A Very Satisfying Game

I love a good survival/building game. Played a lot of Ark when it first came out (even ran a server for half a year), I’m constantly going back to Minecraft, I’ve gotten a lot of fun out of Raft, and Valheim was a great diversion for a while and continues to be with each major update they put out. These days, I’ve started getting into SatisFactory which seems less focused on the survival thing and more focused on the endless production thing. I don’t need to gather food (though food-like things can be used to make stuff that isn’t food), monitor my energy, or even be too wary of natural predators. I can just endlessly pursue production and efficiency.

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Progress Feels Nice, No Matter How Small

Because I write these posts a week in advance and then never look at them until the day before they post (to edit them), I’ve started to notice a lot of habits I’ve developed around my writing and the way I think about it. For instance, I almost always feel like what I’ve written is overly emotional in a way that will come across as self-indulgent. Or that some key element of it that was supposed to be subtle and clever was actually just clearly apparent and I spent too much time patting myself on the back for how terrible it actually is. Or that I’ve gone and made myself vulnerable on the internet and what I’ve written will surely be seen by someone who is going to figure out how to use it against me. Or, worse, that I wrote something about my past and someone from my past is going to read it, track me down, and confront me about it.

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I Forgot I Have Fourteen Sets of Digital Dice

It has been a while now, since D&D Beyond created their digitial dice. I haven’t used them enough to get a sense of whether they actually roll in a truly random manner (some dice rolling apps don’t), but I have used them enough that I can confidently say that no other dice rolling application or tool I have ever encountered has ever felt as close to actually rolling dice as theirs does. The click-clack of tossing a bunch of dice down to roll them is an essential part of the experience, the key to the feeling of satisfaction, and D&D Beyond delivers. Even more so if you roll them on a phone. There’s the perfect amount of vibration when you roll on your phone so that it feels like you just shook up a bunch of dice and had them clatter into a box in your hand. It is so incredibly satisfying.

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I Enjoyed The Hell Out Of Hades

I’ve tried and gotten pretty much nowhere in a lot of roguelikes. While I can appreciate a grind, I don’t really enjoy games where the grind is the point and the grind requires your full attention. For a lot of roguelikes, that’s not just the point of the game, that’s the entirety of the game. There’s not a lot of plot, just an endless series of attempts to reach some nebulous end. As someone who appreciate puzzles, I would never say people are wrong for enjoying something that’s just work until you get to the end and then just slightly different work until you get to the end again. Still, I’ve always struggled to enjoy those kinds of games despite them including a bunch of ingredients I enjoy in other games.

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I’m Just Going To Rant A Bit

I don’t talk about my day job in any specifics too frequently, but I test software for a living. Techincally software and hardware, but I focus mainly on software and the proprietary hardware said software runs on. I’ve done electrical testing, mechanical testing, software testing, and, my personal favorite, destructive testing. While the specifics vary from project to project, each type of testing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As of this writing, I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years and have pretty much reached a point where I have the skills required to tackle just about any project.

What all of this means is that I have a pretty good grasp of the testing effort that goes into software production and, as part of keeping up on the industry I work in, I have a pretty good idea of what testing all software, except the most proprietary and niche stuff, will look like. So when I say the testing and release for most triple AAA games is bullshit, I mean it and you can trust, at least a little bit, that I know what I’m talking about.

I mean, have you ever looked at the credits for a game and noticed how few QA and testers (the job name changes from company to company since there’s nothing to really enforce consistency across the various industries that employ software testers) there are in comparison to developers? In my industry, it is pretty much required to have at least one tester to every one or two software developers. The best bet is to have a one-to-one ratio since it can otherwise force testers to work extra hours to make up the difference or to cut corners in order to finish on the required deadline. Because let me tell you, testing is the first thing to be given less time to work when there’s a looming deadline and the developers need more time to work.

It is the easiest to do that in industries where no one’s life is at stake. I work for a company that produces a lot of different types of software and products that use that software, so while my testing has to be done with the thought in mind that the worst case scenario can involve bodily harm or even death, that’s not really a concern for most of my coworkers. Which is why my team has three testers to work with four and a half (one outside consultant who works part time) developers. We’re a bit short staffed, since those three testers are also responsible for working with the electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the software developers, but we just need a fourth person to keep up with the work that needs doing and maintaining records, test equipment, etc. We’re not falling behind (yet).

So when you see a dozen or so testers at the end of a video game’s credits, following a few hundred software developers, I think you can start to see why so new games seem to be getting buggier and buggier as time goes on.

Like most problems, this one is also multi-faceted. Developers who have the opportunity to rest do better work. Developers allowed to work on a single piece of the project, start to finish, do better work. The current methods of just throwing more bodies at problems and expecting the work to get done faster ignores the limits of human consciousness and just how much time gets wasted by bringining someone up to speed so they can peck away at a problem for a day or two before it gets handed off to someone else.

