I believe that I have outlived the NDAs.
I am a former employee of THQ’s testing department. I was employed for a little less than a year, because their contracted time for Testers is 1 year max and then you are either fired and never rehired, or hired on as one of the strictly limited number of salaried employees. Not as good as it sounds because you are not paid for overtime.
I worked on Company of Heroes, which apparently was originally slated to be named Band of Brothers, but someone beat us to it. It was a game designed to exist as a Multiplayer game, and single player was an afterthought. I spent my first 5 months playing two levels of that game and nothing but. Levels that could be completed with your eyes closed, where you set some things in motion and wait for a count down timer. I had to intentionally lose the levels to see if they had proper losing conditions.
At the end of the testing cycle, we received free special edition copies of the finalized game in thanks for our hard work… from the Developers. THQ didn’t think we deserved a wrap celebration.
I worked on Titan Quest’s expansion pack. I had my mouse button held down all day, every day. My right hand felt like it was going to fall off after the first week, but my time on the game lasted far longer.
We were only meant to test the expanded area of the game, anything found wrong in the part originally shipped, those bugs didn’t matter. That might make it sound like it was less work, but in reality it meant we spent most of our time GETTING to the areas we had to test.
It was horribly aggravating because the Diablo 2 rip off missed the one thing that gave the Diablo series any longevity and appeal. Titan’s Quest did not have randomized maps. And so, I played that game a few hundred times, knowing where every monster and quest item was. No surprises, rare bugs because it was an established set of code and mostly stable.
Titan’s Quest was a dark point in my life.
During a testing cycle, my table cluster of testing comrades were put under the leadership of a person being “groomed” for more responsibilities. He was the most worthless leader one could imagine. His one and only idea for our team in the multiplayer we were testing was to do the exact same test the other table of guys were doing. He was frightened of leadership, had no originality, and didn’t know what power was for or how to use it. I can only imagine high octane hallucinogens or nepotism was involved in the decision to “groom” him. His worst feature though? The smell. Like a diseased mule.
I was put on Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. The most fun I had in the company, as I was a fan of the Tabletop edition. Dawn of War was the high point of my time, despite the hours.
It was on Dawn of War that I nailed my record work week. Eighty Four hours in one week. it would have been more, but management decided to send everyone home on Sunday morning to save on the double overtime. I worked so hard I forgot my apartment had a purpose other than “Food” and “Sleep.” On my rare day off, I stood in my apartment looking blankly at the four walls and wondering what I was suppose to do.
There’s no work! What am I suppose to do with this time I have? Wait, was there something called “leisure” once?
It would take hours for me to remember there were non-broken games in my apartment to play.
As a tester, I was sealed in a dark room with 200 other people. I was undervalued, under appreciated, and never trusted. The “real” employees objected to sharing the same lunch hour as us testers. The management decided that testing on holidays was as mandatory as Monday - Friday, and there would be no overtime in exchange for being deprived of our families and recreation.
All the people that worked with us, interacted with us, were wonderful and felt our pain. They were not management though. In my time at THQ the management were infected with infighting little childish stoats who misused precious projects and funding to undercut each other and felt Testing was a job anyone off the street could do well and treated us like disposable light bulbs. Left working all day, thrown out, and replaced constantly.
But I loved working for THQ. The people, the projects, my bosses, my co-workers. It was wonderful. I was making dreams take shape and ensuring that people could spend their precious days having fun.
While I will never be able to forget the bad times, what I will always remember are the good times.
Over the years since I was terminated, I have followed THQ’s successes and failures. It hurt when they released lackluster titles. I rejoiced when they had rousing successes. I was inspired when they finally got that guy from Naughty Dog to take over the Presidency, because I instinctively knew THQ was in trouble and felt that if anyone could save them it was him.
But my hope failed. THQ was too entrenched in the mistakes of the past that it could not reach daylight. When I read that article online about THQ’s final demise I couldn’t breathe. The finality of it made me feel like a friend of mine had just died.
It still hurts. Throbbing in the background when I dwell upon the fate of a company that gave dreams to so many people. A company that misused me horribly but let me make a difference in the lives of so many gamers, in the lives of so many dreamers.
A dream has died.
And I mourn its passing.