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Video games get tested for hours before release

November 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
If some of your co-workers seem a little sleepy tomorrow, it might be because they were up all night playing a video game. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hits the stores at midnight. But some people have been playing the game for months and getting paid to do it.

After the animators create the explosions and after the actors perform the voice-overs there's an army of people you don't see with a monumental task to accomplish before the game hits the shelves.

Brent Shalvoy is a video game tester. His assignment: testing The Sims, a game that's been around for 11 years, and just keeps getting bigger. Shalvoy's desk at the Redwood City office of EA Games is a tightly packed wall of Macs, PC's, keyboards and mice.

"We have a wide range of hardware that we test on," Shalvoy said.

But they don't just get to sit and play the video games all day.

"You're never actually playing the game, you're testing it," Shalvoy said. "Instead of even having a house, you would just have a couple objects, and you would try out all the interactions with those objects and it would be a lot of repetition rather than just freely going throughout the game."

Assistant game producer Graham Mardone works closely with the dozens of people on the test team, assigning each a specific feature to test.

"We have to be on top of everything and so there's a lot that goes into it," Mardone said.

In the case of the just-released Sims Pets expansion pack, it's a specific species.

"I went around on the team and I asked people, 'Do you have a cat, do you have a dog? Maybe you owned a horse as a kid or went riding,'" Mardone said.

And except for the ones that don't really exist, all those animals have to behave like real animals, even when the players aren't acting like real people.

"You have to really be creative in your approach to testing it, where you have to think about all the different things that somebody might do, or could potentially do, you know, even if it's not something you would expect somebody to do," Mardone said. "We have the experimenters, they're always a little devious, they kind of mess with their sims and play tricks on them and you know mess with their lives."

Shalvoy admits he probably won't be playing the game much now that it's released; it's nothing against the game, he says, he's just played it enough.


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