Ja­son Imms Switches Things Up At The Ma­chine QA

Hyper - - INTERVIEW - In­ter­view by James O’Con­nor (If you’re a de­vel­oper with qual­ity as­sur­ance needs, Ja­son can be con­tacted at ja­son­[email protected] thema­chine-qa.com).

When pre­vi­ous Hyper con­trib­u­tor Ja­son Imms told us that he was form­ing his own qual­ity as­sur­ance com­pany, we wanted to know why any­one would leave the lu­cra­tive world of free­lance games writ­ing. Now, as his com­pany works to en­sure qual­ity across nu­mer­ous ti­tles – in­clud­ing sev­eral Switch ti­tles – it makes more sense. We caught up with Ja­son to ask about the process in­volved in qual­ity as­sur­ance, and what it’s like to work with the con­sole.

HYPER>>: CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF RUN­DOWN OF WHAT THE MA­CHINE QA DOES?

Ja­son: The Ma­chine QA is Aus­tralia’s first games-fo­cused qual­ity as­sur­ance con­sul­tancy. Our aim is to help the Aus­tralian games in­dus­try make the best games they can by con­sult­ing on how to do QA well, help­ing stu­dios build sus­tain­able QA pipe­lines, set­ting up pow­er­ful is­sue track­ing sys­tems, and o„er­ing our ser­vices as con­tract testers.

HYPER>>: HOW FA­MIL­IAR DO YOU NEED TO BE WITH THE AR­CHI­TEC­TURE OF THE CON­SOLE RUN­NING THE GAME?

Knowl­edge of con­sole ar­chi­tec­ture helps by mak­ing the busy­work side of test­ing much faster. You know how to get builds onto test kits, where to find crash re­ports, how to force the sys­tems to be­have in ways that mimic real-world en­vi­ron­ments. But ul­ti­mately? It doesn’t mat­ter that much. To do the test­ing it­self, it’s more im­por­tant that you act as a proxy for the player. What do they want? What do they ex­pect? Does the game meet those stan­dards? For that, be­ing aware of how the games com­mu­nity thinks and how games com­mu­ni­cate with play­ers is more im­por­tant.

HYPER>>: HAVE THERE BEEN MANY RE­QUESTS COM­ING IN FOR QA ON SWITCH GAMES, INSIDE AUS­TRALIA AND OUT?

The Switch has been a very pop­u­lar plat­form for Aus­tralian stu­dios this year! For us, the big­gest as­pect to this is pre-lotcheck test­ing. Lotcheck is a se­ries of tests Nintendo per­forms be­fore a game can launch on its plat­form. We’ve been re­ceiv­ing a steady stream of re­quests from stu­dios to help with this by run­ning the lotcheck tests our­selves, re­port­ing on the re­sults, and o„er­ing guid­ance on which last-minute changes will re­duce the chances of their games fail­ing lotcheck. We’ve been work­ing with both Aus­tralian and US stu­dios, in­clud­ing Love­shack En­ter­tain­ment on The FRAMED Col­lec­tion, Asym­met­ric on West of Loathing, and oth­ers we’re not quite ready to an­nounce yet...

HYPER>>: A LOT OF LO­CAL TEAMS ARE BRING­ING GAMES TO SWITCH - DO YOU THINK THERE’S SOME­THING ABOUT THE MA­CHINE THAT AP­PEALS TO AUS­TRALIAN DE­VEL­OP­ERS?

The Switch is an in­cred­i­bly ap­peal­ing plat­form for a bunch of rea­sons, but I think the big­gest is the fact that it’s new. The store­front has been light on con­tent since launch, with things only re­ally start­ing to pick up now. Early de­vel­op­ers saw HUGE in­creases in sales over other plat­forms, in some cases even over all other sales com­bined. Ob­vi­ously, this di­min­ishes with ev­ery new game that hits the store. Nintendo is go­ing to have to do con­sid­er­able work to how that store­front op­er­ates soon to make sure it re­mains a vi­able place for the de­vel­op­ers it sup­ports.

HYPER>>: FRAMED AND WEST OF LOATHING BOTH LOOK ‘SIM­PLE’ FROM THE OUT­SIDE. WHAT SORT OF BUGS AND IS­SUES TEND TO POP UP IN GAMES LIKE THESE, THAT ARE AVAIL­ABLE AL­READY ELSE­WHERE AND WHICH SEEM LESS COM­PLI­CATED?

