Friday, December 30, 2005

Year End Roundup: Life In San Andreas


The game was already notorious when, earlier this year, furor erupted over the audacity of developers that would dare to insert hackable sexual content in an ultraviolent M-rated game.

News stories on the series inevitably discuss the merits of propositioning virtual hookers, driving them to a secluded spot for some low-budget shenanigans of the this-car-is-a-rockin variety and then, when the deed is complete, killing said hookers and regaining the money spent. As if that were the core of the game.

If I were to take the same tack toward discussing, say, The Godfather, I would be continually horrified that the movie seemed to concentrate solely on beheading horses. Please, somebody think of the children.


The story of CJ is more than a thin plot wrapped around varying mission types. It filters much of the turbulent 1990s in California through a cynical and satirical lens. Thus we have the corrupt Officers Tenpenny and Pulaski, members of CRASH, the anti-gang task force.

CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) was a real task force in LA. It fell apart amid allegations of wide-ranging misconduct -- falsifying arrests, beating suspects, drinking on the job -- brought up by Officer Rafael Perez, who admitted to personally stealing more than a million dollars worth of cocaine from the evidence locker.

By some accounts it was nothing more than a taxpayer-funded gang in charge of other gangs.

The Tenpenny thread feeds into a much larger plot. Through those missions we get a simplified glimpse into how drugs were introduced into major cities so thoroughly. The cops broker deals with disparate criminal elements possessing different means -- production, shipping, distribution. In return for some measure of protection against prosecution, the criminals give kickbacks to the police, who maintain enough control over the gangs to justify the task force's existence.

The CRASH missions run throughout the entire game, but reach their symbolic peak with the introduction of Toreno.

The character of Toreno is the embodiment of the corrupt government that was exposed during the Iran-Contra Affair of the '80s and continued through the 90s as we trained Osama Bin Laden, funded more "freedom fighters" in South and Central America and armed the Middle East.

Toreno is similar to the CRASH Officers in that he sees himself as keeping a sort of balance by pitting different sets of bad guys against each other -- only for Toreno the bad guys are other governments.

He is the sort of man who would happily sell weapons to Iran and Iraq, confident that such action would keep war confined to that part of the world. And confident, too, that such actions would have no future repercussions. This is more than a "the ends justifies the means" worldview. It sees the present as the only worthwhile place to evaluate -- the past is mere backstory and the future is never here. All that matters is who has the upper hand at the moment.

Toreno's involvement with the drug dealers coincides with the notion that the government itself was crucial in flooding the inner cities with drugs. While many discount the idea as crackpot . . . well, it's not like they asked Ollie North about the cocaine.

Consequently, the Toreno missions hint at a much larger game being played. In the causal chain, street gangs are merely microcosms of statewide gangs, which are merely microcosms of nation-sized gangs. As above, so below.

San Andreas is composed of general algorithms coupled with relatively-linear narrative sequences. That's it, really.

The algorithms determine the colors that wash across the sky. The density and type of traffic in which sections of the state. The density and type of pedestrians. Their local behavior. Whether they will switch lanes or drive fast or try to run you off the road if you sideswipe them.

This is not realism. I don't believe that Rockstar strives for realism.

It seems, instead, that they attempt to capture a feeling, an atmosphere, a mood, a palette. They attempt consistency and connectivity. It serves them better to make a game object reminiscent of a real-world object.

Watch how the traffic comes to a halt at red lights and then zooms off at greens.

Watch a high speed chase not caused by you.

Take a plane out over San Fierro Bay and watch the boats jet here and there.

Los Santos is not LA. But it feels like LA. More than True Crime could muster.

There may be an element of the Uncanny Valley at work, but I'm not sure exactly what to call it. Maybe it is the Uncanny Valley -- seeing LA painstakingly simulated, one gets the impression that it's mostly dead space, boring blocks of nothingness. Which it is.

But by replacing real-world places with their own symbolic conceptualizations, Rockstar manages to capture the general tone of an area with more alacrity than an outright re-creation.


For all of its braggadocio, San Andreas is more nuanced than Vice City.

Vice City was the glamour of 1980s Miami, the tacky bright clothing, the synthesized music, the hyperkinetic rush of cocaine, porn stars, fast cars and mob wars.

