Behind The Curtain: Testing MCF Shadow Lake for iOS
How do you test a game that you’ve already played approximately 102 times? This was the challenge for Mac QA when Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake Collector’s Edition was ported to iOS, and they decided to revisit their most beloved game. Leia, Jason and Mark tell the story behind the scenes of their summer with Shadow Lake.
Leia, Mac QA Lead: Last Fall, Jason and I worked on the Big Fish PC/Mac release day and night with the PC team, and there were a few weekends when we’d play the game all day and then take it home and play it at night. We became crazy on pizza and caffeine, quoting lines back and forth to one another and doing character impersonations. Believe it or not, we still love the game and it remains one of our most nostalgic projects.
Jason, Clever Detective and Mac Tester: Even after the game was released, Leia and I would still play it every now and then when we would get a new build, and without fail that would cause us to quote the game to each other.
Leia: For Jason’s birthday this year, I made him a teeshirt with the code from our favorite cut scene, the one that starts, “What are you doing here, you butthead?” I loved the shirt so much I bought one for myself. Then the original Shadow Lake Dev team wanted tee shirts, so we made another order for them! There are now 10 such shirts in existence.
Jason: I also distinctly remember quoting the game to several other people around the office, by walking up behind them and shouting “COME AT ME GHOSTS!” (In my best Jack Talon voice, of course).
Leia: We got involved in the mobile project because we’d been working on Mac App Store games with Studios Producer Mark and game developer Emmanuel. The Mac App Store is an app available on all Macs with Mac OS 10.6.8 or higher. It’s where you get your software updates and download the new OS each year. We’ve been bringing some Big Fish Games to the App Store and the process has been really fun, especially because we love Emmanuel. His work is precise, he’s an excellent communicator, and he’s my favorite developer to work with. When I found out he was going to be porting Shadow Lake, I asked Mark and our Big Fish mobile QA team if we could get on board and help test the game during their production cycle, with a parity launch on both the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store. We haven’t done a simultaneous launch like this before and my team had never tested on mobile devices. It seemed like a terrific opportunity, and have I mentioned we love that game?
Jason: I remember the day Leia came to me, and asked if I would like to help test Shadow Lake for mobile devices, and I don’t think I could say ‘YES!’ fast enough. As eager as I was to get back to having Lea Thompson boss me around and tell me where to go, I had to stop and think for a moment, because I had never tested on an iPad or iPhone before. Fortunately, I did have one thing going for me; I have that game memorized, or at least I had thought I had the game memorized.
Leia: There are a few key changes to the game to make it friendlier for mobile audiences. They added a fast-travel button on the map to Cassandra’s room, so that you could quickly journey throughout the game. They changed some of the HO scenes with new items and there’s some new tutorial tweaks and design improvements in the beginning of the game. We were able to give feedback to our Super Producer Mark, some of which he incorporated.
Mark, Super Producer: The feedback from the QA team was great. For a lot of it I had no hesitation putting into the game. Big Fish is full of people passionate about the games we make; it’s one of my favorite things about working here. Leia’s team had great feedback on all aspects of the game, and helped tremendously when we were tweaking the look and feel of many of Shadow Lake’s minigames and puzzles.
Jason: Going back to Shadow Lake was an interesting experience, because suddenly I was dealing with a world of different aspect ratios, and having to find new hidden objects in the same scenes that I had previously found. But one of the biggest differences is the idea of tapping and touching to play through the game. I found myself feeling like I was playing a new game for the first time.
Leia: iPads are a 4:3 aspect ratio, which changes so much of the gameplay. There are a lot of objectives in each scene in Shadow Lake, and it all had to be configured into a tiny screen. We had to check that morphing objects could fit on the screen, and that all interactive areas were easy to find in the dark corners. iPhones are an even different aspect ratio, and we ensured that all the puzzles can be completed on those little screens. It was crazy to test on such tiny handhelds, because we usually test games on 27 inch iMacs.
Jason: One of the coolest things about playing the game on a mobile device was replaying all of the psychic puzzles. I felt that these really shined on a mobile device where I can use my finger to move them around. It felt very natural and was a lot of fun.
Leia: We went through a few revisions to those puzzles with the dev and the producer to find just the right feel to them. The developer would tweak the physics of the puzzles and we would go through and play them again on the iPad and the iPhone. The last psychic puzzle is really intense with so many moving parts, and it took several revisions to make it enjoyable on the iPhone.
Mark: When we were making major changes the physics of the pieces in the puzzles, it took many, many iterations to get the feel just right. I think we spent more time on that than any other single aspect of the game, aside from localization.
Jason: After playing the game for a little while though, one thing became clear, is that this was more or less a new game entirely. We basically had to go and start from scratch on a lot of different things, because of the differences between the PC/Mac version and the Mobile version. This increased the amount of testing that needed to be done from a little to a lot.
Leia: This was one of the best testing experiences because we really tested for everything. We did side by side playthroughs checking the mobile version to the Mac/PC original for content. We also did a sound pass one morning where we booked a conference room and then did one action on the Mac, then the same action on the iPad. Our team logged over 100 bugs on the game in over two months.
Jason: It was really interesting to see the progression and the rate at which we were bugging the game. We would come across something that would prevent us from moving forward in the game, and then we would go back and try to reproduce that bug at other points in the game. Basically, we would find a really good bug, and make sure it didn’t happen anywhere else in the game. We became really good at playing through the game.
Leia: By the time we tested the Mac App store version on our MacBooks and iMacs, it felt weird to be playing it on a big screen again. We saved the Mac App Store testing until the last week but it really helped us to find more bugs that were also within the iOS version. One of us would find bugs on the App Store version and then the other would reproduce it on a mobile device.
Mark: Big Huge Thanks to Leia, Jason, their team, and especially the rest of Mobile QA. To the readers … go play Shadow Lake and I hope you enjoy it!
Jason: Overall, it was an awesome experience being able to take one of my favorite games and help to get it ported to mobile so even more people can enjoy Shadow Lake.
Leia: We are so proud of all the work we’ve done on this game, and it’s almost time for us to break out our Shadow Lake Christmas Stockings!