I love it when a movie comes together

 The A Team Review

Out of the many constants in this world, nostalgia is one of the most predictable ones out there. As sure as night follows day, people will look back on things that occurred number of years ago with fondness. The current wave of nostalgic effort is directed at the eighties.          

Never ones to leave a trend unexploited, has mined the company archives to bring back franchises that had their heyday during that era (or maybe they just bought the DVDs). To date we have had the Transformers making a comeback along with GI Joe and this even unsuccessful stuff like Tron is getting a new coat of paint. The latest effort off this production line is a reboot of the popular television series, The A Team. A show which was so eighties in style and execution that watching it now is embarrassing, kinda like watching your parents dance at a wedding. (It also, if Wikipedia is to be believed the show also came with some eighties style sexism).

The A Team was so popular that just about everyone who has ever watched television is aware of the basic premise and this new version doesn’t change any of that. They are still on the run for a crime they didn’t commit although this time around they actually try to clear their names which is something the guys in the TV show never going round to doing. The setting has been updated which is a good thing as it allows the team to use the latest in technological gadgets which allows for some excellent set pieces.

There is nothing new here unless you have not seen the TV show before so instead the real question becomes how well the “new” guys slip into the parts. On the whole they pull it off well and the guys play the roles with gusto. The cast so effortlessly play their roles that it becomes hard to imagine the established cast members doing a better job. It is true that Quinton 'Rampage' does not have the same presence as BA did but to the film’s credit they don’t simply have him play a carbon copy. He has new motivations and some interesting dilemmas making him a far more believable character than BA was, who lets face it was a walking slogan machine at times (I pity the fool).

This is one area where the remake is a vast improvement. The original was a manly show, it didn’t have time for things like feelings or problems that could not be dealt without a machine gun. This film manages to portray the fact that although the A Team are complexly bad asses, there are human and have to go through emotional stress just like everyone else. This leads to some great acting as the leads try to grapple with some heavy dialogue in between action sequences.

As the film is a high budget remake of a low budget television series it would be silly to compare the two. The thing is that the yardstick this film will judged on will be if this film matches up to the ideal and the fond memories people have of watching the show way back when as opposed to the actually quality of the series (which was patchy to say the least). In my view it does recapture that feeling. There is a sense of fun and adventure and most of the movie does not take itself seriously. Yes there is an Indiana Jones “fridge” moment but it is played for laughs and it is done in such a way that you don’t stop to think the absurdness of it.  

This feels like this is the film that would have been made if the original producers got given a bunch of money to make a movie with the original cast back when the series was popular. This is how it should be.

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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Wappers Delight

 


I was just finishing testing on Project IGI when the call from above came. My next lead would be to testing a series of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) games that Eidos would be coming with out in a deal with Nokia. Now forget your iphone feature laden games of this day and age, these games were designed to playable on the Nokia handsets of 2001. Remember that phone Neo uses in the first Matrix movie? One of those. This meant a 95 by 64 resolution screen at best. These games were not going to have win any graphical awards.

But they were at the cutting edge of mobile technology at the time and the development teams went through a great deal of effect to make sure the atmosphere of the titles matched their PC counterparts. My job was (as always) to basically make sure they worked properly on a mobile phone and I did that using a Nokia emulator on my PC because I guess the budget didn’t stretch to real handset to use.

 The first publically announced WAP game was Gangsters, it was certainly ambitious with a large scale multiplayer aspect involving players attacking each other to take control of a city. Towards the end of testing I had to arrange a large scale beta test involving most of the company, which certainly lead to an interesting afternoon. The other game I worked on was a version of Thief which looked like a text based dungeon crawler with the commands entered one at a time. Sadly, for whatever reason these games never saw the light of day. The much rumoured Tomb Raider WAP game never even made it to test and the whole thing seemed to disappear in a hurry a few months after we testing the games.

 It was about this time the tomb raider movie was announced. This was a big budget blockbuster affair which had a lot of marketing weight behind it from . Eidos of course took full advantage of one of its biggest franchises going mainstream by doing… nothing. To this day I cannot believe that such a decision was taken. A tie in game would have sold extremely well and would have eased the financial problems Eidos were having at the time. Even it had been a rushed job consisting of stuff they had lying around it would still have been better than nothing.

During my time testing on the WAP front various members of the test department were being sent off to Spain for some off shore testing, sending people out to test at a external location is fairly rare due to the costs involved but it sometimes a necessity. Keen to spend some time in the sun, I started angling to get in on this action very soon after I was finished on the WAP stuff. My enquiries were rewarded when I was asked to go out there for the month of August. I was overjoyed at this news as spending a month in a hot country was considerably better than the rain.

Pyro Studios were a Spanish developer who at the time had only worked on one franchise. Commandos, an RTS lite game set in World War 2. It had proved to be such a surprise hit that a sequel was inevitable. It was for this sequel that people were being flown out to test. The reality of what was in store for me out in became apparent almost as soon as I paid off the cab from the airport. I, along with another tester had gone to the developer directly to get the keys to the flat we would be staying in. Once we were there we did indeed get the keys but were asked to stick around for a spot of testing. We finally arrived at the flat thirty six hours later after putting in a bit of overtime. It turns out that there was a deadline that needed to be met so everyone had to stick around. To their credit we did get a couple of days off afterwards as a reward but this wasn’t the best reintroduction into developer testing I could have had. We spent those days off doing the tourist things around .

