I'm so happy to announce that my QA contract position with Harmonix has now converted into a full-time position.
I am now an employed Audio QA Tester at Harmonix for Rock Band 4.
What does it mean to commit audio QA at Harmonix?
There are many aspects of a song in Rock Band that require testing. When I first started as a contractor in July 2015, the first element I was given to test was the freestyle system for guitar and vocals in a song.
During my interview for the contract job, I was required to go through a music theory test.
"Analysis" was where I listened to sections of 3 songs and had to write down the chord progressions. I do remember that the third one was from a section of "Tribute" by Tenacious D. :)
"Intervals" had me test the relative pitch between two given notes played on a piano
"Chords" tested if I could recognize a chord in a given key.
All of this translated to the chords and note intervals we put in a song's MIDI markup track, which you see when singing freestyle vocals and hear when playing freestyle guitar.
Here’s a few measures of the FGS from “Ghost of Perdition” by Opeth. See how there are note intervals for each chord (the notes for freestyle vocals and the individual notes on guitar), and text events that display different chord markings (the chords you hear when playing 8th-note or 16th note grooves on the guitar).
This particular song was a challenge to test. This is only 9 measures out of 277!
Now, of course, there is so much more that goes into a song. After testing the freestyle guitar system that was implemented into about 800-900 songs from Rock Band's giant DLC catalog (everything before Rock Band 4), I was now gearing up to train on the phases of signing off a song to put into the store where players can purchase a song.
How does a song get checked and tested? I'll actually summarize with a fantastic video that IGN did with the audio QA team in summer 2015.
As you can see, I'm with the team that looks over all of the authoring for a song's instrument parts (guitar, bass, vocals, and drums). Me and my co-worker, Richard Cody, also help to test the full functionality of a song to ensure that the metadata, scoring of gold stars, camera cuts, musician animations, and freestyle guitar solos work properly before they are submitted to the music store for players to purchase and download.
Here's an example of some authoring QA I was able to do for a really fun heavy metal song.
Here is a snippet of the Pro Drums track on Expert for "Thunder & Lightning" by Motörhead, a recent DLC track we released for the game. First the song is authored, by placing all notes on the track, every gem on every difficulty. After that was finished, I focused on the drum track to make sure that everything was fun of a part as possible.
And when you need to make sure a song's authoring fits the audio, well, then it's time to pick up the sticks and test it out!
For drums, notice how just from watching the part, you can tell if you're hitting the hi-hat cymbal, ride cymbal, or the kick drum and snare drum. Every note tries to give you the experience as if you were Mikkey Dee himself at a Motörhead concert. This particular drum track is great because of the classic thrash-metal drum groove you play throughout the song (think early Metallica) and the sweet 16th-note tom fills. It is SO satisfying to maintain a 4x streak throughout this song. This is probably my 2nd favorite drum track we've done, right under "speed fighter" by Masaya Matsuura.
(Sometimes, it's hard to not use too many breaks to play the drums at work...)
The biggest lesson I've gotten to learn from working here already is the philosophy of teamwork and working together as one unit, no matter how differently someone may work or how difficult a task can be. I had to accept that it's totally OK to ask questions when needed, but also to try and solve a problem myself once I do receive an answer if I know it doesn't require much backup.
The culture of Harmonix is fantastic. People come from different video game and music backgrounds, and no matter how different someone's skill set or interests can be, everyone looks out for each other. I thought that in a huge studio environment, I had to have every single answer to every single issue that popped up, something I still struggle with during real life scenarios. I've been in environments before Harmonix where I did not feel comfortable asking for help. Maybe if it was a class project, everyone seemed to already understand what to do and not really want to help if a classmate asked for assistance. In one freelance project, I was heavily criticized for even asking simple questions on what a director wanted for the emotion of the music I was composing, and I felt like I should have understood what they wanted even before viewing the project.
In Harmonix, I feel more comfortable asking questions. I'm maintaining the balance of wanting to solve issues myself, but being communicative if there are important issues popping up. Not being TOO loud about issues I find, mind you, because I find it easy to boast about finding a bug or two, especially when learning a new task. But I feel great that I have coworkers who look out for each other. I feel like I can be myself and really get to appreciate everyone's personality and work style. I can usually feel very serious and a bit scared if a bug appears wrong, or if I feel like I can't fix it myself and feel like I'm not understanding the material enough, or if a deadline for a task feels very tight. Being around game developers, however, has taught me to relax and have fun in the journey of learning.
I can't tell you how excited I am to work for a company whose games I religiously played all the time throughout high school. It's an honor. I'll be working with the AQuA team (our team's nickname, almost as good as its old name, Team DeLiCious) to make every instrument fit the song's audio as closely as possible. It's intense work, it requires full attention to detail when working on Reaper, and managing bugs with JIRA, but I can't tell you how fun this work is and how thrilled I am to be delving further into audio QA now.