A developer diary with lead tester, Alan Salmassian.
Today we get to learn more about Alan Salmassian, the acting quality assurance lead tester and one of the people keeping Champions Online fun and bug free!
Q: What do you do for Champions Online?
A: I'm responsible for overseeing the testing of all aspects of the game, from writing test plans to finding bugs, organizing bug reports, checking play balance and – ultimately – making sure the game is fun.
I do that by scheduling the other QA testers and balancing their workloads, so they can work relatively uninterrupted. When some crisis comes up, though, it's up to me to allocate a portion of our QA resources to take care of the issue while still staying on track with the project. I also manage testing of our software tools and web sites. Basically, QA makes sure everything works as it should, and tracks down the right people to fix any problems that are found.
Q: How long have you been working in gaming, and what did you do before working on Champions Online?
A: I've been working in the computer games industry for about three years. I actually started out in the sports department at Accolade many years ago, but then I decided to work in the music industry because "it would be more challenging." (Ah, the folly of youth …) Eventually, I decided to go back to my main passion (and actually get paid), and started testing at Atari. A while later, I ran into a friend at a Detroit Cobras concert in San Francisco, and she told me that she was working at Cryptic and that I should apply there. I didn't believe her at first – it was too good to be true – but I have since apologized. Sometimes opportunities do fall into your lap!
Q: What is your typical workday like?
A: I get to work early, before the craziness kicks in, so I can plan the day for myself and the department. If we've got something pressing, I'll let the other QA folks know what to work on first, and then I go to a couple of different meetings. When I get back to my desk, I reassess what needs to be done – especially after the morning e-mails start coming in – and make sure tasks get completed. Folks from other departments will casually stop by and ask if we can take a look at something or another, and I sort those requests in with the others. After we are done testing a particular software build or new feature, I'll take the report and post it on our internal network for future reference. After lunch, I usually do more of the same. If the day hasn't been too hectic I can usually go home at a normal hour, but if we are in a crunch I'll stay late to take care of business.
Oh, and sometimes I actually get to play the game!
Q: What's the weirdest bug you've found?
A: Most bugs are just simply annoying to one degree or another, but every now and then something spectacularly unexpected happens. Case in point: There's one power we have that sends a ball of energy out to damage your opponents. You don't need to target them, because the ball will travel to the nearest foe. However, there was an issue with the artificial intelligence where the bad guys would start to run away from the ball, and it would follow them! It made it really easy to clear a room. But that's not the weird part. The strange thing is that the AI started affecting placed objects, such as signs, barrels and computers, so that when you activated the power, not only would all of the enemies run away, but so would many of the inanimate objects! I asked if we could get the Benny Hill theme, "Yakkity Sax," to play while it happened, but I think they're just going to fix it instead.
Q: Who is your favorite Champions character?
A: My favorite character was one my brother made many years ago when we played the pen-and-paper version. I'll never forget Animan, the alien surfer who could change shape to become any animal my brother wanted. Of course, he didn't want to use the points to make giant versions of the animals that would scare bad guys and be useful in game terms; he just wanted to make regular animals.
I hope that someday we can provide everyone else with that amazing power framework, too. The genius part is that you can't really nerf it, 'cause it's already so soft and cuddly.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: When I'm not preparing for our weekly hockey game with the Cryptic team, I'm thinking about professional hockey and my hometown team, the San Jose Sharks. I'm also thinking about going to the pub – I'm thinking about it right now, but I'll put it off until I have some free time.
Q: What superpower would you want and why?
A: The power to control minds would be extremely useful. "Fix your bugs, now!"
Q: What's the last book you read?
A: As much as it would be nice to mention something like Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the truth is that I don't read novels very much. I usually read reference books, technical manuals or game rulebooks. Going with that, I'll honestly say that I've been reading up on the fourth edition of the Warhammer 40,000 rules to compare it with reports of how the new edition will be different. The next book I'll read will be How Not to Pick Up Girls: Deluxe Edition.
Q: What are the three things that get you through the day?
A: Coffee, dark humor and the most awesome job ever.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into gaming?
A: First of all, remember that this is a business. As laid-back as it seems compared to the insurance industry, if you want to get ahead, you'll need to be a professional. That means you'll have to do what you say you're going to do and when. Secondly, you'll have to pay your dues, which means that you'll probably have to work for less money than at some other, more boring job. You'll have to be the one who decides what standard of living and quality of life you will accept. Thirdly, while you don't need a college degree, having any college degree shows to a prospective employer that you can finish a project that will take many years to complete, which is exactly what most games are. Follow your heart, but make sure that you are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that appear.
Q: Do you have anything else you would like to add?
A: I've said too much already, but thanks for asking!