This is a real shame, my thoughts go out to all those affected.
raiden2000's forum posts
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.
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.
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.
Ok, I wasn't going to respond to this but anyway.
I made the book primarily for friends & family to be able to get a copy and I thought that some of the people who read my bloq might want it too. It was naive of me to do this and I should have known better but I want to make it clear than it was never my intention to use Giantbomb as an advertising platform.
But whatever I started this bloq to tell people what it is like to work in the games industry and thats what I am gonna do. I won't mention the book here again. I can't do much about all those links though, they were setup by the website where I made the ebook.