Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Come On, It’s Not *That* Bad!

ApocalypticaAs I am about to ride off into the Sunset from my current job and take on a new challenge at a new place, I was reminded of something amusing recently. I have a collection of video game music, i.e. the stuff that is produced beyond the bleeps and blips of old. Actually, video game music is surprisingly complex and well done in many cases. Nobuo Uematsu and Michiru Yamane are standouts in the field; their soundtracks to Final Fantasy and Castlevania over the years have been nothing short of breathtaking in many instances.

As I was digging through, I found some tracks from the very first video game I ever tested. That game was a European produced title called Apocalyptica (not to be confused with the Metallica cover band consisting of a drummer and three cellists, but I digress). This was back in 2003. Now, some of you are probably doing some math in your head and thinking “first video game ever tested… in your thirties?!” Yep.

I had made the decision to go back to school in the middle of 2003, and in that process, I had the opportunity to work for Konami Digital Entertainment America in their test group. It wasn’t a high paying gig, but then I wasn’t necessarily looking for it to be. I just wanted something to slow down the personal savings burn rate while I focused the majority of attention on school work for the next two years. When I arrived my first day, I was sat down at a computer in a room with a bunch of other testers who were likewise sat at their own computers, and we spent several weeks on and off various projects. I was assigned to the team that was doing compatibility testing with various pieces of computer hardware for this game called Apocalyptica. It was funny because all I would hear was people griping about it, complaining up and down about this or that. Sure it had bugs, and I was able to find my fair share of them, but a lot of the time I was thinking “Come on, it’s not *that* bad!”

OK, so the plot of the game is a little bit out there… Satan has been under lock down for 10,000 years, but then escapes and he and his minions wage war all over the galaxy. Humanity’s last defense is a cadre of super warrior clones from the DNA of the holiest of Saints (and I guess battle armor for the female versions includes armored stiletto high-heeled boots… hey, it could happen ;) ). The goal is to use these hyper mechanized and heavily armed “holy soldiers” to fight through various levels, tell a tale of betrayal and redemption and to finally do battle with and lock Satan away again… yeah, like I said, the story is a bit out there.

The controls are clunky, the multi-play system has no servers serving it anywhere, and the character UI is very strange and in some ways terribly unresponsive, but honestly, it was somewhat fun to play. Why? It was my first real interaction with a game at that level, at the level of a tester. I learned a lot about game testing just from the few weeks I was on this title, and in an interesting break, I was part of a team of people for a short period of time and got to see how they all responded to and interacted with a title. Many were long time veterans and kind of laughed at the fact that I was having fun with this thing. Still, warts and all, I actually had some fond memories of the title and occasionally smiled when I thought about playing it.

As I was going through my Amazon gift certificates I received for Christmas, for a laugh, I thought I’d see if Apocalyptica could still be purchased. As a matter of fact, yes. I found a place that had a clearance sale, and actually, I think I paid more for shipping than I did for the game. It arrived yesterday, and as I looked at the box, went through the familiar installation screens, played the intro videos and went through the first level. I was awash in nostalgia. Yes, the game is still clunky, yes the UI is clumsy and hard to control, and yes it’s a total rip-off wannabe of Unreal Tournament, but for those few minutes, I felt like I was back in the test room at Konami in 2003, hearing compatriots laugh and heckle, and me sitting there thinking "Come on, it’s not that bad!”… and even today, I still mean it. Looking back from almost 8 years later, those were some good days, and those were some great people. In a small way, this game reminds me of all of them, and that first day of being the “new kid”.
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