Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Interview with a Q&A Specialist & Game Designer

Hello all,

I had the pleasure of meeting with a fellow Video Game Enthusiast as well as a Quality Assurance Specialist and Game Designer who has worked for EA and other companies doing work in Game Design and Writing, the same field I am in.

The following is the Interview that I had with him regarding the Industry, his thoughts and experiences in it, as well as much more.

"Mike" refers to me and what my questions were and "Anthony K." is the person I interviewed.


Mike: "What are some of your Favorite Hobbies?"
Anthony K."Hobbies, hahaha... that's a bit hard to say, since I'm a bit of a know it all and like to dabble in many things! My most often tapped into Hobby is writing.
It's very rare to find me not busy writing a story, whether for the games I am designing, or for one of my various stories I have on the go! Gaming is also another large Hobby of mine, though that has dwindled in the last few years as less and less quality titles have appeared, sadly."

Mike: "How did you get into the line of work of being a Quality Assurance (QA) Specialist?"

Anthony K.: "I had gotten a call from an agency (not related to EA) after posting a QA 'profile' on I believe it was after being encouraged to do so by a friend I knew and had heard about my interest in getting into QA with a Gaming Company. 
About 2 weeks later, I received a call to show up at a Hotel in Burnaby for an interview. The Interview itself did not really feel like they were testing me for quality at all, more so seeing if I had two braincells that functioned; it was that simple. After that I was told when to come in, given my numbers and such, and began working the following week.

Mike: "How long were you a Quality Assurance (QA) Specialist at EA?"

Anthony K.: "Well, officially, as in having a job specifically titled Quality Assuarance tester, it was only a brief 3 weeks before I quit the position due to... 'circumstances' in the work place."

Mike: "How would you best describe the Working Conditions doing 'QA' at EA?"

Anthony K.: " an employee there? Tolerable. As a human being? Miserable. As a Gamer? Without a doubt, a nightmare. We were not 'people' we were not a 'team'. We were robots there to mindlessly follow our given orders, and nothing else. 
The facility you were in could be compared to a gymnasium, with rows of tables lined up, with a television/controller/chair at each 'station'. You were lined up like... Robots in a factory. There was no involvement, no 'team', just do your job, that's it. The over-all Atmosphere as well, was... unpleasant." 

Mike: "Have you done Quality Assurance (QA) at companies other than EA?"

Anthony K.: "To date: nope. Where I live, there is scarce choice for QA, and moving to another part of your country, or even world, for such a shaky, easy to replace job is... just not going to happen. I am, however, in the process of attempting to get into Biowares HQ here in Edmonton, Alberta, and after some... 'promising' talks with them unofficially by e-mail, that very well may come to fruition in the future! 
Also, to those who think QA is 'super fun and amazing, you get to play games all day!' - please, cast aside that illusion. QA is a ruthless, (almost) thankless job where you work for countless hours, repeating the same tasks, in a totally broken, almost unplayable game. If you think it will be 'fun' - that really depends on if you derive fun from helping make a game the best it can be or if you think it's some type of preview of the complete game. 
Yet, I myself would never give it up despite the hardships, as in the end that simple, boring job is an intricate, vital part to making the best games possible that will entertain millions across the world, and you can smile knowing you were a intricate part of all that happiness and entertainment."

Mike: "What other aspects are you involved with in the Video Game Industry?"
Anthony K."Officially? None I can speak of. Unofficially? Everything. I am a gamer at heart, and a Gamer in Life. That does not mean I spend countless hours spacing out in front of games, rather, I view the term as a reference for someone who can truly understand games. Someone who is endeared by their stories, by the memories of epic adventures. Aspects wise, I have actually begun to take on designing various types of games; Story writing, Game Concept, the entire sha-bang.
I would guess that would title me a 'Game Designer,' as I excel at creating intricate, amazing stories and innovate, fun gameplay that isn't designed to be 'Casual/bad' or 'Hardcore/skilled' - but to be fun to all sides of the spectrum equally, which is quite a challenge I might add! But a very fun, rewarding one at that."

