more than a throwing simulator. Come release day every single review pointed out the lack of dodging as an odd exclusion since it had been heavily touted as a major feature during the game’s many convention appearances.

And naturally; some time later I was fired.


The Trenches - ...Finding bugs in a game on Interview didn’t get me the job….

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...Finding bugs in a game on Interview didn’t get me the job….

Many years ago I applied and received an Interview for a testing position for a very prestigious games company based in Portsmouth. FANTASTIC!

With my CV and a Thermos of tea I drove down that morning to attend the interview. I chatted to the receptionist and was politely asked to find a seat and wait for the interviewer.

She arrived, introduced herself and gave me the tour of the office (which was very nice). We went to her office and the interview commenced. Everything seemed to be going well, my CV went down a treat, I was articulate and I felt I gave a good account of myself.

The next part of the interview was to test a driving game yet to be released. I sat down with my pad (a paper one - it was 2003) and spent the allotted time finding frame rate drops and I even managed to crash the game completely (considering I was only given 5 minutes I thought that was pretty good going). The test ended and I handed over my notes. “Well” she said reading my notes “You appear to have found about 15 bugs that our testers haven’t even found yet” I replied modestly “Oh? Really, well I’m sure they would have found them eventually.”

I left the building feeling very pleased with myself, Good Interview - check, Games Test - check…

I drove home….

The next day I received a phone call from the developer. “Unfortunately we will not be able to offer you the job. This is in part due to your experience. We feel we cannot offer you suitable wages.” The job went to a snotty nosed kid who was probably being paid in peanut M&M’s….

In the last year I have started my own games company and hope that if I reach the heady heights of being able to employ staff I will employ them on ability and experience and not that they are cheap… well unless they are really good and really cheap as well of course. :)


The Trenches - The ultimate multitasking task

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The ultimate multitasking task

The project I was on was shaping up to be a pretty good game. It was an FPS “adventure” game that used a time control gimmick. We had our usual quota of bugs but the real fun began when multiplayer online testing started.

This game supported 8 player teams, with several maps to choose from and about 5 different characters on each faction to play. That meant there were plenty of iterations to go through in order to test the weapons, special abilities, and spawn points of every map. The only problem was that our team had about 15 people split between the 360 and PS3. In order to facilitate the full online team testing we had a workstation set up with eight 360s, an HD monitor, and a switchbox.

Then came time for us to run test sweeps. Everyone dreaded getting stuck on the online testing workstation because that meant you had to handle 8 controllers by yourself and constantly switch the monitor between all the boxes. This would usually involve an elaborate mess of cords and papers spread all over the desk, and trying to keep track of which controller went with which switchbox input was a pain in the ass! Oh and don’t forget the all-important “automated tester tool”.

One game mechanic was that characters could not stand idle for more than 2 minutes or they would be kicked from an online game. This meant that all characters had to be moving around in some fashion. The logistics of handling 8 controllers was a mess, but with a few “automated tester tools” it could be managed. This was basically a rubber band wrapped around the movement and aim control sticks.

As testing progressed I actually got used to running a few of the multiplayer sessions. Setting up multiple stations (with rubber bands on controllers), shouting commands across the room to the other team, filling out a whole worksheet meant for 8 people. Tearing down the workstation at the end of the day was not so bad. We even got to where we could make an entire multiplayer sweep in about 4 hours. But no one dreaded the words “new build” more than the guy who had to hop on the PS3 multiplayer station (very similar to the 360 setup) and win 100 games to get the achievement. That person had to run their games solo.


The Trenches - Test isn’t all bad… honest!

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Test isn’t all bad… honest!

While I love hearing everyone’s tales from the world of games test, and can often relate, it does still shock me at times as to just how bad some people have it. Clearly people are being taken advantage of, and Test’s value isn’t being recognized at some companies around the world.

For me, it’s different.

I HAVE worked for one of the biggest publishers, and sometimes it was a bit rubbish. We got let go at the end of projects, no matter how much effort we put in. We crunched a lot, and we always felt undervalued. But my tale isn’t about that company.

I now work for one of the other big publishers, and I absolutely love it. I think the main difference between us and the rest of the world is that we are a relatively new division of that publisher, and we are made up of people who have worked at the other big publishers, and didn’t like the way they did things. So we made testing better. We used to be the ones in those entry level jobs, we’ve experienced the crappy end of the stick - now we’re lucky enough to have the right people in management positions that are giving us the freedom to advance the company in the right ways. We don’t have zero hour contracts, we try to keep people on based on performance, and there are opportunities for even entry level testers to gain a lot of experience and apply for higher level positions as they develop themselves. We’re expanding all the time, gaining more work and more staff, and developing great relationships with developers.

I just wanted to tell everyone who reads these tales and thinks how terrible test is and that it must be escaped, that test isn’t bad across the board. There are companies out there that are great to work at, even some of the biggest publishers. I work in games test and I love my job. I work with people passionate about games and testing, and I get to work with some of the biggest developers and on some of the top titles. If you work in test, you have a great skill, and you can be rewarded if you develop and find the right company - or maybe you can make changes from within.

Hopefully my tale adds a bit of balance to those tales full of hilariously horrible situations, and encourages people to value test as a career. I don’t think I’d ditch this Test department for any of the developers I’ve worked with. Man, do I have some horror stories about them…

;)


The Trenches - The Legend of “El Pistolero”

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The Legend of “El Pistolero”

I worked on an FPS that was a console launch release for a major software group that has since gone on to produce a very successful franchise based on that original title.

One of my co-workers (and good friends) had the exact kind of analytical mind that seemed to be able to discern ill-thought-out design features that could be exploited—not exactly “bugs” in the traditional sense, but just playability problems. He had been assigned to QA another launch release this company was working on, but that one having been completed, he was drafted to help with our crunch time.

He discovered that the same weapon damage values that were being used for the single-player campaign were also being used for the multiplayer. The problem was that in order to make the initial levels where you were only armed with a pistol playable, the damage and rate of fire for it had to be set a certain way. These settings meant that if you had a quick enough trigger finger, in multiplayer the starting pistol was the most powerful weapon in the game.

His submission of this fact was met with disbelief by the programming team, who proceeded to challenge him to a series of multiplayer matches in all battle modes, to prove him wrong. One by one, they stepped up—and one by one, “El Pistolero” gunned them down. Again, and again.

In the end, the programmers were forced to choose between either retooling the entire level balance of the single player campaign mere weeks before release, or…well..shipping it.

To their credit, they at least adjusted the fire animations of all the other weapons, and re-engineered the sounds for them, so it was more satisfying to use those instead—the average gamer would be so impressed by the light show on the advanced weapons, they’d never stop to consider just sticking with the pistol.

But to this day I can’t pick up another FPS without recalling the legend of “El Pistolero”—and at least once promising myself to play a round without picking up or using any other weapons.


The Trenches - I guess he wouldn’t need the $5 scratch protection.

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I guess he wouldn’t need the $5 scratch protection.

Back before movie and game rental stores became all but extinct, I worked for five and a half years at one of the major chains. Let’s call it, “BlotBluster” video.

What made this job in particular so interesting is the neighborhood that my store was located. It was known throughout the city for being a compilation of hipsters and ultra trendy folk along with prostitutes, drug dealers and some degree of gang activity. At some point I had heard that a few drug dealers in the area were starting to take movies and games as payment for cash, which was probably a better deal than what we offered for trades. Needless to say, it made for some interesting customers.

One day, a few seconds after opening the store, my first customer saunters in. I greeted him with my usual, keener-teenager-with-a-new-job “Hello, how are you today? Can I help you find anything?”

Completely ignoring me, he made his way straight our display rack, which I had just filled with empty cases of a new game that had just come out that day.

I walked around the counter and approached him, then I realized he was in the process of shoving as many of these empty cases as he could into his jacket. Being sixteen at the time, and slightly awkward, the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Uhhhhhh…”

To which he responded with pulling a switchblade out of his pocket, saying “Don’t try and stop me.”

“Okay.” I said.

Then he left, with around 15 empty video game cases.

I was torn between either laughing, or locking myself in the back room of the store until my manager came back from the bank.


The Trenches - Timewasting with a side of insult

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Timewasting with a side of insult

I was working at a 200+ person game studio. We were getting towards the end of a big release when our team were called out for a mandatory presentation. This didn’t worry us, since this company didn’t make a habit of mass layoffs – firing staff for two weeks every year then rehiring them to keep our wages down, yes, but that’s another story.

We shuffle into the big meeting room and are treated to a presentation from one of the lead designers about the upcoming royalties plan. Basic gist was that employees would earn shares in projects as they worked on them, which would equal a certain (small) royalty payment as long as they were still with the company. Doesn’t sound terrible, right? Then he mentioned that the royalty plan was not applicable to QA staff, as they were technically contract workers.
Did I mention I worked in the QA department?

Did I also mention that, at the point he said this, his ENTIRE audience was QA staff?

Obviously having realized that his time was being utterly wasted (we had bug quotas to meet, you know) one of my co-workers asked what incentives would be in place for QA workers. Lead designer responds: “Well you guys are in QA, you should be doing everything you can to get out of there anyway.”

Not only had he wasted our time (attendance was mandatory), but he essentially told us our department didn’t matter and we were wasting our time there as well. So with our time wasted and insult slung, he just carried on with the rest of his presentation.

To end on a happier note, by this time I had accepted an actual development job with another company and was only working my notice period. Looking back, that might’ve been a perfect time for hurling abuse at the guy…


The Trenches - Must be an indie game.

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Must be an indie game.

I worked for a major PC manufacturer, testing games and media applications on the top tier desktop and portable PCs.

I was given a stack of games to test on the new gaming PC, which was designed to rival AlienWare’s products.

One of the games worked fine at normal settings, but if you cranked it up (which the PC should have been able to handle) it would hard lock the box.

I reproduced it for the developer and his initial response was, “Well, most people probably play at the default settings anyway.”

“Not when they pay a couple of grand for a gaming PC,” I insisted.

This kind of argument went back and forth for a while, before he saw a different way out.

“I doubt anyone will see this. It’s just one game, and I’ve never heard of it before. Maybe not many people will play it.”

The game in question was the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Thankfully, marketing heard about the issue and declared we could not launch the product without full support for Oblivion. Not sure what happened to the developer after that, but I didn’t see him working on the gaming side anymore.


The Trenches - Of course I wasn’t doing my job…

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Of course I wasn’t doing my job…

I applied to one of my favorite RPG companies and got a job testing a game people were very excited to play. We were the localization team.

The first week of the job, the parent company didn’t have the English translation. So we played the game with vague handwritten guides telling us what to do. This should have been my first clue that things were not going to go well.

The second week the team got the English version of the game and I got my assignments. Test two portions of the game.  Excited, I rushed to the first of my parts of the game to test, and it was a mess. Happily, I logged the errors. Only to be told that they knew about this problem and it wouldn’t be fixed for a few more versions and not to bother logging the bugs.

So I rushed again to my other assignment.  Only to find out that the game crashed and I wouldn’t be able to get to the epilogue (my other task) for a few more versions.  Again, I was told it was a known problem and not to bother with it.

For four weeks I logged problems on the game that had nothing to do with my assignment. At the end of the 4th week we were all given evaluations. I was told that I was doing the “best I could with a bad situation” and they promised to “have a working version by next week.”

Week 5 rolls around and on Wednesday I’m finally given a working version of the game.  I once again rush to my assignments. At the end of the day they called me and the other guy working with me into the office and fired us for “low productivity.”


The Trenches - Anonymous

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Anonymous

I worked at a major publisher of PC games about 10 years ago. I was thrilled to be working on the latest iteration of a marque RPG franchise. There were complications, however, because the dev team was working half way around the world, and we were receiving nightly builds via FedEx.

This is back when a good 30-40 hours was the norm in an RPG. This lead management to assign each of us 3 levels to test over and over each day. We would use cheat codes to level up and then run our levels as many times as we could in a 16 hour day.

We were killing bugs left and right and the game was looking very good. We came in one morning to find out the game had gone gold. I mentioned for not the first time that no one had actually played the game from start to finish yet. They finally assign me to do that, and half way through the game, at the point where you transition between one set of levels and the next was a bug that corrupted your auto-saves, losing you all progress since your last manual save.

I replicated it, recorded it, and brought it straight to the lead producer. He thanked me for my hard work assured me that he would put it at the top of the list. Two days later he had retired, the bug was gone from the system and we were on a new project.


The Trenches - The Great Divide

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The Great Divide

A few years back I was climbing the ladder in one of the support departments for a huge PC developer. The release and overwhelming success had caused their support teams to balloon in size, growing so fast that the company almost couldn’t handle it. When I started, there were less than a dozen people in the department, a year later there were 50, and a year later 150. And we were the “small” support team.

We fit nicely into the office we had when I first arrived, then we were cramped, then we were putting desks in closets, then we rented another building and the whole process started over. Within six months of moving into the new building, our break room had to be converted into more desk space.