The testing itself was very similar to the kind of stuff I was used to at Eidos. The only real difference was the fact that the programmers themselves were only five meters away. Not that I could ask them much, hardly any of them spoke English. The only one that could, a designer was assigned to be our liaison for the duration and his dismay at this turn of events was obvious.

It didn’t take long for us to get settled in. Testing so close to the developers reminded me of my days back at Bullfrog. was a pretty cool city to living in; the bars were open much later than their counterparts and the sun shone brightly every day we were there. We managed to find a kick ass Irish bar near the Santiago Bernabéu stadium (home place of ’s biggest football team, Real Madrid). The barmaids working there were mainly Irish students working there for summer and I think it is fair to say that my fellow testers and I got very friendly with them.
 
The flat we had was pretty spacious with a well equipped kitchen. One of the previous testers had brought along an old Playstation which we used to kill time in between working and having nights on the town. We were given a stipend to cover expenses but it wasn’t enough to be able to eat out everyday. We handled this chore by taking it in turns to head down to the local supermarket once a week.

One day we were asked to work on a Saturday, not being ones to turn down overtime we turned up. The payoff was the single most awesome thing I have ever had for lunch. They had ordered paella in for the crew and I thought it would be one of those plastic tub deals; instead it came in a large metal wok. There were scorch marks along the bottom making it clear that they had cooked the food in the wok, packaged it up and sent it out. I am a big fan of paella under normal circumstances but this was the best.

Whilst I was out there I had the opportunity to apply for a promotion. Just before we have left my manager had privately informed me that my two assistant managers had just quit to join Electronic Arts later that month. That gave him the perfect excuse to do a bit of reorganising which of course meant having to fill the several vacant positions that had opened up. I barely had time to get my CV ready so that I could apply for the assistant manager position as I had to catch a flight less than an hour later. I went for that particular job because I knew full well who would get the other jobs that were available, making an application for those roles pointless.

About a week into the Spanish assignment I got a phone call saying they considered me too inexperienced for the position but they wanted to consider me for one of the others. My heart sank at the news. Also going for that role was one of the manager’s old friends he himself had headhunted to join Eidos a few months earlier. I knew my chances were slim.

 Having to do a job interview over the phone is pretty annoying to say the least. Having to do one over the phone while in another country is terrible.   Despite this, it seemed to go well however and I was optimistic about my chances. The phone call came in a few days later saying that although I had interviewed extremely well (their words) the job was going to someone else. The job had gone to the old friend of the QA manager just as I had mysteriously predicted before the thing had even started.   It was this pretty blatant display of nepotism (among others) that made me realise that I had no chance of moving up at Eidos due to the fact that wasn’t a member of  the manager’s clique. As it turned out, almost all of the promotions handed out in the restructure went to his old buddies.
 
So it was in a bar in the centre of that I made the decision to leave Eidos. 

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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Testing a Hitman



 
IO interactive were an unknown outfit with little pedigree working on their first game out of when I was first made aware of them. Hitman was far from perfect but it was original and the gameplay was certainly engaging enough to see it through to the end. It was certainly successful enough for it to be their big break and it gave them enough momentum to turn the game into a successful franchise.

Normally as a lead I would pick my team from whoever was available but as I was a replacement that task had already been done by the previous lead. This wasn’t a problem as I had worked with them before and they were pretty good testers. The test plan however was more of a problem to write because the version of the game I had to help me write it didn’t even have half of the levels playable. I put the design document to good use in this one.

One of the big problems testing a game like this is that it is up to the player how to get through each level with many different routes available, this is great for the customer but pretty bad for the testers. There is always a nagging feeling that you missed something and you just know that somebody out there will MacGyver a solution that no one else would ever think of and crash the game. However we put a lot of effort into finding out each solution and I think we found them all. There were some things that we didn’t consider though, as I found out when one journalist informed me of a little bug he had found by doing something (way) off the beaten track.

The developers definitely worked hard to make this a success. There was one bug that was found fairly early on in testing that wasn’t fixed until much later when the developer arrived back in the office one evening after having gone home for the night saying “I won’t get much sleep till fix this”. They were very keen to put out a quality product and it certainly paid off in the end as it ended up being a very polished game. Hopefully the excellent start in quality has been maintained but I wouldn’t know as I haven’t played the series beyond Hitman 2.

A lesser known duty of being a lead tester was to handle certain promo duties. I was sent into a room which contained thousands of pounds worth of recording equipment and asked to play the game. It was being recorded to use in promos. So if you have ever watched any of the official gameplay videos of Hitman, that’s me playing. In what was becoming a trend in Eidos games of that era, Hitman also had some rather excellent menu music al la Deus Ex.

Once Hitman was out of the way it was time to move onto another project, there were no new games in the pipeline to lead test yet so I was assigned to one of the other games that were in test at the time, Sydney Olympics 2000. Tie in games tend to be painfully bad and although this one wasn’t terrible it didn’t really have anything going for it. Except for eight player multiplayer on the same console (which was a rarity back then) and the fact it appeared on every console known to man (the Game Boy version was fun). A few of us were interviewed during the making of this game for a documentary. They lasted about an hour but when we watched the final edit our entire set of interviews were condensed down into thirty second soundbites (but I guess that’s showbiz for you).

It was also about this time when I received my permanent contract. This turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax as the occasion wasn’t marked with a ceremony or anything just a quick meeting and a brief celebration. I had lost my fear of being let go by then so it wasn’t a huge deal by that point. Still it was nice to be recognised for my hard work and it gave me some job security.

