I just wanted to make a quick post here about how things are going with MMORPG Tycoon 1.1. I mentioned about two weeks ago that I was expecting to have MMORPG Tycoon begin alpha testing today. As it turns out, that’s not going to happen, but it won’t be more than one more week.
In game development, there are several stages that a game passes through. Many games have pre-production, which consists of design work and other conceptual work performed before anyone starts actually building the game. Then you have general development, a first-playable, alpha, beta, and then one or more release candidates, before you have your gold master.
Now, the precise definitions of some of these stages vary from company to company, but here I’m going to be using the most common definitions I’ve encountered, which I’m also using for my VectorStorm games, and then I’ll explain why MMORPG Tycoon is missing its alpha testing date. All that and more, below the fold.
Generally, anything done which is created before anything that’s intended to be shipped with the game counts as “Pre-Production”. This includes early design work, concept art, and so on. Now that we’re in the era of special editions of games which include coffee-table books full of concept art, the “Pre-Production” term is probably less literally true than it was in the old das, but this is still what it’s called in the modern game industry. Everybody loves pre-production, and nobody ever has enough of it.
The larger and more complicated a game, the more time you’d like to have in pre-production. In the commercial industry, you hear stories of it lasting anywhere from six months down to no pre-production period at all. For MMORPG Tycoon, my pre-production phase lasted for the few weeks between when TIGSource‘s Procedural Generation competition was announced and when we were allowed to start coding for it.
I’ve thrown this term around a few times before, and it pretty much means what it sounds like; “First Playable” is the first time that the game can be played as a game. It’s not complete, it’s missing features, it’s missing graphics, it’s usually not a whole lot of fun, but it’s the first time that you can actually sit down with a controller and actually really play the thing.
Folks who don’t make games generally don’t realise just how long it takes to reach a playable state with a game. It took me four weeks to finish the original version of MMORPG Tycoon, and that didn’t hit “First Playable” until the third week; until then, I was just working according to a blueprint for the game, and hoping that it was all as interesting to play with as it seemed to be on paper when I’d worked out the theory.
Alpha is the point in a game’s development at which the development focus shifts from developing new features to finishing the game. At alpha, the game’s feature set is locked off; no new features will be added, and instead development effort focuses on polish and bug fixing.
However, the game is still far from complete when it reaches alpha; every feature in the game must be present, but not necessarily be in its final form. We can tweak with these features during the period between alpha and beta.
So as an example, in MMORPG Tycoon, one of the things that’s changing for version 1.1 is that players feel a need to socialise with each other, and may become unhappy if they’re all alone. In the current build they don’t actually become unhappy if nobody else is around, but the core socialising system is there and is acted upon, and that’s good enough to meet the ‘alpha’ requirements.
So if “alpha” is “feature set locked off, all features present but not necessarily complete”, then “beta” is “all features complete”. Typically, the time between beta and the first release candidate is spend exclusively fixing bugs and making minor tweaks. As an example from MMORPG Tycoon 1.1, creating buildings now costs cash. However, the precise amount of cash that each type of building costs is something that will probably be tweaked during Beta testing, based upon feedback from testers.
So what does all this mean for MMORPG Tycoon?
Well, there are a few bits and pieces which are not in place, which blocks the beginning of alpha testing. There are four of these. I could push MMORPG Tycoon into its alpha phase if I wrote these out of the design, but I think that each is important enough to delay the start of testing, in order to get them in place.
- Adventurers do not yet form friendships with other adventurers.
- Adventurers do not yet form guilds.
- Building types do not ‘unlock’ based upon your progression through the game.
- MMORPG Skill Tree has not been implemented.
Right now, I’m estimating that it’ll all be good to go within a week. When alpha testing is ready to go, I’ll post about it over in the forums, along with a download link for anyone who’d like to help find bugs. Thanks for your patience, everyone! We’re into the final stretch before alpha. :)