Obviously, most of the people who signed up had dreams of ascending to the ranks of the developers, although few had any actual development skills and even fewer really understood what game developers do. When it became clear that doing time in support did not guarantee a free pass into dev, murmurs of discontent started to surface. Faced with literally thousands of employees trying to bridge the gap, upper management decided to implement a program which would educate the support staff on the responsibilities of each different developer position and what qualifications were expected of an applicant. Their aim was two-fold: to inform their naive support crews about the necessary qualifications and to farm a small amount of talent.

To this end, they scheduled a series of brief seminars given by senior developers, and established strict criteria to attend. Only support staff who had been with the company for an entire year (which eliminated 90% of the candidates) and had good performance reviews would be permitted to go.

I signed up for a lecture featuring a senior producer and the company’s lead producer. There were about forty support employees crowded into a small room as the presenters went through a short description of the role and responsibilities of an associate producer. It was nothing unexpected. At the end, they offered to answer questions.

An eager hand shot up from the front row. “What is the best thing we can do to improve our chances of being hired?”

The lead producer thought for a second, then replied, “Make games of your own. Or mods. As a matter of fact, I’d rather hire someone who spends all day working on their own game than someone who works an unrelated job.”

Silence. “You mean I should quit?” the hopeful support staffer asked, incredulous.

“Well, if I have the choice between someone who talks to our customers all day and someone who sits in their room making maps, its no contest. Even if you have a portfolio, you just aren’t going to have the same amount of time that an un-distracted candidate has to develop his skills.”

Nobody asked another question. They were too shaken by the idea that we were further from getting a job at a game company because we already worked there.


The Trenches - It’s better that you DON’T know.

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It’s better that you DON’T know.

At a small independent developer studio I worked at, one of my tasks was to pretty much single-handedly port our PS2/Xbox game engine to support the PSP. This included not only rendering, etc., but also enabling our tools to output compatible data formats since it was all one codebase. I was pretty much the only engineer working on this particular project most of the way through, and I was given 4 months to do it.

There was a small problem in getting started on it, though. I was given a devkit and a small subset of the documentation—but no compiler. Meaning that for the first 70 days, I had no ability to even test any code, and for that matter, all the documentation I had was only hardware documentation and little to no API documentation, so I had no clue where to even begin. Eventually, they filled out the paperwork, and I was able to get setup and everything, but of course the 4 month deadline hadn’t shifted to account for the 70 days with hardware and no software.

So that meant I had to go into a private crunch of sorts, working on weekends, etc, and although I was making progress, things were behaving very curiously with network failures, and I was still getting a whip to my back. This culminated in a 28 day continuous stretch at the office where I did not go home at all, eventually getting some basic runtime going where I could play a small section of a separate Xbox/PS2 game running on the PSP.  But with 1 week to go, they proceed to tell me—“hey, we wanted a whole port of the game running because we were going to license the tech out to other companies…  oh, and one of them is coming to visit on Friday.”

Me: You couldn’t have told me this sooner?
CEO: Well, but then you’d know.
Me: Yeah! Shouldn’t I know the gravity of what it is I’m working on??
CEO: No. It’s better you don’t, so that you can be separated from company affairs. If all goes well on Friday, we’ll probably lay you off anyway.

It went well.


The Trenches - Dog Days

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Dog Days

I was working QA for a small company that does a lot of licensed properties, the kind that people who have young children are all too familiar with. We often had long days of parsing random doc tables of first grade math problems, with the execs at the licensee always giving us fun bugs like “that line in the car doesn’t look like the right shade of red” or “equations aren’t appearing at a random enough interval, it needs to be more random.”

However, this story isn’t about bugs (though I could go on). This story is about our VP of Technology and the President’s dog.

Our President liked to bring in his dog to the office. The dog would run around the cubes, beg at desks for treats or attention. Being a development studio, things would get busy and sometimes the dog wouldn’t get to go out for a walk on time and would have an accident on the carpet. The President would always be quick to clean it up - I think we actually budgeted for carpet cleaner - so no one was overly upset about it, though we did joke about “working conditions.”

One day, while we were in crunch-mode, the dog hadn’t been able to get outside at all and ended up taking a huge dump right outside the entrance to the programmer’s pit. I guess no one really noticed until the VP of Tech walked by and noticed. What he did next is something I will never forget: he went to the kitchen and got a large, stainless steel bowl. He then proceeded use the bowl to cover the pile of poop and walked away.

It was about 2 or 3 hours before a coder emerged and found what I can safely assume is the worst surprise ever.

QA began use the phrase “put a bowl over it” for bugs that weren’t alpha or beta blockers.

The dog now gets regular walks.


The Trenches - Why don’t you go work out over there. Waaaaaaaaay over there…

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Why don’t you go work out over there. Waaaaaaaaay over there…

We were testing games in what was essentially a basement while the developers were up on the second floor. Between us and them sat an entire floor of offices filled with people related to, but not directly involved in, the development process to, I guess, act as a buffer between QA and Development.

Well, down in QA there is only five of us including me, and no two of us are alike. It’s like a floor full of sitcom stereotype personalities if said show was about misery and suffering broken by the occasional interesting conversation…

So I guess you could say working in QA was kind of like a sitcom.

Anyway, one of our testers had earned himself the name “Crazy-fingers” due to his inability to avoid pressing buttons as fast as humanly possible, despite the developers’, and occasional management insistence that our rates of rapid button mashing was completely, and totally out of the realm of realism. Basically, “No-one will ever actually jam on those buttons like that in the field, so stop doing it.”

As you can well imagine, the moment said individual turned his/her back, Crazy-fingers would immediately begin to do what he did best to a set of canned laughter. This would usually illicit a well-timed roll-of-the-eyes from our QA manager, and result in a hilarious crash-bug of some sort less than a minute later.

These bugs would usually make our lead programmer stomp down the stairs to confront Crazy-fingers about the legitimacy of said bug report as the developers on the second floor usually couldn’t reproduce the issue, and he would challenge Crazy-fingers to reproduce it for him while he watched.

Insert canned Oooohs.

After successfully reproducing the bug for our lead dev we would treat Crazy-fingers to a round of high-fives (not really) before the true punch-line of the episode hit: Our lead developer would go into the workout room, and start working on the punching bag.

We could regularly hear him working off the stress through two closed fire doors, and three walls.

If he worked out five days a week, we knew we were doing our jobs.

Still scary as hell to listen to him go though…


The Trenches - False Pretenses or The Ol’ Bait and Switch

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False Pretenses or The Ol’ Bait and Switch

I had been laid off from my previous job, looking to raise my standings in the game industry with no luck. After 3 months of fruitless searching I decided to fold and take contract work, the first time I had taken contract work as a tester, and work for a start up who has managed to be extremely profitable. I’m thinking great, the hours will be reasonable, the pay will be good and the people will be friendly! Boy was I in for a treat.

The first thing my new direct lead said to me was, “I didn’t know you are starting today.” This was followed by me getting thrown an iphone and getting told to familiarize myself with the games that have been shipped. Sadly, games that are meant to be played over MONTHS instead of days tend to be hard to grasp in the short day that I had, and sadly my first 8 hours on the job were wasted. Suddenly, I had permissions, equipment, and was gently (thrown down the stairs) nudged in the direction of being useful for my new team. The rest of the first week went relatively smoothly, although meetings frequently showed foreboding of crunch time to come.

The second week came, went and suddenly in week three fires broke out everywhere! Something needed to be sent out the very next day and everything was broken. I trudged along, kept my head down and worked the 12 hours days and parts of the weekends because I figured this was not going to be a permanent situation. My superiors even assured me of it when I was asked directly! Well, in a way they were right it wasn’t permanent. After we had finished crunching and I put in a 70 hour week I was gleefully informed that the QA team was getting fractured in half, and to save me from being burnt out I was given the cushy 1pm to 9 pm shift.

It was good to know that promised hours and recently signed contracts were thrown out because QA got paid over time and someone in accounting just couldn’t accept it.


The Trenches - Moon and Stars

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Moon and Stars

In 2007, I was working for a company that had then recently acquired the license to operate a certain MMO in a certain part of the Asia region. As newly hires, we were all worked up because the company who granted us the license (after some from what I heard were fierce but enthusiastic negotiations) was well known and respected.

We had such high hopes and we were so ever optimistic. As the tone of my story may suggest, that in fact did not last. That point of view did a 180 degree reversal and stuck there.

We weren’t meeting the required number of concurrent users (CCU) we promised. Execs were baffled, there was a lot of tedious and ego shrinking management committee meetings to which sometimes underlings
like myself were required to attend.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was being asked questions linked to low CCU’s and when given the honest to goodness truth, getting berated at it for it. Even if it wasn’t our fault.

To make the long story short, all that angst that was pointed to us at operations actually rightfully belongs to marketing and management themselves. It became clear and even years after the fact, the truth remained clear. They overpromised impossible CCU numbers from that region without considering technological barriers of would be customers and underdelivered overblown expectations to the company that granted the license.

They didn’t account for cultural differences and language barriers that turned off some of the player base. (HINT: Not all Southeast Asian countries speak English, and not all of them speak Chinese. So what happens when you get a demographic that cannot communicate to each other but instead stick to their own language?)

Furthermore, these are developing countries, not first world class. The technical requirements of the game far exceed the standard specs of what you would normally see, and high end gaming specs are not the norm. It’s there and available, but not a lot own that range of requirements. In addition, some of these countries had low internet reliability (high lag) and some even less internet penetration (at least as of 2007).

Lastly, my company partnered with an overseas firm to handle the marketing to those countries with Chinese as the main language. Smart on paper, not so smart in reality. These firms overseas had their own brand of MMOs operating in the same region as well. They are OUR competitors. Would you trust a competitor to FAIRLY represent and advertise your product in those regions just because you can’t speak Chinese?

But no of course not. Blame the rank and file of CSR’s for pulling unpaid overtime for not reaching a mark that was impossible to reach to begin with and not marketing who clearly did not do enough marketing research and activities, and certainly not top management who promised the moon and the stars but knew not how to build a spaceship.


The Trenches - Um, Because That’s My Job?

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Um, Because That’s My Job?

Back when the Mac SE was a kick’n machine, I had a job in tech support. I loved that job. I got paid to talk on the phone, pretend I was smart, and play with hardware and software. And I got paid well, too.

Score.

One of the titles I supported was a flight simulator for the Macintosh, just one of several Mac titles. Most of the titles weren’t games, but this sim was popular.

Often times we would get a pilot on the phone with some elaborate problem. Rather than keep them on hold while I flew around (usually badly), I would take their number and call them back when I figured it out.

So there I am one day flying the Lear Jet all over the place looking for a navigation bug or something like that. I feel someone behind me watching, but I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to have to start over. Flying the jet in full manual mode took a bit of concentration. I did this for about a half an hour. Eventually the person leaves.

The next day I get called into the director of support’s office. She is sitting there with some other woman I don’t know.

This can’t be good.

The woman I don’t know was some big-wig from finance or something like that, who came over to see what tech support was spending all their money on. She proceeds to lay out her claim: I was playing games at work on company time, not answering the phones.

The director then lets into me how this was really unprofessional and starts talking about trust between the employee and employer.  And that’s when it hit me. These two women were going to fire me.

Why, the director asked, were you playing games on the company time?

Um, because that’s my job?

What?

It’s my job. I support that game. It’s our game.

Silence.

Could you have, um, taken phone calls while doing that?

No. I’m following company policy in in reporting all game bugs, and I was trying to figure out that problem during my scheduled down time.

Silence.

At this point the finance woman turns red. And both of them are sitting there looking, well, stupid.

Uh, I need to get back to the phone queue. It’s just me and Janis on right now. Was there something else you wanted to talk about?

No. Thank you.

When I got back to my desk, Janis was glaring at me for leaving her alone in the queue. During a lull I tell her the story and she cackles. She thinks it’s funnier than hell.

This proves a point about women, Janis says. You need to marry a geek girl. Stay away from those finance bossy types.

Wise words, Janis. Wise words.


The Trenches - An Employee with an Expiration Date

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An Employee with an Expiration Date

I was hired for a small game development company to do several different jobs.  I eventually found myself developing interfaces and design for the actual games.  To be honest, it was a great job, but they offered me $10,000 less than I wanted coming in.  I negotiated with them.

I agreed to take the pay they offered if, after a year of service, they gave me a bonus of $10,000 and a raise for my yearly salary to be where I wanted.  They agreed.  Of course they did.

Over the year I saw a number of things that made me wish I’d added a few more circumstances to that agreement.  People being let go when they give two weeks even though they’re needed, mass groups let go only to hire another group that do the exact same job a few weeks later and so on.  It was clear that the company regarded its employees as just something to be used and then thrown away.  I guess that comes from an industry that has so many young people wanting in, they can pay nothing and not care at all about the people they hire.

In any case, a year was almost up when I had my review.  In my review they praised my work so much that I got a 5K raise!  I was delighted. Then right before I left the review, my boss said “what’s this bonus agreement?”

I explained and he just grunted.  The day of my one year anniversary I was sad to see there was no card on my desk.  It was the practice of the company to leave a little happy anniversary card if you were there for a year.  I went the day without anyone saying anything.  The next day my boss came storming in demanding to know where I was on a project that wasn’t due for two weeks.  I showed him I was on target and there were no worries.