The next game I got my teeth into while waiting for a lead was the underrated Project IGI. The IGI bit stood for “I’m going in” (not that anyone cared). The big selling point with it was a pseudo open world affair where the game world was mathematically calculated as opposed to mapped out by hand. This meant that the levels took place over hundreds of miles of various types of countryside. Well I say that but in reality all of the action took place within a two hundred metre radius of your starting position, completely negating all of that open world aspect that they had created. You could actually walk around for miles, indeed one of our test cases checked to see if you could walk in the same direction for hours. It soon turned out that you could but there was nothing out there for you to find thereby making it pointless. It was an enjoyable game nonetheless but with zero hype and infinitely better first person shooters coming out that year it fell out of the top ten pretty quick.

During the time Hitman was in test we had a guy who would patrol the office every day selling sandwiches to us hungry folk. This was incredibly convenient for us all and he did a roaring trade. However one day another seller appeared from a rival company. As the food was pretty much identical it was more or less the case that whoever arrived first sold the most. This lead to an amusing situation where the two sandwich sellers would come in earlier and earlier to try and beat the other. I believe it got to about 10am before someone stepped in and put a stop to it.

Hitman came out in November 2000. I felt great pride when it entered at number three in the sales charts. The only titles to beat it were Championship Manager: Season 00/01 and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, both Eidos games. Like I said; this was Eidos’s golden age.

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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Taking The Lead

 


Deus Ex was a masterpiece of its time and I am amazed at how well it still holds up today, the thing is that it was so under the radar that the only ones to know how good it was beforehand were the guys testing it. While we were raving about it, everyone else wasn’t paying it much attention. The press pretty much ignored it and even the Eidos marketing department didn’t really push it. The game’s success is largely due to the word of month that spread the week it was released. Something I am thankful for as it otherwise would have been a “cult classic”.

I did get to meet Warren Spector on the day of Deus Ex’s release, he was visiting the Eidos offices and he stopped by my area for a chat. He was extremely good natured and even shared a joke with me at Daikatana’s expense although he was saddened by the news that Eidos had just announced that the portion of Ion Storm (i.e. the Daikatana team) had been let go. His branch in survived the cut however and although they produced the ill received Deus Ex 2 they are now looking to make a come back with Deus Ex 3.

 As a quick note, swimming is not useless in Deus Ex at all. There are many shortcuts and hiding places that can only be reached with it. If memory serves me right you can even get an augmentation canister much earlier than land lubbers as well.

After the disappointment of Daikatana I was looking for a new team to join but I was getting worried that my six months contract was about to expire. Despite the fact that no one had shown even the slightest bit of dissatisfaction with my work I was getting worried. They had been pretty honest about the whole keeping you on a rolling monthly contract after the initial six months were done. While it was true we had a lot of turnover at the time the people were leaving of their own accord rather than being let go. Even so it was great relief when I was given another title to work on. This meant that they wanted me to stick around at least till it was done. The game was Hitman: codename 47 which was the first game made by the then completely unknown Danish outfit, Io Interactive.

Being assigned to Hitman also gave me a huge opportunity, one I grasped with both hands. The lead tester, Nick had announced his intention to leave a couple of weeks after I was assigned to the project. Being the only other person involved with it this put me in prime position to take over (muh ha ha). With that in mind I nervously emailed the producer to ask about the gig. He then blew a huge hole in my plans by announcing that too was leaving later that week. I politely waited a week before emailing the new producer, although I was half expecting him to leave the company as well. He was silent on the matter though, remaining so even after a follow up email was sent.

I decided it was time to be a bit more proactive and went up to see my boss to have a chat. As soon as I mentioned lead testing for Hitman he immediately offered me the position. I was taken aback but he explained that he had been looking for something for me to do for a while. Technically this was my first promotion in my working career.

Now that I had the lead I had work to do. I quickly found that lead testing is a whole different kettle of fish when compared to being a humble tester. You do a lot less actual testing for a start. Instead your time is filled with report writing and keeping the testers in line. Sometimes you can sneak in a bit of testing now and again but this only tends to happen towards the end of the testing phase when there is lot less micro managing to be done.

A lead tester is normally assigned before there is any actual code to test. This means writing a test plan from the design documents which can be either a laugh or nightmare depending on the developer. Pouring over the design docs does give you an excellent knowledge of the game which can come in useful when you get the playable code and you need to finalise the test plan. Once it is done you hand it out to your testers and assign them their roles. Progress is always slow to begin with as they will need to learn the game but within weeks they will be able to zip through the title at ninja speed (remember, these guys are playing the game for at least eight hours a day).

Once the test plan has all been completed and all of the sections checked off you then move onto “adhoc” testing phase, where the testers simply play the title in any manner they wish. This type of testing tends to find logical bugs such as “drinking a healing potion in the corner of this room causes your stats to triple” rather than any coding bugs which should (in theory) have been caught during the test plan phase. Previous bugs that were found and have now been fixed also need to be retested to ensure that they are fixed, you would be amazed at what developers try to get away with. This is called regression testing and as a lead you need to keep on top of this as there needs to be a balance between regression testing and spending time finding new bugs you need to maintain.
 
Towards the end of project playthroughs are started. These are to make sure that the game can be completed and that there are no nasty surprises waiting for the player from star to finish. At this point (again, in theory) there should be few new bugs found and most of the old bugs fixed. The pressure is on at this point as any new serious bug could potentially delay the shipping date. This makes the atmosphere very tense and it is not uncommon to see the lead tester and the producer locked in an argument over whether a bug is important or not.

