Every gamer would like to work at a software publisher in any capacity, yet very few actually get to live out that dream. For Jennifer Brozek, that dream became a reality, as she was a tester at Sega. There she worked on such great games as Aladdin, Dark Wizard, Eternal Champions, and Street Fighter II CE. As she tells us about herself:
Jennifer Brozek is the chief cat herder of the webzine The Edge of Propinquity, author of the Tales of the Hucked Tankard series, and the co-author of The Player’s Guide to Castlemourn, written with Ed Greenwood. She may be classified as a member of homo geekus and a member of homo gothus. Her attributes include extreme curiosity, a love of reading, role-playing, dark colors in soft fabrics and anime. Her skills include writing, breaking software and gaming.
As with many of her species, Jennifer is shy but may be approached with caution and responds favorably to chocolate. She is a freelance author for Sovereign Press, Black Gate magazine, Margaret Weis Productions and FanPro when she is not working as a geekette of a Software Test Engineer Lead in her normal 9-5 life. Other hobbies include serving as a kitten foster mom for the Seattle Animal Shelter and being a sidekick character in the webcomic, Casey & Andy.
Sega-16 got to speak to Ms. Brozek about her time as a tester for Sega during the heyday of the Genesis.
Sega-16: How did you land a job as a game tester at Sega?
Jennifer Brozek: It was a case of not what I knew but who I knew. I was in my last year at college getting my CS degree and miserable at the job I had. A friend of mine already working at SEGA of America suggested I interview. He set it up for me and I had the job within 10 days of the interview. I was the third female game tester in a much, much larger group of male testers.
Sega-16: Gamers usually think that being a game tester is an enviable position and can be a foot in the door to a career in the game industry. Is there any truth to this, or is it an urban legend?
Jennifer Brozek: That depends on what the game tester does with the knowledge they learn. In truth, it is much easier to become a game producer, developer or designer if you have been a game tester first. You understand more of business of creating games instead of playing them. You start to learn what it takes to design a game and problems therein. I know, at the time I was at SEGA, it was almost impossible to become a game producer without being a full-time game tester first.
Sega-16: Take us through your typical day at Sega. It wasn’t all just eight hours of playing games, was it?
Jennifer Brozek: No. No, it wasn’t. As a straight tester, you came in and found out what game you were testing and what part of the game you were to work on. You could be lucky and get something like “Collision detection” which allowed you to roam the entire game, trying to get yourself stuck in walls. Or, you could unlucky and be stuck on a single level of a game for the day. You have to repeat that same level over and over and over again. You try testing the Barney game for a day and tell me how privileged you feel to be a game tester. Additionally, you usually had performance numbers to record, bugs to regress, bugs to write up and meetings to go to.
As an assistant test lead or full test lead, you had the added job of assigning resources and tasks per game, reviewing what was found in the previous shift, keeping up on bug reports, repeat offenders and going to even more meetings to ‘discuss’ (read argue) whether or the fact that you could see the female character’s garter in Street Fighter when she did a certain type of kick was appropriate to the age level of the target audience. Oh, yes, you had your own test tasks as well.
Sega-16: Were you allowed to offer any input beyond just testing, like comments on level design, presentation, etc?
Jennifer Brozek: I was a contractor. So, my perspective might be different than a full-time tester. Generally, no. Unless it violated the Code of Standards, we could add bugs that had suggestions in them. Sometimes they were implemented. Most of the time not. It was very hit or miss.
Jennifer Brozek: Absolutely none. This might be an artifact of being a contract employee.
Sega-16: Did you ever get a chance to rub elbows with the high management brass at Sega?
Jennifer Brozek: I actually smiled at this. Suffice it to say, no.
Sega-16: What was your favorite game to test? Why?
Jennifer Brozek: The ShadowRun game. I absolutely adore the genre. I am very much into the combination of cyberpunk and magic. It is a good thing, too. I was the assistant test lead for that game and worked on it for six weeks straight. I still remember the cheat code for the game and it’s been many years. By the end of the game’s test cycle, I was dreaming I was a part of it.
Sega-16: Aside from the obvious, what kind of perks did the job offer?
Jennifer Brozek: With the day shift and the night shift, I was able to complete my degree by working at night and going to school during the day. There was lots of freebie swag that got handed around. Mostly in the form of t-shirts. I still have some of them. Also, they fed you every time you worked overtime. This included weekends and if my night shift extended beyond 11 p.m. – which it frequently did. For a poor college student, it was a real gift. Other than that, it was a very casual work environment. I enjoyed it.
Sega-16: Were there any downsides to the job, like extra long hours, low pay, etc.?
Jennifer Brozek: The video game industry as a whole pays less than other technical industry. So, yes, there was that to contend with. Also, crunch time pretty much sucked. I frequently went to school from 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and then was at work from 3:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. for weeks on end. Yeah, I didn’t get much sleep. Life? No. I didn’t have one beyond school, work, sleep – lather, rinse, repeat. But, as a first job out of college, I have to say it was a great job.
Sega-16: What’s your fondest memory of working at Sega?
Jennifer Brozek: It was my very first day working there. The test lead handed me sheet with four bugs on it. I was to do the “final testing” for Ecco the Dolphin game. Honestly, it was busy work because he was too busy doing other things to baby-sit the new hire. My job was to bumble around the game and verify all of the bugs were fixed. Only, they weren’t. There was a serious collision detection bug where you get the dolphin stuck in a place he should not be able to go. The dolphin would drown and die. Game over.
When I let my test lead know that I had verified one of the bugs was still active, he was surprised. I offered to reproduce it for him. When I did, several times, he shouted “BAM!” at the top of his lungs. All around the office I heard, “Bam? Bam? What bam?” Bam is what you shouted when you hit a ship-stopper bug. On my very first day as a tester, I stopped the release of a game.
Ah, it’s the little things that make testers happy.
Our thanks to Ms. Brozek for her time and candor. You can read her published works and other goodies at her website.