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