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

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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.