About My Time Working with Team Chex™ Quest HD

My Duties as Lead Quality Assurance

Working with Team Chex Quest HD and General Mills, Inc. on getting the Chex Mix brand into the ‘gamer space’ with the Chex Quest HD video game (an Unreal 4 project) was a very rewarding experience. I worked with and was introduced to a number of professional people along the way, some of whom I still keep in contact with to this day. This role was from Aug 2017 to Jul 2020.

I led Quality Assurance efforts on Chex Quest HD. This involved full playthroughs of the entire game made to that point, and often involved repeating certain sections several times over to understand and verify what was wrong with them. A full analysis of an alpha build meant playing through the entire game several times. In my time with General Mills and the Chex Quest Development team, I later transitioned into a Junior Programmer role.

A primary responsibility of mine that often gets overlooked by QA was ensuring the actual product matched the designer’s gameplay vision and intended mechanics. This required an understanding of what the designer envisioned, understanding gameplay mechanics, design, and production, and intended gameplay interactions. This also included being able to suggest alternative level or game designs when prototypes were lacking or not user-intuitive.

This included tracking and documenting everything ranging from mundane minutiae to game crashes, and even implementing QoL (Quality of Life) improvements and suggestions (like non-intuitive or incomplete User Interface/User Experience UI/UX) that players take for granted and don’t notice when they’re playing rather than making, including:

  • Graphical bugs and typos
  • Items not working or affecting inventory
  • Level design, e.g. ‘softlocks’ or progression blocks
  • AI logic and pathing
  • Options not affecting the game or preserving through program exit/load
  • Save/load not working or working incorrectly
  • Crashes
  • Access to options menu while in a level
  • Configurable display options
  • Configurable key bindings (unfortunately, this didn’t make the final release)

These issues were documented and filed as individual “cards” on the Trello bug tracking software (Trello is equivalent to Jira, and is in fact its sister product from the same company, Atlassian) in an Agile/Scrum environment. Afterward, I would assign categories and severity to each individual issue, directing development towards areas of concern. Each test produced around 20 cards per pass, which often produced extra cards when doing more thorough testing of specific issues.

Performing these tasks required careful eyes, extreme perception and attention to detail, being able to notice both the big and small, and leaving no stone or menu option unturned in order to notice and find anything, everything, and all errors. Finding such a large number of bugs required good instincts in knowing where to look for ‘edge cases’ (exotic interactions beyond typical usage). It also required deductive detective skills: thorough, repeated testing of a specific issue in varying environments to determine where the program logic breaks down and what’s actually going wrong. I intentionally broke the application several times over while looking for opportunities to create those breakages—and making my own when none appeared to exist.

E.g., there might be a glitched item model when switching to item #4, but is the issue whenever you switch to item #4, or does it only happen whenever switching from item #3 to #4? When going into Options and turning on audio/visual alerts for secret areas found, is it because the game isn’t saving to ‘options.inf’ correctly, reading ‘options.inf’ correctly, or altogether failing to read when players enter secret areas? Determining the exact issue was important, not merely if it’s not working, and understanding what the system is actually supposed to be doing.

Spearheading bug/issue tracking for the whole project meant working continuously and directly with the development team to ensure we all knew what needed to be worked on. As a result, 414 unique cards were filed by the reporting team led by me: 260 by me, and 154 split between the other contributors and developers. That’s the number of bugs, issues, and QoL improvements I investigated, implemented, had fixed, and am responsible for. This is besides notes added, and my responsibility to re-test and vet all cards once they’re flagged as complete by a programmer.

Part of this process was occasional audits of the entire database of cards. This was to make sure fixed cards stayed fixed (regression testing), ensure existing unaddressed cards weren’t fixed by fixing another underlying issue, and perform other miscellaneous cleanup and categorization. This also meant I led software and technical writing and documentation. Doing this, including conferencing with a group of remote developers from around the world, required excellent communication and writing skills troubleshooting, diagnosing, and documenting issues with them. I made sure things were laid out simply and plainly, and clearly understandable to remote teams, while simultaneously being detailed and thorough.

Many of these cards also involved recording game-play footage to demonstrate the exact issue. This included several repeated runs though the entire game, for reasons ranging from general testing, bug hunting/finding/verification, vetting Steam achievement feasibility (is it reasonable, too hard, or impossible?), and speed/speedrun purposes.

What Working with the Chex Quest HD Development Team Was Like

The developers communicated with me on how they liked cards to be filed, for clarification on details, and demonstrations (including screenshots and videos). I communicated with them on areas that needed to be addressed, and the status of cards flagged as fixed. Unlike more stressed environments where the developers and QA (Quality Assurance) couldn’t talk with each other, we all got specific details and clarification where needed.

There was no classism, elitism, or anything else hindering the QA department from talking with the developers, and vice versa. As a result, there was no lack of clarity and communication whenever developers needed to know additional details on an issue, and QA could be even more specific whenever additional notes were required. There was nothing getting in the way of work getting done.

There were no bug quotas to encourage padding bug tracking boards with useless drivel, duplicate findings, or stolen reports. As a result, there was no perverse incentive for QA to perform actions (excess fluff, un-detailed reports) that contradict or hinder the goals of development. The project leader, Charles Jacobi, deserves credit for keeping out these divisive distractions that work against team building and unity, and making sure everyone worked well together for the best outcome possible. As does everyone else that contributed to CQHD during our time with it, worked on it, and made being part of it a great experience.

Because of all of this, we all worked together harmoniously towards a single overall goal (the best game we could deliver), with a specific, streamlined process that promoted team unity. There was also no animosity between the team members, and between QA and development, with everyone working well together without friction. Working together on this project with this group and in particular C. Jacobi was an enjoyable, fulfilling, rewarding, and pleasant experience. Doing this—several playthroughs of the entire game while walking over the same piece of metaphorical carpet several times over—was monotonous work, but enjoyable work. Work was always enjoyable because there was never a lack of passion for the project.

The Result of Chex Quest HD’s Release

CQHD was released to the public May 18, 2020 on Steam to Very Positive user review (80% or more), and later released on Nintendo Switch.

CQHD was downloaded over 22,000 times in the first week with an average play time of around 40 minutes, and regenerated interest in the Chex brand with coverage by pop culture outlets such as Polygon and Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN).

Copyright

Chex™ and Chex Quest™ are trademarks of General Mills, Inc.