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Explaining Phases of Games to Learned Youngsters

Discussion in 'General' started by Fractal_Shard, Mar 22, 2016.

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This last post in this thread was made more than 31 days old.
  1. Fractal_Shard Trainee Engineer

    Messages:
    6
    Hello, I'm Fractal Shard and I'm here to explain what the phases of game (alpha release, beta release, full release) actually means to people who payed for (or are going to) this game. Currently the game is early access semi-alpha/beta phase (as the mod said early access blurs the line) , which means to you pay to enter Space Engineers as it is. I've seen a lot of bickering on this forum stating "stop adding stuff and fix the game" (or something of the like). As the line is blurred the pressure the devs are handling is much more than would normally happen if said phases where uniquely separated. Below are the phase's fully explained to hopefully prevent/reduce this for the future.

    Alpha Release Phase:
    Alpha release is basically an add features and expand universe phase of the game.
    Add Features: Adding core features of the game such as blocks and functions.
    Expand Universe: Expanding upon core features by adding secondary features (for example the recent planets release)
    *Note* Bug squashing and optimization are not a core focus during this phase

    Beta Release Phase:
    Beta release is the phase in which optimization, bug squashing, and polishing is teh primary focus.
    Optimization: Optimizing the game so that it can serve a broader spectrum of machines making the game more playable to a wider audience.
    Bug Squashing: Eliminating bugs of the features that where added in the alpha phase.
    Polishing: In essence making things look nicer and smoothing out core features introduced in alpha phase
    *Note* Features are not the core focus of this phase.

    Full Release:
    The full release phase of the game is essentially when the game has completed and feature additions and bug squashing are handled together, but are far less more frequent. The game is complete and most devs move on and develop another game when the game enters this phase.

    Hope that helps guys, and remember and negative comments will not be responded to by me (I hope to ask other users to do the same) and will be ignored. For a recap this post was more of an informative deal to help people understand that they are not buying a full release quality game and should set their standards and expectations as such since a lot of people seem to feel like they where burned. I picked up this game when it was just released and was nothing more than smashing things into other things because that was all that was in the game (no weapons, mining, resources, or survival) and I'm extremely satisfied with what the game has become. Never at the time did i buy this would i have thought that the game would become the amazing thing it is today. The sky (or space :p) is the limit, keep up the good work. Now discuss and feel free to ask me any questions. Have a wonderful day! ^_^

    *Edited*
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016
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  2. RayvenQ Moderator

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    562
    Keep in mind though, owing to the fact it's an early access game they have blurred the lines a little at times, having periods of focused bugfixing a couple of times in the past.
     
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  3. Light_gemini Junior Engineer

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    671
    Looks at OP description of game dev phases.

    Looks at this year roadmap.

    Yeah, we are at Beta. Thanks for clearing it out. Lets hope theres more alpha after release.;)
     
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  4. Radma Kanow Apprentice Engineer

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    326
    1. Pre-Alpha
      The software is still under active development and not feature complete or ready for consumption by anyone other than software developers. There may be milestonesduring the pre-alpha which deliver specific sets of functionality, and nightly buildsfor other developers or users who are comfortable living on the absolute bleeding edge.

    2. Alpha
      The software is complete enough for internal testing. This is typically done by people other than the software engineers who wrote it, but still within the same organization or community that developed the software.

    3. Beta
      The software is complete enough for external testing -- that is, by groups outside the organization or community that developed the software. Beta software is usually feature complete, but may have known limitations or bugs. Betas are either closed (private) and limited to a specific set of users, or they can be open to the general public.

    4. Release Candidate (aka gamma or delta)
      The software is almost ready for final release. No feature development or enhancement of the software is undertaken; tightly scoped bug fixes are the only code you're allowed to write in this phase, and even then only for the most heinous and debilitating of bugs. One of the most experienced software developers I ever worked with characterized the release candidate development phase thusly: "does this bug kill small children?"

    5. Gold
      The software is finished -- and by finished, we mean there are no show-stopping, little-children-killing bugs in it. That we know of. There are probably numerous lower-prority bugs triaged into the next point release or service pack, as well.
    source.

    There was one nice graphics that explained it nicely but I didn't saved it when I saw it, sadly. When I find it I'll edit.
     