San Andreas, on the other hand, is more laid back and ambiguous. CJ commits every crime known to man but refuses to use drugs. He is not the raging ego of Tommy Vercetti or even the nobody of GTA3, but a man torn. You see a character struggling to make some kind of new life while working to save his brother and escape the oppression of the authorities.

CJ ping-pongs between feuding individuals. The game seems to hint that the best way to get ahead is to work for everyone and be loyal to very, very few.

CJ takes Madd Dogg's rhymes, kills his manager, destroys his career in order to help OG Loc -- then later rescues Madd Dogg from suicide.

CJ tries to kill Toreno, only to end up blackmailed into doing government dirty work. He muscles the Sindacco family only to try and save the guy he had tied to a windshield and taken on a joyride -- and then returns to kill all of them in order to back Rosenberg.

When Toreno requests that CJ learn to fly a plane, he balks for a moment. But only for a moment. Then comes acceptance. He will learn to fly a plane because it is necessary to learn. There is never an insistence on lack of aptitude, only brief lack of willingness.

It's almost the Zen insistence on flowing like water. CJ sees, not a larger picture, but the way that currents can feed into a central stream. His goal is to see his brother free and revenge against the former friends that sold out his neighborhood and led to his mother's murder.

So watching him bounce around between the little fish all trying to grow big enough to eat the other fish is not watching a man easily manipulated or directionless -- it's watching someone with the patience to discover and destroy the network that controls Los Santos and with the confidence and intelligence to build a new network to back him when he does finally seek closure.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year End Roundup: That Ebert Guy

There's really no point in berating Mr. Ebert further.

But here's a choice little treat from the past, courtesy of Dennis Miller:

"So the next time you see Roger Ebert sitting there on his titanium-reinforced love seat, pissing off on the work of some young person who doesn't quite have it yet, but might be on his way to having it someday, remember the one time Roger decided to dive in to the deep end of the creative pool, he wrote the Russ Meyer film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

If you've seen the film, you'll get it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year End Roundup: The Loved

Games I love
to play. I return to them again and again.

1. Half-Life 2

I've played all the way through at least three times. Tightly scripted, well-choreographed, never-a-dull-moment (the lulls are perfectly planned and welcome). Dabbled with the Hammer editor more than I have with any other game, which isn't saying much, but does speak to the ease and flexibility of the system Valve created.

2. World of Warcraft

Stupid time suck. But it's the only way I get to communicate with certain friends. They've certainly never heard of a telephone. I hate grinding, but getting into a good grind in this game is like finding the pocket in a good funk rhythm -- you can stay there all night.

3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Provides gameplay for every palate. Coming at the game several times over the course of the last year, its flaws become more apparent. But exercise caution -- it's dreadfully simple to get sucked back in to running missions, making money and tooling around the countryside.

4. The Movies

Still monkeying with this one, but that's the whole point. In-depth monkeying. The amount of content is staggering. A million-and-one expansions, please.

That's it. Only four, I know.

You might notice some high-profile titles are missing from this list.

Maybe you think F.E.A.R. should be on here? Sorry, I hated it. What of Civilization IV? I have the misfortune of owning a RADEON card which refuses to run the damn thing unless I perform an elaborate Ewe Voodoo ritual. I have better uses for my gris-gris.

Year End Roundup: The Hated

A truly
insane year.

I left behind the Marine Corps for several months of desperate living. Parlayed my contacts (one generous friend) into a job working QA. An absolute dream job for a great company -- even though I joined during the dreaded crunch time. Still beat pulling night watch in Yuma, Arizona. Or Iraq.

Here are five games I learned to loathe. Keep in mind they were not necessarily released this year.

Yes, they are all on the PS2. There are very good reasons for this.

I no longer own an XBox. And due to lack of funds I avoided all but the choicest PC titles.* But thanks to the magic of trade-ins I was able to get my hands on a fair number of PS2 games.

Not the worst. But the worst of those I played. In no particular order.

1. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

An RPG that starts with an intriguing premise and quickly spirals into absurdity. I reached the first boss and could not make a dent. After realizing I was meant to get into thousands of random, repetitive monster fights in order to level up enough to beat this first boss (out of several hundred) I turned it off. The good bit -- this game helped me reach the conclusion that I no longer cared for random, repetitive leveling, unless the game was called World of Warcraft. Sorry, Final Fantasy Whatever; It's not you, it's me.

2. I-Ninja

Fun. For a few minutes. Terrible fixed camera. Stupid boss fights consisting of first-person Rockem Sockem Robots -- only lacking the visceral feel of the real thing. Used a system of unlocking levels where each level ended up being recycled several times over, only with moronic new "goals" tacked on, usually a frustrating timed race. Bad levels, no cohesion in them or between them, surprisingly straightforward bop-fest despite the main character being a Ninja.

3. Malice

I like platformers. Sometimes underrated platformers will still yield fun gaming experiences. Not this one. I'm ignoring its place in the overhyped, very late pantheon (Gwen Stefani! Not Really! Dreamcast! Whoops!). It is just a horrible platformer by any standards. The levels are unbelievably short, sloppily-designed and ugly. There is little discernible connection between levels. The enemies -- stupid. The weapons -- stupid. Yes, you get magic, but it's so useless you'll forget you even have it - well, assuming you're playing this game, which would be a mistake in the first place. I admit that I beat this game, but only because it can be done in about three hours (which I spread out over the course of several months).

4. Run Like Hell

Started out . . . interesting . . . to me at least. Ended up being a boring corridor crawl with several swarm-the-player moments that led to replaying certain unnecessary segments. What really clinched it, though, was the constant advertising of Bawls. And an overly difficult boss fight.

5. The Getaway: Black Monday

The most annoying aiming system I've ever encountered. And just generally shitty controls. I can't comment on the story because I couldn't maintain interest long enough.

*Okay, I did play Boiling Point, but that game is contentious. It's the best worst game I played this year. So it stays out of the running owing to its contradictory nature.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Never Sleep Again

a good friend of mine figured that I had way too much time to post (y'know, a whole once or twice a month), so he got me a 60-day World of Warcraft game card.

He obviously hates me. Or he's doing some kind of sleep-deprivation experiment.



If You Work In Advertising, Kill Yourself

The other voices
that have already chimed in on this Round Table pretty much nailed every sentiment I wanted to express.

Marketing tends to make me vomit, yet there are a few instances where I might consider it appropriate.

I would find ads appropriate in any game modeled on a shallow world of sleazy corporate interests that place profits over people. So, y'know, sports games and car racing. That's about it.

Must admit, though, this does sound interesting. The best of luck. I recommend only using sponsors that would allow ceaseless mockery of their products -- sooo, yeah, you'll need the best of luck.

Let's roleplay

Say you're an ad exec. You're Soulless McAsshole, in charge of corporate branding for the InaneCorp Branding Factory. You decide to set up some research on the efficacy of this New Hot Product (NHP in prick-speak) coming out in the fall.

So you go down to a mall. Set up a stand. You're displaying your NHP prominently, chatting up high school girls, generally acting like a pushy, insufferable, fake-ass jerkoff. In other words, smooth like butter, baby. Or a greased weasel.

You show off the NHP. You ask, "So, would you tell other people to buy this?"

The pretty plastic suburban couple respond as a single unit, their eyes twinkling with general malaise. "Oh, definitely," they say. "We'd tell all our friends about it." Of course, they have no friends.

The giggling teen girls, they chew gum and twirl their hair and say crap like, "Oh, like, totally. It's cool, yeah, it's cool," using the same tone of voice as when they assure their father that his taste in music is not complete shit. Of course, teen girls think everything new is cool, until someone decides it's no longer new enough.

The stoned dude, he looks at it, nods his head. "Yeah, man, it's alright." Of course, he's fucking stoned. You could have showed him a small guillotine used for castration and he would've said it's alright.

You flash your teeth and think, "We have got a winner."

So based on these absolutely meaningless responses you launch a blitz campaign. You tell your overlords that the product tested perfectly, that it was already hot and in and there was just a fuckton of buzz. Buzz everywhere. Absolutely insane amounts of buzz, the sewers were backed up with buzz and beginning to fester and smell and suffocate the homeless.

