Gaming for Work – 5 things they might not tell you at Uni…

A lack of blog posts is due to my new(ish) job – as a games tester for a well-known UK games company. The project we’re working on is scarily close to release so we’ve had 12 hour shifts, a huge load of test cases to work through plus making sure the game meets all the legal and ethical requirements (as well as the publisher’s requirements).

Obviously, I can’t say much about my job due to NDAs. But what I can do is comment a little on things I’ve experienced during my time here that I didn’t expect or wasn’t made aware of while I was studying Games Design at university.

1 – Making a game is a long long process. A long. Long. LONG. Process.
Sounds like I’m stating the obvious? Maybe I am. But making a game isn’t just about concepting it, pitching it, making it, selling it. Once a game passes certification, it is considered ready for release. But no build at this stage will be perfect; there will always be things that need tweaking or editing or just plain fixing. The work continues, and is often the more detailed and fiddly little jobs that are time consuming and downright frustrating. These all then need to be tested before they can be release as a title update (the things your console tells you it needs from time to time when you go to boot the game- they’re the little changes that have been made to the game assets to make the game better. We hope.)
That is, of course, if it passes certification. If it doesn’t, then fixes need to be made within a certain time frame to comply with regulations. Thankfully we didn’t experience that, but I can imagine all hell breaking loose in that scenario.

And then of course, there is Downloadable Content (or DLC). That’s another long process in itself.

2 – Even little changes can make a big problem
I work as a tester, so I get to see the game in all sorts of states that the final consumers never get to see. This is a very good thing- especially when you consider the amount of variable and intertwining controls there are in the background to any game. For everything you use/move/click on in a game, there are several/many/hundreds of elements affected. For developers, that means making small edits at a time to make sure one doesn’t mess up a whole load of the game.

Never has correct code been so vital as when a misplaced bracket or semi-colon can bring an entire game crashing to the ground as soon as it loads.

3 – Stuff that isn’t there isn’t always more of a problem than stuff that is
Games have thousands of elements- from the artwork and props you see on screen to the various sound effects and functionality points that you barely notice. Getting those thousands of elements in the right place and doing the right things at the right times is a nightmare; adding a new asset in adds a whole new range of variables to the situation that need to work with everything else that’s going on. It’s complicated, and hats off to the engineers and programmers and designers that make it happen.

However. When something that was previously working suddenly decides to stop, that is where the bigger problems lie. Often, that asset itself hasn’t changed- it’s something else that has been added in or taken away that somehow affects this little piece. Trying to narrow it down can be like finding a needle in a haystack, and can take lots of people a lot of time (I speak from experience here).
Simpler may not be pretty, but it can make everyone’s lives a whole lot easier.

4 – Overtime is to be expected, but not feared
Crunch time – this new build is needed and needed by the end of the week, fully tested and working. Today is Wednesday, and the build was dropped into the testing room just after lunch. There will be problems and they have to be reported, fixed and retested by Friday night.

Cue overtime. I’d been in the job two weeks and was told “We’re going on to overtime”. No problem! A few days of longer shifts was great. The week after, we were working 7 days a week- 12.5 hour shifts on weekdays and 8 hour shifts on weekend days. 76 hour weeks can be great for your bank balance, but not so much for your health and mental state. My longest stint was 16 days straight- one of the guys did about 26 days straight. It hurts, but if you can deal with it without it hurting you too much then it can be worth it.

5 – Don’t expect too much
Working on a game means looking at the same thing day in, day out, for months on end. Those with a short attention span might struggle. If, like me, you’re starting at the bottom and hoping to climb up, be warned- that’s a special case rather than the norm. The skills you learn are invaluable; but unless you use your non-work time as productively as your working time, there isn’t likely to be a shiny ladder for you to climb to the dizzying heights of game creator. You WILL get frustrated and tired and angry, and you WILL hate the game you work on after a period of time. It’s always great to see your name in the credits- but it seems that seeing the game on the shelves after so long of seeing it in various forms of disarray is not likely to cause you to dig our your wallet and buy the thing.

Hopefully this won’t have put people off wanting to get into the games industry; if you’re studying on a games-related course, you’re likely to be told (or know already) that it’s not an easy industry to get into at the level most people want to work at. It’s an ever-changing field with last-minute problems and changes meaning you can find yourself suddenly off work for a week or two, then back in full-time and with overtime looming for the couple of weeks after that.

It’s a challenging field to break into, stay in and keep up with. But for me (so far at least), it is worth it. If you’ve got the passion and the drive and the desire, you’re part way there already.

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~ by Tegan on October 14, 2011.

5 Responses to “Gaming for Work – 5 things they might not tell you at Uni…”

  1. Good Day,

    Pardon me for asking this, but you wouldn’t happen to be one of the creators for a Half-Life 2 modification by the name Chronogenix would you?

    I came across a trailer with your name attached:

    • Hi,

      Yes, I was a part of the team that created the Chronogenix mod. It was originally created for a university module fairly early on into our course- happy to say that everyone on the team has now progressed onto bigger and more professional things!

  2. I am sorry I would have responded sooner, but I didn’t click the Notify On New Comments option. What I did wish to ask if their would be a potential chance to obtain a copy of this modification?

    I did speak with the lead developer Chris Knight about it, but he had said he could not do so, because the Licensing belongs to the school in which the modification was created.

    I hope my request is not rude.

    • Unfortunately Chris is correct – because this was developed as a university project, it remains part of the university’s domain.

      Thank you for your interest in it, however!

  3. Thank You for your response! I did wish to check with you just in case there was a chance that I would be able to obtain it. At least I know I did everything I could possibly do.

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