Damsel's awkwardly polite journey to the Playstation 4
Two years from original release to PS4. Why? We asked, and the answer reveal so much about being too nice, and the quality of great QA.
The very cool action platformer Damsel by the Brisbane based Screwtape Studios originally released back in 2018 on Steam. The 2D vampire killing action took a year to come to Xbox and Switch which is fairly common practice. Console ports can take a long time to not only develop but get approved.
It wasn’t until earlier in 2020 – a decade ago in human years – that Damsel finally released on PlayStation, and that kind of delay without some exclusivity deal, is a little less common practice.
I recalled talking to Megan Summers, the Production and Quality Assurance head for Screwtape Studios, at PAX a few years ago. She mentioned some of the administration difficulties involved with ports. At the time she seemed truly unsure of why they couldn’t get anywhere with Sony, so when I saw the PS4 launch, two years later, I had to find out what happened.
Beautifully, frustratingly, unfaultedly the answer is of course: clerical error.
“With all platforms, you've got to submit your proposal before you actually get the game on them and it never got approved.” Tells Summers “But we finally got in touch with the Sony contact for the Australian Asian region, and he thought it had been done. So it seemed like it was a system error.”
The reason this system error caused such a huge delay in Damsel’s PS4 release, comes down to a very human and relatable scenario. Not wanting to bother someone.
“I like to figure things out myself, instead of asking questions of the representatives." Summers explained "Because I can imagine they're getting emails constantly with people going, 'I don't know where this button is where I press that.' And I'm like, Why? I can figure this out! And it got to a point where I was like, No, we've got to just find the right contact, get in contact. And then within a day, the button's pressed, it’s all gone through approval.”
Especially because of Summers’ extensive background in Quality Assurance for games, she’s used to solving her own problems. Many folks who are good with tech will often go into the deepest of dives trying to fix a problem that could have been solved by a simple restart. Doubly so if it means not calling for support.
I think we’ve all been there. Hesitant to ask a question, terrified of annoying someone for something simple. Especially someone we want to garner favour from. It’s why it so often feels that the loudest most annoying voices get heard, and it’s just because they simply speak, unbothered by the weight they may put on others.
I heard the explanation and felt it deep in my core. I know all about how crippling anxiety can be. I don't know if that's the case here but I could feel it in my bones and I felt terrible. But I had to ask. Did she think it would have been out on PlayStation sooner if she or someone else on the team had just hassled someone?
“Yep.” came her reply, and it was heavy with the weight of one who’d had that thought themselves. Likely far too many times.
But this wonderful QA mentality which may have cursed the PlayStation release to a later date is also a guiding light.
We discussed how good Damsel feels to play on every platform. I’ve tried it on PC, Switch, and Xbox and the controls and menus are consistent across the board. I can’t say the same for a lot of games out there at the moment, some from far bigger studios. Looking at you, Genshin Impact.
Summers used a great analogy in discussing QA work. Explaining that making a game is a bit like building a hotel, one level at a time.
“So you know, you've got your ground foyer in, you've decided where you're going to put the electricity wires, you've decided where the plumbing is going to go in. That's all the design and technical people. And then QA opens every door 10 times to make sure that the door hinges work, but they're also checking that the paintings are straight and they've also got to go and sit on every toilet and flush it 50 times to make sure.”
She explained that getting QA in right at the end of this process can lead to late fixes which only break more things. Say you fix that toilet, but then you might affect the rest of the plumbing because maybe the pressure is different.
This almost preventative approach to QA in game design means the team at Screwtape were prepared from the beginning. Knowing the plan was to release on all consoles they developed with that in mind, which is why it feels so consistent, no matter where you play.
It’s also why all it took was to ask a question. The hard work was mostly done. The hardest work, as it almost always is, was asking for help.