Archive:Testing 1, 2, 3

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  • Published: 02 October 1998
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part 11: Testing 1, 2, 3

It’s quiet at Oddworld. I hear keyboards tapping, but I don’t hear screaming or programmers tossing chairs. The game must be finished. How did we do it?

Well, everyone worked themselves to death, but that’s only half the fight. All the art, code, design, and sound in the world don’t do you any good if the game is buggy, obscure, or too difficult to control. The guys who make the games are sensitive to these issues, but as creators, we’re too close to our baby to be objective. We need impartial observers not only for the rote work of bug testing but also to offer their unbiased opinion about how we’re doing.

Since midsummer, Oddworld has employed a cadre of in-house bug testers. ‘There are officially eight testers: two permanent full-time testers, four temporary in-house testers, and two temporary out-of-house testers,’ says assistant producer Patrick K. Yoshida. All were local hires, and several hope their test job at Oddworld will grow into something more. ‘Some people discover after a summer testing job that maybe this is not the most glamorous job and seek employment at Burger King,’ says head test-meister Mark Simon. ‘Others realize that they can impact something that millions of crazed fans will flock to buy and turn the job into a trial run at a permanent position.’

‘Heck, you get paid for playing a game, you can’t beat it,’ says Yoshida, fully knowing that the job is anything but fun and games. Testers first have to find the bugs, then reproduce the conditions under which they occur, to give the team a fighting chance to fix them. Then, once bugs have been fixed, they have to verify that the problem has been solved… and that the solution hasn’t introduced some new problem.

Then there are the things that don’t fall under a simple job description: ‘The testers are also used as personal slaves by bug fixers to reproduce bugs and to play through the game because they know the game as a whole inside and out,’ says Simon, putting a friendly spin on things. (Personal slave? I’ll have to talk to Mark about getting my car washed.)

It is a demanding job. The department blasts through 60-odd CDs a week, testing the same things dozens of times, looking for the smallest defects. Attention to detail, good communication skills, and the ability to work long days are the basic requirements. ‘All game companies need testers,’ says Yoshida. ‘I personally think working your way up in a company is the way to go. You get to learn about the company.’

And once you have your foot in the door, there’s no limit to where you can go. ‘For myself, testing is a permanent position, but I aspire to steal anyone’s position above me,’ says Simon, at least semi-seriously. ‘How many design jobs are entry level? … None. Anyone reading this should pay attention. If they would like to do this one day they can—I did.’

NEXT: Paint—By The Numbers

— Paul O’Connor, Oddworld Inhabitants, 18 September 1998