I originally planned for my next blog entry to be about one of the many nightmares one can have when relocating to a new country, but I decided to keep that self-pitying post to another time (sorry, you won't avoid it!!). Instead, I felt I needed to acknowledge some pretty awesome people who all too often get no recognition from the player base, except for flames when things don't work out. And these folks are the QA Testers.
When the first video game studio opened in Montreal, having no experience I told myself if I could get a job as a QA Tester, it would be my way into the industry. But now that I am in the business, I can tell you that I'm not so sure I would have cut it. It takes a certain type of person to do a good job of it and a hell of a lot of passion and commitment. People often romanticize what a Tester's job is like. Yes, you're running around in a game all day, but you're not actually "playing". You are testing, trying all the crazy stuff players could do and event try to think about stuff no one in their right mind would deliberately do because you know that some way, somehow, some dude WILL do it.
Granted, some of the testing can be fun. I mean, who wouldn't want to be the first to try fighting this cool new monster or riding this cool new mount? But then take the case of the latest gardening additions. Started off with just the cocoa tree. No biggy right? But then I decided to add new plants. For each new plant, we're talking new seeds. Then I decided they would spawn at a certain rate on a certain number of monsters. Then I decided, you know what? lets add a few more seeds and a few more monsters and play around with the drop rate. Then oh wait, after a quick design meeting, taking player feedback into consideration, I make some more changes. Lets instead divide the seeds in smaller spawn groups and monsters in various groups also to make it less frustrating for players to hunt the seeds. By the time I've reached the final design QA has gone in and tested, retested and retested how many times?
Now keep in mind whenever we talk about drop rates, as a designer I provide QA with a chart of expected results. So guess what? They go in and kill every single designated monsters hundreds of times and draw up a chart of the results to see if they meet expectation. And that's how they found out certain seeds weren't spawning at all. Some were spawning on the wrong mobs, etc. And then they grow each plant making sure every label is right, the growth rate is appropriate, the grown plant meets requirements, and so on. And each time we change our minds, they start all over again.
And to thank them for their awesome work, I went ahead and designed something else for factions which needs some thorough testing on damage output. To give you an idea, imagine if I was talking about an explosion potion. Now it's straight forward enough right? Toss a pot and the total damage from the pot will be divided by the enemies within range. So QA comes along, create the pot, makes sure the pots can be used stack and unstacked, that it doesn't lose it's properties when unstacked, that it can properly be thrown, that it does the damage expected, that the bottle is then destroyed, etc. But then here comes the crappier part, he then needs to layout what the damage received was on various characters: with or without armor, under curses such as corpse skin, if the thrower has alchemy and the impact of the alchemy level, if the player uses potion enhance, and so on. And test under the various combinations of these factors and whatever else the designer didn't think about. Now we, the designers, look at the results and decide ok, is this overpowered or not? If yes, then we change the base damage and who gets to retest all over again? That's right...
I don't think I would have the patience and thoroughness for this. Personally, I think if I had just fully tested something such as the purple potions just to have it come right back a couple hours later for retesting, I would be banging my head on the walls. But our guys are so awesome. Never a complaint, quite the opposite. In fact, on a few occasions, I had one of them walk into my office to get a bit more info about something he was testing for me or pointing out some of the game mechanic issues which could be circumvented with a slight design adjustment. And some of those resulted in a lot more work for them and that was not an issue. It was all about trying to get things out as right as possible.
Truth is, QA Testers keep the Devs honest. They will not let us cut corners. I hate getting a bunch of DevTracks about bugs found, but I am grateful for QA catching my screw ups and often thinking for me about stuff that never would have crossed my mind. And you know, mistakes will still happen and things will manage slip by, but without QA we would be in serious trouble. So when I see people criticizing our QA, I'm like you guys don't know a good thing when you see it because our guys are awesome. (Yes, I'm sucking up right now because the next things I have in store for testing will be quite painful!)
But kidding aside, I just wanted to say to the UO QA team, much love and many thanks!