16 mars, 2009

Ur en spelutvecklares dagbok 2

My name is Hugo Hirsh
and I am the QA Manager here at Starbreeze. I have been working in quality assurance for almost nine years now, and worked on hundreds of games during that time.

When I started working on Riddick a year ago, I was very surprised with the quality of the game, both from a visual perspective and from a gameplay stance too. It felt almost finished then, now it feels like a completely different game, and much better for it.

A typical day for me will start with looking over the new versions of the game that our machines make overnight. This saves us a lot of time, and allows us to launch straight into the latest code when we arrive. I’ll check that the three versions (PC, 360, and PS3) work then start making disc versions of them. Whilst the discs are burning, my team of highly trained robot-ninja QA and I will have a quick look over the nightly builds to check for any glaring errors (multiplayer menu missing, black screen on turning on the console, that kind of thing), then start the playthroughs.

After a year playing the same, slowly evolving game, playthroughs can become blindingly fast. Riddick is at least a ten hour game on the easiest difficulty setting for the latest of the two campaigns. The hardest difficulty would take about 15 hours. At one point we managed to complete the game in under an hour. Since then, more levels have been added, so now it takes us about three hours to complete the Dark Athena campaign.

Once playthroughs are completed and the discs being tested from, we move onto more detailed tasks such as acquiring every collectable in the game (well over 100 at the time of writing) and checking that reported bugs have been fixed. Every day at 4pm we turn the fun up to 11 with an hour-long multiplayer session. A chance for scores to be settled and generally a lot of smack to be talked.

This also gives us invaluable time balancing the weapons and tweaking the maps. If it’s not fun for us to play, why should we expect other people to have fun playing it? Then for the last hour of the day we are generally hunting bugs, trying to find useful reproduction steps for existing bugs or crashes.

I have had some of the most memorable experiences in my career playing Riddick. For a game that I usually spend eight hours a day playing, five days a week, I do not hate it. I don’t think I will ever hate it. Most other games I have worked on start to irk me through bad design choices or extremely poor quality overall after only a few days or weeks. Riddick has consistently outperformed my expectations.

A great example of this was early on in development. Placeholders were common, and if an achievement was earned, a note would appear on screen informing you. I was testing the main decks area, where Riddick controls a Ghost Drone. If you waited long enough, the Ghost Drone would eventually be able to access the area Riddick was controlling it from. In a "What happens if I..." moment, I snuck up behind Riddick and shot him in the head. A note appeared on the screen saying "Darwin Award?" and I was reloaded to the previous checkpoint. I had not laughed that hard since I came to Sweden.

Another memorable bug turned out to be nothing more than a single missing character in a text file somewhere. To solve it took taking an additional four QA guys repeatedly hammering the multiplayer for months on end over the summer. Crash after crash after crash, kilos of torn out hair and blood later it was finally resolved. QA can be very repetitive and mundane at times, but mostly it is rewarding and a joy to see the evolution of a game before your very eyes.

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