Kevin Kauffman. Laid back. Handsome. Stylish dresser. QA Lead. While Kevin’s title may be QA Lead, he is just as important — if not more — to the success of Fallout 3 than most producers on the team (including me). He works his tail off and we’re fortunate to have him.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I am the QA lead on Fallout 3 and I manage the daily activities of a few dozen testers. In addition to scheduling and, you know, actually playing the game to look for bugs, I help manage the bug database that we use to communicate issues to the dev team — on a game this big, that can be a full-time job by itself. I am also fortunate enough to work closely with the development team to determine what needs to be tested on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Early on in development, this will start as a long term test plan based off of the concepts the designers and programmers have agreed should make the final product. Later in development this will mean sitting in on implementation meetings or pistol whipping developers Jack Bauer-style to get them to talk — so that we know exactly how they want functionality “X” to work.
What other games have you worked on?
I took over lead QA duties on Oblivion shortly after it launched. This included most of the downloadable content, Knights of the Nine, and the Shivering Isles. I’m not sure people know how much work goes into QA’ing a game after it is already out the door. We spent a lot of time after Oblivion left the building, looking through forum posts, responding to email, and going through tech support records to get an idea as to the overall quality of the product we released. In fact, we still get several daily emails about issues with Oblivion (and Morrowind for that matter), and the support forums are still quite active, so that aspect of the job really never ends.
Prior to working at Bethsoft, I worked for a private testing house that had several contracts with various “not so awesome” development companies that shall remain nameless (let’s just say that I played my share of TV show tie-ins — “My Two Dads the Game”, anyone?). It was there that I honed the testers’ greatest trait — the ability to keep it interesting. I played some truly bad games there, and in true stereotypical QA form, I played them over and over and over again.
What was the best part about working in QA? The worst part?
I’d say saving lives is the best part about working in QA. “Saving lives?” you ask. Yes, saving lives. Say you find a bug, that when fixed, will save the average user even one minute of confusion, and you multiply that time saved by the number of people that will eventually play the game, then divide that by 24 — what you end up with is the number of days of human living you have literally saved by reporting a single issue. Multiply that by the number of issues reported, and I start looking a little like Mother Theresa. The worst part is probably the opposite, slowly killing people through the evil witchcraft of the moving picture box.
Actually, my least favorite part is knowing that on a game of this size and scope, the reality is that we will likely not find all the bugs. So the worst part is feeling like we will never ship a bug-free game. It doesn’t stop us from trying of course.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
A lot of how I got into the industry was simply being in the right place at the right time. The usual “A friend of a friend got me an interview”, etc… However if you don’t mind working in QA and you have a solid work ethic it really doesn’t take much to get your foot in the door. Keeping it there is another problem altogether. I’d be interested in seeing the stats on it, but I would imagine we are at an all-time high as far as people going to school specifically to get involved in game development. That tightens up the market a bit in terms of people trying to break into the industry any way they can. It also allows us to demand a little bit more when we go to hire for QA, and results in employees who are hungry to prove themselves.
Working with an internal development team only heightens that, as often they will look to promote from within. The internal producers are generally more willing to take home-grown testers that have worked hard and proven themselves, over outsiders with shiny resumes, even though they may not be as qualified, simply because they have seen them in action. Unfortunately, along those same lines, no matter how qualified you are, if you start in QA and you don’t have a strong work ethic or you don’t put forth the extra effort, it will never be the spring board you want it to be.
The best advice I can offer: If you are starting at a disadvantage, maybe you don’t have the experience, or you don’t have the education, take any job you can get in the industry and bust your ass at it. Be the first in and the last out and get involved in as many different aspects of the job as you can. Never be content to only do what is asked of you.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Please give me a shout out if your favorite game of all time is also Blast Corps for the N64 (crickets). That game just had such a unique idea and was so tight for its time. The concept says it all: A trailer carrying a nuke has lost control and is rolling slowly toward suburbia (over and over again on different levels) and instead of trying to stop it, you have to obliterate everything that stands in its way. Also you can drive the A-team van. Sold!
So hard to choose just one though… Civilization 2 is pretty much the only thing I can remember about the 8th grade. I also still enjoy the classics… I highly recommend QIX to anyone that hasn’t played it in a while — try to “split the stix”. Growing up in State College, PA, we had one of the greatest arcades on the planet (R.I.P. Playland) so I plunged a lot of quarters into the Theater of Magic and Attack from Mars pinball games as well.
What games are you looking forward to?
Is it fair to say Fallout 3? See, testing a game that you think you would normally really enjoy is kind of like seeing a relative naked (Yes, I am from Central Pennsylvania, but this really isn’t coming from any deep seeded history for me). You would normally really enjoy hanging around with this person when they are all put together and presentable, but you have a hard time picturing them with clothes on because, well, there they are, all naked and related to you (see, this analogy is about you). It’s hard to look them in the eyes, and next time you see them it may take a while before you can start talking to them again. I really am looking forward to playing Fallout 3 when it is fully dressed.
Outside of this building, Spore has me thinking I may have to go out and purchase a new gaming PC.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I’m driven to get to here each day because I feel like what we are doing is quality work. I work with a lot of people that really want to make the best game they can. It was hard to wake up in the morning when I worked for people that were obviously trying to cash in and cut a lot of corners. Despite the fact that QA in general isn’t the most esteemed aspect of the industry, it is a priority here, and we are largely responsible for the overall quality of the finished product — I take that very seriously.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
This is actually a question we generally ask during QA interviews, because only people who have never had a truly bad job would find QA work tedious. I sorted recycling products at a garbage dump for a few winter months many years ago. I am a big proponent of green living and I believe that everyone should recycle, but it should be known that this is one of the most miserable places on the planet. It smells horrible, it’s cold, and there is broken glass and dust from paper and cardboard all through the air. I think back on it whenever I feel like I am getting complacent. Of course, I actually remember that time fondly compared to the time I spent telemarketing.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Time permitting, I’m into photography, basketball, biking and running. Ever since I went high def, I probably watch a little too much television. Strangely, I don’t spend nearly as much time as I would like to, playing games, but I am working on that. I’m also looking to get my first tattoo (and I have been for over a year; me = wuss) so if you have any good ideas, post them for me. I promise to have one by launch time. So far the best idea I have heard is a double bandolier, but that covers so many painful locations.