On the last day of testing the QA manager asks you a very important question, is the game good enough for release? At this point you are an excellent position to know the answer to that question. Although in my opinion it is nothing more than a formality, I didn’t see any lead tester successfully argue against releasing in my whole time in the games industry.
 
So I had all this to look forward to while I lead tested the minefield that was Hitman: codename 47. 
 

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The Extra Tester - Activision, someone has to stand up for them

 


One the greatest challenges in our modern world is to become the master of whatever hill you happen to be climbing at the time. Of once you have accomplished this great feat you face a much bigger problem, suddenly becoming the bad guy.

 A few years ago Electronic Arts were the biggest publisher in the business. As a result everything they did angered somebody, somewhere. There was talk of boycotts (except for Spore of course, because boycotting a title you would actually play is just silly), people wrote to the NFL to complain about the exclusivity deal (remember that?). In short they were despised by gamers.

But then something changed, first Harmonix, the creator of the popular title, Guitar Hero jumped ship and released Rock Band, a title which became very popular despite containing many of the things that gamers supposedly hate (microtransactions, exclusive, lack of innovation). Secondly they lost their number one position to Activision.

This of course has meant that all of the rage that was directed at EA is now firmly pointed over at Activision. This is to be expected but I think that there have been two recent events that show that this whole thing has gone a bit too far.   They are the recent trouble at Infinity Ward and the myth that Activision’s handling of the Guitar Hero has destroyed the rhythm game market.

The “incident” over at Infinity Ward was a dream for all commentators everywhere. With the whole picture very cloudy it was easy to portray the story as “two plucky guys get backstabbed” and paint a picture of a corporation doing great evil. This seems a bit harsh to me as what little facts we know show there is a lot more to it than that.

There has been so much misinformation on this situation flying around so it is difficult to get a clear picture but it seems they were dismissed for breaches of contract and insubordination. At this stage it is difficult to say what exactly those breaches were but what we do comments from both camps point to at least one set of secret talks with another publisher and the fact that both guys have been very critical of the top brass working at their parent company (even going so far as calling Activision employees incompetent). These charges have not been denied by the two ex employees, they instead have decided to play up the fact that they are being picked on and “exploited”. Regardless I guess all of the facts will come out in late June when this thing goes to court.

 It is worth mentioning that these two people have a history of leaving a company as soon as things stop going their way, indeed they did it with Electronic Arts which is how they ended up working with Activision in the first place. After reading the various legal documents flying back and forth it seems that they were caught trying to do exactly that behind Activision’s back and paid the price. At this point I can’t see what Activision has done wrong in this whole thing. That kind of thing is serious enough to cause a person to leave no matter what job you do in any industry. What were they supposed to do? Turn a blind eye?

At this point I must draw a comparison to another company which found itself in a similar situation. Bungie was bored of working on their big franchise, Halo and wanted to move on. However unlike these two guys they sat down and chatted to their parent company and made a deal. This lead to Bungie making one more Halo title and then going off to do whatever it is that they want to do. This highlights what can happen when two disagreeing companies take the professional approach which has worked out well for both parties. Instead the guys over at Infinity Ward started grumbling to the press when they wanted out and did some things to try and get what they wanted. A tactic that clearly did not go according to plan.    

 My point is that when all of the facts are known (if they ever are) then I am sure that there will be plenty of blame to throw around and I doubt either side will exactly come out of this with any dignity. Clearly Activision handling of this whole thing has been less than stellar but to assign them all of the blame in a knee jerk fashion simply because they are a large corporation is a tad unfair.

The whole running a franchise into the ground thing is a particular bugbear of mine. It is particularly a business model for some publishers for one thing. But this whole Guitar Hero thing is another area where it becomes easier to simply blame one thing and be done with it. First of all I agree that the whole rhythm game genre has become worn out and a little stale. This is largely due to the fact that over the past three years twenty titles have been released across various formats. This has lead to a lot of criticism thrown at Activision because they have apparently run the whole into the ground. Again this is at best a lazy observation to make and at worst totally wrong.

 Here is a list of Guitar Hero titles that have come out in the last three years.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock       
Guitar Hero World Tour          
Guitar Hero 5  
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith           
Guitar Hero: Metallica             
Guitar Hero Smash Hits           
Guitar Hero: Van Halen           
Guitar Hero: On Tour 
Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades            
Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits 
Band Hero   

That is a lot and there is no doubt that this has had a negative effect on the market, however here is a list of what the competing franchise, Rock Band released in the same time period

Rock Band       
Rock Band 2    
The Beatles: Rock Band          
Green Day: Rock Band           
Lego Rock Band          
Rock Band Unplugged            
Rock Band     
Rock Band (iPhone)

Yep they released a whopping three less titles than Guitar Hero, a gap they will close by the end of the year once Rock Band 3 gets released and if the anticipated Jimi Hendrix Rock Band sees the light of day.

The point is that both franchises are at fault for this saturation, but it seems that only Activision is getting any heat for it. At least Guitar Hero 5 had some cool innovations such as being able to join a song mid way through. Activision have also come out and admitted that things have gone too far and scaled back their plans for 2010 onwards. Something that cannot be said of Harmonix who have been working talking to bands such as Pearl Jam, Queen and U2 among others to release further titles.

