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Nothing prepared us for how many bugs we'd find in this project. The total came in at around 16,000, about half of which were internal and half of which were external. This was more than twice as large as the largest bug count we'd ever seen on a project at Treyarch before, partly because we were on three platforms and therefore had more bugs. (The same bug on three different platforms might show up as three or even six bugs, as PAL SKUs were being tested independently from their NTSC counterparts.) Still, even though our find rates were high due to the number of platforms, our fix rates were quite ordinary. Our open bug graph looked like Figure 1.
Watching our bug count was like watching the stock market, and we felt lost at sea. On previous projects we'd been able to guess fairly accurately how many bugs we'd have and develop a good idea when we'd be complete. On this project, all we knew was that it was going to take longer than we thought, and possibly a lot longer. All we could do was work extra overtime and mark "will not fix" or "as designed" on as many bugs as we could. At this point in the project, it's a gray area between a "bug" and a feature that "really has to be there." Although we fought against as many changes as we could during this period, most of the battles were lost, as we reluctantly agreed that the opportunity justified the risk of these features. If we'd fought any less hard, or lost any more of those battles against unplanned feature changes, we would not have made our ship date.
Normally we like to have the game in testing for a week after we hit zero bugs, to make sure that there aren't any lingering, hard-to-detect problems. We didn't have that luxury on this project. A week before our final date to submit we still weren't at zero bugs. All we could do was be careful during this week with our fixes: access to SourceSafe was restricted; the team was admonished that they mustn't fix any more low-priority bugs, lest they introduce a stop-shipment bug; and we did informal inspections on all source changes. When we finally hit zero bugs, we worked overnight to get the burns out and submitted the next morning.
While our submissions were cooking at the console manufacturers, we continued testing at Activision, so we could find any problems before the console manufacturers did. We found about half a dozen problems that we would have loved to fix, but they were either very rare or not serious enough to warrant a resubmit, although they were quite embarrassing.
We haven't worked out the details of how to reduce our bug count for the next project; more and better and different QA is necessary, but how much and what kind? Formal code reviews? Unit tests? More black-box testing? More soak tests with random monkeys? Maybe we should make asserts and developer-eyes-only error messages fatal, to force people to stop and fix these problems instead of working around them. Maybe we should rely less on the PC version, so we can catch console-specific bugs sooner. Whatever we do, I hope it'll go into the "What Went Right" section of Treyarch's next Postmortem.
This article represents data sifted from the internal postmortem we did at Treyarch. After we shipped the NTSC versions, everyone wrote their lists of what went right and what went wrong on the project. Categorizing that data was difficult, and my lead programmer bias has seeped into what's been presented here. If senior producer Greg John, creative director Chris Soares, or design lead Tomo Moriwaki had written the article, you would have seen a much different view.
Due to the massive movie marketing, the Spider-Man phenomenon is huge. Being a part of it, seeing Spider-Man paraphernalia everywhere, is exciting, and partly makes up for the frustration.
But what really makes up for the frustration is the fact that we somehow pulled it off: an original title, three new platforms, 18 months. And so far, it's doing very well.
This post-mortem originally appeared in the August 2002 edition of Game Developer magazine.