QA Analyst Helena Hansen from Pieces Interactive tells us about the important art of Quality Assurance, her gaming origins, and her tips for breaking into the industry.
What was the game that first made you want to get into gaming?
I’ve had an interest in games for as long as I can remember. While I grew up, my interest in games was mostly of a simpler design like Disney’s Dinosaur on the PC. When I played Tomb Raider III for the first time when I was seven, it definitely woke up an interest in me that I didn’t have before. I found myself sympathising with the main character and getting lost for hours in the incredible level design. This definitely sparked an interest in how games are made!
How did you break into this industry?
It was a mixture of networking and education. I got a Master’s degree in Medialogy at Aalborg University in Denmark, which provided me with the toolset to research, implement, and evaluate games. In my spare time, I started looking into how animations, characters, and 3D assets are made, and delved deeper into the material and pipeline for game development. I knew someone who worked at Pieces Interactive who referred me to their open Quality Assurance position once I graduated, which is the job I still have today. Networking definitely played a big part!
What was the first game you worked on professionally and are you still proud of it?
The game I’m working on now is the first I’ve worked on professionally. But at university I got some great opportunities to work on games and implementations that I’m still proud of. I was working with a group that created a virtual reality experience for indigenous people in Namibia, where they could experience some of their own cultural heritage, as they don’t have access to the same resources we do. I think you should always take pride in your work, learn from it, and carry that knowledge on to the next. It’s always great to look back and think, ‘I really did that’.
Did you always want to work in QA specifically? What’s the appeal if so?
What got me interested in QA was my interest in what separates a good game experience from a poor one, and what the building blocks and thought processes are that go into it. I like to think of every game ever released as being free research, in a way. There’s so much to learn. For example, what steps did a development team take to improve the sequel from its predecessor, and what makes some games stand out as masterpieces? I’ve always been interested in working as a QA and shaping the game into the best it can be.
What’s the chief responsibility of a QA analyst, and how do you achieve it?
It’s about getting an overview of the state of the game, its levels and mechanics, providing input into how a mechanic or feature can be improved, and helping ensure that the game is working at its best. It’s a lot of communication with the team about what mechanics and features are working as intended, and if they don’t, figuring out why. There’s also a lot of playtesting, planning, and documentation. Analysing the different potential issues and patterns of when a bug occurs, and documenting and communicating it all is a big part of it. Efficient communication is key.
What’s a mistake in your particular field that you’ve made, but ultimately learned from?
When I was younger I would sometimes see working in games as something unachievable, so I would work really hard for a long time, burn myself out, and want to give up. I would be so hard on myself when I felt like I didn’t learn fast enough, and it would just fill me with such bad energy. I know now that learning and getting good at anything is not a sprint, but a marathon, and we have to take care of ourselves along the way too. Learning never stops, [especially]in an industry like game development [which] is constantly growing. There’s always something we don’t know or could know more about. It’s OK to not learn and know everything at once.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to your younger self, given the chance?
I think it can be boiled down to keep working hard, keep being curious, and continue to learn. It all started with me being curious about how games are made. Don’t be afraid to try new things, step out of your comfort zone, and always ask for feedback and advice. Feedback is such an important part of learning and evolving, so never be afraid to reach out to someone and ask. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone within that field you’re studying or role you’re striving for. You’d be surprised how someone from a different field or role can grant you a whole new perspective on things!
Would you say it’s easier than ever to work in games, or more challenging?
We work in an ever-evolving industry, so we find new solutions and tools to help us overcome challenges. A great example of this is the pandemic, where lots of people were put in the situation of having to work from home, which can be challenging in different ways for everybody. But now we have so many tools and resources which have made it possible for us to work on games from our own homes. I think it’s become easier, but the challenges we face change with time, and we overcome them the best we can.
What’s something people can do now to help their future chances of working in games?
Dare to be curious! Learn as much as you can and network with people who can help you on your journey. With all the various social media and resources online, networking is easier than ever. Be kind, and acknowledge you’ll make mistakes along the way. Nobody’s perfect, and the journey to game development isn’t either. Great things start with curiosity and willingness to learn, and the right people will notice that and will want to help you along the way.