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ONM Remembered – #157

“The swashbuckling action won’t be lonely this time”


from Official Nintendo Magazine issue 118 (July 2002)

Featured on this page is a brief interview with one of the fine men behind quality assurance at EA. And he hadn’t lost the will to live by the time of the interview, so good on ya, Tim!
Games testing and quality assurance is a mysterious business, isn’t it? The entire industry is a mystery to me, honestly, but testing in particular. It’s a vital part of a game’s development, to make sure there’s no crippling bugs or oversights… but some games make you wonder if anyone had their eyes open while testing.
My big question is: does the testing department or quality assurance have any sway over the game’s design or mechanics, or is their responsibility solely to watch out for bugs and glitches? The modern game industry is so keen on easing players in, teaching them the mechanics and keeping them clued in on what to do and where to go.

I ask because Alone in the Dark for the Xbox 360 is a fascinating game. It’s like an interactive guide on what not to do to ease the player in. It starts on the dodgiest sequence possible, where it’ll kill the player for minor faults like getting stuck in a doorframe. The automatic camera is most unhelpful in pointing you to your next objective. Its love of physics puzzles are often obtuse, implying one answer but actually expecting something completely different. And that’s just the game design! There’s some hilariously bad glitches in there, from the minor to the maddening. My favourite is having the character get stuck walking off a sidewalk, the game believe he’s falling off a cliff, and then splat on the road a whole four inches beneath him.
I’ll spare you the review, but the game has so many baffling design choices and obvious glitches that I can’t imagine nobody mentioned, “this would make so much sense if they went about it this way.” The credits has dozens and dozens of people listed in the testing and QA departments… so what happened? Was there enough money for people to report problems, but none to pay the programmers meant to fix them? Or was it simply down to pushy management and impending deadlines?
(it was probably the deadlines)
(it’s always the deadlines)

… testing aside, I suppose most folks are looking at the Zelda: Four Swords coverage, huh? It’s from back in the game’s early development, when a totally different sprite was used, before they opted for the Wind Waker stylings.

One of my many unfinished projects from years ago was an attempt to recreate the sprite, using what few screenshots and videos were available as guidance. It’s something I’d love to finish, but looking at videos with tiny resolutions and working out the shading is never as fun as I think it is.