Sponsored Feature: 'XNA Game Quality: The Certification Story'

In this Microsoft-sponsored article, the company's Nick Bodenham, Andrew Donnelly, and Michael Steer -- XNA Game Quality team leads and supporters -- lay out the proc
In this Microsoft-sponsored article, the company's Nick Bodenham, Andrew Donnelly, and Michael Steer -- XNA Game Quality team leads and supporters -- lay out the processes that go into certifying Xbox 360 and Games for Windows releases. The first team to get its hands on the game code after a publisher submits a title for certification is The Mastering Lab, the "gateeepers" of the certification process. The majority of testing done by the Mastering Lab is automated through the use of tools. "The Mastering Lab has two core roles. Firstly they take the game code supplied by the publisher and check that it is ready to test. This ranges from checking that it boots, making sure that it has the correct images for Xbox LIVE, ensuring that the total number of Achievements and Gamerscore add up, checking that the Xbox LIVE information in the game executables matches for all versions; and ensuring that the submission doesn't contain erroneous files. The Mastering Lab's secondary role is to process the game files, which comprises a number of different stages. First, they apply the Age Ratings to the game code, which are used by the Xbox 360 Dashboard Family Settings. The Family Settings controls can be set by parents or guardians to block access to content based on game ratings. They then configure how the game code should interact with other versions of the same game, as well as configure how different games communicate with each other (example: some games are designed to share game save data), and whether or not a game should support the PAL-50 video standard. The final stage of processing is when the Mastering Lab prepares the game disc images used to manufacture the final disc based product. At the same time, they also prepare the game files that both Compliance and Functional use to test the games. From here the games enter Compliance testing, which we will look at next." Once the game has completed the Mastering Lab's preliminary checks and a pre-test phase, the title enters the Compliance test cycle, where it will be subjected to tests standard for all submissions as well as tests tailored specifically to the supported platform features. The game will also need to meet Technical Certification Requirements (TCRs), each of which outlines a specific rule, or a small collection of interdependent rules, that must be adhered to in order for a game to be ‘compliant': "Collectively, these TCRs form a kind of golden-rule-book, and the intention of this rule book is to protect both the user and the platform. From a user perspective, the majority of work they do isn't always obvious, as the primary objective is not to impose on the original vision and functionality of the game, but to maintain consistency and security of the user experience across hardware (Console) and services (Xbox LIVE). To give a simple example of this, have you ever noticed how, for the vast majority of Xbox 360 games, pressing ‘A' will progress through, and pressing ‘B' will regress through, a menu system? This is something that was once a TCR for the original Xbox some seven years ago, but its influence has persisted and has resulted in a consistent user experience for all Xbox 360 users. From a developer perspective, there's obviously some legwork that has to go into making a submission compliant with the TCRs, and as such the TCRs are sometimes viewed as an additional hurdle in releasing a game. To clarify, each TCR has been through numerous reviews to ensure that its existence is justified and it avoids restricting game creativity and design wherever possible, while promoting the intended use of a range of system features." You can read the full feature on the XNA Game Quality team's certification process, which includes more details on the Compliance and Functional portions of game testing (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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