You start placing ads. Your key demographic is all that matters, so you push in that direction. The key stupidity of marketing is the idea that creating awareness of a brand is the single deciding factor in whether people purchase your product. That's good, go with that.

It's just like e-mail spam. People love that flood of excrement in their in-box every day. Or billboards. Why yes, I would like to know where the nearest car dealership is as I drive down the road in my fucking car -- hmm, maybe I should pick up a spare car on my way home.

So you're spamming all the target demographic's key media, just laying it on, the NHP is the killer app, the must-have toy, it will cause riots and floods and possibly lead to Armageddon.

The ads are, naturally, enormous lies, but they have flash and pizazz and you got some fancy psychiatrist guy to touch all the right buttons without imparting any information. You never give the customers information -- not ahead of time, not during purchase and certainly not after they've forked over their money and discovered the NHP is really a POS.

You send the NHP to a bunch of celebrities, especially dumb, shallow, privileged, rich blondes. "Just carry it around with you, get one shot of you with it, flash your tits if you have to. What am I saying, you've done this a million times before."

Sure enough, on the cover of Fit In! Magazine (Top essay: How to lower your self-esteem) there's this vapid, loathsome sellout in an assless designer dress, the NHP positioned by the corner of her partially open mouth, providing just the kick that the hint of an erect phallus presents -- totally professional.

You buy up time during the trendiest evening shows in order to run a 20-second spot which was designed by a too-clever-by-three-fifths fresh-outta-film-school twenty-something and is so fucking artsy that people find it unbelievably clever but can't seem to hold the product name in their mind for longer than three seconds. Total success. It repeats every twenty minutes.

You make sure that stores are stocked chockful of the NHP. You tell your salespeople to push that baby, push that little fucker like it's crack, make those consumers choke on it.

Let's say the product is an overpriced, cheaply-made pair of sunglasses released as part of a movie tie-in (the movie had a black guy and a white guy and they were soooo different but really they ended up saving the world and getting along and the quirkiness was just hilarious) and the videogame is due out in spring followed shortly by the obligatory porn parody (all companies involved being subsidiaries of InaneCorp).

As soon as a potential customer walks in the store the thralls spring into action. "Can I help you? The awesomest most greatest thing I've ever seen is this NHP, it's so totally you. Did I tell you it's you? There's a discount. Yeah, all the other stuff in this store is garbage, substandard, I'm not supposed to let anybody know, but the NHP is the only legitimate thing we sell here."

BAM! Sales are up. For some reason. Must be them intrusive advertisements.

Of course, all that money spent oversaturating the market and buying off the media to hawk your shit has resulted in a substantial net loss. And it doesn't take long before people tire of the incessant stupidity of your commercials, if they pay any attention to them at all (you might even pause for a moment to reflect on how DVRs are making your job so difficult -- maybe it would be worth it to push some restricting guidelines on the cable industry). And now you have to defend your market space from bastards trying to outbid your payoffs -- damned vultures, you bribed those retailers fair and square.

The next NHP that comes along requires you to go even bigger. InaneCorp wants to see some actual profit this time, and since you assured them that the marketing done last time boosted consumer brand loyalty they ask you to work your magic again. The price will be higher, due to increasing 'development costs', but that's just how things work.

Bigger. More. Consume. Grow.

You decide to go all out. You find some bald guy to slap a logo on his fat head. You paste up posters at bus stops and on taxi cabs and in public restroom stalls. TRL gives your new product a twenty-minute sermonette/handjob delivered fresh from a teeny popstar fuckdoll. Tombstones plastered with splashy graphics, graffiti artists pissing your moronic logos in the ultimate commodification assrape of a typically defiant artform, cut-and-paste marketing kits sent to notable blogs. Dirigibles over sports arenas, collector's cups, phony websites cross-pollinated with automated text-messaging services, you're all about the synergy, baby.

It's never enough. Never enough to justify the ever-spiraling budgets or the fact that you're an empty husk of corporate greed and manipulative insipidity.

Eventually you're slash-and-burning swathes of rainforest to spell out the name of your next big thing for satellite images.

Buy Shit!

