Tuesday, November 15, 2011

5 preconceived notions about game debugging


How would you describe the job of a game tester ? I'm pretty sure that 90% of gamers would answer something like "Hmm, you sit in front of a big TV, having the pad in one hand, some snacks or soda in the other, go through the game, beat it once and for all and yell whenever something weird occurs, like black screens or something. "

Well maybe not that cliche, but something close to it, right? 

Here are 5 preconceived notions about game debugging that you should forget about right now.

1. I have to beat the game and report bugs I find on the way

Well, this is not wrong, all in all, but it is just a little part of your work. Rather than playing the game, you will rather explore it, test its limits and try all kinds of crazy things. In fact, you will spend most of your time trying unsane things, like pressing buttons in different orders in various places, trying to reach super high scores, trying to reach unreachable areas and doing the same actions again and again to check the consistency. In the end, you will maybe spend about 10-20% playing the game, and, in order to save you time, you will have to use walkthroughs and cheat codes developers will provide you, killing much of the game's fun factor.

2. Still, I have pretty much freedom when I play

No. Usually programmers know well what kinds of things can cause problems. In most of cases, you will be given a list of things to do/check/try. It can be something like "at first go to that place and use all your objects, then try to see if the character can go through the wall when you press the buttons in that order...". So, basically all you have to do is follow instructions and report what you find. Oh, and for each instruction you will likely need to report what happened, even if it is "nothing special". It may sound very "mechanical", but it really is the best way to debug a game seriously and thoroughly.

3. Reporting bugs is simple

It depends what you mean when you say "simple". Reporting a bug is not just like writing "Sometimes the character disappears behind the wall" in your report. You will need to report very accurately the steps to reproduce, what happened exactly, check whether the bug appears "randomly" or not, sometimes copy some weird character chains displayed by the debug machine, etc.. Simply reporting a bug in your report file can take up to several minutes, even for "minor" bugs.

4. I have to focus on bugs that make the game crash or display weird things

Definitely, if such bugs exist, you'd better find them. But it is actually not that frequent to find "major" bugs. Before developers send theirs games for debug, they usually check them a little bit, with the eyes of a "normal" gamer, to make sure the real big problems are sorted out before games are tested in depth. Bugs you will find will usually be minor display issues, mistakes in the games' texts, consistency issues and the like. In the case of a RPG, for example, it means you will have to talk to ALL the people in the game almost every single time something happens, make sure the text displayed is gramatically fine and consistent with the rest of the game. I hope you're not the kind of gamer who likes skipping dialogs as interesting as "Nice weather, isn't it ? Oh please let me tell you about my little doggy who is really a good boy blabla" ;)

5. This is a job for hardcore gamers!

Not only. Developers like having various kinds of people testing their games, as they see things with different eyes. A "casual" gamer may try or see things a core gamer would not. Moreover, you really don't need to be skilled to test games. As said before, you will very likely have access to all the walkthroughs and cheat codes you may need to beat the game in a timely manner. Rather than having fun playing games, testers who debug games will rather have a very methodical approach and follow a clear path. This job also requires excellent reading and writing skills. That said, debugging games is still quite an interesting a job. While trying things here and here, you will understand how the game was meant to be played by the developer, what logic is behind all the code, and somehow have an eye at what is happening "behind the scenes", which always is a great pleasure for gamers. It is a very good, interesting job, but you should not expect to spend your days having fun, sitting comfortably on your chair, flying through AAA games."