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  5. Fractal_Shard Trainee Engineer

    Messages:
    6
    Thank you for the more in depth description . I couldn't seem to formulate a more in depth post and turned out to be more of a simple explanation that i could come up with at the time, Posters block struck me quite a few times
     
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  6. Light_gemini Junior Engineer

    Messages:
    671
    Now this is a good description. So we are at alpha again;).

    Can we send a copy to Marek? His roadmap and mentions of "releasing the game" seems to indicate he is confused too with all this alpha/beta thingy.

    Acid sarcasm aside, those are good general ideas of what does each stage represent. But early access games can be a singularity of its own breaking established definitions. The need to have a more stable and big bug free state for user consumption can make it all become blurred.
    SE is certainly evolving at its own pace. Now its stated to be alpha. And that means c**p. Focus now is more proper of an "almost beta" while some new features are still planned and MP is not finished. Aftet that it would come beta at a time Marek hints at a release actually. So flashy beta all the way to gold.
    But they say SE will not stop developing after release. So it goes back to alpha of SE 2.0? To post release expansions?
    Is "release" an actual release in this case or a way to put away the early access flag? Is that an actual move to get ready to abandon developement if its no longer profitable and not be lapidated because the game is "released" and not in EA?
     
  7. StuffYouFear Apprentice Engineer

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    416
    Weird, I always though games went though phases something like this...

    [​IMG]

    The less pressure applyed to game devloper the more chance of vaporware.
    Totaly sure thats how it works.
     
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  8. damoran Junior Engineer

    Messages:
    608
    Some people are more or less content with the game as is and are more interested in playing and setting up their server and a community. I'm convinced these are the ones wanting them to just fix it and stop adding things because they've already accepted that this is the game and augmented it with whatever mods they think completes it. Whenever there is a major add or change this screws up their mods and introduces new bugs and rage ensues because they simply want it to work in a playable state. I can understand this and if this were my mindset I'd be upset too.

    Then there are those that remind themselves it is still a WIP not a final product and are hoping much more is still added to the core content for a more comprehensive game without having to add hundreds of player made and maintained mods. I'm convinced these are the ones constantly asking for more content and discussing things like "How can we make survival fun" in hopes that the developers still plan on adding more content and revisiting things that are not working properly.

    I think it has less to do with understanding game development cycles and more with impatience and what people want for this game.
     
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  9. DivineWrath Junior Engineer

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    531
    There is a proof of concept/minimal viable product stage. Easily over looked and much software has suffered because of that. Basically make a program with the absolute minimum number of features and content required for it to be tested and evaluated. The sooner you can test your ideas, the sooner you can figure out if an idea is good and what kind of changes needs to be made to make it better. It is easier to make changes early on with less waste of resources than it is to make changes later. It beats spending several years making a game and not being sure why it isn't fun.

    This video explains the idea quite well:


    A minimal viable product for Space Engineers might be a game where there are ships, built with a small list of blocks: a basic cube block, a thruster block, a gyro block, and a cockpit block. You would be able to test if a game where you only build simple ships was fun and engaging. Adding power blocks or hydrogen stuff could be done to test if a game is fun if some blocks required other blocks to work. Adding drills, refineries, and assemblers could be added to test if adding industry blocks could be fun. Etc.

    In many ways, adding planets to this game wasn't done right. There was a great deal of resources committed over many months where most of the resources went to developing planets. After all is said is done, there are many who weren't won over with what was produced. They played for a while but went meh and have taken the attitude of taking off and never going back. They don't see a reason to go back. If the devs started with a large round asteroid with natural gravity, they could have tested many of the features that could have gone into planets using a fraction of the resources. Maybe planets didn't need to be big as they are, so rewriting key parts of the code to allow planets to become massive as they are might not have been required. They have more or less given up on the idea of adding actual water and many other features you might want planets to have. It would be too demanding on modern computers to support that stuff.
     
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  10. BlueVKWolf Trainee Engineer

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    25
    I am really hoping for more features, content, etc... So I like they have not officially gone Beta..
     
  11. Malware Master Engineer

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    9,663
    This game will only have gone beta when Keen says it has gone beta, not before.
     
