Tackling Transitions & Battling Bugs

Kayly, also known as Vanessa, is a well-known member of the community who has worked on several sites over the years before starting her own - The Untold Spiral. She's also written for MMORPG and now works at KingsIsle Entertainment. She'll be covering her player to employee transition and first impression of the industry!

Over the years I've gone by many names. I assume my longtime community name, Vanessa Mythdust, would be the most recognizable. However, others might know me as Kayly or by my brand-new NPC moniker – Tarrack Hadfield. It's funny, I've always thought of choosing an NPC name as a rite of passage of sorts. It meant a lot to me to be able to do that. It should also come as no surprise that I chose the only moose NPC in the game to represent me. The Spiral could always use more moose!

Before the Crab Alley revamp hit the Test Realm, the residents needed a little maintenance on the houses...

My story is one I've talked about before at length, but it never hurts to give a quick recap. I started playing Wizard101 in 2013 and gradually began to take on more and more responsibility within the community. Being a community writer/blogger and moderator directly helped me land my current QA Tester position at KingsIsle. The transition from player to employee has been incredibly interesting. When you're a player, you can't help but form a mental picture of how you view processes and roles behind the scenes. It's easy to make assumptions about why things happened or how things should be done. However, when you actually get here and are in the belly of the beast, things start to click, and you begin to understand the true nature of working in the game industry. Being able to separate the myths from the facts has been an enlightening experience for me.

My Role in a Nutshell

QA stands for Quality Assurance, and that's exactly what I do – I make sure the updates we're putting out have as few issues (bugs) as possible. To do that, I'm tasked with finding, writing, and reproducing a wide variety of game problems. Most of my time is spent testing unreleased content so it's as polished as possible when it reaches the players. However, I do get to spend a little bit of my time looking into player issues that are already on the live realm. Being a longtime player and fan of KingsIsle games has certainly made the player to employee transition extremely smooth. Since I already know the ins and outs of almost everything Wizard101 and Pirate101, I can usually identify pretty quickly what's a bug and what's as designed.

If you went through the new FTUE in Classic Mode during initial testing, not only did it use the new assets instead of the old ones, but Bartleby was also missing!

The QA Process

Each new feature or item that goes into the game has a designated ticket in our database. When that feature or item is completed, the ticket is sent to QA where the QA Lead assigns it to one of the QA Testers. Tickets I get can be as specific as a particular crafting recipe or as broad as an entire zone. When I first started working at KingsIsle, one of my first tasks was to test the new version of the Deep Warrens for the Crab Alley revamp. That included looking for art problems (Are there extra windows on the houses?), making sure the sound was working (Does the combat music trigger when you enter a battle?), running into walls to make sure players couldn't pass through buildings (we call that collision testing), and basically anything you can imagine that would be relevant to a digital environment.

Hey, how's it going up there?

It goes without saying that if you go searching for problems… you'll most likely find them. Whether an issue is major or minor, it needs to be reported so that it can be squashed as fast as possible. Once I officially write a bug, production assigns it to the department that would need to fix it. If it's a sound issue, it would go to sound. If it's an animation problem, it would go to animation, etc… Once the correct department fixes the issue, the ticket comes back to QA for verification. If I'm not able to reproduce the original issue, woohoo! That means the problem is indeed fixed and I can close the bug. If I'm still able to reproduce the bug, I fail the bug and it goes back to the correct department once again. From there, it's a game of tennis – bouncing the bug back and forth between the different departments and QA until the problem is verified as fixed.

It's All in the Details

The tricky part of game development is that if you fix one bug, ten more could potentially be created. Some issues are super easy to spot (a feature not working), but others are harder to find and sometimes almost unnoticeable. For example, each terrain in Wizard101 and Pirate101 has a different sounding footstep. Whenever I test a new zone, I check to make sure that the footstep sound you hear corresponds with what you're walking on. If you're running up to a boss across some dirt, I'm going to make sure that you're actually hearing the dirt sound and not wood, stone, or grass. Little things like that are small details that I never really thought about as a player.

Making sure nameplates aren't obstructed is something we check for every new mount.

I think the most surprising aspect of QA testing for me, coming straight out of college with a player mindset, has been discovering just how much time it takes to thoroughly test something. Big things like a new fight or an entirely new system/gamemode such as the Beastmoon Event takes an unsurprisingly long time to sift through. However, even smaller additions like decorations or pets can take awhile depending on their complexity and number of variations. The crafted hologram Beastmoon robes are a great example of that. I was actually the one who tested all of those robes – there are 28 of them – 4 tiers for each of the 7 schools. For each of those 28 robes, I went through a whole checklist of things that each variation needed to have. Was every single one stitchable? Did the textures look right? Could they or could they not be dyed? Do they all have the crafting icon next to their name in the backpack? Robes (and hats and boots) are especially tricky because you have to check that everything is working for both genders. After all, the same exact robe could look completely different on a male character than a female character. Interestingly enough, I've also tested a few pieces of gear that were dyeable on one gender but not the other. QA testing can be full of surprises!

Newbie Thoughts

One thing I'm very grateful for and humbled by is how welcoming everyone in the office has been. On my very first day, maybe about a dozen people came over to my desk to say hi and tell me how excited they were to have me working at KingsIsle. It made the player to employee transition so much easier than I ever could've imagined. I can tell that my coworkers value my player experience and I've actually been directly asked for input on new features on multiple occasions. Some of my suggestions will even be making it into the live game in the future! As a fan, that's crazy to me... to be making an impact on the games I've come to know and love over the years.

Between a rock and a hard place.

I'm often asked to describe what being in QA feels like. The best analogy I can come up with is a small army trying to protect a village. Imagine the army is that village's last line of defense. It's the only thing standing in the way between the swarm of invaders and the village's gates. While that army does their best to stop as many intruders as possible, some inevitably slip through the cracks. Even though 5 or 10 bad guys may end up wreaking havoc in the town, there are hundreds more that never even made it to the gate. If you think of the army as the QA team, the intruders as the bugs, and the village as the live game… that's pretty much what QA feels like. Well, with way less blood and violence I suppose.

The KingsIsle community will always be a second home for me. I love to talk with you guys and want to support those who also may be potentially interested in breaking into the gaming industry. If you're ever curious about what it's like, how QA works, or just want to say hi – feel free to send me a message! Don't be a stranger, strangers. ;) 

P.S. Thanks to everyone who submits bug reports! We read them, and you guys rock!!

Thanks to Vanessa for her post on her transition to KingsIsle!

Thanks for reading and see you in the Spiral!

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