I'm not impressed with current marketing techniques. Knowing that the crapfest is going to become more prevalent in videogames just cues up my gag reflex and boosts my internal filters. I hardly notice ads anymore -- even the clever ones might register a laugh and then get purged from my system. In fact, I've noticed that trying to pay close attention to ads often makes me feel ill; Now that's conditioning.

Aggressive marketing is a blight, it is a mind-numbing pandemic, it skews the noise-to-signal ratio of useful information toward the noise end in a major way. I'm not against advertising one-hundred percent -- but I'm certainly against the wasteful and mendacious tidal wave of garbage that is slotted into every available media crevice.

We cannot expect a comfortable, supportive relationship between game companies and advertisers. Will we see design documents being vetted for product mentions?

Inevitability is often tossed around -- it's the excuse that people making stupid decisions use in order to justify those decisions to suckers.

Anybody know how I can get some ad revenue?

This post sponsored by InaneCorp

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mr. Ebert's Homework

I know that
Corvus is tired of all the discussion concerning Roger Ebert's spurning of videogames as a viable medium.

But I have to add some things.

The conceit that, since Mr. Ebert reviewed a single videogame years ago, he was thus gifted with the insight to write off an entire medium is the ultimate in snobbery.

I saw the movie Leprechaun 4. Based upon that viewing, it is clear to me that movies cannot be art. There were a few scenes of visual artistry (a leprechaun wielding a lightsaber), but all in all movies represent time wasted when I could have been bettering myself and culture by chiseling naked men out of marble. Shape them glutes!

The idea that authorial control is the dividing line for art is nonsensical. The idea that mutability of a medium is the dividing line for not-art is also nonsensical.*

He'll never visit
my site, but I've compiled some very basic coursework with simple descriptions. Playing through a good deal of games on this list might give him a single leg to stand on:

Visually Awe-Inspiring Games

--Shadow of the Colossus
Not only for its unity of visual elements but also for the way it completely understates its very sequential narrative and puts the player in a state of moral ambiguity, subverting the dominant thrust of typical heroic videogame archetypes.

Fully psychedelic, creates an interactive synaesthesia.

Games That Maintain Strong Authorial Control

--Metal Gear Solid and its sequels
Well-known for its incredibly strict interpretation of story. My favorite is the third game, which was the most coherent -- the exploration of cold war themes, escalation and shifting alliances that connected with modern issues.

--Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The twist with this one is that within its linear structure there was a strong element of time-manipulation -- one could call it postmodern, if one wished to be a prick.

Games That Assemble An Implied Narrative From Disparate Elements

Almost like abstract art. A Picasso, perhaps, wherein familiar yet loosely-defined elements lead to the viewer filling in the blanks, building up detailed backstories. With time always moving forward and the interplay of reaching historical milestones there was never a case of stagnation.

Similar to the above, though at a largely tactical level. Had one of the best unseen methods of constantly and consistently raising the challenge without relying on fixed points.

Games That Encourage Empathy

Yes, it's a glorified tamagotchi. Yes, that actually matters. People do form empathetic connections with them. Deal with it.

--The Sims 2
Well, this one probably encourages both empathy and sadism. Still, even if it's not your cup of tea, it's pretty easy to figure out that a living freaking dollhouse is an appealing idea to lots and lots of people.

Games That Are Even Now Altering Society

--World of Warcraft
You can't get that many people together without changing something. For better or for worse. Or both.

--Second Life
The creative side of the online gaming scene. Some artists would scoff at considering anything modeled on a computer to be art; Those artists are idiots.

--Pretty much any MMO
And it's only going to get worse. Worse as in farther-reaching.

Most of the games I've listed are somewhat recent. While I'm sure that Ebert could gush for hours over the simple propaganda of Potemkin, he probably would be completely unable to see anything of merit in any videogame classics. So that can be saved for a later class.

Then he needs to travel over to Grand Text Auto and brush up on interactive fiction and different varieties of text adventures.

Then he should go to Water Cooler Games and read up on games that explore social, political, educational and other issues.

Then try Avant Gaming and see what is happening on the cutting edge.

Also, he could go out on a huge limb and at least take a peek at some pen and paper RPGs. And I advise him to go beyond anything strictly munchkin or swords & sorcery.

