Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Stephen Justice and I have the privilege of being a QA tester on Jumpgate Evolution. This is the first project I’ve worked on here at NetDevil. My previous experience comes from working at a third-party testing studio where I had the chance to test on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii, DS, Gameboy Advance, PlayStation Portable and PC.
Before we begin, I feel the need to deal with a phrase that greatly irritates me as a tester. It’s that annoying phrase “paid-to-play”. I will state quite clearly that I do not spend my days playing, I spend them testing. The difference is if I’m playing a game then I’m playing through it as any other person would. When I’m testing I’ll play the game wrong. I’ll try to reach areas I shouldn’t be in, fly through walls, fall through floors, make textures vanish, cause physics to freak out, watch meshes collapse and (my personal favorite) cause the game to crash.
Testing Jumpgate Evolution is a fairly new experience for me as a tester. Sure I’ve done some closed and open betas on other MMOs and I do have experience with working on one other released MMO, but I’ve never felt like I had a direct impact on the development of those other games. With my previous testing experience , I rarely dealt directly with the dev team. Here, I have full access to the team (heck I sit next to Lance our new producer), so I’m able to give direct feedback about the bugs I do find. I get to see the new stuff as it goes into the game, so I’m able to diagnose new issues as they arrive. This makes it easier for the team to fix bugs since they’re generally able to know exactly what update caused the issue.
The biggest challenge I deal with is that Jumpgate Evolution is huge. MMOs can be a pain to test due to their go-anywhere nature and the vast amount of content in them. This means that there is so much to test it can be overwhelming and things can easily be changed from build to build. If someone doesn’t like how a mission works, it’s pretty easy to take it out and put in something new. Ships, weapons, add-ons, entire sectors can change pretty suddenly. This, of course, negates all the testing I did and I now get to start from scratch. Sure it’s frustrating, but I take it as a challenge. I will honestly do my best to break any new system that is put into the game. This isn’t done to delay development, but to make sure the game is stable.
For me personally, being a QA guy requires having a bit of a sadistic streak. You have to enjoy finding the mistakes of other people and then you have to have the heart to tell them about it. Sometimes it’s something that a person has been slaving on for months, and now I have the job of telling them it doesn’t work right and that they need to fix it. It can create a bit of a love-hate relationship but I do feel that if I do my job right, then the rest of the team will try to improve their performance, if only so they have to deal with me less often!
With regards to finding bugs this will always happen when you least expect it. For example after a long and strenuous space battle, I was docking at a near by space station to rearm. But instead of the normal rearming behavior I decided to take a chance and remove my missiles before rearming them. With the missiles removed I then clicked the rearming button only to find the missiles failed to rearm. At this point I thought I had found a simple rearming bug. So I re-equipped the missiles and found to my surprise and delight that they also remained in my inventory. Meaning I had successfully tracked down a notorious item-duping bug. Which evolved shortly after into a full fledged game crash.
That’s the way things go with this type of job. Some of the best bugs I find come out of nowhere. I just try different things and see what happens. Test cases and BVTs (Build Version Tests) are great for finding problems in the main gameplay areas, but it’s the stuff I find off the beaten path that are the most fun. The more complex a bug is, the more annoying it is since every bug needs to be verified, so you need to reproduce the bug multiple times.
Previously I’ve made the server crash by firing missiles and if you die while turning your ship in first-person mode, you will be spinning when you launch from the station. I've been able to pass the collision on any object by approaching it from a certain angle. I could place items for auction with a minimum bid amount in the duodecillion (1 followed by 39 zeros) range. Hit detection on turrets was off making them incredibly hard to hit and even some bosses have become invincible during encounters. Players would randomly end up moving at unrealistic speeds and even one of our in-space models ended up as a 3D teapot placeholder!
Bugs like these all need to be found. This is how the game improves. No game is perfect during the design phase. New code breaks old code, old meshes distort new meshes. These things happen. That’s why people like me exist. I’m able to catch these errors as they go in and prevent them accidently becoming permanent features. Once a bug is found and the problem diagnosed a fix is typically submitted pretty quickly. All of those “fun” bugs I mentioned have already been fixed and you’ll soon™ get your chance to test them out during Beta.
I do want to say this though, the game is fun! I know, I know, here’s the PR plug right? Seriously though, it actually struck me just the other week. I was going through the starter missions and I found myself having a good time. Sure I enjoyed the game before then, but this was the first time that I truly felt sucked into the game. The controls are smooth and responsive, dog fighting with the AI is fun yet challenging, PVP fights are sweet and just zipping around a sector is just fun. There is so much to see and I just love the look of the skyboxes, they were the first thing I noticed when I booted up the game for the first time. They truly are gorgeous; the art team has out done themselves on those. The game has come a long way and things are shaping up nicely. If you’ll excuse me the servers are stable now and it’s time for me to prove otherwise… remember it’s all about the polish!