He then said that I should be further along and said I would miss the deadline.  There was no evidence of that.  He insisted that I should be to a certain point and told me to get out of his office.  I went back to my desk and began working.  I worked through lunch and past that evening, but I got to the point he said I should be.  Just as I was about to leave, one of the producers came by and asked to see me. I walked in to see the HR lady.  I knew this meant death.  I was fired for not meeting a deadline.  A deadline still two weeks away.

At the end the HR lady told me that I wouldn’t get my bonus since tomorrow would be a year.  I told her yesterday would be a year and showed her where she was wrong on my paperwork.  Her face went white. She still insisted I wouldn’t get my bonus.

She also gave me a choice, either I could quit or I would get fired. If I quit they’d give a good reference, if I got fired, they wouldn’t. Of course, if I quit, I wouldn’t be able to take unemployment.  I let them fire me.

I hired a lawyer and let it be known that I did so.  Two days later they called and let me know that I was getting my bonus.

Several times they would come back to me asking where certain files were or how to fix something.  I always helped but eventually I asked for them to start giving me good a reference since I’m still open to helping when they called.  They no longer call.

It’s sad.  It was a great place to work… as long as you were needed.


The Trenches - Lost in translation

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Lost in translation

I worked for a game company for almost 3 years, and when their first game was released in german, they oddly hired a Korean linguist … to localize the game into German.

When I had the first chance to check the game, I was shocked by the results and asked if they really intended to release the game in this state.

They were surprised by my reaction and asked “What’s so bad about it? When we put it through Google translate, it totally makes sense.”

The situation was really going downhill, and I couldn’t find words to describe the quality of the product. We were only 4 weeks away from Closed Beta, and I saw myself already hiding under a rock. I tried to get a good example from the game to show the state and severity of the translation, and I stumbled over this gem in the tutorial.

The player would see a little penguin with a brown cap and his mouth looked a little bit like a moustache. The speech bubble said “Möchtest du den Führer sehen? - (Would you like to see the guide?) Technically, the translation was correct, and the word “Führer” was correct in terms of a dictionary but, the combination of a penguin wearing a brown cap and moustache of a certain dictator in Germany around the 1940’s wasn’t really something i wanted to endorse in a game for 12 year old kids.

The possible options to choose from were “Yes,” “No,” or “Only at special occasions” and I was like “Seriously, special occasions? Like what? Reich Crystal Night?”

With that I went to the CEO and explained him that if this gets released, we can bury the game without going into the beta and move on to the next title.

He asked me what could be done, and I said that I would be willing to localize the game if i get the complete text. He agreed and within 4 weeks, I managed together with 3 friends to localize the whole game with almost 500.000 words into proper German.

I spent almost the full 4 weeks in the office and slept either in my chair, the couch, or not at all. In the end, the original localization person received money for the chaos she had been caused with her pseudo-German linguistic skills, and I had just received my regular salary.

We had a very tough week until the first maintenance arrived to implement the new translation. We did another 3 revisions for typos and strings which didn’t fit properly but we pulled it off.

Even today, I stumble across screenshots from that time and think, “Somehow … I miss that time in my life.” It was a nightmare, but I think it was the only time I’ve ever been fully in control about a project.

To release my anger at the time of the translation, I had rewritten some conversations in the game to express the horrors of the whole mess. 5 clowns in the middle of a city were talking about the madness of localizing and their side effects.


The Trenches - It Gets Better

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It Gets Better

I’ve heard horror stories about game testers throughout my short career. When I started to work at my current company as a game designer, I was surprised to discover that here, at least, they remain stories.

Here, testers are on the same level as everyone else. When a team gets formed to work on a project, it invariably involves one, sometimes two dedicated testers. Since we’re constantly moving from desk to desk so that a project’s team is sitting together, that means the tester on a team is usually within talking distance from programmers and designers.

Our quality assurance guys and gals are a tremendous help in rooting out bugs and they’re usually those who know their way around our bug tracking software the most. When they have comments about the design, we listen. And just like game design, art and programming, QA has its own department head and hierarchy so that testers have superiors they can rely on when they need help.

When it comes to advancement, the sky’s the limit. A number of my QA friends have taken positions as game designers, project managers and even business developers. And for those who want to stay in QA, that’s perfectly alright - it’s as noble a field as any here.

If you’re working at a company where QA gets the short end of the stick, please take heart: it gets better. There are companies out there that will treat you with the respect you deserve.


The Trenches - Subject: The building is on fire; please evacuate.

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Subject: The building is on fire; please evacuate.

One summer, myself and a couple hundred others were working on a AAA title in our dimly lit, stinky basement.  This basement was also known as QA.

The basement was constantly overlooked by the custodial staff.  I’m not sure this was intentional or not, but we were seriously lacking in regular trash bin changes, vacuuming, and overall cleanliness.  Oh, and we also were short on a few fire alarms…okay we didn’t have any fire alarms.

The testers in the basement were all console testers and did not have regular access to a computer.  They would occasionally get up to write bugs, but for the most part, you are pretty unaware as to what’s in your email until lunch or break time.

Due to the secrecy of the project I was on, my team was located in a locked room.  So here we are, in a dark, dirty basement, with no alarms and no real communication with the outside world.  Cell phones didn’t even work.

So, one day, we hear a big commotion outside the door.  We get up to see what’s going on, and before I can reach the handle, the door explodes open with one of my co-workers saying,

“The building’s on fire!  It has been for a while and no one’s told us!”

Oh, but we all did receive an emergency email to our rarely looked at accounts.  By the time we reached the outdoors, the entire building had already been evacuated.


The Trenches - Initiation

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Initiation

I’m a relatively new tester, but today I ran into a standard testing miracle for the first time—the developer’s bug-neutralizing superpowers.

I had come across a rather quirky bug that the developer could not replicate. When he came to my workstation for me to show the bug to him, everything worked like a charm.

I feel like I’ve passed some sort of testing initiation now. It’s like the job is telling me that it finally accepts me as legitimate and has begun to embarrass me accordingly.


The Trenches - Last minute game changers

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Last minute game changers

My first QA job was working on the sequel to an original XBOX launch title, I was brought on for the last push before cert submission.  The game was a 3rd person fantasy RPG which involved a lot of ranged spell casting.  The player could also choose to do melee attacks, but since they melee combat was awful and mostly ineffectual, people avoided using it.

While playing through the game on the night before submission, I found a crash.  One of the enemies in the game was an archer riding on the back of a giant frog.  The archer would fire at the player, the player would fire back at the archer and usually kill it without much trouble.  If the player wandered into melee range of the frog, (which nobody had done, since they had much more powerful spells,) it would raise up on its hind legs and swat at the player, resulting in a crash 100% of the time.

Solution?  Delete the Frog/Archer units from the game.  Other enemies were not added to compensate for the missing Frog/Archers, and I believe the Frog/Archers were left in the manual.


The Trenches - I’m not Schumacher

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I’m not Schumacher

I’m a Motorsport fan. There’s no denying that. Formula 1, Le mans, touring cars, the lot.

Anyway. There came an opportunity to test a big name racing game, so I leapt at the chance. Why not? I love racing games, I love watching racing; it seemed perfect. I applied and got employed, yay!

Each of us working there was assigned one track and one car each (there were a lot of us), two cars if we were ‘lucky’.

It took 2 months to comprehensibly cover every square pixel of Silverstone. every camber, every barrier at every speed we could. Six years on, I still dream about it. I can’t watch the British Gran Prix anymore. One of my deepest passions ruined. I had to move because I used to live 20 miles away from the track.

It hurt. It hurt bad.


The Trenches - The good ol’ switcheroo trick.

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The good ol’ switcheroo trick.

There are 2 kinds of show stoppers when you’re close to release.

First, there’s the ones that you don’t want the public to see. Then there are the ones the console manufacturers don’t want to see.

They’re pretty hardcore sometimes on finding crashes in places people will never go. And by that, I mean that no one will eject their disc and reinsert it while mashing the home/guide/PSN button… during the logo videos.

So we had a crash in our game, it occurred if the player did something no one would ever do on purpose. And it only occurred on the default multiplayer map! We thought that no one would ever get this crash and because it was impossible to fix we considered leaving it there, but we were worried about the console manufacturer…

So… We put that particular map last instead of first. They didn’t find it. Better that than to cut a map out of 6 huh?


The Trenches - 115 hours a week, still paid hourly

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115 hours a week, still paid hourly

Back in the Oughts I was working QA for a big publisher who had a number of PS2/Xbox/PC games in the pipe.  A good number of us were conscripted to move down to SoCal for a couple of months working on a
game.  Everyone got their own Extended Stay hotel room complete with continental breakfast.  The soda machine’s Pepsi didn’t have the proper amount of fizz, but it worked perfectly for whatever random ham
and cheese and onion omelette and hash browns you wanted that day.

That part was okay.  Plus I had my PS2 plugged into the hotel room’s TV and ruined Jak 3.

But there was also work.  And that work took place in a scarily small room clearly not designed to hold the amount of electronics that were in those four walls.  20 people in a 20x10 room, each with an Xbox, PS2, and PC.  In Southern California.  In July.  And we had to build our own fan.

Yes, we had one fan.  And it was pointed out of the room,  If Jesus was an electrician, he would have fainted if he saw this setup.

And if that wasn’t enough, we regularly showed up at work at 8 in the morning and didn’t leave until 2 the morning.  There is a concept of “Drop Dead Time” where you are given 8 hours plus travel time plus 30 minutes to clean the filth out of your various holes.  That whole concept went out the window at some point.

The Apex of this entire endeavor leads up to near the Publish Ready date.  QA gets paid per hour, and this final week, we worked One Hundred and Fifteen Hours.  Let me break that down quickly One standard human week equal 178 Hours.  Subtracting 8 hours for sleep, that equals one (1) hour of not working time.  You have to force a beer down to keep up with this schedule, let alone four to cleanse your mental palate.

And then the game was delayed another couple months, so I had that time to hone my skills in setting people on fire via my mind.


The Trenches - Love you brother, mean it.

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Love you brother, mean it.

I don’t work in the games industry, nor am I a ‘tester’.  However, my brother is an award winning developer of non-game software.  Why am I writing, because he showed the dev vs. tester problem.  He is the dev manager on software used by large customers to control a vital business process - which I will not name.  He liked to have events at his house that he invited both family and coworkers.  He and his co-workers liked to sit around and bitch about testers and joke about how much fun it was to fire them.  Big bullies.

One Monday, before one of those parties, my boss told me I needed to implement this new system, which was the software my brother writes. Small world.

The piece of shit was so buggy it was ridiculous.  The support staff of the vendor was crap because they couldn’t get anything fixed on their side.  Event rolls around and I overheard my brother and his coworkers joking about the testers they bully, mentioning this stupid idiot that listed a bug that didn’t exist.  It was the bug we were having problems with.

I walked up and opened with, ‘Hey motherfuckers, don’t you guys test? We are production down with that fucking bug.  If you listen to that tester, we wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in.  You’re all assholes that need to be fired.’

Love you brother, mean it.

Devs take it out on testers. Customers take it out on support.


The Trenches - Mobile Hell

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Mobile Hell

The worst two months of my life in the game industry were spent at a mobile development studio in their QA lab. This was prior to smart phones, so we tested on hundreds of ancient handsets, some with screens that were literally 1 inch by 1 inch. The testers, of which I was one, worked from 9 AM to 5 PM in a giant open room filled with folding tables. We spent every minute of every day hunched over awful, miniscule cell screens testing horribly ugly games with frustrating keypad controls.

The games and applications we tested were based on money-making restaurant franchises. One of our most important clients was a certain chain known for their large breasted waitresses and chicken wings. The games were mind-numbing and horrific; imagine hours of controlling a pixelated, big-breasted, scantily clad avatar in an inner tube down a waterslide. The lab walls were plastered with garish swag from our clients. And of course, we were QA contractors (the scum of the earth) so we had no benefits and no say in the actual quality of the games.

Luckily, the pay was decent unless you were a female (unlucky me), in which you inexplicably paid $3 less an hour. This would have been a great thing to bring up to HR, except the company felt there was no reason to have an HR department.

The worst part, though? We were constantly testing games that were ready to be shipped, approving them as good to go (after days of testing, regressions, and arguing with developers), and then watching them get shelved in the company’s perpetual outbox. The outbox was filled with titles that were ready to be shipped, but because sales made so little of the company’s money, the incentive to actually release and sell a product was nonexistent.

Years after I quit, the games we had approved to ship were still sitting there, waiting for a release that would never come.

Talk about a pointless job.


The Trenches - Small devs > large devs

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Small devs > large devs

I worked for a subcontractor of one of the major platforms. If games wanted to be published on the platform, it had to go through us. During this time I decided that, as a tester, I adored the smaller developers while loathing the big ones.

We would frequently send back failure reports. The vast majority of these were “technically” failures, in that they didn’t meet the requirement but we didn’t really care (such as slight misspelling of official terms). The smaller developers were much more likely to send the game back to us with ALL these tiny bugs fixed. Not only that, they’d send us reports specifically addressing each issue, saying if it was fixed or not, and even sometimes how they did it.