No one is saying that Activision is completely blameless in all things. In fact I am sure that have done some disagreeable things in the past (their handling of Brutal Legend comes to mind). But bear in mind that they are a company simply trying to do what they are supposed to do, make money. Simply because they are the biggest games company out there (for now) does not mean that they are to blame for everything that happens.

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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester -The Final Katana

 

FF8 has always been considered the red headed step child of the Final Fantasy series. I honestly cannot understand why as I really like the game, it probably is because it isn’t Final Fantasy 7, the massively successful game which single handily introduced North America to the concept of Japanese RPGs. Following this would have been a massive task for any game. I dunno, maybe they just didn’t like the colour of the box.

The Playstation version had already been released months earlier so this round of testing was to make sure it was looking good on windows. This involved playing through it several times, a lot of times actually. In fact I played it so many times I could play the thing blindfolded. Even now the sound of that battle victory music makes me shiver.

To test a game well you need a plan, one that makes sure you cover everything and also serve as a convenient get out of jail free card if a problem occurs. A test plan,(which is a checklist of things do and look at) servers this purpose. Most test plans are written specifically for the individual game by the lead tester before testing begins although there are some generic ones knocking around. Depending on the game and the lead tester it can range from “check all objects in the first room” to “Make sure the left chair has all four legs connected and can be picked up” in levels of detail.

The vast majority of test plans are split into sections depending on the game, e .g. for Thief 2 they were split into levels while for Championship Manager it was leagues. These section of the plan are handled by one tester. Primarily so they become an “expert” at that one area of the game. This makes sense but does make testing repetitive. All of those stories about testing the same part of a game for hours on end are mainly due to this practise.

There isn’t much to say about testing a game that was to all extensive purposes complete by the time you take a look at it. But sadly that isn’t true of the next game I was assigned to test was the exact opposite, Daikatana.

This game has reached a legendary status which is normally reserved for such gaming greats such as Halo, Mario and Sonic. The only thing is that this game remembered for being so bad that it took down a games studio. The game was actually pretty well hyped when it was first announced. John Romero was one of the few bankable gaming names at the time and his studio, Ion Storm was flush with cash and had hired some excellent talent. It all went sour quickly though I guess the tide of public opinion turned when John Romero started a misguided ad campaign to promote the game which including the infamous “John Romero make you his bitch” poster. Making fun of your demographic has never been a viable marketing strategy.

It was clear there was something wrong after a few months. The game kept getting put back and then they changed graphical engine midway through the project because it looked better. When it turned up at the Eidos office for testing however there was a lot of excitement. Just about everyone had a look at it and tried the multiplayer. The general consensus was that it was ok but nothing special and to be fair it was, as long as you didn’t play the singleplayer campaign.

The whole story of the development of Daikatana has been told so many times it is probably possible to do a second by second reconstruction of it so I don’t need to go into it here. Suffice to say, testing it was hard work with some builds being almost unplayable.

To this day I maintain that it would have been an average game if they had just took that stupid sidekick feature out, this alone was responsible for the more frustrating bugs. You needed to have both of your sidekicks with you in order to complete a level. The only thing was that it is a bit difficult to keep them around when they are constantly falling down pits or getting lost. The one thing I would like to say at this point is this, we knew.

We knew about every crash, every graphical glitch and even every clipping issue. The team at Eidos worked very hard in testing the game and they found a humongous amount of bugs. The programmers too worked hard to fix them but in the end they just ran out of time, ironic considering how much it had been delayed. My two assistant managers even bravely took a stand and tried to delay the release due to the sheer number of bugs we were finding. That fact alone shows how bad we thought the game to be. Ask yourself this; I played the whole game through literally twenty odd times. Do you really think I somehow missed all of the glaring issues present in the game? After release I would read on forums about how QA had messed up and how we didn’t do our jobs this kind of uninformed claptrap really hurt my feelings to put it mildly

On the same note, shortly before my time at Eidos they released a game based on the movie Braveheart.. Once it was released members of the public wasting no time in making their feelings known about the bugs present by phoning up Eidos and asking to speak to Clint, the lead tester (I assume they got his name from the credits). He would be subjected by a barrage of abuse as he had to deal with customers taking out their frustrations on a QA guy. This is the reason why reception won’t transfer your call to a tester at Eidos anymore.

Things were compounded by the fact that another game was just coming into test which was in many ways the opposite of Daikatana. Deus Ex didn’t have the burden of hype, in fact it was under the radar. It was also an excellent game. I can still remember when I first heard the iconic menu music, one of the testers had left it running and it was playing the attract mode as I was walking by. To my disappointment, I was never officially on the test team for Deus Ex although I did do a playthrough once. After the game was released we had a scare when a guy in America tried to sue Eidos over a compatibility issue. All eyes immediately turned to QA as usual but disaster was averted when our mastering engineer printing off his emails where he specially bought up the problem but was brushed off. I have no idea what happened to the lawsuit but I am reasonably certain that those emails saved heads from rolling 
 
NEXT WEEK: Taking the lead.
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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Eyedos?



Eidos started out as a humble movie software company in 1990. It started focusing on games a few years later when it merged with the Domark Group, a large games company who had made, among other titles Championship Manager. After several other mergers in the nineties Eidos were primarily a games publishing house, one of the largest in . Over time they developed a portfolio of game franchises to rival just about anybody.

Eidos were in good shape in late 1999 when I arrived for my first day. Tomb raider and Championship Manager 98/99 were riding high in the charts and although they had just released some low selling titles that year they were just a blips in an otherwise incredibly successful time for the company. Unfortunately the seeds of their eventual downfall were evident in hindsight but at the time things were great.