Not every studio does that, of course, or else the industry probably would have collapsed by now. But as work gets spread out and testing employees get cut infavor of customer betas or alphas and the work of actual testing is placed on the shoulders of people who preordered the game and have no knowledge of how the software works (or how testing should happen), quality goes down. More and more games, as a result of pre-sales, are putting testing work on their customers and trying to frame getting people to pay them to work on the game as an incentive or bonus for paying sometimes years ahead of the game’s release (and who knows how long after that it’ll be actually playable).

As someone who works in the industry, I find the practice abhorrent and kind of insulting. It takes a lot of work and skill to be good at finding, investigating, writing up bugs. I spend 40-50 hours a week doing that, most months, and now it is not only culturally acceptable for companies to expect me to pay for the privilege to do that for their games, but I get people telling me that they’d make great software testers just because they’ve played a lot of games on Steam prior to their actual release. I’ve even had a few tell me my job isn’t demanding or tiring because it must be so easy since anyone can do it.

Saying anyone can test software is like saying anyone can write. Sure, that is technically true, but there’s a pretty wide gulf of practice, experience, and skill between testing and doing it professionally. And if you rely on people who have no professional skills to do all your testing, your product is going to fall apart the instant it reaches a wider audience. Turning game pre-orders into Betas and Alphas is one of the worst things to happen to my industry, let alone my hobby, and I’m so sick of 2-4 weeks of bugs followed by 1-2 months of patching all the things fixing those bugs fucked up becoming the industry norm.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that user feedback or end-user testing isn’t a valuable tool in the development process. It is an incredibly valuable tool, since there’s testing that can’t even be done without end users (stress testing is a big one that frequently comes up in the video game industry), but it shouldn’t be a testing solution.

Rant over. Stop paying to do the work companies don’t want to pay people to do. Don’t preorder games. Any game scarcity at this point is manufactured thanks to digital downloads and they’re just trying to offload costs more than ever so they can throw 500 developers at a triple-A game only for it to suck until the community finds and points out all the problems to them. Nothing’s going to change so long as people keep this up.

My Favorite Way To Waste Time

In childhood, declaring your favorites was a mercurial process, changing as quickly as you experience knew things and begin to think about the world in new ways. The common thread, though, is that it is always something fantastic or exciting. You have a favorite color, a favorite snack, a favorite patch of forest, a favorite park, etc. As you grow older, you still have favorites and you still appreciate all of those things, you but you start to develop more mundane favorites. Favorite soap, favorite plates, a favorite mug, favorite socks, favorite times, favorite beverage temperatures. It can seem a little depressing from the outside and it’s frequently held up as a sign of being a boring old adult.

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Every Day Grief

There is a particular feeling, sweet and sorrowful, that rises slowly in your consciousness as you near the end of something you have loved. A misty-eyed sensation you cannot address even in the privacy of your internal monologue because doing so means admitting it is real and present, and ignoring it means you can live in blessed ignorance for another day. It is a feeling as ancient and familiar to me as my own sense of self-hood, perhaps older even, because the day I was first aware of myself, this feeling was already there.

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The Most Holy Rituals of a Morning

Gather your sacred chalice, full to the brim with the holy water of your particular faith, and prepare yourself for a review of the sacrosanct traditions that power modern life. We might all worship at different altars, we might all give praise in different ways, we might all observe our rituals at different times, and we might even argue over the proper preparation of the self, but we all participate in the glorious act known as the Morning Routine and I am here to share with you the most holy rituals of my day-to-day.

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Pandemic Reflections 18 Months In

I had the thought this morning that, if the pandemic got bad again and I was forced to work from home continuously or was partially furloughed again (with a corresponding return to actually life-sustaining unemployment benefits in the US), I am now in a position to really take advantage of the opportunity it would present. Which is a weird thought to have, given how royally fucked up my life has been as a result of the pandemic and the fact that I had similar thoughts during the initial furlough and work-from-home period.

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I’m Tired and Sad, So Let’s Talk About The Legend of Zelda: Episode 4

This week’s episode, so soon after the last one, was brought on by a crown breaking. Again. It’s fourth months old and has broken twice. In a minor way both times, thankfully, but it is still very frustrating that now I have to take more time out of my schedule to go to the dentist, my least favorite place I voluntarily visit at least twice a year. Growing up, my dentist didn’t believe in sensitive teeth, so every trip was miserable and I’ve formed a deep association between the dentist’s office and pain. As a result, even though my current dentist is wonderful and considerate and (mostly) excellent at their job, I still get unbelievably stressed every time I have to go there for something. Throw in that crown work generally takes a long time (especially if I’m gonna get it replaced this time, but we’ll see what the dentist recommends) and I just spend all of the time leading up to my appointments absolutely dreading them.

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