Charlotte Woolley is a senior tester, one of a suite of talented QA - or Quality Assurance - folk at Media Molecule. Basically, her role is to break the game so that our developers can figure out how to fix it! Here, we chat to her about being a Dreamiverse detective, bug exploits, and destructive testing.
Hi Charlotte! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I’m a senior tester at Media Molecule. The QA Molecules are split up into the various pillars of Dreams, and the pillar that I'm responsible for is Dreamiverse testing. I’ve been working on that for... gosh... three years now. Dreamiverse testing includes almost everything outside of Create Mode and outside of Mm-produced content, so it's all of the fiddly bits that interweave those parts together. It’s a challenge though, as when you're testing Dreams, everything is interlinked. No matter what you do, there's parts of Create Mode that worm their way into the Dreamiverse, and vice versa. But for what I test, the Dreamiverse encapsulates the way the menus work, the way people publish things, and the way people access creations.
What do you enjoy testing the most?
I love testing the Dreamiverse because I've always been a stickler for things that are very clear cut. If you have a problem in Create Mode, there are a million reasons why it might not be working. But when it comes to the Dreamiverse, if something doesn’t work, then that means that not only do you know that it's not working, the investigative work as to why something isn’t working is more streamlined. But when I do get a meaty problem, I do enjoy that too; my favourite thing about being a tester is being a detective and figuring out what's going on. I think that's the most satisfying thing ever. Or thinking of a scenario in your head and then trying it out and seeing how that actually works.
Do you wait until people come to you with a bug or a problem? Or do you play around with the game to try and create those bugs?
Over the last couple of years, it's been a mix of updates and waiting to see what people come to us with. Obviously the Dreamiverse has had loads of updates over the last couple of years, with the biggest one being the DreamShaping update that came out with the templates. A lot of that testing was figuring out what kind of scenarios we should test around, and playing with as many things as we possibly could. But then you have the times where someone raises an issue or brings up a problem that they're having, and then that's when you get to just dig in deep.
What actually ended up getting you into QA specifically?
Both myself and my twin Catherine [who also works at Mm] have always been into games, but whilst Catherine did a games degree, I was completely set on a film degree as I loved editing things. But whilst I enjoyed my course, the people on Catherine's course were laid back, and were the kind of people that were into games and knew what I was talking about. So when I came out of university, I was in this really weird state where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be working in games. So I started looking at what avenues could get me into games, and I originally looked at production to start with as a way in.
QA hadn't actually crossed my mind at all, and it was only when our aunt got in touch [that it did] as she knew someone that worked in a testing house in the town that we moved to, and she thought I should look it up. Funnily enough, that company worked with and tested Media Molecule games, and so when I got offered a job I started testing on LittleBigPlanet 2. I don't know if it was because I asked so many questions, or if I found good bugs, but after a few months, I was working at the Molecule office fully embedded in the team. I was there for, like, a year and I got to work with so many awesome people. This was back in 2010, but as soon as I fell into testing, I knew this was the thing that I need to be doing my whole life. I've been doing it for 12 years, but even now, any time I find a good bug it sends my serotonin levels through the roof.
The office didn’t just test Mm games, though, so I worked on a bunch of other things. But I remember when my current job role advert had gone up, I was daunted, as Dreams is like LBP on steroids - so even though I had tested LBP before, I didn't know if I had the capability to test Dreams. When I started on Dreams, it was really difficult just to get your mind around some of the aspects of Create Mode that had exploded in comparison to the way that LBP worked. But then I found my footing in the Dreamiverse and I was like, yeah, I like it here.
Do you have any particularly memorable bugs that you've discovered?
I think one of the most memorable bugs was a framerate bug on LittleBigPlanet 2, and it was discovered because I have a penchant for old school tech. LBP 2 was on the PS3, and when making games on the PlayStation 3 you had to support old CRT TVs and 480p. So that's a thing someone always had to be testing, everyone else gets the flat screen TVs but someone has to be on a cathode ray. And I wanted to be the one on the CRT, because I love retro games.
Of course, one of the things that was big with LBP 2 was multiplayer creation, so we would just do sessions for days at a time where we were making things and seeing how what you made interacted with things the other player was doing. We discovered a bug affecting the frame rates in the different versions, and for ages we couldn't work out what was going wrong and it was actually because I was on a CRT TV, while the other tester was on an LCD, and they work at different refresh rates. As a result the frame rate wasn't the same across the different formats and resolutions and they would end up going out of sync. So that was an awful bug, and if it had released with that... I don't know how many people on PS3 were still using old CRTs, but there's still some people out there. So I think that was the coolest one because it was like using this old technology to locate a bug.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone that might be looking to get into QA?