 After a brief tour I was lead to my desk in one of the testing rooms. The place was in many ways different to the working environment I was used to at Bullfrog. Natural light streamed in from the many windows. The place was bright and pretty roomy as opposed to the dark, cramped testing arrangements in . The fact I had a desk to call my own instead of a shared pc and a good chair if I was lucky really made me feel at home there.

 The Edios offices in London

 I was on a six month position at Eidos to begin with. Given my previous experience with these types of contracts it was no surprise that I was worried. These fears were quickly lessened when I learnt that the contract became a rolling monthly one automatically once it finished so it wasn’t like you were out after half a year, this made the job anything but temporary. When I then heard stories of people getting permanent positions once their six months were up I had confidence I was there for the long term.

 Once I was settled. I met the QA manager at the time, Tony. He said hi and welcomed me to Edios. He became pretty interested when he learnt I could speak Italian. They were short of Italian testers at that point and he offered me a place in localisation. I politely refused as I didn’t to go down that career route although I do wonder where I would have ended up if I had. We talked about Championship Manager for a bit and he wished me well. Tony left Eidos shortly after I joined to form his own company so I didn’t really get the chance to get to know him very well but he seemed nice enough.

 Later on I was introduced to the team I would be working with, Steve was the lead tester on Champ Man and Daryl was the assistant (this was pretty rare, normally the lead tester

works alone). Carl and Chris rounded off the core team, although many more testers would come and go over time. I met one such tester on the first day, Raphael who told me not to expect to see him often and then disappeared. Others were more career minded and had been working there for years, some of the people that I met on that first day are still there now.

 Steve came by my desk with a copy of Champ Man and asked me to take a look at it.   One of the first things he asked me was if I was able to work overtime that evening. Something I gladly agreed to.

 At Bullfrog we had shift work which eliminated the need for overtime but Eidos had a different approach with less testers working more hours. Overtime is something of a necessary evil in the gaming business. With tight deadlines looming over every project, overtime is often needed to ensure that the game is tested properly. I am not sure about the rest of the industry but for testers at least it is also a great way to increase their income. Things might be better now but in 1999 the pay for testers sucked. Sometimes taking on extra hours was the only way to make ends meet. Of course, it is easy for the situation to be exploited which has lead such instances as the “EA Spouse email” where the wife of a developer lifted the lid of the tough working conditions at an EA studio but on the whole it is an accepted part of industry.    

At Eidos we had two unwritten rules, no overtime on a Friday and that overtime was strictly voluntary. Surprisingly, these rules were followed no matter what was going on at the time in a refreshing display of common sense. I was very grateful for this fact as it allowed me to leave at five thirty when I had something better to do that evening. They would not have got many takers for overtime on Fridays as it was usually pub night anyway. Towards the end of a project when the pressure was on some testers would even work overnight although this was pretty rare, largely due to the costs involved.

The game itself was a yearly upd

ate of the great Championship Manager 3, some new leagues were added and there were some gameplay improvements but it was pretty much the same game. Testing a game that I had been a huge fan of was extremely satisfying. I loved the original Dungeon Keeper so doing a bit of work on its sequel was great but this was in a different league (no pun intended). Even better it was pretty bug free so I could just play the game, a fact which pleased me no end.

True to form I got my name in the credits once it was done. This was a massive deal to me as I had a ridiculous amount of friends who played this game. To show how far reaching this game was, during my career I was credited in loads of games but this is only the one that has ever been noticed by anybody.

Once Championship manager was finished the normal procedure was to wait and be assigned another title to work. Until then you were expected to help out testing of other games which were in test. In my case there wasn’t much overlap as I was assigned to test Final Fantasy 8 on the PC as my next project about a week later. 
 
Next Week: Find out about my (small) contribution to the final fantasy universe.
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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Joining Eidos

 

 
So my first job in the games industry had come to an end.. I didn’t have much ill feeling towards Bullfrog despite the way it had ended because being a temp I always had the nagging feeling that my job could end at any moment so it was not much of a surprise when it actually did. I was eager to get another job in gaming.

 
The main problem with finding another job was my location. As far as gaming was concerned, Bullfrog was the only choice in the town of . Lionhead, the only other games company based in the city were not hiring testers at the time, in fact they borrowing from the Bullfrog playbook and brought people in for 2 weeks to test the game unpaid. I did apply for such a position for the experience but was told that they were fully booked for the next year. No, in order to get another job I had to move, preferably to . 

Once my search criteria had been widened I started work on actually getting another job. To begin with I sent my CV to Bullfrog on the off chance but I got rejected, this didn’t exactly come as a shock but I felt that I had to at least try. Undaunted I carried on and it was while looking for vacancies on the web I found a link to a new website for a company that dealt with games recruitment.

 
Recruitment companies act as the middle man between the masses and the games company. For a fee they will advertise a vacancy and perform basic vetting of the applicants. Not all games companies use them but those that do find them useful, particularly as most people won’t have the time to deal with the massive amount of applications they will get for most jobs. Today there are quite a few respectable organisations specialising in games all over the world but in 1999 they were rare.

I had found the site looking at the THQ website, they had a sidebar on their jobs page saying something along the lines of “look at more of our vacancies here”. After a good look at the recruiting website I had found three that I was interested in, sent off my CV and thought no more about it. A couple of days later I found a message on my answer phone asking me to give the recruitment company a call. To give you an idea of how new the company was, it was the managing director who had called me.

