Playtesting Panzer Campaigns by Mike Ozga
A Tale of Playtesting
Forward by Glenn Saunders
There is no established criteria that makes a great playtester. In fact, it takes all kinds of people to make up a good effective playtesting team and the process is one of constant evolution. Guys good with PCs, guys good with history, and even guys who know little about the battle or the game series that can give you that new fresh look at the game and the engine.
Back after HPS published Kharkov '42, I began looking for some new, enthusiastic players to help round out the team we needed to build Panzer Campaigns IV and I came upon Mike Ozga posting on a forum. I thought Mike would make a great addition to the Team! And as Mike turned out 10 reports in the first week and I said to him and all the team "Pace yourself - Think long term, for as surely as one game finishes a new one will start."
All the testers contributed everything they could to the test and without them the game would not be near as good as the final product. In Mike's case, the enthusiasm dropped as the initial glow wore off but sure enough he picked up again for the home stretch towards mastering Panzer Campaigns IV.
So I asked Mike to share his views on testing - the highs and the lows - his honest assessment of what it is really like to be one of the first to play with the new toys. You may be surprised to learn how much work is involved in Playtesting, but that it can be a very satisfying experience overall.
…and without further adieu …I give you Mike!
So, you want to be a game tester…
by Mike Ozga
So, you want to be a game tester!! Let me give you some advice, it ain't as fun as it sounds. Oh, my first time up to bat is with a great group of guys, HPS' Panzer Campaigns team. And, the test team is top notch, not to mention good game players.
I was asked by Glenn Saunders if I was interested in joining the team to test the newest PzC title. Hey, who wouldn't jump at the chance to test a new game. I mean, the drool was running down my chin when I read the e-mail. Besides, any wargamer thinks, "these guys don't know what they are doing". Oh yeah, how much Order of Battle research do you feel like doing? How about the graphic artist? Think his job is easy, I don't. It ain't easy to color inside the lines, plus the first batch of graphics are ugly!! But, this too improves with age and gets much better.
Well, let me tell you, it sounds better than it is in real life. I mean, at first it is a dream come true. Until that 13th or 14th update needs to be installed. Or you have to play that one scenario you find a bit boring for the 3rd time. Remember, the first draft, even the first few drafts of a scenario are not like the finished product.
And then there is playing a really good scenario solo and finding the new executable file will force you to start the whole thing over. Proof-reading scenario overviews for spelling errors, do you know how to spell Bir el Geff or Alem Hamza? I don't (or I didn't).
Checking unit graphics and maps for errors, while interesting, is not an amusing way to spend a Wednesday night! Filling out reports saying what you did and did not like about each scenario. Remember, one report for each side please, we play no favorites here. What do you think should be changed or not, how good is the AI and other such interesting topics. The actual list of things to do and report is too long to list here, but you get the idea, right?
And what you see on your screen has to be explained in such a way that the guy on the other end of the email message understands you - precisely. That means including a file, and giving an exact hex and exact unit you 're talking about. And what date are the files you are using too. Keep in mind, this takes more time and is harder to do than point you your PC Screen and saying - "There, see that!"
However, there is good news - actually plenty of good stuff too. The first time the boss takes one of your suggestions and sends it to the design team. You smile a little bit when he says good job, it really feels good when the suggestion actually shows up in the game. So, that is the best part, being heard by the guy who makes the final call. He knows what direction to take the game in, he just needs our help to get it to that point. We did a wonderful job of ripping out his heart and stomping it into the ground. You know the game is his baby and we are ripping it to shreds. I would not be able to take it or my head would explode!! But, the designers at HPS must have think skins to put up with all the comments we throw their way. The test team is important for this reason; we want to play the game.
You persevere, playing the scenarios and putting them through the wringer to make what is already a damn good product even better for public consumption. The public! Can't forget about John Q. Consumer. I used to be one of the unwashed masses, anticipating that next title, hope it isn't another "Bulge" game!! Ole Johnnie will play that game and the first time out of the chute he will find that one bug that we missed.
I figured to show these guys a thing or two about what makes a game good. At first, the games and reports were sent out like machine gun rounds. I enjoyed the first few game assignments, that is right, I don't get to play all the scenarios. You pick out little things here and there that need improvement or were overlooked by the design team. Real progress is made every few days on changing the game.
The need for intense play is a real necessity to get an idea of what needs improvement in the test cycle. Which is only so long and cannot take forever. People want that next game installed on his hard drive by tomorrow (which I guess is why HPS doesn't tell anybody what the next title is). Now, that does not mean we push the game out the door, dates were changed faster than a tire at Daytona Speedway.
Then, it kind of slows down a bit, you can catch your breath and do some stuff around the house you wife says must be done. Here is the point were tactics and AI programming changes are made, the middle period, if you will. We made some significant improvements in this stage, but the boss made it clear that everything we wanted can't be done and/or included in the final product. So what? Well, I wanted to have the ability to move AT guns one hex at one half movement rate to prevent moving them into direct fire range of the enemy while in transport mode. This idea was not included and as explained to me why it would be - at least not in this game. But, other ideas were implemented and improvements were made along the way.
The last stage of the game is the final tweaking and checking for the detail things that have been missed up to this point. Although, not as fun as the first two stages, this is perhaps the most crucial. Small things when noticed by gamers are not small and you guys are picky about your games. So are we, for all the same reasons.
Now the game is entering the final stage. Just a few more weeks to mastering. Get all those delinquent reports and final suggestions in to the coordinator. The last minute suggestions are not any less important than the first. It is almost over and I would not trade a minute of the experience for anything. Well, maybe a chance to test the next game. Many thanks to all the guys on the Panzer Campaigns #4 team.
So, after all that, you want to be a playtester? Good luck to ya pal. Because as I found out, it ain't all it is cracked up to be. It is actually a little like work and a lot of fun all at the same time. I enjoyed the first of what I hope is many more experiences with John Tiller & Company. Who knows someday, maybe I will get a chance to design a game and get my heart stomped out. What do you think boss?
After this, I now become what all of you are, a wargamer!! I helped make this new HPS product, but I want to get my copy and play against all the other Rommels out there. But the boss wants me to go back to the Russian Front. What's a fella to do!!
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