The large developers, on the other hand, were more likely to pay the platform to get exempted from requirements, even serious ones which others wouldn’t be allowed to publish. They’d resubmit their games with little documentation on what they changed.

Two guesses which type the testers preferred, and the first doesn’t count.


The Trenches - Would you like a bonus with your bonus?

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Would you like a bonus with your bonus?

While working on a rather large persistent world game as QA, one of the high-ups announced that the studio would be receiving a bonus for all expansions/dlcs/re-ups and the like in an all-hands team meeting, past ones being grandfathered in even. Every head in the studio that wasn’t in sick was there. Much to our surprise they also announced that contract members would also get the bonus, and it was a % of annual salary. There was much rejoicing!

For those of you who don’t know, QA isn’t paid very well but makes it up with OT and a loss of social life, and life in general. On average a lowly QA person might make 20k a year if s/he has experience and has been with a company for a while. Most devs, contract excepted, make on average 50k+. The bonus would be a few hundred bucks for QA and upwards of 3k for everyone else. This is just to put it into perspective.

So we all go back to our desks full of glee about the joyous occasion of a studio being nice to QA! But nary a quarter of an hour had passed before the same studio head mustered all of us again for another quick announcement. Lo and behold, the entire studio was gathered just to be told that QA would not be getting the bonus, and sorry for the confusion for all.

They all smiled. They went on their business like nothing was wrong. A few even made rather negative comments towards QA. All of us were fuming, seething pissed off. Our lead was frothing. A few weeks went by and we forgot, because we are used to it after all.

The studio head announced another meeting. In it they announced that because we had done so well in the past few weeks, they doubled the bonus. Now me being of a military background I am rather fond of unabashed, brazen action. So I walked out without word. Out of the meeting and out of the building while dropping my FOB card in the meeting room. Almost all of QA, including our leads followed suit. The ones that didn’t were unceremoniously fired because the studio head came to the conclusion that QA wasn’t needed as a department.

The game went on and released an online expansion we red-lighted several times. The problems that created were so bad that no amount of rollbacks fixed the issue. Within a month the game was taken offline and the studio closed.  I found out later that the studio revoked all of the bonuses to avoid bankruptcy.


The Trenches - Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Working QA/Customer Service for a doomed MMO, we were given strict instructions to not tell friends, loved ones or even coworkers our GM handles lest we be fired on the spot.

If we should happen to use the teleport command to go to a player we knew, we were to be fired on the spot.

If we ever went visible around players, we were to be fired on the spot.

Even indicating to the outside world that we were, in fact, GMs in the game was grounds for termination.

...And a few months later, we were all fired anyway because nobody was playing.


The Trenches - Guitar Hell-o

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Guitar Hell-o

Greeting fellow soldiers!

I had the most profound privilege of working on a certain plastic musical instrument title that had numerous spin-offs and sequels (you know the one).

I remember one Summer, a handful of us were “Drafted” to a special project where the game was going to release DLC for a music album the same day as the actual music album.

Because we were working with unreleased music, we were subjected to ridiculous security measures as the band in particular is notorious for being protective of their music.

The farcical security measures included:

- A mandatory use of headphones when listening to the title OR playing with the sound muted (on a music game) for 8 hours a day.

- The inability to talk about song tracks out loud. We had to alter the names of the song titles with brief snippets of the lyrics instead, even abbreviations of the tracks would garner “stern looks” from the leads.

- And of course, no removal storage devices or burned media of any kind could enter or leave the special rooms. To ensure this was done, a security guard was HIRED to scan us with a metal detector any time we left the room, including bathroom breaks.

Early on in the project, one of the security guards even told my friend to “leave his car keys, in his car” because they “keep setting off the metal detector”. To which my friend replied “Leave my car keys, in my car? ARE YOU F#%$ing SERIOUS!?”

My friend was reprimanded for cursing out the security guard (it might even have affected his impending promotion) and was removed from the ‘special’ project.

From that day on, the security guards let us keep our car keys with us however…

Victory for the little guys!


The Trenches - A Real Go Getter.

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A Real Go Getter.

I was hired on by a company that is famous for it sports games. I was excited because fresh out of school (a school that offered art & game design) I was able to get a job in the industry that I loved so much. I tackled my game testing position with great zeal.

I was finding many bugs and felt overall very productive.This went on for a few months. My superiors called me into the office one day “We like your enthusiasm and you have an excellent bug count, we would like to move you to another game to help finish up a title that needs some work before we launch in couple months.”. I thought to myself “cool my work here is appreciated”, so I agreed and in the next couple of days I moved to the new title and started my work with a new found excitement.

After a couple of weeks of testing the online portion of the game I had come to realize that 90% of the bug had been found and cataloged, even then I found some bugs and felt I was being helpful.

One day I get called into the office and was asked ” We noticed that your bug counts have been low lately would you care to elaborate?”, I responded ” Well I have found some bugs, but you brought me in late into this games cycle and obviously there won’t be as many bugs for me to find. I will try to crank up my bug count for for you.” Then my bosses said ” Keep up the good work, we like your enthusiasm.” and sent me on my way.

The next day I get called in again ” Your bug count is not up to our standards, I’m sorry we are going to have to let you go”.

One word of advice, beware of platitudes.


The Trenches - Aimed at no one in particular

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Aimed at no one in particular

Here’s a small tidbit of advice/a mercy plea: If you have an idea for a game, or opinions on how people SHOULD be doing things in the games industry, the people working at EB Games don’t care. Please don’tshare it with them.

Especially if you’re a crazy person who comes in every day and doesn’t stop talking until you run out of things to say, regardless of circumstance, and once followed me around the entirety of Walmart talking about how cool Beast from X-Men is without even noticing that I was acting distant and actively taking evasive maneuvers around corners that I had no reason to go around otherwise.

And double especially don’t somehow get a job at the HMV right nearby and act like you’re friends with me and start up reminiscing banter when I’m trying to browse through the games or books section so often that it gets to the point that I have to stake out the store by pretending to be on my phone just outside to check and make sure you’re not working because you make me uncomfortable and I like my personal space and forced small talk is by far my biggest pet peeve!


Also you smell like uncooked ham and I hate you!!!


The Trenches - The Workbug

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The Workbug

I was an intern at an Emergency Room when this happened; someone had collapsed and his friends/coworkers had brought him in. He came in with a bad infection, and the attending doctor recommended that he take it easy and tried to get him to stay at the hospital. It turned out that the patient was a QA tester for a video game company, though he didn’t write which one, only that he worked in QA. His coworkers had left almost immediately after bringing him in, and he refused to be hospitalized because he was sure he’d be fired if he was. We were forced to allow him to leave AMA.

He was back the next week, except this time he had to be hospitalized because his respiratory bug had progressed into full-on pneumonia. He was rather distraught, and the attending told him that he was confident the company wouldn’t be so heartless that they’d fire someone for taking sick leave.

The patient got a call three days later telling him he was fired.


The Trenches - Enforced unpaid vacation!

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Enforced unpaid vacation!

The life of a contract tester can be very hard, but there are a couple of blessings:

1) We may work very long hours, but states enforce (especially California, and ESPECIALLY after the EASpouse standard of living debacle) that hourly workers must get paid overtime during extended hours.  So while the initial hourly rate is low, the end of the week paycheck can actually get kinda comfortable.

2) Sure, permanently hired employees get benefits, bonuses, and paid vacation, but usually only a couple of weeks.  They’re discouraged from taking additional vacation in case someone should come along to interview better for their job.  Contract testers can count on around a <5% chance they’ll get hired at the end of the project, and then comes around three months of sweet, sweet free time cushioned by unemployment… until hiring season comes around again and they’re picked up by a new project.

I missed getting summer vacation after I graduated from school, but now that I’m a contract tester, I can count on those long periods of fallow time to recover and ready myself for the next harrowing run to a ship date.


The Trenches - Orders of magnitude

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Orders of magnitude

The stories posted here are mostly for testing games. Games that ship without testing or without addressing issues found in testing leads to buggy games. That is, I’m sure, very frustrating for the testers and the consumers. I am a different kind of tester, I test equipment being purchased by a government, one you may be familiar with. Instead of shelling out $50 of your own hard earned bucks for a game, the government shells out $50 million hard earned bucks of other people, people you also may be familiar with. But hey, governments need stuff, so at least they test it, right?

The problems start early. For my program, they never wrote proper requirements, so no one really knows what this thing is supposed to do. After working around the clock for month, testing the equipment in an inhospitable wasteland, I have to write a test report in a couple days to meet a deadline made up by some contract weenie that has never even read, much less written, an 80 page technical document. The system literally falls apart during test and doesn’t meet a number of critical requirements, all of which is detailed in the report. The vendor and program manager (the guy that decides whether or not buy the equipment) take turns complaining about how I conducted the test, how I came to my results, and how I wasn’t being fair. After I give up a lot of ground, the equipment still end up failing miserably. So, do they say “No, we aren’t buying this crap”? Of course not, the government tells the vendor to fix everything and come back in three
months. Back to testing for me…

They put on some fresh loctite, fix a handful of the most egregious bugs, throw on an extended warranty, and my wife gets some quality alone time. I brief another test report and the take away is “wow, they really improved”. Of course, when your baseline is, it doesn’t work, it barely works seems great, I guess.

The worst part is that I am actually the customer. It’s my damn taxes going to buy this crap. If you test My Little Pony Adventures and it crashes at every turn and they ship anyways, at least you are not legally forced to buy it after it ships.


The Trenches - We’re not all monsters

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We’re not all monsters

I’m a game developer working on AAA titles, and some of the stories I’ve read here are just plain sickening.

At my company, nobody slaps food out of the hands of testers when we have catered lunches. Nobody makes them fight tooth and nail for supplies for testing the game. Their opinions are actively solicited -
at the end of the day, the responsible developer is making the call, but I know for a fact that feedback is taken into account. Nobody has been locked in a closet to work. I’ve actually heard the executive producer say variations of the phrase, “There’s a special place in Hell for people who abuse QA testers.” Hours are long for QA, but they’re long for everybody in this industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that these things happen. We’ve all heard the stories and many of us have lived them. It’s also definitely true that QA is a rough job even when you’re not being actively denigrated. The hours are long, the pay isn’t good, it’s repetitive… really, it’s no more than a step or two above flipping burgers in terms of quality of life. And you know what? That sucks. It’s not hard to treat someone else like a human being.

I just wanted to point out that game devs aren’t all monsters.


The Trenches - Watch your Knees

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Watch your Knees

Imagine working QA with some of your best friends for a company that’s been your nostalgic wet dream since the late ‘80s.  Imagine that you get to work on amazing AAA titles that have franchise characters that
are world renown. Pretty good so far?

Well now, imagine watching others do that. While you are stuck inside of a windowless “cage”. Listening to people enjoy themselves while they test. Looking around you see the dismay of your fellow “cage folk” faces every time someone outside the cage says, “Oh man I can’t wait till this title gets released! It’s going to blow the minds of so many people! Who knew the franchise would come this far!”  How disheartening.

I was stuck inside of a “cage”, a wireless black hole that could not be penetrated by outside interference, testing a new piece of software for this franchise company. The software was to show demo games or video, or ads, or what ever the company wanted. Myself and a crack team of 10 others were stuck inside of this cage for weeks. The first 3 weeks were stuck waiting for the developers to get more content than a single 17 second clip. Imagine watching the same 17 second clip for 3 weeks. On an 8 hour shift. In the summer. With others playing AAA titles all around you. HATE YOURSELF YET?!

The only way to relieve ourselves of this mind-numbing boredom, depression, and anguish was to do what any good tester does. Stay awake.

How do we stay awake? By sneak-attack hitting each other in the kneecaps with the companies innovative controller.

That’s what testing does to you. You die inside. You die inside that cage. You lose your kneecaps. YOU END UP HATING SEA LIFE THANKS TO A 17 SECOND CLIP FOR THREE WEEKS.

It’s worth it though, once you get back on those AAA franchise titles. If you can stay sane through it all, it’s worth it.


The Trenches - Should have read that form more carefully.

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Should have read that form more carefully.

I spent a little over two years volunteering as a focus group tester for a very large gaming company. When you signed up with these guys they gave you an application with a little questionnaire asking what sorts of games you were interested in playtesting for them. My preferred style of gameplay involves as much gory viscera as possible, so I selected every genre where it was theoretically possible to murder a dude. Shooters, RTS, fighting games. You know, the fun stuff.

Pretty soon I got my first call to come in for a group. I was super excited. What kind of game would I get to see? Would it have guns? Swords? Epic space battles?

Nope. Turns out the only part of my application the company actually looked at was my gender. I happen to have a uterus, so I was put into a group with six or seven other young ladies and told to provide feedback on a new browser-based flash game about caring for virtual babies. It was the most vapid, idiotic pile of steaming horseshit I’ve ever had the displeasure of interacting with. For some reason the other girls were eating it up. They kept asking questions like ‘do we get to dress them up?’, ‘how do we feed them?’, ‘do they talk?’