 
I rang them back and an interview was arranged for the following week. At this point I had no idea who the company was. This infuriates me no end, I realise that there is nothing stopping you from applying to the place directly once you know their identity so they have to protect against that but it does nobody any favours when the job descriptions are so vague.   Thankfully this practise has gone out of fashion.

 
The day before the interview the agency sent me an email confirming the interview which finally revealed who it would be with, Eidos Interactive. I was familiar with Eidos thanks to the Championship Manager series I had played so much of through college. This raised my excitement levels by a few notches. Working on one of my favourite games was an immense opportunity for me. I marked my renewed enthusiasm by spending my spare time researching Eidos to prepare for the interview.

 
Thanks to a scheduling mishap I arrived at the Edios office in half an hour early. This was embarrassing but it did give me time to take in the surroundings. Which were very different to the business park I had spent the previous six months working in. At the front of the building there was a sign featuring the Eidos logo in amongst the other companies that also worked in the office block. Inside the place was well lit thanks to a huge skylight which took up most of the roof.

 
At interview time, I was met by Jean and Clint, two of the assistant QA managers at the time and after having a joke at my early arrival we got down to the interview. It lasted an impressive forty five and seemed to go well. The line of questioning was far more professional than my interview at Bullfrog with far more questions about my qualifications and previous work experience. They were very interested in my time testing Football Manager and what I learnt while testing it (I kept my views on the transfer system to myself this time round). After receiving the usual “we will get in touch” spiel at the end, I knew I had done well and just had to play the waiting game.

 
It took about a week for the recruitment agency to get back to me. The feedback was that I had interviewed very well and they wanted me back for a second interview. I hastily arranged one for the next day completely unsure of what to expect. 

It took about twenty minutes for Jean to come out and see me. This was explained by the fact that the recruitment agency has neglected to tell him of my appointment (bah) but he was nice enough to see me regardless. He took me to his office, which was actually a desk in a crowded room. Once we were seated he started to talk about the next version of Championship Manager and how a new team was being formed to test it. As he was talking I put two and two together and asked him if the fact that he was telling me this meant that I had the job. “Well…yeah” was his reply as if it was obvious. My relief at this was only tempered by the anger of the fact that the recruitment agency had neglected to tell me that useful nugget of information. Once we finished chatting he asked me when I could start and we agreed on the following Monday.

 
The first person I called was my brother, he was just a big a fan of Championship Manager as I was and was overjoyed that I would be testing it. The second people I called were my parents who were similarly ecstatic, probably more due to the fact that I had a proper job than the fact that it was in gaming. Things were looking up and I heading back to to celebrate my new job.   

 

NEXT WEEK: Eyedos?


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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Bullfrogs on Parade (part 3)

 


The mood of the place which was already a little bleak got worse after that Star Wars trip. The project was slipping and there was concern that there weren’t enough bugs being found. This put a lot pressure both on Darren and the testers. Another round of layoffs, this time of all the testers that worked on Dungeon Keeper 2 didn’t help morale. One by one the testers working on our game left, The three month contractors like Jake didn’t get their contacts renewed while the temps left for various reasons. To keep the numbers up, they were replaced by the permanent members of staff who had previously been working on Dungeon Keeper 2. I of course was a temp and like most temps I had zero job security but I was performing well and was hopeful of getting a contract of some kind. This seemed to be slow in forthcoming however and with hindsight it is clear that they were using this as a carrot to get me to do the job and not complain. Whether they had any intention of keeping me on after Football Manager was finished is debatable but given the fact that they tired this tactic on most of the testers it seems very unlikely..   

As the project was winding down I could see that there was a chance of being let go and as a pragmatic type I went to the hiring manager and explained to him that it would be foolish to let me go as I was the top performer testing wise for the game (true) and my perfect attendance/punctuality record (also true). This I thought was a reasonable argument to make but in doing I learnt a valuable lesson. People in the gaming industry can be petty. By questioning his authority I had marked myself as a target. This was made clear the following week when I was late one day. Now people came in late all the time with no comment but on this occasion I was sent into an office for a chewing out by both the hiring manager and the general manager. It was clear that my cards were marked. 

Another lesson I leant at the time was that the industry as a whole was very nepotistic. I will talk about nepotism in more detail later but I got my first taste of it here when we got a new manager in (The old one had left to join Peter Molyneux at Lionhead). This guy almost immediately hired a bunch of friends who came in and took all of the best computers and desks. The hiring manager (sorry I forget his name) also somehow managed to find employment for his girlfriend at a time when they were letting people go left right and centre I find this behaviour despicable and I wonder how gaming is supposed to attract the best talent when this kinda of thing is going on. 

By late August I was the only temp left at the place. Football Manager was pretty much finished and I was wondering which project I would be moving onto. Bullfrog was also moving to new offices in in a merge with the rest of Electronic Arts. Although the workplace has lost a lot of its shine over the previous couple of months I was still liking it and was keen to continue. There was also talk of getting some training which got me excited. But this wasn’t to be as I would soon find out.

I had asked for a day off and had it approved. However the day before Darren disavowed any knowledge of having grant the holiday when I reminded him. This meant I had to work that night and get a train to my destination at four in the morning. Why I put up with that I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t do so now.

