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PDZ.com interview with Rick Lockyear

Original interview transcript from PerfectDarkZero.com.

No game is worth the code it takes to write it without a team of trusty testers to back it up. Rick Lockyear, lead tester for PDZ, talks about what it's like to coordinate such a crucial task and how the science and art of game testing has changed.

Bigger is Better for PDZ Test Team

The Perfect Dark Zero test team is unique for Microsoft Game Studios (MGS) because of its size. Compared to the first test team Rick Lockyear led early in his career, it’s gigantic. Lockyear, who began working for Microsoft Game Studios in 1996, has been a front-row witness to growth of the games business. He said everything about the games business is bigger.

“The scale of everything has changed,” he said. “The games are much bigger than they used to be. The test teams are way, way bigger than they used to be. The test team I had on Metal Gear Solid PC was four people, including myself.” 65 people have been part of Lockyear's Perfect Dark Zero test team, a total that does not include contributions from other MGS test units or the testers working at Rare’s offices in England.

Lockyear estimated that Rare, the game’s developer, had 15 to 20 testers working there. “And when Kameo shipped, I’m sure a few of those folks were shifted over to work on this game.” He said the final version of Perfect Dark Zero benefited from having test teams on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean cranking on it because each team had a slightly different perspective on bringing fun to the game.

There was some overlap of duties by the two groups of testers, but the team located in Issaquah, Washington tended to focus their efforts on the game’s multiplayer functions, while the testers working at Rare took the lead role on single-player issues. “We still test some of the co-op and single-player stuff here as well, but that has been more of their focus,” Lockyear said. “Both sides give playtest feedback, which helps improve the game.”

Thare practical reasons why the PDZ test team is so large, and it’s due to the need to fine-tune one of the game’s brightest features. “The reason our team is so large is because we need 32 bodies, at least, to test multiplayer.”

The quarters that house his team are different from those typically used by other MGS test groups. Lockyear’s group is located in a wide-open, wall-free environment in a building that is several miles from MGS’s Millennium campus in Redmond Washington.

The test groups at Millennium work in smaller spaces which often require use of individual offices. Lockyear said the big open space is especially useful for multi-player testing because team leaders can address the entire group at once. Communicating to large groups of testers at Millennium is far more time consuming because leaders have to use email, phone calls and/or walk from office to office to give direction to testers.

One of the team leaders Lockyear counts on to coordinate the team’s activities is Michael Forgey, who said the team functions better because of the open office space. “When trying to organize a large game of 32 people, it is a very difficult task to perform when all 32 people are spread out,” Forgey said. “On previous titles I have had to organize people in two buildings, four bays (conference rooms), and multiple offices. “Finding the one person not ‘ready’ is not very easy.  When everyone is in an open space and we can all see each other, the communication flows much easier.”

He said the setting makes it is easy to coordinate everything from changing test conditions to breaks. “I often stand in the center and give out new marching orders,” said Forgey. He thinks the big open space creates an atmosphere that promotes friendly, fun competition among the testers.

“When we are all tucked away in our separate locations, we often lose the aspect of the feelings of old LAN games,” Forgey said. “When we are all near, the trash [(talk)] starts. The closeness of everyone helps promote a team atmosphere.” Lockyear said the other reason PDZ needed a large group of testers is due to the game’s status as a launch title for the Xbox 360® console.

While Lockyear is a veteran games tester, he feels like he learns something on each project that can be applied to the next game he works on. When asked what he will take away from his PDZ experience, he said, “That it’s good to have great people around you. We don’t have a weak link on this team, and that makes my job easier because I can rely on my people.”