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Gamers and testers, Episode 1

career, testing, quality, and interview
The Emperor's New Groove, 2000

Recently I’ve had the idea to interview people that work or have worked in the video games industry as testers. Since a very young age I enjoy playing quite a few videogames and I consider myself to be a gamer, so why not?

This is the first of (what I hope) will be an ongoing series of posts where I ask an invited guest some usual and unusual questions focused a lot on what is or was the experience of being a videogames tester. I hope you enjoy it.

My guest today is Carl Ross, a Principal Lighting Artist at STUDIO GOBO, with published work in SIGGRAPH 2015, who recently worked on For Honor videogame.

Carl is, in his own words, “a game development veteran of eighteen years”, having worked across different departments, shipped around 12 different titles, and worked in different places of the world (like Australia, Sweden, and the UK). Carl loves his work and has been on the Art side of videogames for a long time, specializing in Lighting in games, but, he started out in the industry as a tester. Coincidently, Carl was a tester for a title I was very found of when I was youger, the videogame adaptation of the movie “The Emperor’s New Groove” (aka, “ENG”), the game being released around the end of the year 2000 and beginning of 2001.

I was in parallel researching about the game and it’s implementation when I reached out to Carl and he was nice enough to answer questions and share a bit about his story as a tester in the industry.

Can you give an overview of what was the process like?

This was a long time ago, I won’t be able to give very detailed or necessarily accurate answers. There wasn’t really an over arching company QA policy then. That came in after I moved to a junior art role.

No worries, how did you get a latest daily build to test, and did you test for the PS1 version of the game or PC?

From memory there was not a build every day. All builds were burnt to CD and tested on PS1 test kits. Build number was written on the disk so the tester knew which version we were testing.

PS1 Debug Kit, source Youtube

How did you keep track of bugs alongside other testers?

I think we used a database. Perhaps MS Access. I can’t really remember. I remember tracking of bugs and such varied wildly between teams. ENG was one of the better run teams and their QA was a bit more efficient.

This one is a curiosity of mine, I noticed that the game seems to be built on top of Croc2 game engine, I think, do you know if it was common to reuse a lot of “stuff” between games?

I don’t know with absolute certainty that ENG was based on Croc’s engine. It would certainly make sense to re use as much as possible. I can’t say for sure if this was the case though.

Are there any other experiences you can share? Like an interesting bug?

Sorry, I can’t remember specific bugs :)

What was it like to transition from a testing role to a more artist role?

My goal was always to become an artist. I graduated university with a fine art degree. The games industry was very different back then, less specialised and no specific training through university etc. I started doing work experience for a month straight after Uni. I taught myself 3D Studio Max, there were no junior artist vacancies so I asked if I could start as a tester. At that time, if you showed interest and aptitude those were the only prerequisites for getting a job. I worked in QA for a year whilst generating a 3D portfolio in my spare time. The company also supported me by allowing me to work on my folio one day a week during office hours. Eventually I was promoted out of QA into the art department. I left that company five years later as a senior artist with 8 published titles. None were particularly good, but it was great experience!

Did you take learnings with you from testing that somehow you still apply today?

(It was) my first full time professional role. It’s the foundation I built my career on really. I think it was good to start in QA because it allows you to get to know all systems of a game. However, I believe QA is much more specialised now and you may only get to test certain aspects of development. This is certainly true with larger teams. But back in the day it was more of a free for all.

Thank you Carl for the time you took to answer these questions, and thank you, the reader, also for your time. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.

Feel free to reach out to me with comments, ideas and suggestions via any of my social media, or my email, which you can find in my Github account. Until next time, take care!