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Vol. 2, Issue 7
December 23, 1999

Pad Happy:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Game Testing

by Nick Ferguson



Nick F tells it like it is to all you wannabe testers...

   had a slight problem coming up with a topic for this week’s column, as I haven’t played a console game for a few weeks now (believe it or not, this is supposed to be a column about the console scene). I could blame this bizarre and ungodly situation on a number of things, but a burgeoning number of Half-Life: Counterstrike sessions after hours at Creature Labs would be chief among them. Mmmm, Counterstrike... So in an attempt to come up with some alternative copy, I got to thinking about RadPipe’s Down The Pipe from a few weeks back (where he pondered working in games), and decided I might as well share my experience of getting my foot in the door of the games industry.

My job at Creature Labs is actually my second industry job – my first was as a tester at a major UK developer, which, I'm, sure, would prefer to remain nameless (that’s a big clue in itself). I got the job straight from university: I went for an interview during April, and was offered a job in the testing department a month before my finals, which was great but I cannot tell you how hard that made it to revise properly! So, after a number of months vacation to ponder my good fortune I was officially a games tester. Cool! I think the best way to explain the realities of testing would be to list a few of the commonly accepted “facts” about testing and then comment on their accuracy (or lack thereof). Yes, let’s do that...

“Testers play games all day”

One of the first things people will ask if you tell them you’re a games tester is “Wow! You mean you play video games all day long and get paid for it?” Admittedly the honest answer is “Yes”, but therein lies an assumption that “playing games all day” is actually fun. People outside the industry often fail to realise that testing is not really “playing” games as you and I would normally play them – my experience is that it’s more the sort of thing you might do when you’ve played a game to death and want to eke a few more hours worth of entertainment out of it (i.e. trying to climb the castle in Mario 64 without using the cannon). It is also important to remember that testers do not get to choose the games they test – for every lucky soul playtesting Perfect Dark or Shenmue, there are thousands of others lumbered with much less exciting fare during their 9-to-5 (in the spirit of Christmas, I won’t be mean and single out any game in particular).

One way to imagine “playtesting” is to think about a recent game you played – not one that was outstanding or excessively awful, just a game mediocre in its fun quotient and middle-of-the-road in terms of replay value. Now imagine playing that game for four or five months in a row, ten hours a day, every day. Not only that, but it is most likely your own testing schedule will focus on only two or three levels in that game (although eventually you will be expected to know the entire game inside-out). If you are still thinking “Hey, that’s OK, it’s still playing a game...” trust me - you are not in the correct mindset! Don’t get me wrong - testing could be quite a lot of fun, but at its core it involves mucho repetitive and painstakingly slow, methodical work.


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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Niick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so watch it - we know kung fu, gaijin.