Of course, none of this, I suspect, would alter Mr. Ebert's view. I assume some kind of cultural blind spot, a gut-reaction on his part that would lead him to conclude that videogames cannot make people more cultured, civilized or empathetic; On the flip side of this, then, is the assumption that somehow all dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers automatically make us more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

My hats off to you, Uwe Boll.

*I use mutability instead of interactivity, the latter seems to be the word most commonly employed when defining games. However, I feel that all media has interactive elements -- even if it's as basic as yelling at the screen MST3K style. Mutability, of course, has its own problems -- what to make of a DJ re-mixing songs on the fly? -- but that's a subject for another day.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Blah Violent Bleh Links Bluh Games

This just in:
Video games turn kids into violent sociopaths just like drinking shots of heroin while listening to hippity-hop and feeding their tamagotchi!

Snagged this link from buttonmashing, which discusses the Federal video game legislation proposed by Senators Clinton and Lieberman.

I've gone over
the idiocy of this issue before, but it bears repeating. Look at Senator Clinton's summation of her proposal.

"Senator Clinton was motivated to take action on this issue when it was revealed in July that Rockstar Games had embedded illicit sexual content in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This game had received a Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), which was unaware of the embedded content."

So she was motivated by the fact that a MATURE-RATED GAME had hidden MATURE CONTENT. Is the stupidity clear enough yet? Hilary Clinton was motivated by the SHOCKING REVELATION that a game that was rated for seventeen years and older had naughty content, and she wants to protect all the children that SHOULDN'T BE PLAYING the game anyway ACCORDING TO THE INDUSTRY'S SELF-REGULATING STANDARDS.

To be fair, Senator Clinton just wants to punish those nasty retailers that sell naughty stuff to kids. I'm wondering just how much this will affect places like Wal-Mart versus smaller retailers.

Tell you what
, I have my own addition to the bill: Any parents found buying restricted material for their children or giving their children money to purchase items without supervision will be chained to their children until they reach 18 years of age.

In other Stupid Legislation news, there is the big story of the Illinois Violent Game Bill. Cathodetan had a very good post discussing the Illinois Governor's words. Of course, the bill was found to be unconstitutional.

The judge in this case said some great things, most notably, "If controlling access to allegedly 'dangerous' speech is important in promoting the positive psychological development of children, in our society that role is properly accorded to parents and families, not the State." Outstanding.

Moving on
to my Misleading, Vague and Idiotic Statements file, the American Psychological Association released a call for reduction of violence in interactive media by children and adolescents (dated August 17, 2005).

First, the Misleading:
“Playing video games involves practice, repetition, and being rewarded for numerous acts of violence, which may intensify the learning. This may also result in more realistic experiences which may potentially increase aggressive behavior." No, no and no. Just no. No discussion of how children have been seen to differentiate between playtime and reality. No talk of possible cathartic effects. No concept of what could possiblyconstitutee 'realistic experiences'.

Second, the Vague
: ". . . recommending that all violence be reduced in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth." Who determines whether a video game advertisement is aimed at children and youth? I'm guessing that the APA would just assume that any video game ad would be aimed at children and youth -- they don't clarify how to make the determination.

Third, the Idiotic:
"Based on the findings, the APA recommends:
* Teach media literacy to children so they will have the ability to critically evaluate interactive media.
* Encourage the entertainment industry to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences.
* Develop and disseminate a content-based rating system that accurately reflects the content of the video games and interactive media.
* Developers of violent video games and interactive media address the issues that playing these games may increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors in children and adolescents and that these effects may potentially be greater than the effects of exposure to violent television and movies."

The first one is a great idea. Awesome idea. Really has as much to do with every other form of media as it does with video games. So let's just take out 'interactive' from that first statement and, y'know, make it that much more useful.

The second one just shows that the APA doesn't really know anything about videogames. How, exactly, is a game to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences? That doesn't even mean anything. I tried to think of a joke, but it's so illogical that it repels humor.

The third, well, already exists. No, really, it does. It's called the ESRB. But I guess you could always listen to the MediaWise folks. Again, thanks to cathodetan, I don't need to offer any analysis. And the ESRB has responded.

