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GDC 2010: Development Telemetry in Video Games Projects
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Development Telemetry in Video Games Projects
Speaker/s: Georg Zoeller (BioWare Austin/EA)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 4:30- 5:30 Room 131, North Hall
Track / Format: Programming / Lecture
Description: As developement teams increase in size, new methods are required to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of videogame projects. Learn how Bioware leveraged a developer-facing telemetry solution to cope with the challenges of creating games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. This session will provide details on our implementation of development telemetry, discuss some of the practical workflow improvements it has lead to and provide some interesting insights into what happens when you roll out achievements for game developers.

Alexx: I am extremely jealous of this toolset, and want to adopt as much of it as feasible. As a smaller, single-project studio, I presume we can't do all of it, but let's see how much low-hanging fruit we can grab!

Slides available here. I recommend checking out the whole talk, but I'll call out a few things from my notes that particularly excited me:

Aggregated spatial visualization of:
Heat maps, player movement, entry/exit points, engine warnings (people ignore popups, it interrupts their workflow), asserts, cheat usage, combat enter/exit, changes to plot state, conversation starts, creature deaths, player deaths, memory metrics
Click on this visualization map to teleport to that location in game!
if you're coming in from a particular play session, you'll even be facing the right way.

Smart Bug reporting
Typical bug entry form
many fields
some mandatory
many freeform
result: database pollution -- people ignore fields, or fill them inappropriately
Dragon Age bug entry has THREE fields:
Category drop-down
Simple categories -- don't make users think about it
auto-assigns Person responsible to review bug based on category
can recognize keywords and reassign bugs automatically!
aware of Vacation time, so assigns bugs to backup people when appropriate
Freeform text entry to describe bug
Priority
Everything else about the bug is taken automatically from network!!!
location, machine details, build, etc.
Suggests possible duplicates
Some Optional Fields
Environment
Milestone
Severity
Regression
Frequency
One click to add a screenshot if the game hasn't crashed.
automatically issues console commands to display appropriate debug information, like pathfinding, before taking screenshot.

Can display bug locations IN GAME! Walk around the world, and see bug text,

1st month of Developer Achievements doubled hours of non-QA playtime
increased bug reporting
got people excited and competing
boosted morale
people took game home to play!
taught users about obscure features
some people got addicted; had to get all Achievements, played for 100s of hours
Made it easier to test Player Achivements

Data sources
Game client/server
Callstacks, warnings, etc.
Game events, movement, etc
Savegames, screenshots
Performance timings
Toolset
Startup time, usage patterns
Callstacks, warnings
Prove negative effects of crunch!
Wikis
Can execute console commands from wiki
Bugtracker
CoffeeMaker :)
Twitter
measure PR buzz: DB contains every tweet that mentions Dragon Age

It looks like their search functionality generates very few top-level results; you drill down from there to find whatever level of detail you need.

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That bug-reporting interface is... really attractive. I'm breathing heavy and everything.

Yeah, me too.

The best part is, they *built* it, so the developers can't tell me "Oh, that's impossible".

This particular clue is slowly getting around: Microsoft has started to add some of this sort of bug-reporting functionality to their toolset. (The current version of Visual Studio Ultimate is all about bug reporting and debugging functionality; there's little other reason to spend the money.) Not nearly as powerful as what you describe here, I expect, since it's necessarily a bit lowest-common-denominator, but people are starting to get the idea that these are the sorts of data-collection problems that the computer should be more proactive about...

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