Performing quality assurance testing on traditional video games can be grueling, having to sit in front of a monitor for hours on end, performing the same sequences while keeping an eye out for bugs and glitches. But you know what sounds much worse? Doing QA testing for games requiring physical exertion, like Just Dance, Dance Central, Rock Band, or RingFit. The Verge recently published a lengthy article on testing physical games, and it sounds like the stuff of nightmares.
Back before I became paralyzed from the chest down, I was really into physical games. I’d break out the Rock Band guitar on a regular basis, performing rock squats while grooving to my favorite tunes. Before our Kinect went in the garbage I would bring up Dance Central for the Xbox 360 on a regular basis and dance like no one was watching (because they weren’t). The best thing about playing those physical games, aside from getting some much-needed exercise, was the ability to stop at any time I wanted to.
When testing physical games is your job, things are a little different. You can stop and take breaks, of course, but eventually you have to get back up and go again. Development studios provide showers when they can, but sometimes they can’t, and things can get really ripe.
Speaking to The Verge, Caelyn Sandel, Caves of Qud developer and former QA tester at Harmonix, recalls how the team leads on her project would encourage testers to bathe regularly to avoid things getting too fragrant in the office. The bathing plan worked, except for one unfortunate day. “One time the HVAC system had some kind of crisis and that smelled so bad that we all evacuated and went to Flour Bakery. That was a fun day except for the horrible stink.”
Now imagine having to test a fitness game under the watchful eye of Microsoft’s infamously finicky Kinect hardware. A tester who requested The Verge refer to them as Kyle discusses the ups and downs of testing EA Sports Active 2 for the then brand-new Kinect camera. They had no manual. No way of telling if a problem was with the game or the camera. They had an engineer, but he was learning the hardware at the same time. Special Kinect sensor spaces had to be cordoned off. People had to be careful walking around to avoid getting picked up by the camera. They had to be careful what they wore, since the Kinect had trouble registering dark colors.
Kyle also recalls problems with the building’s air conditioning system. Since the Kinect uses infrared, testers standing under air conditioning vents in the Vancouver, British Columbia studio were often rendered invisible to the sensor. They had to purposefully block vents in 80-degree weather in order to do their jobs.
The Verge article is an excellent read, full of hilarious and sometimes horrible anecdotes from the QA testers on the front lines of Rock Band, RingFit, and more. I leave you with my favorite story about an anonymous EA tester whose team came up with a novel way to test the Kinect sensor’s low-light limits.
“For a lot of us, around 5 AM, when your last two brain cells have decided they’ve had enough, that’s when the real ingenuity kicks in,” the source told The Verge. “To ensure the game would pick up the user’s motions in a low-light environment, some of us ended up using a combination of cubicle walls and blankets to build tunnels that we would modify to allow more or less light in to see how the game responded. It’s the only time in my life I’ve been paid to build blanket forts.”