Tales from The Trenches Archive

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The first cracks.

I had only been a tester for a few months, so the shine was still in my eyes. The heart beating in my chest wasn’t yet a blackened thudding thing pumping coffee and cynicism. My skin had not yet gone London Level pale from the many hours confined in the testing bay colloquially referred to as “The Dungeon”.

Like Pandora’s box, I still had hope.

So it was to my joy and delight that I learned I was to be sent to test “on site” at an actual developer’s HQ several states away from the Publisher I actually worked at. I hadn’t yet learned that only a fool wanted these assignments.

For a while you often made a lot of extra cash, since food and accommodations were comped, and you put in as much overtime as the developers during crunch. You were also quickly forgotten when it came time for review. For all your inattentive manager knew, you might have been on call for the time you were gone. Even if HE was the one who sent you on the trip in the first place!

Soon I was sent on my first real business trip! So exciting! I even had a traveling buddy; another junior tester, though my senior in actual age. At first I wondered what could lead a 38 year-old to enter this profession. By the end of the trip I found out; really shitty divorce settlements.

When we arrived, it was quickly discovered that the developers didn’t know know what to do with us, who we were, or why we were there. But they did know to be on guard. We were quickly introduced to the FOUNDER and CEO of the studio, who expressed his confusion in as polite and fearful a manner as possible while my traveling buddy and I stared at each other in disbelief.

“Man, these developers must really respect the common tester!” I thought.

Alas, but no. It had just been poor communication. Hasty emails had been sent a week prior with crunch rearing its ugly head, and all they knew was that the publisher that had purchased them only a year or so prior was sending two of its number to the relative safety of their offices to ensure that they met their deadline.

When he learned that they had just been sent extra help rather than auditors, the tense smile on the FOUNDER and CEO of the studio broke into a relieved mask of pleasant superiority. He soon sent us to an underling and we soon never saw him again.

But before the underling got there and took me into my first foray into overtime hell (where I learned that there are in fact 36 hours in a working day, you just don’t see the extra 12 until your eyes bleed a specific mixture of despair and deprivation) an impromptu meeting occurred with other key members of the senior staff barging into the FOUNDER and CEO’s office.

Once it was explained that we were testers not spies, my traveling companion and I were quickly ignored as the dev-team’s staff complained about the early reviews coming out for the PC version of the game we were all working on. The total anonymity of my status allowed me to see a side of a development team I thought impossible before.

They were hurt that a publication they had invited to preview the game early had the gall to call their game “run of the mill”, and “mediocre”, which surprised me as I didn’t realize developers took these reviews so personally. It made sense though, this was a project these folks had spent years of their lives making getting torn to shreds in the few minutes it took to write a few paragraphs. Which is probably why they acted like petulant children, promising revenge by vowing to never give an exclusive to these folks ever again.

But more importantly, they proved to be either severely lacking in taste or delusional. Because the fact of the matter was, the review was right.

Perhaps because I was new to the industry, I still retained some semblance of what made a game good, and the game I had been playing over the last few months, the game I had been sent so far to work on, could easily be called “mediocre”, if you were being nice about it.
The more commonly used words were"garbage”,”****-pile” and several combinations therein, as it was one of the most rehashed concepts ever done in as generic a method possible. It reinvented no wheels, had nothing to say, and its “plot twist”, as ineffectual as it ended up, was touted on the back of the damn box.

It was the day I learned directly that developers are only human, and were all too capable of losing their objectivity. That spending two years struggling just to get a game out the door under grueling conditions made you forget that perhaps you should occasionally keep a few villagers on hand to tell you that you’re naked.

It was the day I learned HOW bad games get made even when the people making them are all otherwise fine, talented folks.

It was the day that the first cracks appeared in my sense of hope.

It took about a year before it crumbled entirely, but then, I was always an optimist.