Mike: "What are some of your passions?"
Anthony K.: "If it hasn't been obvious, games are my largest Passion, haha - but we've already gone over that extensively! Some of my other 'passions' I have besides writing is the passion for knowledge. Is there a God? Gods? Is there a soul? What created the Universe? What created the thing that created that? There's so many possibilities, so many curiosities in life that make you think and wonder, that make you delve deeper into your own mind, and I love that.
Another passion of mine is astronomy! A bit nerdy, hahaha, but I've always been fascinated by space. By all the unknowns, by the Aliens that might exist out there, or might not exist. All the strange, amazing things that might exist like Planets made of pure Diamond! Or even worlds large then Jupiter, that are so light you could actually float on water! There's just... so much possibility out there."

Mike: "What are some of your Favorite Video Games? Also, what would you consider the Best Type of Video Game?"
Anthony K.: "That's a tough one... :P, let's see...
Nostalgic wise, I must claim the Legend of Zelda for the NES is one of my first most-favorite games, as it was my very first game. It ignited my passion for games. Every Zelda after that as well has always enchanted me, and given me many, many fond memories. 
Ogre Battle: Rise of the Black Queen is another one of my favorite games from my childhood, and sparked my liking for strategic games. The ability to find and capture neutral monsters into your army, the fun, intricate way you had to evolve units, the hidden treasures, the story... I just loved the entire system of it! And the N64 variation did not let me down on this either, only improving on it. 
Chrono Trigger, was, as for many, a game without equal back in the days, and some even still claim it has no equal. I do not know where to even begin on that game, how do you word a game where you travel through time, fighting a creature that consumes entire worlds? 
How do you explain traveling back in time fighting dinosaurs and seeing the destruction of the 'lizard men' who would have ruled our world if not for an accident? To see the future and it's despair... just... everything about it. I can't find a single trait that doesn't make it shine."

Mike: "What are your current thoughts on the Video Game Industry as it stands right now?
Anthony K: "Hrm... I'll refrain from using the words that popped into my mind to describe it, but I'll break this down into two points to help explain my views."

[PART 1] 
"The general 'audience' for Games over the last 5-8 years has dramatically changed. It has gone from the time where only 'nerds' would play games, or those who were masochistic would play the ruthlessly difficult, though fun games of old, to a time where games are beginning to grow and become more easily accessible by individuals who have never played a game in their life. This is, in my eyes, a double-sided blade.

Allowing access to more people is great. However, many game companies are choosing the path of no resistance; that is, they make games so mindlessly easy, there is no challenge. There is no 'achievement' for beating that Boss, because it was designed that if you randomly clicked every button without a clue - you'd still win.

It makes no difference of having to explore the world when you're told exactly where your objective is, how to get it, what monsters will be in your way and how to avoid it all. Again, there's no challenge.

Now, there's a difference between challenge and plain old 'suffering.' Some of the old games were a testament to your will and your ability to spend DAYS trying to beat that challenge, and while fun sometimes, that's not the type of Challenge I mean.

Challenges in games are there to make players improve. They make mistakes, and learn from mistakes, and 'grow' becoming better players. This is, in my eyes, the fun of games, to overcome the challenges of it, alongside the adventure and story.

But, companies now are gutting this more and more and more, simplifying it to... just stupid levels where you don't even PLAY the game any longer, and instead watch your characters do everything! If I desired to watch a movie, I would do just that. Games are meant to be interactive, to make you feel like you are in the game... but we are losing that feeling lately."

[PART 2]

"The second point, the cause to much of the above issue: Greed. The video game industry used to be run by small groups who made games for fun. They made games because they loved them, and not for money. Of course, they needed money to continue producing games, but that was a side thought to it.

Now, signal a growing industry as Video Games have grown more and more popular over the last decade, and with it, the profits to be made... giving rise to mega-corporations which saw this profit, and intended to capitalize on it fully.

Sure, that's fine! There's corporations everywhere! Except... these corporations don't care about games. They care about profits. Before games had to be designed to be amazing or they would fail as they would not get enough money to continue.

Yet now, with these corporations owned by individuals who have never played a game in their life, the view shifted from great games, to making the most money in the cheapest fashion possible.

Instead of working on a game until it was great - it is now forced to be done in strict, unfair deadlines which choke the developers into releasing a rushed, barely finished game that is not the finished product they yearned for, that they dreamt of.