After about twenty minutes listening to this inanity I decided to ask a few questions of my own. First, would it be possible to starve the babies? No, I was told, it would not be possible. The babies couldn’t die. Oh, then would it be possible to neglect the babies to the point of inducing a psychotic break? No, absolutely not. The babies cannot go insane. Well, would it be possible to somehow pit the babies against each other in gladiatorial combat? If I give my baby a sword, can he learn to dismember the flesh of his enemies? Is my baby large enough to wield a sub-machine gun? (The only answer I got to any of those was a horrified stare.)

About a month later I was called back to playtest another game. This time it was a tactical shooter. I broke their physics engine by filling a room with corpses. They never asked me to provide feedback about babies again.


The Trenches - Keep your head down, lest you lose it.

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Keep your head down, lest you lose it.

Game testing was my first job upon leaving college. Naturally, I was fresh-faced, and like most college students, was not truly prepared for the realities of a professional environment. I made mistakes and
suffered for them, but I also learned from them.

However, not every mistake I learned from was one of my own making. While I was working as an associate (contract) tester for a large company in the Pacific Northwest, there was another tester in the office working on another project that was the sort of guy that thrived on attention. He was loud (though not generally disruptive), was friendly to everyone, was excited to let people know when it was his birthday, that sort of thing.

Now, one of the core rules of the department was that if you were caught sleeping when you should be working, you’d be sent home. If it happened a second time, you’d be shown the door on a permanent basis. While it wasn’t too common, between the long hours, long commutes, and everything else going on in one’s personal life, it was bound to happen. And it happened to Mr. Exuberant. He was caught sleeping, and
sent home.

And then it happened a second time, which would have been sad except for the circumstances in which it happened. He was found sleeping while sitting on a toilet in the men’s room.

By the department manager.

The office was a lot quieter after that.


The Trenches - Local dialect

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Local dialect

A bit of jargon from Russian developers, to lighten the mood a bit:

“Batman” - a memory corruption bug. From: “The goddamned Batman flew in and shat into the memory!”.

“Speedy Gonzalez” - a race condition bug, when process is “too fast” in reaching a certain point of code.

“Mount becomes hungry” - a situation where some action produces bug in completely unrelated piece of code. From a bug report where player’s mount became hungry after player sold something in auction house.

“Samurai Code” (also “Tough Code”) - A true Samurai is not afraid of death, and so is this code. It never checks anything and will crash if you pass it a wrong combination of parameters.

“Guerrilla Code” - A guerrilla fighter tries to protect his comrades to the end. This code tries to cover up a serious mistake. It does not handle it correctly, but make it so you will only discover it much
later, in a different module, where all context already disappeared.

“Ninja Code” - A code added to a module owned by another programmer without notifying owner, which drastically changes module’s behavior. Bonus points for making it only execute in very special circumstances which will only come up a few weeks later.

“‘Retarded Child’ architectural pattern” - A sub-system which can’t report error and can’t correctly handle it (for example, I once worked with a database connection which didn’t have any way to access error code or description for a query, and didn’t log it, but just returned general ERROR status to you, so you could only discern nature of error by setting breakpoint inside that connection’s code, which was in another library)

“Epic game development” - A development process where a lot of important information (location of critical resources, build-in cheat codes, status of some sub-systems) never gets written down, but instead is passed by the word of mouth from developer to developer, like a folk tale. Most game development in Russia is Epic.


The Trenches - Which Do You Like Better?

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Which Do You Like Better?

I worked in standards testing for a couple of contracts. To those of you who don’t know, this is the last step before a game is released on a console; the title spends a week or so in testing by the platform owners’ QA dept before it gets wide release. Standards testing is not very in-depth but you get to test A LOT of different titles.

On my second contract, I was on a team with a New Kid who had only been there a couple weeks at that point. Our second week on a team together we had the following conversation:

New Kid: Which do you like better, LastWeeksCrappyTitle (a major sports title) or ThisWeeksCrappyTitle (a licensed racing title)?
Me: Neither.
NK: Really?
M: Really. I don’t care, testing is testing.
NK: C’mon, you gotta have a preference.
M: No, I really don’t.
NK: ...
M: But I guess I prefer TWCT because we’re getting overtime on it.

(And then OT was canceled and I was a sad panda.)

I think this highlights a difference I often see between seasoned testers and new testers. There’s no point in thinking about or even asking if you like a title or not - they all have to be tested.

When a hotly anticipated title comes in, experienced testers do still ask those assigned to it for their opinions. But we mostly ask “How is it?” or “What do you think?” rather than “Do you like it?” Because
even a good game is less enjoyable when you’re testing it, and if you’re enjoying the game too much, you probably aren’t doing a very good job of testing it. It’s also highly likely to be in a genre that you don’t like anyway, so even if it is the very best example of that genre, you’re still not going to like it.

So, no, New Kid, I don’t like it. And when you said “Do you like anything?” when I told you I didn’t like either one, the answer is, yes, I do like things. Just probably not the things that you like.


The Trenches - Is there a game here?

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Is there a game here?

I had worked nothing but fast food jobs, so I was really excited about the new job I had got.  It was advertised as “need DMs for new online game.”  This was the mid 90s, where text-based MUDs were still a majority of online gaming with AOL and CompuServe.

The job interview should have been my first notice that something was wrong.  They hired me despite “we’re not ready for DMs yet, but we want you to work in the game design group, we like your ideas.”  I was too buttered up by somebody wanting to hear my game design ideas to ask, “Why did you put out notices looking for DMs if your game is still in game design?”

What was the game?  That’s a good question.  It was definitely online.

It was 3D.  It was fantasy… most of the time.  It was a social community, but it was a standard RPG (killing things and leveling up).

It short, it was most anything it needed to be.

The next several months settled into a pattern.  The beginning of each week, the President of the company would tell us about the investors he had coming in later in the week.  They would have specific concerns.  Game design would answer those concerns.  At no point did it matter what had been said in previous weeks, or what our game actually did, our job was to answer those concerns.

One week the investor would be worried about a recent lawsuit where an online service was sued for losing player data.  Suddenly we had backup systems and EULAs to limit damages.
Next week the investor would have heard about online communities creating their own content and it was the big buzz.  Players could suddenly create the world, buildings, works of art, clothing.

And the very next week the investor would be worried about lawsuits about protecting minors from player created content.  Now we had a system where all content went through an approval process before anyone could see it.

After a couple months of my working there, we (the ‘game design’ team) were invited to see the game in action. Note this game had supposedly been worked on for at least a year before I was hired, and I had not seen even a screenshot yet. 

Drum roll.

Floating across a flat ‘landscape’, the player’s tank fired a shell at a square on the horizon, an enemy tank. 

An investor had decided there was too much competition in the online fantasy market; we were designing a futuristic tank combat game.

Later I found out even that was a lie, they had switched games because previous co-owners were suing for ownership of the ‘fantasy online game’ they had worked on.

The next month there were lawyers at the investor’s meeting.  They made the president of the company rip up all the checks that were being written.  Seems our company was no longer allowed to accept any more investment.  The company was literally put in a box, everyone was let go.

I spotted the former president of the company a year later.  He was still selling some game he was working on as being the best thing ever.  Somebody was still buying it.


The Trenches - Domino Effect

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Domino Effect

A number of years ago, I worked as a tester on a board game compilation for the a console. The publisher’s office was very small with only two permanent employees, the CEO and COO. Because it was such a small company, I was the person testing the game full-time in the office. The game’s developer was located across the Atlantic in Britain.

The board games in the compilation were a mixed bunch. Some were fairly complex, some were absurd in their simplicity, but testing proceeded as normal, and after I spent close to two months testing the game, it was submitted to the console maker’s certification department in the U.S. The game failed certification not because of crashes, or data corruption, or an inability to handle catastrophic errors of any sort. No, the reason was actually much more serious than that.

The game couldn’t play Dominoes correctly.

What none of us knew, not being particular Dominoes enthusiasts, is that the game has very different rule sets depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on. The developers, being British, had built the game using the British rules. As it turns out, the certification department we were dealing with had a Dominoes fiend on its staff that wasn’t having any of that and wouldn’t allow certification until the game was altered to use U.S. rules.

Which was fine. Except that the guy that had programmed Dominoes was on vacation when the game was kicked back at us.. Sigh.


The Trenches - Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving

As a UK development studio working with a US-based publisher, we were vaguely aware of Thanksgiving. To us, it was that Thursday in November where, for love nor money, you could not get an answer from anyone on the other end of the line. On the plus side, the steady stream of bug reports and feature requests also dried up, so we’d get a chance to catch up a bit.

One particular November, the publisher was leaning on us pretty heavily to get a console port done, and we were putting in some serious hours to work out the bugs. Thanksgiving arrives and the silence is deafening, as all Thanksgivings are, but at least we can get on with the work without international interruptions. Work continues pretty much around the clock throughout the weekend.

The following Monday afternoon, I’m busy uploading release candidate version #34 to the US test department when the producer walks in. I start telling him how I’m optimistic about this version and - touch wood - this could be it. He interrupts me:

“I wouldn’t bother sending that version. I just got off the phone to the publisher, and apparently they got release approval for version #32 last week. It’s gone out to stores. They forgot to tell us.”


The Trenches - Unenjoyment: A break from the trenches.

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Unenjoyment: A break from the trenches.

I have been in and out of the Trenches for about 12 years…...

I started as a QA Tester working on Dreamcast titles. After 18 months (we didn’t have yearly contracts back then), some inner QA conflict led to everyone having a “Two week break.” We never returned- only the leads and some top brass were saved.

I was pulled off the Trenches for 2 months..

My next tour of duty was for a First Party company, testing everything Sony, PSOne, PS2, PSP, PS3. I was in the trenches for about 8 years. I have seen some things no QA Soldier should see, a lot of section 8 testers; casualties of Crunch time, some let go for having NSFW content on the PC Screen. I have gotten to believe that all good things don’t last, and the trenches I had called home for 8 years was hit with a nuclear blast labelled “budget and consolidation.”

Only 8 out of the over 270 troops were saved, I went with the masses..

This stint of time away was short for some, as we had some troops make it out before the blast and send word about a company taking off making games for Facebook. Those that were not affected by the fallout jumped at the opportunity, some I never heard from again. I didn’t go immediately, and for a month instead spent the time with my wife and 3 kids, Christmas was…..peaceful, but the sounds of flaming producers, explosively bad builds and the late night camaraderie with the troops in the trenches had me itching to get back in.

The energy of the AAA Facebook gaming company was high, Things were blowing up around me and I was itching to get back into the thick of things. I lasted 7 months before I got a call from a manager friend of mine, wanting me to be a lead for another company doing Facebook games. I took the gig and learned how to command troops. This tour of duty lasted all of 14 months, while my other comrades continued to battle on without me.

I sit now, in the early afternoon, collecting what the others call “Unenjoyment!” working on a cup of coffee and reading the Tales from the Trenches. I often think about some of the young men and women who didn’t make it out in one piece and some, on the other hand, who survived the and landed in trenches of another make and model; Producers, AP’s and developers.

I could get a job in retail, maybe get a job in something people may refer to as “Rewarding” even. But it wouldn’t be QA and it wouldn’t satisfy the itch.


The Trenches - Baseball, the land of two thousand combinations.

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Baseball, the land of two thousand combinations.

I test for a fairly large publisher in California. A while back, we had a children’s baseball game in for testing. Since we had many larger projects at the time, I was the only one assigned to the game.

Near the end of the project’s test cycle, I was assigned the duty of testing team combinations and marking down results in a checklist.

This meant I had to test all teams (there were over forty) against each other, and each team on each field - of which there were around a dozen. This equated to roughly two thousand different combinations, of which I had to test each and every one.

For well over a week (of ten hour days) my entire shift was spent choosing a team, choosing an opposing team, and then playing a game of three innings to ensure it stayed stable. Remember that this was a child’s baseball game, so the gameplay was extremely simple. It got to the point where I could win games without even looking at the screen, just by memorizing the timing of button presses. By the time I was only a quarter of the way through the checklist, I started having horrific dreams about this game. Eventually I managed to finish all two thousand-something entries on the checklist, and I felt like a million bucks.

The next day we received a new build of the game, and I was asked to start the checklist over again.


The Trenches - Testing a non-game

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Testing a non-game

I was a linguistic QA tester for 2 years, testing localized versions of games from triple A to shovelware. Long hours, bad pay, but on the whole it was a blast.

There was this one project, though, that will take quite a lot of therapy to forget. Coming into the office in the morning, looking at the faces of the team, you’d know if it was back again and you’d be in for a long day.

It was one of those ‘take care of a cute small animal’ games, featuring a panda.  It started out with a big logo of a nature organization, but that disappeared after a few builds. Probably someone at the organization saw the product and decided wisely to drop it like a brick.

Apparently, you could make the panda do tricks, but you were lucky if after an hour of coaxing it, it would simply fall over.

I remember one of the bugs I wrote:
1) Start game
2) Bring panda to main location
3) Wait for [random thing] to happen, this might take up to 30 minutes.
4) There is a spelling error in the message that gets triggered.

When the developer asked for our feedback about the project, all we could say was: this is not a game.

I don’t think it ever got released.


The Trenches - Landing the dream job?

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Landing the dream job?

All my young life I had told my parents that I was one day going to make my living playing video games. Little did anyone know, one day would be quite sooner than expected.