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  12. SpecFrigateBLK3 Senior Engineer

    Messages:
    1,133
    Eesh. Can we all just accept that Space Engineers is unique-ish in its development, with the best comparison being more of a nebulous area between alpha and beta and sharing features of both?
    Y'all act like those typical patterns are some kind of prophetic word of God. Keen does it different.
    I'm not saying don't make your opinion known, just don't try to stick a square into a round hole.
     
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  13. Cronos988 Junior Engineer

    Messages:
    545
    Honestly, it isn't even unique. Lots of games use a much looser definition of the phases, where Alpha and Beta effectively blur into each other, and even after games have been nominally released, features keep getting added. And on the other end of the spectrum, many games that are available during Alpha have already exhausted their ability to generate income by the time they reach the nominal Beta stage.

    This whole discussion tends to devolve into semantics. Development practices vary widely, and so does the application of the "Alpha" and "Beta" labels. If someone wants to use them, fine, but please refrain from shoving them down other people's throats. Definitions aren't arguments.
     
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  14. Ronin1973 Master Engineer

    Messages:
    4,845
    The changes in the market with alphas has redefined the concept of "alpha."

    With online releases and updates versus traditional retail box releases is a game changer.

    When a software company was building a game they are operating in the red until the first retail units are sold. That meant an investment of cash was needed from the beginning to end of development with enough cash to produce the retail units. The clock was always ticking because you only had so much money in the budget and when it was gone you were out of luck unless you got down on your knees and begged for more from whatever entity was supplying the capital.

    In the new paradigm you can produce a "working" version of your software and infuse your company with alpha purchases. They aren't investments since the purchaser isn't expecting or entitled to any profits generated. You can infuse your venture with a LOT of immediate cash if your title is hot enough.

    But the downside is that consumers AREN'T investors. If there are periods of time when the game is having difficulties, they don't conceptualize the ideas of alpha. For them the game is just "broken" or they believe "it just sucks." This can have an impact on your public relations in terms of negative reviews and even hostility.

    So, IMHO, you have to balance your traditional ideals and ideas about alpha with satisfying your alpha purchasers. If done right, you can really build momentum for your release. If done wrong, you can tank your title with a lot of negative feedback before it even reaches beta.

    It's definitely a balancing act. Players give their money and have no control over what happens from that point. So you have to bear that in mind when making decisions. You do have to cater to them somewhat else it becomes a PR nightmare.
     
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  15. Shabazza Junior Engineer

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    687
    And that's absolutely necessary.
    With early access, a game studio really should keep in mind that there are already players that payed money to play the game.
    So while it would be totally ok for an alpha game to break from update to update, an early access alpha game should be updated more carefully, to assure having a playable game in it's core aspects at any given time.
    This is not meant as a critique here. It's just something I personally expect from any early access game. So like RavenQ mentioned, the approach must be a bit different with an early access game.
    The community forming around that game at this early stage may be highly tolerant to missing or bugged features.
    But they always need to have the confidence, that their expierience with the game they support in this stage (with money and time for filing bug reports and giving feedback)
    is something the developers actually care about throughout the whole development.
    So in this case, bug fixing can't be put into beta phase only as you are already building and serving the market with your unfinished product.
     
  16. RayvenQ Moderator

    Messages:
    562
    Actually reading the Roadmap, I'd say we're still in Alpha, late alpha, but still alpha, with the added crossover that Keen does as stated before.

    To quote the following line from the roadmap that makes me say that...

    We're approaching (as in not quite there yet) the final turn (which, would logically be beta) we're not at the final turn yet, merely approaching it, thus, late alpha.
     
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  17. Stardriver907 Master Engineer

    Messages:
    3,192
    Pre-Alpha
    Post Pre-Alpha
    Alpha
    Pre-Post Alpha
    Post Alpha
    Pre-Beta
    Post Pre-Beta
    Beta
    Pre-Post Beta
    Post Beta
    Pre-Release
    Pre Post Pre-Release
    Post Pre-Post Pre Release
    Post Pre-Release
    Relea- Wait, Not Yet
    Hang On
    Just One More Thing
    Almost There
    Dammit WTF Happened
    OK We Got It Working Again
    Just Making Sure
    Making Damn Sure
    Making Sure We're Sure
    Everyone Takes a Shot of Vodka
    Release
     
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  18. Me 10 Jin Apprentice Engineer

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    463
    Vaporware can also happen when a developer runs out of liquid assets and their projects sublimate from solid form to vaporware. Sad but true.
     