This has caused the quality of games to plummet dramatically over the past many years, especially as the Mega Corps have gone and bought out any and all note-worthy game studios who defied this 'leeching' method of design, and forced their 'profit first, game second' ideal on them until these companies serve their use, then the Corporations toss them aside like a used kleenex, only to snatch up the next budding talent, and to repeat the process.

Add in the corporations growing desire to milk you of every penny they can, by introducing DLC (which is not flawed as a concept, but is abused by these corporations charging sometimes half the price of the game to get the full game experience!), and, more recently, they are beginning to make it so you must subscribe to even play games now, while still charging full price for it
It looks bleak for the future of gaming, if not hopeless. 
In the last 3 or so years, a new type of game has been becoming more and more popular across the industry, amply named as 'Indie' games. Indie games are games made by small teams of people for fun, most often. These games cannot rival the 'big titles' in graphics or such, but they make up for that in innovation and extremely fun gameplay.
This new Genre has been growing rapidly more popular as of recent, gaining more and more steam with well known titles such as Minecraft, Terraria, Dungeon Defenders, Bastion, and plenty more selling millions of copies each, proving this is not a 'fad' but a growing industry, which is the opposite of the mega corporations and their ideals. 
I believe in the coming years, these 'Indie' games and Developers, will be the force that rises up, and topples these Corporations, and proves that great games will bring great profits without losing the spirit of the games. 
No one can oppose these mega corporations, as they are bought up before they can... but is that true? Is it really hopeless?"

Mike: "If you had the power to change ONE THING and ONLY ONE THING in the Video Game Industry, what would it be?"
Anthony K.: "One thing? Hm. I'm not a fool to say 'I would get rid of corporations!' - those corporations are what give the funds we need to make the amazing games like Mass Effect 3 (ignoring the ending...), amongst other titles.

What I would get rid of for games, ignoring the obvious, is that Designers STOP catering to one extreme or the other. To stop catering games entirely to 'casuals' or 'Hardcore'.

Simple really. It's lazy. There is a way to achieve happy mediums, if you try. A game that holds your hand from beginning to end, with 0 effort from you (final fantasy 13 comes to mind...) is an example of doing it horribly wrong.

Yet a game like Dark Souls, while good in its own merit, is not going to work as a 'mainstream' genre as it's designed to be ruthless. Of course - both of these extremes have their places! But the issue here is there is no middle ground for games today. It's one extreme or the other, rarely is it a middle ground."

Mike: "What has been the most satisfying aspect of your Video Game Career?"
Anthony K.That I haven't been brainwashed into the belief of 'you can't change the industry, just deal with it'. Such views have happened all throughout history, to just allow the bad to continue for sake of relative 'calm.' I reject this. 
I do not feel making sequel after sequel of games that are barely any different from the previous one is right. I do not believe stagnating games as you're afraid to take a risk is right.
I may never be hired with a 'corporation' by this motto - but I will carve my own path in my career. If people agree with my ideals - I will succeed. If they don't, then that's proof I'm a fool - but a fool who stuck to their beliefs, a fool who is a gamer with a passion for them without equal, who follows his heart and believes this is the right path...

Mike"What words of Advice or Warning would you have for someone in High School or who's just starting College that wants to pursue a career in the Video Game Industry?"

Anthony K.: My advice, while sounding cliche and simple, is don't give up. If you feel that burning passion in your heart, that desire to work on games that is beyond just a 'job,' DO NOT GIVE UP THAT FEELING! It will be incredibly hard to get into the Industry, it will probably bring you to tears many times, and you will be rejected a dozen times. But do not, ever, give up on that burning passion.

You are the future of the gaming industry, the future of games. Giving up not only will make you regret it, but you will harm the industry. You could be the next genius who revolutionizes the entire industry, or you could be one of the people who helps that happen. Find similar minded people at school, online, etc.

Show your talent. Good at coding? Mod popular games! Good at modeling? Do models for popular games.

Find friends who are like you, trying to get into the industry. Maybe if you find the right people, you can start your own studio, and your own games... it's all about never giving up, and standing out amongst the crowd. Show you're unique, show your passion, show you're not 'some person' - but THAT person everyone wants to be...

I want to thank you Anthony for taking time out of your busy schedule to give some further insight from a fellow friend in the Video Game Industry.

Please leave any Comments, Questions, Concerns or Suggestions about this article in the comments below and we'll gladly answer them.

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