My mom befriended a receptionist for a local games developer at a cub scout training camp who invited me to go and have a look at how they made games. I checked out their website to learn about the company before going in, and like many pre-2000 websites, it was a train-wreck with missing images and no recent content to speak of.

Visiting with the developers, artists, and planners to see the magic behind the making fulfilled all my boyhood dreams. At one point the CEO dropped by to see how I liked everything and I flippantly remarked how badly their website sucked. At 16, I had no commercial website experience, but I had made scads of my own sites and those were better than theirs by far. The CEO liked my work and a deal was struck, I came onboard to work under one of the designers building their website and worked on the testing crew playing games in my off website time.

At 16 years old, being a game tester made me a veritable rock star in the circles that I ran in. But after the website had been modernized and updated with current information (the one triple A title we had been testing out the door) there was a total wasteland of great games to test and the shine was off the apple.

Nothing will make you seek greener pastures quicker than spending an 8 hour shift playing a bowling game non-stop to make certain that there aren’t issues with music playback over a marathon gaming session.

The music for the game was under license so the publisher wouldn’t provide us with any permanent audio assets until the final stages of production. A helpful developer dropped in a 20 second loop from the circus classic “Entry of the Gladiators” (look it up) as a placeholder for the music so that we could test playback…

8 HOURS and turning the “music” off was NOT an option. Sufficeth to say, I didn’t stick with testing long, and I hate bowling games to this day. I don’t make my living testing games, but for two years or so in my young life, I lived the dream.


The Trenches - Next Gen Pants

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Next Gen Pants

While working on a title for a large publisher, we frequently had meetings with their “creative” producers to ensure the quality of our game’s appearance.  Most of these meetings resulted in overhauling the look of the game to be more in line with every other generic Gears of War clone type games, slowly bleeding the flavor out of what we’d been creating.

After spending roughly 3 months redesigning the main character 4 times (from concept, to full execution in 3D) we finally managed to get a design to stick with the upper management.  Everyone seemed happy and we’d moved on.  Then, during a production meeting there was a lull in the conversation and one of the producers started staring at the TV screen where our game was sitting idle, main character standing facing forward.  The following conversation is burned into my head:

Publisher:  “Hey, has anyone noticed his ass pockets are kinda big?”
Dev Team:  “No, they look fine to us.”
Publisher:  “They’re too big.  It doesn’t look right.  It’s too big. Big ass pockets are last gen, can you make them smaller?  How hard is that?  We need next gen pants.”

Dream job.


The Trenches - The inefficiency, she is fierce.

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The inefficiency, she is fierce.

The first time I tried out for a QA job was for a large publisher handling several different titles at once. The QA floor had different sections for each game, but rather than give each tester a computer, every tester had their own station (TV/console) and the PCs to enter bugs were centrally located in the middle of the floor. Note that there were five computers for around, say, fifty people to use.

When you found a bug, you had to:
a) Go stand in line to use the computers, because there were many games being tested and a whole lot of people writing bugs.
b) Log in.
c) Search the bug database for your game to make sure that the bug you’re about to enter hadn’t already been entered by someone else. God help you if you make a dupe! If your bug already exists in the database, go back to your station (and all that time at part A is wasted). If not:
d) Write up the bug as expected.
e) Print out the bug.
f) Log out.
g) Drop the printout in the QA lead’s inbox for review.

Many people saved themselves time by collecting several bugs before going over to the computers, which in turn made everyone else’s wait that much longer. Also, if two people from the same game happening to be entering bugs at the same time, you pretty much had to stop and compare notes to ensure one of you wasn’t about to dupe something the other was currently writing up.

After enduring of a week of this, we were told that they had purposefully brought in twice as many testers as there were open positions, and the half of us with the fewest bugs entered in the database were cut. Seven years and three jobs later, I still make it a point to flip off the building when I drive past it on the freeway.


The Trenches - We Were Here For Nothing

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We Were Here For Nothing

We were testing an MMORPG built on the engine of an existing MMORPG and had the usual experience of doing the same quests over and over again and submitting reports for the tiniest of things. We’d get build updates fairly regularly and never had anything out of the ordinary pop up, until one day the latest build made the game almost unplayable.

In the main “hub” area of the game, there was now an interface lag of over two seconds. Most people in QA were encountering this bug, and after many troubleshoots and acts of computer wizardry, the problem was traced to how the game interacted with the test machine video card drivers. On the next build, the issue remained. Same with the next build. When talking to the supervisor about it, we were told that the programmers were “aware of the issue”.

Still more builds, and still the issue remained. The only solution that seemed to work was to use much older video card drivers that, considering what it would do to many other games that a player might have, were not feasible for use. We brought it up to the supervisors again, and were told that the lag was “no longer considered to be a concern”.

The following week, the game went gold, and we were all let go. The manner in which we were let go was probably the worst part of working for this company; after being called in to a meeting in which we were told that the game would be going gold very soon, we discovered upon returning to our stations that we had all been given a letter where we were told that our network accounts were locked out and our biometric security keys deleted from the security system.

We were instructed in the letter to collect our personal belongings and report to the security office in the building and turn in our ID badges. Upon doing this, we were told that if anything was missing from our stations that we would be charged with theft, and if any physical or technological damage was done, we would be charged with destruction of property and vandalism. No handshakes, no thank yous, not even a wave out the door, just threats and suspicion.

Turns out not only did the game go gold and ship with that issue, but the same issue had begun to affect owners of the other graphics card maker’s hardware. In addition, the game that shared engines with the game we tested had also begun to show the exact same issue. The game suffered poor sales and bad reviews, and is considered by many players to be a disappointment and a failure.


The Trenches - The 7 steps of QA

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The 7 steps of QA

I’ve been working in this industry a little while, and have seen enough people go through these steps to be able to make note of them. Perhaps not everyone goes through all of these steps. Maybe they’re not as common as I think. I sure hope so.

1. You’re a goddamn VIDEO GAME tester! Holy shit! People are giving you money to play video games and it’s REAL money! Maybe you can even afford that new game system or computer upgrade or maybe you can even pay rent enough to move out of your parents basement.
2. Okay, this is sort of tedious. BUT HEY LOOK A BUG I FOUND A BUG. The older and wiser members of your team look on kindly and answer 109375937 questions about whether or not this or that is a bug and hey you found it first no one else can have it.
3. You’re really good at what you do, the best. You’ve climbed to the top of the energy drink swilling fast food consuming pile. It’s only a matter of time until you are promoted or given prizes for being so awesome. The newbs look at you with awe.
4. Time passes. That wave of excitement wears down. Your confidence that this is ever getting better is slowly being picked from your soul like vultures pick flesh from a desiccated corpse. Newbs ask you if this or that or this other thing is a bug. The people you asked are still there, if they haven’t gone on to more sensible jobs where they make you wear ties and slacks but where they get a real living wage for doing so.
5. You’re one of them now. They might make you a lead QA and not change your pay, but you’re reliable. You’re expected to stay longer than everyone else and clean up the really big messes and do the tasks no one else will do. They need you. You’re never going to move up in the company, you realize this now. You’re too important where you are.
6. Ennui.
7. This ends someday. Maybe you get fired, maybe you find another job somewhere else. Or maybe you’re professional QA and you become an immovable fixture, at least until your company gets bought up by an even bigger company who has no respect for the time, sweat and blood you’ve poured into this industry. Like an old cog in a machine, you are then replaced.

I’m sure there are other people with better experiences than this.

Somewhere.


The Trenches - At least he was wearing pants. Right?

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At least he was wearing pants. Right?

Testers are predominantly young and male, we all know this. Put a lot of them together and certain personal standards tend to get a bit lax. It is what it is. At a minimum, the many testers in our office at least managed to not wear shorts to work, even if it was over a hundred degrees outside.

Anyway, much to our surprise, one of the lead producers at the company called all the testers to the lunch room one afternoon. In my five years, it was the only time it’s ever happened.

He talked about how much pride we should have in our work, and how great it is to be doing it all together. He wistfully mentioned his days as a tester many years ago. Sleeping in his car, or working on Thanksgiving and having a makeshift meal with the crew. So many nice things to say.

Long story short, another tenant had complained about finding a tester washing his feet in the bathroom sink. Try and class it up, guys.


The Trenches - Best Patch Ever

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Best Patch Ever

I was working as a QA Tester at a large publisher a while back. During testing of a particular sports title, the team I was on was tasked with testing a patch coming out for the game after it had already gone live. The patch was suppose to address minor issues and online connectivity problems, no big deal.

So my team goes to test and see if the online issues have been resolved and begin hosting games with testers in another studio. After the first match, one of my fellow tester’s consoles started to act odd and upon examining it, it showed no saved data anymore or profiles. It was odd, but we decided to continue testing, he remade a profile, and connected to a person at the other studio then one of us here and so on.

Every person he connected to had the exact same issue he had, their console’s saved data and profile information was getting erased. He even transferred this issue to the other studio who spread it among themselves when instead of remaking profiles just swapped it out with one from another project. Soon the whole building was filled with Project Managers screaming for everyone to stop connecting, emails with subjects in full caps were coming in asking what we did. Somehow his console took the patch and turned it into a monster bug that devoured all of your data before moving to another console. No other console that didn’t connect with his ever had this problem. The bug was eventually fixed, but I’m still wary of patching on the first day now.


The Trenches - I am that Guy

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I am that Guy

I am the “truly insufferable co-worker” from this post:

http://trenchescomic.com/tales/post/you-are-not-your-fucking-bugcount

The title was Neverwinter Nights 2. The licensed property was Dungeons and Dragons.

The original poster’s portrayal of me is a little misguided: I never cared about my bug count.  I’ve been a D&D geek for sometime, and I owned all the books…and yes, even brought them to work. I’d been a weekly GM for years, and loved the Forgotten Realms universe and story.

However, I never cared about my bug count.  I didn’t care how many bugs I submitted.  All I cared about was how good a game we made.  I loved Dungeons and Dragons so much, I wanted the game to be perfect.

As a QA Tester, bugs were the only voice I had: I tried to use that voice to make the game better.

If the poster had ever talked to me, he’d have known how passionate about the game I was. If being passionate about Dungeons and Dragons is a crime, color me guilty and proud of it.

He only saw my bug count as a chore I inflicted…I saw them as the only way I could help him develop the game.


The Trenches - The Benefits of Seniority

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The Benefits of Seniority

Every studio handles QA differently, and with that comes a different handling of bug reporting.  Some places just need a general description, some places require screenshot, and some places will allow you to make the titles of your screenshot funny, like “splat_crater.jpg” or “no_more_burritos_for_this_NPC.jpg” or other silly stuff, so long as the intent is clear and the repro instructions are solid.

One company I worked for had a QA department reminiscent of Metropolis or 1984.  They’re earned a reputation for having great QA, so they were determined to hang onto it, and the way they did that was regimenting QA down to a set of machinery that merely required human cogs.  Every test case was exhaustively outlined, every activity set to a checklist, every step of the bug report regimented to the smallest detail.  Every single bug- more than twelve thousand during my time there- had screenshots in the format [First Initial][Last Name]_[Build Number]_[Bug Number]_01.jpg, with the occasional “02” or “03” when you needed a sequence to demonstrate something.  Deviation simply was not allowed, and would get you a reprimand for the smallest change.

Cue one bug I found while doing an environment run-through, just making sure all the trees were actually in the ground, puddles actually had water in them, et cetera. The pirate-infested beach was looking pretty good, until I noticed a gangplank going from the beach to thin air.  I get ready to screenshot the missing pirate ship when I notice an odd bit of color out of the corner of my eye.  I look up, and apparently the pirate ship had perfect X and Y coordinates, but the Z coordinate was off by a few hundred units of measurement, which meant that far above the water, a fully-crewed pirate ship at full sail floated in the sky.  I dutifully reported the bug, only to get a notice minutes later that my lead had added a file to the bug report, which was extraordinarily odd.  I pull the bug up and the Koopa Airship theme from Super Mario Brothers 3 begins playing, with a simple note from the lead reading “Sorry, I had to… :)”

If it had been one of the newer testers like myself their ass would have been canned on the spot, probably, but I don’t think the lead ever even heard a word about his creative addition besides a few chuckles. Benefits of having worked the Trenches longer than some of the actual devs had been at their jobs, I guess.


The Trenches - When people call it ‘a dream job’

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When people call it ‘a dream job’

I used to test games for a living.  When it comes up in conversation, people say “Oh my god, what a dream job!  What was it like?”  I respond with this:

What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?  Now imagine playing that game for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, for 6 months, in a language you don’t understand.  Also, parts of the game are broken and nobody believes you when you tell them; they instead respond to your claims like you’ve just slapped their child.  By the time you convince them that the game is legitimately broken, it’s too late to fix the game because it’s “Crunch time”, so you’re working 70 hour weeks but you’re probably going to be laid off when the game ships.

But, it’s better than a ‘real’ job!


The Trenches - Addiction starts… now.

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Addiction starts… now.

I joined a testing team for an MMO as it neared completion. It was crunch time, and I joined the already-large QA team with high hopes. I really liked the companies previous works, and this MMO was an exciting prospect.

