Bullfrog were founded in 1987 by a couple of guys called Les Edgar and Peter Molyneux. They had a couple of unsuccessful releases before hitting it big with the fantastic Populous. They followed this up more success stories such as Powermonger and one of my favourite games of all time, Syndicate. The company continued to have a bunch of successful hits throughout the nineties and the two founders became household names, to gamers at least.
But Bullfrog was on its last legs by early 1999 when I turned up for the interview. The company had been bought by Electronic Arts a few years earlier and the studio would effectively crease to be by the end of the year when it would be merged with the newly built EA offices down the road. Peter Molyneux himself had left two years pior, although he would later resurface with some success in his new venture, Lionhead.
From the outside the place didn’t look like much. It was a non descript building located in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Guildford. There were no signs outside and its next door neighbour was a large pharmaceutical firm. Inside however was very different. The lobby was large with posters and awards lining the walls while in the centre there were two large staircases on each side. Between the stairs was the centre piece, a large (it was like eight feet tall) statue of the horned reaper from Dungeon Keeper. The first time I saw it I thought it was the coolest thing ever but it lost its lustre after seeing for the hundredth time. It did look very impressive though and I wonder what happened to it.
After waiting a few minutes I was lead into the back, while I was walking I noticed there was a sign on each saying what the name of the room was. The names were characters and locations from the more successful Bullfrog games. Somehow I found this funny for some reason, probably nerves. The poster motif from the lobby continued indoors making the place look like a shopping mall that only sold Bullfrog products. The place had a shabby, unkempt feel to it. It looked a lot like someone’s living room as opposed to the clean professional workplaces I had worked in previously, needless to say I loved it.
Being a bundle of nerves the corridor seemed to go on forever but eventually I was ushered into a meeting room. In the room were the lead tester and his assistant. A lead tester has a role similar to a supervisor. It is their job to keep an eye on testers and tell them what to do. They usually get assigned a game very early in production and stick with it till the end. They are also responsible for vetting and editing any bugs that are found to the programmers. The lead tester who was interviewing me was named Darren, at the time he was lead tester for FA Premier League Football Manager 2000, a football management spinoff to the highly regarded FIFA series.
The interview was pretty informal, Darren asked me what football games I had played and this gave me a chance to show off my knowledge of Championship Manager, a game I had played an awful lot by that point. He then asked me how it could be improved, again I was able to rattle off a list of stuff (I remember going on about the transfer system). These answers seemed to impress him and after asking me some general HR type questions he stepped out for a few minutes to discuss me with somebody. It was a nerve whacking few minutes while I waited but just I had resigned myself to thinking that I hadn’t got the job Darren came back in and asked me if I could start the following Monday.
With hindsight I could see how fortunate I was. Although I guess I would have still made it through with my general gaming knowledge. If they had been looking for tester for another game like Theme Park World, a genre I didn’t have much experience with. I wouldn’t have been able to give such good answers to those questions and it would have been a tougher interview. After I was finished I had to wait until my friend finished his interview (I sat there with a big grin on my face the whole time) and unfortunately he didn’t get in. This gave me the perfect opportunity to practise my “sympathetic but secretly delighted” manner on the way back into the centre of Guildford.
The following Monday I arrived back at the offices for my first day. My name was on the list and the receptionist asked me to wait with the other new people for the Darren to arrive. I started to mingle and saw most of my fellow testers were quite young and after speaking to them it was clear they were football fanatics. There were some people there on three month contracts and these were the “veterans” but the majority were temps like me working on their first title. This came as a bit of a surprise but I didn’t have much time to think about it before Darren arrived and started to bundle us into a waiting minivan. It turned out that due to the testing for Dungeon Keeper 2 taking up so much room, there wasn’t enough space in the main offices so alternative offices had been setup to accommodate us.
The office turned out to be a mansion owned by Les Edgar many miles away from Guildford. It took about forty five minutes to get there. I choose to spend the trip looking at the beautiful Surrey countryside as it whizzed by but I did find time to get into a conversation with the guy sitting next to me, he was working on the Playstation version of the game which was being developed elsewhere. He had been sent down to Guildford for a few weeks in order to get a feel for the game as the PS version wasn’t ready for testing and he was living in a hotel paid for by the company. Which was nice.
When we arrived at the place it looked impressive but it was clear that no one had lived there for a while. It was pretty isolated with it being in the middle of nowhere with nothing but fields surrounding it apart from a couple of buildings in the distance. Inside the house was bare with just a few rows of desks with computers on them. Darren gave us a brief tour and then asked us to sit down. We got our first look at the game we would be testing and got to work although this being the first day, there wasn’t great deal of work done. The way back to Guildford was a much more social affair in the van now that everyone had met.
NEXT WEEK: Working At Bullfrog
Buy the whole thing at Lulu.