The fourth is basically like saying, "Confess, game developers! Confess to something that, to date, is assuredly not definitive! Confess, or else!" It's nonsense and meaningless.

Thanks, APA. Truly you are a worthy contributor to the dumbing down of humanity.

Friday, December 02, 2005

What I Do


Some people might wonder what exactly occurs in a QA Testing department.

Since that is where I spend one-third of every week, I thought I would give a rundown of the generalized processes that consume my life.

I start work sometime between 8 and 10. Flex-time is great.

There's a computer and a 360 on my desk. Right now I don't have a cubicle, so it's a little cramped but not too bad.

I logon and check Outlook -- look for reports of balance changes and skim the new A bugs (those with highest priority) and any other important announcements.

I open up the game folder and run an archive update. This will pull down the current build. Xbox builds are usually run at a scheduled time, so while I'm waiting for the PC I'll fire up the 360 and start a new game. Well, after I get my morning cup of coffee.

It's pretty clear within a few minutes whether a build is stable. Major bugs will go in right away, and if they're glaring enough we might roll back to an earlier build. The same thing will happen with PC -- often there's a pretty mad scramble to find a way to make a build stable enough for us to go through our testing cycle.


All testers have assignments, sections of the game in which they look for issues with AI, graphics, physics, saving/loading, pretty much anything at all.

I don't think I can overstress the importance of having organized and thorough test cases.

Sometimes the problem will be completely obvious -- missing texture, broken model. Sometimes it takes very careful sleuthing, backtracking from effects to causes, and in these cases it can be useful to speak with the other testers. Familiarity with the game systems are very important, and it would be rare to have one tester be an expert in them all (or any of them, really).

So as the day goes by I work my way through my assignments.

When I hit a bug, then a whole different process kicks off. The first step is to see how often a bug reproduces. Which means repeating everything I did prior to setting off the bug (to the best of my ability) and getting a save before the bug occurs.

If a bug doesn't repeat (and it's pure guesswork figuring out how many times to try and get it to repeat before you decide it was a one-of-a-kind glitch) then I will move on, keeping a lookout for similar problems, trying to see if there is a general issue.

If a bug repeats, then I enter it into the database.

The bug database will ask for a summary of the bug (short and simple terms, to make it easier for other people to search for known issues) and has dropdown boxes to classify the issue -- on what build did it occur, what type of system is affected, what percentage of time it occurs.

There are also two large text boxes. The first is for a description of what happens -- this is a good place to put down any incidental information that might be pertinent.

The second text box is for the steps to reproduce. This is especially tedious. You have to write down exactly what someone else needs to do in order to get the bug to occur. The better the description, the less likely the bug will come back to you with a request for more information.


Another side of QA is performing regressions.

After a bug is marked fixed, it goes to the QA lead to assign to team members. Then it enters a team member's queue.

So, the breakdown of the life cycle of an ideal bug might look something like this:

1. A bug is entered in the database.
2. The bug is assigned to be fixed -- art bugs go to artists, code bugs go to programmers, and so on in that fashion.
3. The bug is fixed and gets assigned back to QA.
4. The bug is assigned to a QA team member -- they attempt to reproduce the bug.
5. If the bug does not repeat, then it is verified in the system and closes out; If it occurs as described then it is failed and goes back to Step 2.

This is the essence of QA. There are other tasks that more experienced members of the team handle (TCR stuff, which is something so tedious that, if discussed, it would triple the Boring Level of this post).

Quickdesign - Call me, Tyra!

America's Next Top Model with the wife.

Would make a pretty good game.

The show is set up around fairly simple challenges that could be reconfigured in different ways. The real challenge would be creating what is, for me, the core of the show: the inflated egos, the shifting alliances, the backbiting, the support, the pomposity of fashion.

Also important would be making an interesting pose system. How do you make a system that allows overall changes to body and face while under time pressure? I suppose there could be randomized poses and hitting a button would swap them around -- but that's so boring. I'm thinking some kind of organic "drawing" system (almost like what's being seen in Okami).

Not sure how the judging would work, either. They each have personalities, but they have to be able to reach a consensus.

Anyway, that's it.