For those of you who have been through the development of a Stardock developed or published game, much of this will be familiar. For those of you aren’t, welcome!
Early next year we plan to release a new turn-based PC strategy game called Elemental. Our games typically have 3 betas and then a private “gamma” and then release. We use the beta to mean truly unfinished, not feature complete but playable (we also use the term “alpha” for truly unfinished but not playable before we move into beta).
Beta 1 is typically the engine test. Beta 2 is the connectivity/multiplayer test. And beta 3 is the balance/fun test. Gamma is where it’s done but we’re doing final bug testing on it.
For Elemental, we want to add a 4th beta that’s earlier than we normally start betas. The reason for this is because we plan to do some pretty radical stuff with Elemental from a game mechanics point of view. Some of these ideas may look good on paper but not be remotely practical. So for Elemental, we’re going to add a beta 0.
Here is the tentative schedule:
Beta 0: June 2009. This won’t be fun and will only play on the cloth map.
The idea being, if the game is fun, it should still be fun without fancy graphics. Finishing Spring and over the Summer, we’ll be trying out all kinds of game mechanics, listening to people in the beta (anyone who pre-orders has the option to participate in the beta) to see what ideas they might have, etc. It’s a lot cheaper to implement an idea or concept when we only have to represent it with icons on a cloth map.
Beta 1: August 2009. This is the engine test where we insert the actual graphics engine. The cloth map will still be there for zooming out but now you’ll be able to really play in the world and we’ll start to build onto this. The game still won’t be fun at this stage but you’ll be able to give feedback on the look, UI, and other game engine stuff.
Beta 2: October 2009. This is the multiplayer test. It still won’t likely be very fun but you’ll be able to suffer with friends on-line. Elemental’s multiplayer model is client-server (which is the opposite of Demigod which is peer-to-peer). In Elemental’s case, Impulse will host the actual games which means that (in theory) there should be no such thing as “connection issues”. If you can connect to a web page, you should be able to play people on-line in Elemental.
It will be at this stage when we decide whether Elemental will make its ship date. We have February 2010 or August 2010 set aside for Elemental based on player feedback (we prefer February but we don’t want to feel rushed). Right now, we’re running slightly ahead of schedule.
One nice thing about Beta 2 is that the multiplayer features we’re adding into Elemental will also be made available in updates to Demigod for multiplayer users and anything else that uses Impulse Reactor (our development platform).
Beta 3: December 2009. This is when the game better start getting to be fun. This is where we balance things, etc.
Gamma: January 2010. This is often called a “release candidate” by other developers but these are private builds where we think everything works but expect there to be some last minute bugs that need to be fixed.
Release: Mid-February 2010.
If you have any questions, let us know. We’re always around.