Jason Imms Switches Things Up At The Machine QA
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 oering 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 oering 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 dierent, and require some considerable design work to make them work in concert. And that’s not even including all the other inputs the Switch oers, 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 oer 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.