They wanted me to play the game as if I were a normal player. Going through the game with a character, doing quests as I came to them, just like any normal person would do if they were playing the game for the first time and not purposefully looking for bugs.

The team that I was hired with also had to do so. We had a blast. The long work hours weren’t an issue. As we were literally getting payed to have fun in this MMO. We would party up together, run quests, and even stand around chatting occasionally in one of the games main towns (much to the dislike of the higher-ups) to save having to do so away from our desks.

It was here that the problem started, I was having too much fun. As the testing came to an end and we were no longer needed, I felt depressed, deprived. I had become addicted to the game. I occasionally sent e-mails to my ex-bosses asking if there was any chance i would be needed to do anything in the last month before release. Sadly there wasn’t. I had to wait like every customer for this game to be released.

It got released. I was first in line at midnight at my local Target.

My pre-order receipt clenched in hand.

I’ve been playing ever since.


The Trenches - And sometimes it’s the people you work with

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And sometimes it’s the people you work with

...and not the job itself.  I was working for a pretty large company on a compliance team on a game expansion.  The game involved complete character customization and it was pretty fun to try breaking save data or game data with different combinations.  However there was one guy on my team that would do the same thing….....for 9 hours a day.

He would sit and create a house with 3 people in it, make those characters either look like: X-Men, Vampires or Anime Characters.  He would then spend the remainder of the day trying to have a 3 way with these characters.  Sitting next to this person was a difficult job in itself, trying to test standards while a guy sits next to you breathing heavily and asking “Yo, how I get these bitches in bed with me, man?”

You stay classy guy ;)


The Trenches - Mighty Casey had it easy.

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Mighty Casey had it easy.

It was my first job in the game biz after graduating from an art college with a fancy video game degree. A big time publisher had two offices here, and I got to work for their console games division. My first assignment? Testing a baseball game on the PSP. That surely had to be fun, right? Right?

QA’ing a baseball game, never mind one on a portable console, is an exercise in mind-numbing tedium. Sure, some assignments were relatively simple and just involved mindless monotony. Testing every field with every grass pattern. There may have been a tertiary condition that involved time of day. I don’t remember and I don’t want to. There were around five grass patterns that I can remember. How many major league stadiums are there? The game might have had the minor league stadiums available, too.

Of course, none of this even came close to a certain task we had to do. The goal sounded simple at first- you have to take into account a few things to realize the torture that lied ahead. The objective? Hit a home run, aimed specifically at the top edge of the outfield wall between second and third base. It required a degree of precision that would make even Golgo 13 blush. Getting the ball to go right where you want it to go is next to impossible in a baseball game. Is a simple toss from Home Run Derby good enough to do it? Does leaning the control stick even WORK in home run derby? Do we have to tough this out in a real match and risk getting struck out as a result, forced to either restart the match to bat again or pitch our way to a new inning? Is the physics engine going to let us do what we want? Is a PSP even capable of this sort of precision guided batting?

Are we just the Random Number Generator’s playthings?

Ultimately, I was a little sad to see the game go gold and get shipped out. We went through so much together.


The Trenches - You People

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You People

One Saturday a friend invites me to tag along to a board game day she goes to. I walk into the house and immediately recognize one of my company’s programmers so I give him a friendly ‘Hello!’ He pretty much ignores me. Fine, whatever. Later in the afternoon he notices that the hoodie I’m wearing bears our company’s logo and aggressively demands of me “Where’d you get that?”

“Umm, I work there.”

He narrows his eyes and searches my face as if he’ll catch me in a lie. “Well, I don’t know you.”

I tell him my name and add, “We’re on the same project; I work in QA…” sure that will ring a bell.

“Oh!” He looks relieved, as if he’s solved some riddle. “I don’t bother getting to know any of you people.”

....

QA is just as vital to the game development process as the programmers, designers, and producers. I go out of my way to try and be polite and professional because my job is, essentially, to tell people that they fucked something up. I work the same hellacious hours at crunch time and do it for far less money and no benefits, might I add. All I ask in return is to be treated as an equal, as a coworker, not as if my department is nothing more than a nameless bunch of automatons.

As a note, most of the devs I’ve worked with are awesome but there’s a reason that the stereotype exists of the negitive Dev-QA relations.


The Trenches - Knowledge is dangerous

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Knowledge is dangerous

I did QA for a summer job one year for an independent testing firm. This was exceedingly different from doing it in a studio as far as I understood. There’s all the hard work and crunch-time and none of the light-hearted atmosphere during the better times. The schedule was fairly grueling but we were all gamers and with grim determination we kept going at it just for 10 bucks an hour and for making our industry better.

At least that was my thought until I worked on a reasonably big project. A licensed RTS. We were put on this project with only 30 bugs logged by the devteam. By the time it was over we logged several thousand, ranging from game-crashers to spelling errors. But my favorite one took the cake. If you pressed B it would instantly crash the game to the desktop.

Now that was interesting, I filed the bug, told my testing lead… But then I did a bit of digging in their files. I found out that the company had been cribbing their engine from another popular RTS from a few years before. Namely Warcraft 3. Pressing B would try to call up part of the engine code to open a building menu. This particular game didn’t have a building menu and so the engine would divide-by-zero and crash.

I added an addendum to my bug report saying “Bug most likely tied to engine issues”. Innocent enough, helpful even. But it showed them I knew too much. The next week we recieved a notice from the publisher that they cancelled our contract.

Ah well, knowledge is a dangerous thing.


The Trenches - Apologetics for a Discipline

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Apologetics for a Discipline

It’s been already said (c.f. “The Other Side of the Coin”) but I really want to echo: not everything is a screaming mess.  Some companies actually learn from their mistakes.  Some companies actually have their shit together.

I worked QA for a AAA-studio for 2 years, pushing out live events, patches, 2 expansion packs, and a new product launch.  Sure, mediocre management can make your life super uncomfortable.  Sure, there are occasional 60-, 70-, 80-hour work weeks as crunch times hit and devs get whipped into overdrive.  Sure, there is resistance when people can’t be arsed/don’t have the time to fix bugs that are unequivocally right-there-on-the-Goddamn-screen-don’t-you-SEE-it-read-the-repro-steps-for-Chrissake.

For some places, though, this isn’t the norm; extremes are just that—extremes, spikes in the graph that are normalized by a perfectly acceptable and even enjoyable working environment.

I’ve seen some crappy stuff, sure: sleeping bags under cubicle desks, people getting publicly chewed out for picking quality over quantity, vicious RIFs which hit QA first, etc.  I repeat: anomalies.

I don’t mean to belittle the horror stories.  This is a forum set up just for ‘em!  They are shitty, awful things!  I _do_, however, want to pipe up for the Average, for the folks with decently competent management and semblances of proper budget work and scheduling.  We exist!  We toil!  We go home before dark, mostly!

Ship it.


The Trenches - Streamlining

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Streamlining

I work at a medium-sized developer, and we’re currently on a project under amazing amounts of stress. We don’t have enough people, turnover is really high, and firefighting is an everyday activity - like any software producer, I’m sure.

Our Leads have been locked up in meetings literally every day. So much so that they can’t get any work done or, say, lead their team. It was so bad, that our weekly Thursday 30-minute check in with our lead engineer had been cancelled 8 times in a row.

With this in mind, management instituted “No-Meeting Thursday.” As its name implies, all Thursday meetings were to be cancelled, to allow teams some time to work with their Leads. This week, when our meeting on No-Meeting Thursday rolled around, our Lead told us that the policy was going to be a real boon to us, because we could now have our meeting on No-Meeting Thursday. So we did.

This week, unfortunately, we were not able to have our meeting with our lead on No-Meeting Thursday, because it had been superseded by another, more important meeting.


The Trenches - Making a ship date

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Making a ship date

I was on a PC game that was trying to ship worldwide before the end of a fiscal quarter.  For a large, publicly traded game company, getting a game to the retailers before the end of the quarter allowed them to book the sales in that quarter, hit their forecasts, and keep the stock price up.  As quarters got near the end, heroic efforts would be made to get a game out to the shelves.  At one point, I remember when we shipped the “speech pack” for a game weeks before the main game shipped…

Anyway, for this one game, we were in Final and fixing the last bugs that we were allowed to fix.  Every build had the chance for being “the one”, and every build was immediately burned and shipped to Europe so that the disk could be waiting at the manufacturer to be stamped out when the green light was given.  The boxes, the manuals, and the other data disks were ready to go, they were just waiting for that last, main install disk.

As the end got closer, merely shipping the game to Europe was not fast enough. We started having to drive to the airport and purchase counter-to-counter from Austin to the U.K. for the disk, which is pretty expensive.  But no expense was spared.  We did this for a couple of builds, with QA or Production running down to the airport every night.

We still couldn’t finish it.  Soon, counter-to-counter was going to be too slow.  Someone asked if there was anything faster…the only faster plane was the Concord.  We laughed.

The next day, the head of QA asked for volunteers to fly a build to Heathrow on the Concord.  This would be a one time flight, you could not leave the airport in London, and you had to take coach all of the way back.  But for one glorious trip, you could fly first class, faster than the speed of sound.  Needless to say, there were a lot of volunteers.  One lucky guy, who was not crucial to the testing, got to go.  Build in hand, he went to the airport.

That build had a killer bug.

So, the next day, another volunteer.  This guy came from a separate team, since we could not afford to lose expert testers. Again, build in hand, he went to the adventure of his young life.

That build made it.  Manufactured lighting fast when the green light was given, it shipped world wide, and made the quarter.  The stock remained fine.  The Concord trip became legend.

Ironic post script:  This title was a marketing SKU, the “Gold” version of a previously released title plus the mission disks and some new content.  But in the world of publicly traded companies, the end of the quarter it was important enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on Concord tickets to ensure that the dollars flowed.


The Trenches - Replacable

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Replacable

In the testing industry, one thing reigns supreme: You are replaceable.

There are many, many people out there that think that game testing is an amazing job.  The sort of job where you get to sit around and play games all day.  That’s not true at all.  Playing games will get you fired.  And every year, a new bunch of people graduate from high school that have this same thought in their head.  “Man, I’d LOVE to get paid to play games all day!”  This causes a huge pool of testers with a minimal amount of seats.

So what happens when a company has about 300 seats and 1,000 people banging on the door to get hired?  They start throwing testers at the wall and seeing what sticks.  I have seen entire teams get called into a conference room on Friday just to have them all walking out dejected… and replaced on Monday with an entirely new team.

The upside to this, however, is if a tester ever makes it to a position in a company above the standard tester, their position is a bit more secure (though not much), usually comes with some form of training, and it looks good on a resume.  Mainly because it means you know how to shower daily.


The Trenches - Days off

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Days off

When I started working QA, there was a movie-related title in development with an iconic main character that had everyone sneaking peeks and wishing they could be working on that project.  A few months later, the movie was almost out in theaters and the game was nowhere near completion.  Needless to say, this was not a good thing!  In order to accelerate development, they poured bodies into the seats and cranked up the working hours.

I was put on the “Next Gen” team, back when the Xbox 360 was brand-spanking new, and so we needed the most coverage to make sure it shined.  We ended up with two teams working alternating 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week.  At the end, we’d been working shifts of 3 weeks with 1 day off.

Needless to say, it was a relief to go on to the next project.  Many of us had made the transition from the movie-game to this new title, so we were battle-tested and there was a strong camaraderie among the team members.  We would talk about the hours we’d worked and the bugs we had found like veterans talk about firefights.  We also had our share of shell-shocked troops.

When the new project’s schedule was posted, a veteran from the “Current Gen” consoles had a question.  As it turned out, with twice as many systems to cover and half as many people, CG had been working 14-16 hours a day without a day off for several months.  Seeing that he had days marked “OFF”, he asked if that meant he only had to work 4 hours that day or 8 - the idea of having an entire day off never even occurred to him.

After I explained it to him, he stared at the schedule for maybe five minutes, as if he was trying to remember what it was to have a day off.  It was pretty spooky.


The Trenches - Shock And Awe

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Shock And Awe

I truly and honestly did not know what I was in for when I went from working QA on regular software to doing testing for the video games industry. I knew I’d be taking a hit to my pay: Regular QA work pays like a regular job, and on top of that it mostly has regular hours.

There is no “crunch” period to speak of.

And then I stumbled into a bugtesting job for a developer I won’t name, and to put it bluntly… Conditions were hell. Twelve to sixteen hours a day, most of those hours consisting of unpaid overtime, for the privilege of working sweatshop conditions while my coworkers and I hammered the unrefined bronze of the original source code into a workable tool, bug report by painstaking bug report.

It’s no lie to say that the only reason I didn’t quit on my first day was that I needed the money very badly. Much like a hostage comes to view his or her captors with a degree of respect and companionship, I began to think of the job as a way to keep me grounded, keep my spending in check, and keep me out of trouble.

How could I not focus on paying down my bills when I was too tired from testing to do anything but sleep and bolt down a quick meal before heading back in?

After my contract expired, I was fortunate enough to find a permanent QA position with a software company with reasonable, 40-hour work weeks. However every time I complete a game, to this day, I stand and silently salute the QA staff of every game I finish.

