Part 12: Beta!

I found Todd Johnson asleep at his desk the other night. I’m not sure how long he’d been at it, but my guess is longer than twenty‐four hours. Todd is a quiet man, even‐tempered, always ready with an answer where someone else might complain or blow you off— a consummate professional in the most stressful position this job has to offer: Lead Programmer. It’s all on his shoulders. So the sad thing was not finding him asleep at his desk. It was in having to wake him up to ask a question. I think it was about the burn.

That’s what we call it when we make a CD: ‘The Burn,’ as in burning an image of the game on a CD. As we near the finish line, we start dumping everything onto a CD (or two CDs in the case of this massive project). It’s a tedious process, requiring that everyone get his or her files up to date, and that Todd goes through a lengthy compilation to make sure everything is present for the disc. We do it once a week, at first, then twice a week, then daily, then hourly. Man, we must be getting close.

We’re in Beta. You can safely substitute ‘Hell’ for Beta, by the way. Beta follows the preliminary deadline of Alpha (see my 7/30/98 entry for Alpha details). Now is when all the things we were going to do later have to get done. Now. As in yesterday. All the art, all the design, all the sound— if it’s not in the game by Beta, forget about it. It’s a time for details and endless testing. It’s also the time when programmers get that haunted thousand‐yard stare— because for a game to be Beta, it has be judged bug‐free by the developer. While at other companies ‘bug free’ involves a wink and a nod and the great hope no one will notice that big bottomless hole under the living room rug, at Oddworld we take ‘bug‐free’ literally, and that means long hours, long nights, and weekends— They don’t exist. Just yesterday it was the 4th of July, and now the whole summer has gotten behind me. We’re almost done. Almost.

Enduring image of Beta: Sherry (the boss) unexpectedly tells me the design team can take a day off over the Labor Day weekend. She knows a long push is still ahead, and she doesn’t want to burn us out. I tell two of the designers— Dennis Quinn and Michael Madden— that they can take Sunday off to watch the opening day of the NFL. God help me, they get up and start dancing. Dancing! Then Chris Ulm, another of the designers, says something to the effect of ‘What the Hell is wrong with us? We get to take off one day of a three day holiday weekend and we’re dancing around and cheering about it!’

Then we all went back to work. That Sunday day off was great, by the way.

Almost done. Details next time.

NEXT: Testing 1, 2, 3

— Paul O’Connor, Oddworld Inhabitants, 9 September 1998