I would say personally that passion is a big thing in the world of QA - you either love it or you absolutely hate it. It's like Marmite for games jobs, and I've worked with so many people over the years that are natural-born QA. I feel that if you're really bad at games, you'll be good at QA, as I'm awful at all games, and I play everything on easy mode because I find games challenging. We have another member of the team who's the same, and she's like "I'm rubbish at games", and I’m like, "It's fine because you find the best bugs when you're bad at games, as you see what happens when you fail a level over and over again, and the game breaks."
I’d also say, go online and find a bug template, because bug templates are a big part of being a tester and it’s important to know how to lay out your issues when writing up a bug. It’s also important to know the different types of testing, like verification testing where you're just doing the things you're supposed to do and seeing if it works. Then there's destructive testing where you're just going absolutely wild, smashing everything just to see if the buttons work or what weird things happen if you press the button 20 times.
Open betas happen quite often for multiplayer games, so that they can just see how load testing works really. You can often get involved quite easily in those. There’s a lot of things online where companies will pay you per bug, and I know that some people in the past that I've worked with have done that on the side and it's worked quite well. If you can find somewhere that does outsource testing, like testing houses, that’s a good place to start. At least 50 per cent of the team that I work with now started testing for a company that tests for other places, and it's a good way to get experience.
As a QA tester, what do you think of speedrunners who use exploits to go fast in games?
I’m very thorough with our structured testing when we're testing Dreams and I love a good bug count. So I'm like, "Hey, if you find something odd, raise it as a bug." I've never thought about it in regards to speedrunning, though. That means in the past I've advocated bugs going into a database and getting fixed that could have been a potential exploit for a speedrunner in the future. But I'm totally okay with all exploits being bugged, as they can be a cause of a crash, and that's the priority for players.
I think one of the things that's worth pointing out is that if you get into QA, you could become a speedrunner. I do know for a fact that Chloe, one of the testers on our team, holds the record for the quickest run on Ancient Dangers: A Bat's Tale. I think LittleBigPlanet 2 was the best one because Mark, who's another tester at Media Molecule, completed the campaign in something wild like two hours. I'm always in awe of people that can do that, because like I said, I'm bad at games, so I could never do that. But I guess instead I'm more of the slow and steady-paced person that maybe could discover an exploit, but would probably never actually use it in a speedrun because I wouldn't be quick enough.
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
I've got so much on my desk. I’ve got some squishy toys like this Kakuna and this Bunger from Bugsnax, a Halloween Wookie, and this broccoli with a smiley face - he’s my favourite. There's also a Grogu. At the back here, I've got a Crash Bandicoot controller holder. And he holds this little TV, which was given to me by someone a few days into working at Mm. They’d put this little Yellow Head in the TV and it’s really cute, and Yellow Head was the original version of Sackboy, so it's a nice Mm throwback. There's always snacks on my desk as well: I have a Persimmon, some fruit and nut mix, crisps... The desk is happening for Charlotte.
So to wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
My recent favourite Dream of all time is obviously goth egg | slip and fall, by CFulljames and KaTMalenjamz. Everyone needs to watch it, as it’s such a bizarre and brilliant idea for a music video. Obviously this is an Mm creation, but I did also really enjoy playing through All Hallows’: The Land of Lost Dreams recently when it came out. I played through it in one sitting and I absolutely loved it.
Then from less recent ones, I really enjoyed REAL STUPID HUMAN PHRASE…, by TRIX9, KeldBjones, SoundsLikeTreble, and Joeycutts83. It’s a fake Dreams-powered quiz show that has really ridiculous facts, and there are so many stupid facts that you don’t expect to be correct but are. I used to use Twitter a lot, as it is a great place to find the latest Dreams creations that people are publishing. REAL HUMAN STUPID PHRASE was one that I saw there and immediately went "That looks cool, let me add that to my Play Later queue."
Last night, I was playing FEEDING DUCKS, by ItsMeJuvy. That game was so good, and even better because I escaped with my duck, I didn't sacrifice him. So yeah, that was really cool. I loved playing that. I also have two creators that I would like to shout out as well: one of them is oooDORIENooo because I just love all of the games that he puts out. And then there’s Paulo-Lameiras, who does a lot of pixel based stuff that just looks beautiful and I've got so much time for that.
I think the thing I love about Dreams is that it's not triple-A games - and I mean, don't get me wrong, some people have made some absolutely stunning stuff in Dreams, but the ones that I tend to love are the ones that just look a bit quirky and different. I really liked Project Pigeon (by PieceOfCraft, Pixel_Gorilla, Magma-Monsta, and Elca_Gaming). It's a variety of minigames featuring pigeons, and they’re so cute. I love a good bird, birds in games are the best. I like that with Dreams, people can hone in on one concept and just make something that's an enjoyable experience rather than overworking it.
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