The inevitable happen one day when I made a mistake in my testing early one morning.  It took a few hours but I was summoned to the hiring manager’s office. It turns out that the mistake I made was just the excuse he needed to inform me that Friday would be my last day. I was disappointed but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The hiring manager showed what he thought of me by escorting me out of the building at the end of the shift. I wouldn’t have minded but I had been invited to play a Rainbow Six multiplayer matchup. 

As an aside, I did get to see a copy of FA Premier League Football Manager 2000 in the shops a few months later. The open up the box and my joy at seeing my name in the credits was diminished at seeing that the permanent guys, who only worked on it for a couple of weeks, received higher billing that the temp guys who had spent months on it.   

So that was that. After seven months I was jobless. It was clear that I wanted games testing to be my career and my time at Bullfrog had taught me so much and had provided me with a platform to do so. It is a shame it ended on a sour note but I look upon it as if they had done me a favour. The move to would have meant a long commute and one I couldn’t really afford. I also doubt I would have been able to deal with the large amounts of internal politics which was present throughout the testing department. So in the end you could say I left at the right time. 

But it was with a heavy heart I left the Bullfrog offices for the last time in august 1999. I had no idea where I was going to end up but I knew what I wanted to do with my life. The previous seven months had been a unique experience and I wanted to continue it somehow. I knew that somewhere out there was a company willing to hire me I just had to find it.

 
NEXT WEEK: Eidos!
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The memoirs of a (ex) Tester - Bullfrogs on Parade (part 2)

 


 For the first week of testing the new guys were partnered up with a more experienced tester. My partner was Jake. He had worked on several Bullfrog games before and was starting a three month contract. To begin with, Jake showed me round the game we were going to be testing (FA Premier League Football Manager 2000). My first impressions of the game were not very good. I thought it was a poorly done ripoff of Championship Manager but it did grow on me after a while, especially after the 3d match engine was put in. This was something that new at the time and really helped set it apart, not that it helped sales much.

 Jake also taught me how to report a bug to the programmers which came in handy a couple of hours later when I found an issue with the game. This elated me a bit but unfortunately Jake brought me crashing down to earth by informing me that that bug had already been found. This particular version of the game had already been tested for several days previously and most of the bugs had been found. Wanting to impress, I took finding a new bug on as a challenge but was unable to find any until the next version showed up a few days later, upon which I really went to town on it.  

There were some interesting problems associated with working in a mansion in the middle of the surrey countryside. Such as where to get lunch. This dilemma was quickly solved when a delivery of several platters full of sandwiches turned up from the local pub. It was nice of Bullfrog to buy us lunch although they didn’t have a lot of choice seeing as there weren’t shops anywhere near the place. The other problem was what to do during lunch, well we had a bunch of football mad testers and access to some large flat gardens to run around in so the obvious thing to do in that situation, we played football.   

 About a month into the job Darren announced that the offices would be closed for a week as all of the permanent employees where going to for a bonding session. This not only meant not only we would not be getting any free food but we would also not be getting paid. This made for a hairy few weeks finance wise. It is a shame I didn’t get to go as this trip seems to have entered into gaming legend, with almost every EA employee I have spoken to who was there at the time has a story about it.  

 It didn’t take long for me to get used to the routine, every couple of days a new version of the game would show up and we would test it and both try to break it and see what they had fixed. I still disliked the game at that point but I the work itself was really enjoyable. I quickly saw that I had a knack for testing as I was finding loads of bugs (My game playing skills sucked though). My fellow testers were a laugh too, there was one guy who was an amateur footballer playing for Woking FC. He looked up the squad in game and was pretty annoyed when he saw that his stats were very low. He wanted to raise it as a bug but the lead tester nixed the idea.

 We moved back to the main Bullfrog offices about three months after I started as there was space available for us. To begin with we were put into a small room

 The Bullfrog offices in Guildford, Surrey, UK

crammed with machines with no windows, not that they would have helped. The windows were polarised so that no natural light could get through which made the place look dingy. Being in the main office building as opposed to the mansion also meant an end to the lunch time football sessions, although we did try to have a match in the car park one time, it didn’t work out.

 Along with the light levels, the move caused the working atmosphere to become a little darker. The first couple of days we were there were especially stressful as they started to cut guys who weren’t pulling their weight. We had no idea on the criteria they were using so as far as we were concerned everyone was at risk. I was extremely worried even though I was leading the bug found league table (the main yardstick they used). They also introduced a shift system with the first shift starting at seven in the morning while the late shift started at three to eleven. This was an unexpected turn of events but I was cool with it. Although working in the evening did impact my social life, the late shift did get a free pizza delivered so it wasn’t all bad. Getting in at seven was a little surreal as we were the only ones there.  

In July I got my first freebie. Freebies are a common part of the gaming industry and although they are usually meant for the media it is not usual for some stuff to be handed out to the people working on the game. Over the years I have been given a bunch of stuff ranging from the standard t shirts to goo in a plastic jar (don’t ask). This first freebie wasn’t an object but a trip. The powers that be had hiring the local cinema and were taking us to see Star Wars Episode One on release day. We were quite excited by this except for one tester who had flown over to to see it shortly after it was released in the (boy, do I feel sorry for that guy).

On the day we all walked into across into a local bar where we were fed breakfast and the management gave speeches going on about how great our games were and how proud they were of us. After the film I got interviewed by a local radio station about it as I was leaving the cinema, I said something about it it being good which raised a chuckle the next day when we heard it on the radio. The people on the late shift kinda got the short straw though as they then had to go back to work for another eight hours. I was on early shift that week so I was ok.

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