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  19. fourthquantum Senior Engineer

    Messages:
    1,286
    This game needs a hell of a lot of work on the survival game play aspect which will probably need new additions and better balance. I'm also not sure the boundary between Alpha and Beta is as rigid as people keep defining it.
     
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  20. RayvenQ Moderator

    Messages:
    562
    In normal, non Early Access games, the boundary is pretty rigid, but in Early Access games, some of that boundary has to soften, as there are customers who have bought your product, thus, you have to try and deal with critical (from the point of view of the players) bugs with a little more flexibility, although how rigid developers stick to the boundaries is an entirely individual thing.
     
  21. StuffYouFear Apprentice Engineer

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    416
    How most people think games are made...
    [​IMG]

    Keensoftwarehouse....
    [​IMG]
     
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  22. Ronin1973 Master Engineer

    Messages:
    4,845
    Exactly. The experience with early access from one title will influence how any subsequent early release titles are gauged before another purchase. Right or wrong, the only thing that matters are how the purchasers feel about the experience.

    You can say "look, it's early access" until you're blue in the face, but that's not going to change their perception.
     
  23. Light_gemini Junior Engineer

    Messages:
    671
    The main thing I want to express is that in EA games holding into definitions like alpha or beta is proof or guarantee of nothing. Just a mere indicator. Everybody knows of games that changed from alpha or early beta directly into release with little time or warning in advance. When things go wrong or devs just had enough definitions fade into thin air.

    Judge by facts and statements. The latest ones hint at almost all main features done and final run for release getting close. Calling it alpha and expecting theres lot more to come can be as easily shatteted as having keen announce beta next thursday. And at the same time it could mean nothing and still get AI and more while at beta.

    I have trust in Keen but im not getting married with it and the stage the game is stated to be.
     
  24. Fractal_Shard Trainee Engineer

    Messages:
    6
    People also fail to understand that because this game still has features being added, that if they where to fix everything at once and then start releasing features again a single feature release could truly break the entire game and make all of the time and effort that went into fixing every bug null and void, and ultimately a complete waste of time that accomplished absolutely nothing. People also seem to forget (tell me if im wrong) that the devs had made this game engine from scratch, they didnt really use a pre-built engine, and therefore have a tremendous amount of bugs since this game dousnt have the reference material resources that pre-built game engines come with.
     
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  25. Nacon Junior Engineer

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    591
    I've already created this info chart for this very reason.
    [​IMG]
     
  26. Radma Kanow Apprentice Engineer

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    326
    ^

    This is what I was looking for when posting stages explanation :woot:
     
  27. EmperorDragon Apprentice Engineer

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    113
    That chart is pretty pointless if I have to be brutally honest.

    Every game is developed in it's own way, and things change even more once a game still under development is made available to the public (like Early Access). No fanmade chart will dictate over how devs should make their games, they will plan and follow their own principles.

    "Alpha", "beta" etc. is just fancy terms used by devs to specify how far the game is from being finished and not a specific set of rules they are required to follow. Some may do periodic optimization and bugfixing throughout development, some focus on polishing and refining their game engines early on and only add features and objects later, others still add large features in the "beta" phase and some would even classify unfinished or incomplete games as "released" (like our dear greysuit friends over in the AAA dev camp...), many devs don't even bother with those phases, they just go by "in development" and "released" (the one I prefer).

    Just let the whiners and collective demands be, I am sure Keen and the community don't take it seriously. Constantly posting fanmade development charts will only add to the confusion, if SE enters "beta" and decide to halt bugfixing and optimization for a while in favour of adding a new big feature, those whiners will be back and demand that only bugfixing and optimization be done because "the progress of a PC videogame chart said it works that way!".

    Not everyone is a whiner though. When a person new to gaming comes along and complains, just tell them that the game is still in development and that they pretty much pre-ordered it with a playable tech demo, they'll understand. If not, then you can call them whiners, or stupid.

    And remember, people may be stupid but, devs are people too. Insults can often go both ways...
     
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  28. REDSHEILD Junior Engineer

    Messages:
    888
    In my experience with early access or public development games, their development cycles make less sense than modern art. It's best to just say it's alpha or early access and then disregard any contradictions. Trying to make sense of the contradictions and exceptions leads to madness.
     
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