THE MA­CHINE QA IS AUS­TRALIA’S FIRST GAMES FO­CUSED QUAL­ITY AS­SUR­ANCE CON­SUL­TANCY.

The main thing about bring­ing even sim­ple games over to the Switch has been the need to sup­port mul­ti­ple in­put types. On con­soles you usu­ally only need to sup­port one type of con­troller scheme. On PC you must sup­port mouse/ key­board AND con­trollers, but the frame­work for that has been in place for years. De­vel­op­ers are good at that now. On Switch though, many games need to si­mul­ta­ne­ously sup­port tra­di­tional con­troller in­puts AND touch in­puts. Those two con­trol schemes are very dier­ent, and re­quire some con­sid­er­able de­sign work to make them work in con­cert. And that’s not even in­clud­ing all the other in­puts the Switch oers, like the IR cam­era, mo­tion con­trols, or ami­ibo.

HYPER>>: DOES THE REL­A­TIVE ‘NEW­NESS’ OF THE SWITCH COM­PLI­CATE THE DE­VEL­OP­MENT OR QA PROCESS IN ANY WAY? ARE THERE THINGS ABOUT THE MA­CHINE, AND HOW GAMES ON IT WORK, THAT THE IN­DUS­TRY IS STILL COM­ING TO GRIPS WITH?

Not re­ally! It’s been around for long enough now that de­vel­op­ers seem to be get­ting a han­dle on it. The main is­sue is just process - Be­cause the Switch is the first Nintendo plat­form that has truly been em­braced by self-pub­lish­ing stu­dios, de­vel­op­ers at those stu­dios are learn­ing for the first time about the unique as­pects of Nintendo de­vel­op­ment. This can slow things down a bit, but the Aus­tralian scene is friendly enough that there’s usu­ally some­one that’s been through it who can oer ad­vice.

HYPER>>: THE SWITCH HAS A REP­U­TA­TION OF BE­ING ‘EASY TO DE­VELOP FOR’. IS THE QA PROCESS ANY DIF­FER­ENT FOR A SWITCH GAME?

Yes and no. QA is fun­da­men­tally an adap­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of de­fined pro­cesses; good QA is plat­form ag­nos­tic. The way we test on Switch is very sim­i­lar to the ways we test on other plat­forms, we just changeup the specifics. That said, we’re con­stantly learn­ing about how the Switch copes with cer­tain com­mon things games do. I can’t speak specifics due to a com­bi­na­tion of NDAs, but given the na­ture of the Switch’s hard­ware, there are cer­tain re­quire­ments games need to con­form to that aren’t a con­cern on other plat­forms.‰

HYPER>>: HAS THE MA­CHINE QA HAD, OR NEEDED, ANY SUP­PORT FROM NINTENDO THEM­SELVES?

Only a lit­tle! The Nintendo De­vel­oper Por­tal is full of su­per in­for­ma­tive doc­u­men­ta­tion that helps us greatly. The only thing we’ve needed is help with get­ting ac­cess to the Switch side of the por­tal it­self. That process is by ap­pli­ca­tion, and to ap­ply you need to have a game project to pitch. As a ser­vice provider rather than a de­vel­oper, we’re not mak­ing a game our­selves, so we don’t meet that re­quire­ment. Thank­fully Nintendo per­son­nel have been look­ing af­ter us, I think they see the value in hav­ing a ser­vice provider like us op­er­at­ing in this re­gion.

HYPER>>: WHAT WOULD YOU TELL SWITCH DE­VEL­OP­ERS TO LOOK OUT FOR, OR BE CARE­FUL OF, DUR­ING DE­VEL­OP­MENT?

The main thing is to be pur­pose­ful about it. You want to re­lease on the Switch be­cause it’ll net you a bunch more sales, but have you thought it through? Do you have any­one on sta with ex­pe­ri­ence de­vel­op­ing for the plat­form? There are some ex­cel­lent con­tract Switch de­vel­op­ers in Aus­tralia that you can find via your lo­cal com­mu­nity groups, the GDAA, or lo­cal IGDA chap­ters. I’d also be happy to con­nect peo­ple to con­trac­tors we’ve worked with! Make sure you’ve read up on and planned for Lotcheck. The process can be time con­sum­ing - very few projects make it through on their first sub­mis­sion, es­pe­cially if they’ve not been through it be­fore.

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