Ok, disclaimer time. This blog post isn't actually going to be about soup. That was just a cunning ruse to lure you in. Instead I'm going to be talking about ALPHA submission and what that means. Dun dun der....!
Traditionally, most game studios will work to 3 key submissions. Whilst the individual criteria may vary, they're generally like this:
Alpha Submission - Content Complete - game playable from start to finish. Can be place holder Art. Generally very buggy.
Beta Submission - Art and Feature Complete.
Master Submission - The release build of the game - ideally with no bugs!
As you may have seen on our social channels, we're currently working hard towards an Alpha candidate. In reality this is a self imposed deadline, but it's crucial for several reasons that I'll explain here:
1. User Testing
With all the best will (and paper design in the world), its incredibly hard to get a sense of a game like ours until you play the whole thing from start to finish. Ultimately this will be the first real chance to see if the game holds up to our original vision, and to ask the very important question - is it FUN? Once we have an alpha build, we can actually get people to give us feedback on their game play experience. If patterns emerge within the feedback (like particular sections not making sense) we can go back and redesign these areas before we commit to final art.
2. Narrative Pacing
With a story game like ours, pacing is crucial in creating drama and tension. There are key story beats that need to happen throughout the game, so this is a chance to check that the narrative flow is working to give us the most impact and dynamism throughout the game.
3. Difficulty curve
Whilst we're not trying to create a mega hard experience, we do want the puzzles and game play to become more challenging as the player progresses. What we don't want is for there to be spikes where the game is just too hard (and players flip out), or too easy. Both will make drive players away.
4. Game play time
We have a rough idea of how long we think the game will be, but until we hit Alpha, this is still just a guess. Getting concrete data will help with lots of fun stuff like pricing & scheduling. We'll also be able to judge if we think the game is long enough (and does the story justice), or conversely, if there are sections of the game that feel bloated and should just be cut. Similarly, are there sections that the player spends too little time in? Creating final art takes a long time, so it's only worth doing if the player is going to see it!
The amount of music written for the game (in minutes) will actually be a lot less than the player's play through time. This is because we'll reuse themes and loop sections, or layer up sections of tracks as the player progresses. Having the whole game playable will allow us to create a proper map of the music we'll need.
6. It's good to have goals
As painful as working to deadlines can be, it's really important to have something to aim towards. It keeps you focused and all pulling in the same direction. There is also then a sense of mini achievement when you meet your goal, which is really important when the final version of the game feels like a long way away!
So yeah, that's what we're up to at the moment and why. In many ways it's the hardest part of the project. So many things are still undesigned and need to be worked out. At times it can feel like there is a mountain of work still to do, but then when it all comes together you suddenly have a game. A game that's nowhere near finished, but a game nonetheless.
I can't wait!
Until next time,
Tom & Alex