I’ve been where they were. I know just what it’s like to be in the trenches. And by God, if they have the fortitude to stay there, they’re far hardier individuals than I could ever claim to be.


The Trenches - What? You wanted to get paid??

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What? You wanted to get paid??

Years ago my buddy came across a posting on a bulletin board (an actual physical one) at BYU looking for game testers over the summer.

Since this is the dream of many a foolish college student we called the number and basically had a phone interview. We were told it was for a new startup company that had a contract with the big boy game companies to develop some titles. Since both of has less than zero experience testing games, this sounded perfectly reasonable so we readily accepted.

The work was in Salt Lake City so we made the drive up from Provo (about 45 minutes). When we arrived we SHOULD have had warning bells go off because the job site was in a warehouse with no signs of a real business anywhere in sight. There were about a dozen computers off to the side with a large wooden desk nearby where our boss sat.

We had none of the amenities that I’ve since heard other testers talk about: bottomless refrigerators, fun, a paycheck.

You see they told us that we started in the middle of the pay cycle so we wouldn’t get paid right away and it would be about 3 weeks before we got paid. Sucks but hey we were going to be playing video games all day right!? And play we did. We worked on 3 or 4 different titles, none ever seemed quite ready. Some of the stupidest, boring, mind numbingly inane games ever designed. And buggy. But we were in a “crunch” they said, so we worked 80+ hour weeks. Yay! Video games AND overtime!

And then came the day, about three weeks after we started, that we showed up and the doors were locked. When we went around to the side and peeked in the window the warehouse was completely empty. No desks, no crappy computers, no note, and certainly no money.


The Trenches - It’s called Rohypnol

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It’s called Rohypnol

Among my circle of friends, I’m known for openly enjoying Japanese visual novels and dating sims. I largely keep it on the DL, but from time to time it comes up.

Enter a friend who co-owns an indie development studio. The whole company consists of two programmers, an audio guy, and an artist. They mostly make flash games, and the one friend calls me in, asking me to do some focus testing on a dating sim they made that was nearing the end of cycle. I figured that it would be a good way to kill a weekend, said yes, and signed an NDA.

At this point I should mention that the stated goal of the project was “to create a dating sim/RPG that brings Western sensibilities to a Japanese genre”. All the girls in the game were 18+, there was no “harem ending,” and tentacle monsters were strictly forbidden. That sort of thing.

The game had an interesting mechanic where the player’s relationship with the various female characters were measured on two axes: How much they liked you and how much they were attracted to you. To get an ending with any single girl you had to have a high score in both these categories, but having a high attraction would still let you “score” mid-game.

There also existed a potion which would raise attraction with one girl but not how much they liked you. Between four people working on this game and who knows how many other volunteer playtesters like myself, nobody had managed to pick up that you can buy said potion that essentially lets you date rape female characters in the game, and you can use it even if they don’t like you.

After arguing about the ethics of the potion for half the weekend with the developers, I washed by hands of the situation. To my knowledge, the game hasn’t seen the light of day.


The Trenches - The Biggest Problem

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The Biggest Problem

I have this story secondhand, but it’s humorous enough to share regardless.

Back in the iron age of MMOs, there was a designer with a pet project: Guildhalls. These would be fortresses that provided benefits to the guild that controlled them as well as providing an additional PvP element: Rival guilds could “storm the castle” to claim it for their own. This required the permission of the defending guild, since griefers were everywhere.

The team likes the idea, but they don’t have the resources for it. So, this brave designer takes it upon himself to do all that alone. Yes, he pulls multiple all-nighters and nearly drives himself mad designing, coding, and testing an incredibly complex new feature.

Through herculean effort, he succeeds and the guildhalls go live. Our hero pats himself on the back for his accomplishment.

A month later, Guild A starts a riot on the game boards. Guild B has stolen their guildhall while everyone was offline! As the team does damage control on the boards, our hero flips out, convinced he’s going to get fired if he doesn’t find and squash the bug ASAP. He spends hours going through the code line by line, making and discarding multiple theories in the mad search for a bug that would undermine the whole system. How could this happen? He was sure everything was ironclad!

Finally, the case is solved by an e-mail from a member of Guild A:

“There’s no bug. I let Guild B in late last night so that they could take over the guildhall. Please don’t tell my guildmates.” Our hero breathes a sigh of relief. The team has a big laugh over it, then posts to the message boards that the guildhalls are working exactly as intended.

Back in the day, there was a saying about MMOs: “The biggest problems with the game are the ones playing alongside you.”


The Trenches - Rising Tension

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Rising Tension

As a developer I always valued the QA team and tried to show them my appreciation whenever our working days overlapped. I would stay late into the evening writing code, sorting out my strings, leaving in a daze. The next morning the Testers would come in at the crack of dawn and begin filing reports for all the bugs caused by my aforementioned dazed coding the night before.

I would then swan into work around 9.30-10.00am, yawning, and immediately head over to the testers. Every morning I would bring in a small box of doughnuts for them; I was in QA once myself and I wanted them to know that I appreciated their help.

As the project dragged on, our build started to collapse under its own weight. I began having to stay behind longer and longer, looking through an endless stream of bug reports and coding well into the night. Morning after morning I began to arrive at work looking more dishevelled, my mood growing foul whenever I saw the big stack of bug reports I had to work through. The doughnuts dried up, and the QA team began giving me weird looks if I ever passed them in the parking lot or in a corridor.

One night I was the last one left in the office (despite people working almost 24 hours at this point, the other people still around where elsewhere in the building). A tester had filed a bug report about a certain weapon reload sound not syncing up properly.

Attempting to rectify the issue was a nightmare, and I spontaneously grabbed a headset and let forth a blood-curdling “AAARRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”. When it’s 1am and you’re furious, you’re willing to take it out on anyone, and in my sleep-deprived state I blamed the QA team. I changed the code so that my scream would play instead of the weapon reload sound.

The next morning I skulked into work. I couldn’t even remember what I’d done the night before, I could barely think, getting from my house to my desk had become its own boring mindless routine. I could sense a different atmosphere as I entered the building though. People kept their distance as I walked to my cubicle. As I sat down the Project Lead came over to me, wanting to discuss a ‘private matter’.

The poor testers had rallied together and demanded that I be given a week of paid vacation. Always respect the soldiers in the trenches; they certainly saved me.


The Trenches - Getting Upstairs

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Getting Upstairs

When I was in college I used to work in a big studio’s QA department during summer breaks. The building we were in was situated where QA lived on the 3rd floor and all development and management were on the 4th and 5th floors.  As a result regular QA rarely ever met with or talked to the developers, and it felt very much like we were not part of the team.

This was the top shared concern among QA employees when the company was taking input on the designs for it’s new building.  We must have made an impression because the next summer we were moved to a cheap used warehouse down the street while the Dev teams got a new building built specifically for them. 

Go Team!


The Trenches - Getting Upstairs

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Getting Upstairs

When I was in college I used to work in a big studio’s QA department during summer breaks. The building we were in was situated where QA lived on the 3rd floor and all development and management were on the 4th and 5th floors.  As a result regular QA rarely ever met with or talked to the developers, and it felt very much like we were not part of the team.

This was the top shared concern among QA employees when the company was taking input on the designs for it’s new building.  We must have made an impression because the next summer we were moved to a cheap used warehouse down the street while the Dev teams got a new building built specifically for them. 

Go Team!


The Trenches - Yah, thanks for that.

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Yah, thanks for that.

I was hired for my first job in the video game industry yesterday - as a QA tester. I thought it would be the best job ever. I was so excited that I started google searching for tester related stuff, and found this site.

Then I read the tales archive. My favourite one was where the guy works 70 hours a week for no pay while surrounded by hostile co-workers, and then gets laid off when the game is done. I’d give you the title, but I can’t remember - I read the same story so many times they’ve sort of bled together.

I start my new job on Monday.

Shit.


The Trenches - Teehee

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Teehee

A little over four years ago, I was working in QA at a large publisher testing a music title of note. We were working 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday, and 7 AM to 4 PM on Saturday for about four months straight.

About a month into this overtime crunch, we got a build that implemented microphone input for the vocal sections (up till this point we had to use debug commands to automatically score 100%). I’m singing obnoxiously loud on a crowded floor where two testers share each cubicle when a lead comes up behind me and tells me through half-hidden chuckles to “shut the fuck up.”

Still singing, I pause the game to turn around, only to realize that the game is looping about one second of what I was singing into the mic when I paused it. Nodding to my lead, I turn around,  unpause the game, giggle, make a fart noise in the mic, and then immediately pause the game. Much to my excitement, the pause screen is looping the fart noise, creating an infinite fart.

The smile I had was one of pride as I watched the ensuing wave of laughter billow through the packed floor, leaving productivity utterly demolished, as if my fart noise was at first wind blowing through an open field, only to become a fart tornado of destruction.


The Trenches - Guaranteed Fail?

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Guaranteed Fail?

I was working on a short contract for a children-focused game that was coming out on most major consoles. One of the juggling acts the company has to… juggle when making a game across multiple platforms to make sure they finish at roughly the same time so they go on sale simultaneously. One thing preventing this are the hardware manufacturers who each have their own unique set of rules and regulations all games must adhere to before they will be approved: the dreaded TCRs.

Nintendo is historically a harsh master, with a reputation for having a very high standard before they’ll approve your game (remember the ‘Nintendo Seal of Quality’?). I was told at the time that Nintendo will always fail your first submission no matter how much care you take in respecting their TCRs; they’ll find something you missed, or find some other bugs and just fail you on those regardless of how bad they are.

So it made sense for us to prepare the Wii build a little earlier than the others, to test for and fix only the most glaring issues, and send that build in so we could get that first doomed submission over with and have some guaranteed time to fix everything else in the Wii version for the second submission roughly a month later.

Nintendo passed the game on first submission.

It was decided to not submit a second time.


The Trenches - The Final Countdown

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The Final Countdown

I used to work at a small gaming company that went through some pretty rough times and involved the never ending work late grind that seems all too common in the industry.

After a whole intense year of ‘just one more week’ till launch 60-80 hour weeks, we were finally treated to an office Christmas party.

Of the whole team, many people had worked very hard to improve a struggling, dismal company in the face of an extremely poor management team, headed by a really unpopular managing director.

In spite of this, everyone loved working together and we were really proud of the project.

At the Christmas party it was announced by management that they would be rewarding the employer of the year with a great prize.

Everyone gathers around the announcement from the CMO.

He announces that the winner is a great leader, showed amazing insight and added the most value to all departments of the company. He then proceeds to (no shit) play ‘The Final Countdown’ while announcing that the winner is the managing director (they even made a trophy, a t-shirt and a gift basket of prizes).

Needless to say, after that about 20 people in the business handed over their resignations, myself included.


The Trenches - Do everything, get nothing done.

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Do everything, get nothing done.

I was on a big name sports project. Everything was going well, and I steadily bumped my hours from 21 to 40 during my first 6 months.

I got more and more leadership roles, then one day nearing beta they announced a special demo mode for previous game owners, I had already had leadership in one area of the game, so they gave me leadership over the new demo mode as well! I had be in contact with QA in another state where the game was being developed while still being in charge of another part of the game. I’m a lowly contractor, but hey the job was kind of easy.

As we kept nearing beta, i eventually hit a week where I did not submit any bugs. I had been running back and forth giving new builds out, checking old bugs out to make sure they were fixed, and if not, I’d have to download a new build and check it on there, then submit a bug SPECIFIC for just that build if it was on there.

After a while I realized I was staying extremely busy but nothing was ACTUALLY getting done… So fast forward a few months, the beta’s done and getting ready to get certified. People are getting moved off the project and you know what us leads do? Play games, browse the net, and go around the building… me included.

Then I got moved to an extremely easy project. I love being in QA. It’s so good.


The Trenches - 100 Percent

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100 Percent

I once was tasked to a last minute helper job at a large media production house which produced (later all failed) flash based MMOG products.

Because of a fallout with an important contractor, every single media asset had to be checked by a human to visually match a printed catalog of assets. If we found a match, we had to move it to a different folder and copy a black and white checkered placeholder image for it with the same filename. It was mind numbing how large the asset count was.

After long shifts wading manually through a small forest’s worth of printouts, we were called into a room. After 9 days without much sleep we were told that we now had to check if the games will still run “somehow” without

those missing assets and if they are still “marketable.”

Every game we started, we only saw an ocean of black and white checkered patterns stacked each over. It turned out that this outsourcing company had made 100% of the assets.


The Trenches - An Alternate View

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An Alternate View

I’ve read all of the stories that have been posted here and I wanted to offer a contrasting perspective. I’ve had all sorts of jobs. In one, I sold homemade sodas at Renn Faires. I built stages for major concerts. I aided Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Finally, I was in civil service for several years. Just as I thought I’d finally found my niche, dull as it was, I got laid off in the state budget crisis. I was out of work for a year before a friend helped me get on at a testing center.

That was two years ago. I’m still here. During my first year, I completely fell in love with the industry. My love for games grew instead of being diminished. One of the games I tested won a 2011 VGA.

I go to work with a smile on my face and leave with one, too.

It’s not all grinding employee abuse, guys. Sometimes, testing is a fun, rewarding, satisfying job.