The Game Test

I often frown on “testing” games. Why? Because I’m convinced it’s only possible to simply play them and write about it. “Testing” sounds so academic, it promises something that’s actually just… bullcrap? How academic can having fun become? Would something still be funny, if it had to live up to certain standards? Sometimes, maybe.
Whenever I hear someone talking about game testing, I have these images in my head, of a guy wearing a white lab coat, sitting in front of a PC, but before he starts playing, he switches on all kinds of machinery and calibrates various devices. Wires and sensors are everywhere and are connected to everything. Also, most objects are covered by blinking lights, standing next to some oscilloscopes. Just when he tries to start gaming, a glimpse behind his back is possible and there are test tubes with dangerous looking chemicals inside them. Is this getting close to what actual game testers do? No, of course not, that’s ridiculous! It’s still just a dude in front of his machine, be it console or PC, who PLAYS. Nothing more! Stop trying to make some weird kind of profession out of it, that it’s just NOT.
Good players know their stuff and if they want to (or have to) write something down, in regard to their experiences, it’s only good if all the information is correct and contains details people should actually know about the game and not if they call it game testing done by a veteran game tester, while the “test” is so bad and just off, that readers have to wonder if the author played the piece at all, or has only heard of it by rough description, maybe over a noisy phone line or something. If given information is plain wrong, readers might notice this anyway, it’s just the more frustrating, if the page claims to practice these pseudo-academic, game testing mumbo-jumbo shennanigans.
Testing requires the ability to measure something quite precise. You can test a car’s brakes and see how long it takes them to bring the car to a full stop. That’s some hard data to write down on a sheet. For a game that’s a lot less likely. Measuring frame rates is always a possibility, but who cares, everyone who meets the system requirements will be able to play, they are written on the package (even more superfluous for consoles). Even the most obvious part can hardly be evaluated, the graphics. Telltale’s graphic engine for their Sam & Max games is “ultra-old” and one can only wonder, how the game would look like in Unreal 3.5 (or similar “high-tec”), but it doesn’t matter, for the comic style they are aiming at, this engine is perfect. It creates the exact game world, that’s necessary to breathe life in the crazy characters that live there and the whacky environments they live in. So, are these graphics now bad, although they happen to look exactly like their creators want them to?
Another fundamental problem I have with tests, is that they often try to evaluate the gaming FUN. But how is someone else supposed to tell me, if a sequence will entertain me? All of this is completely subjective!
Therefore, the only reviews I deem useful, are those that just iterate what actually happens during gameplay. And being told about eventually show-stopping bugs is always a valuable bit of information to have, e.g. before a purchase… Maybe an appropriate comparison with other titles, that are similar, helps out and some screenshots. This will enable most vivid players, who already have a connection to this scene, to imagine pretty closely what they can (or have to) expect. How many casual players will seek out elaborate texts on games? Isn’t that for itself the opposite of casual? If you want to be great, spice it up with other goodies, like links to the publisher/developer/patches/mods/videos/screenshots…
This is useful and can help determine if a superficial interest was justified or not. Not this bizarre method, where strange criteria were thought up, that a game had to live up to. This usually makes the most sense to the tester himself, because only he has understood his system fully, but if a text is supposed to please only oneself, why come up with such complex schemes? This is the moment to send it all back to hell and realize, that, in this case, it would have been better to simply write, what one wanted to say in the first place.
Proceeding like this, is even good for possible critics, because they’ll realize the reviewer only wrote down his experience and didn’t try to make it appear as more than it really is. At this point, the smallest crowd that can relate, are similar players. I don’t think the same is true for some “tests”, that there really is a clear target audience.


  1. 1 Alpha Protocol « adrift

    […] and pleasantly surprised. Somehow I made the mistake again (happens) to overhear some “tests” and let them influence my expectation. Or maybe I shouldn’t feel bad about that part. […]


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