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    PQ | Features | Mailbag | November 14, 1998
   

From : Ricky Ricardo
Subject : Give us your monkeys or else.
  [ Or else what? ]

Attention,
My name is Ricky Ricardo, I represent faction 223-411 of the 2A division of the National Environmental Protection Agency. I am sending you this letter to inform you will be placed under heavy watch within the next 48 hours.

[ "Heavy watch"? WTF is that supposed to mean?!? "You're under HEAVY watch". Aw, can't it be a light watch? How about "diet watch"? Or "Lo-calorie caffeine-free watch"? Sorry, where were we? ]

After many months of research and careful analysis of public records   [ "After staring at my monitor until the 80 cycle flickering hypnotised me into a trance like state of catatonia" ]   our research division   [ "me and my stuffed rabbit" ]   has confirmed that you and your organization are in possession of a small group of dangerous creatures which pose a threat to our nation's health.

We have discovered the existance of these supposed "Funky Drunken Monkeys", and recent reports have confirmed that this "double-sided" monkey does exist and is indeed radioactive.   [ Well why else would it be glowing green?!? ]

These are very dangerous creatures, and bending them to do things such as helping you write irrelevant columns will only increase the danger.   [ Yeah, all that boredom will cause them to flip and turn on their masters like something out of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes"... ]

You have 48 hours to respond and let our task force apprehend the monkeys, or you will be placed under careful watch, and extreme measures may be taken if deemed prudent.   [ "Dear prudence, won't you come on out to play..." Sorry. I'll stop singing, I promise. Please don't cut my tongue out. ]

Have a nice day.   [ Ugh... Do Americans really say that? ]

Anyway... The monkeys are having to lie low for the moment, so I had to write the whole damn Mailbag myself this week. I'll give you a "nice day" buster...


Betavision

My comments about public beta testing in last week's Mailbag have supplied us with another shovel full of mail to keep us warm this winter...


From : Chris Chambers
Subject : Public Beta stuff

I public betatest stuff all the time, and in fact I'm a private (unpaied, but part of a selected group) betatester for a number of companies.

What you've said is very on target. What you have outlined is quite likely the best way for id to test the q3Arena code, however, I have my doubts as to the need for a fully featured beta.

Weapon code is unlikely to cause crashes, so the weapon selection could be limited to a small selection of what will be in the final product. Also, since the singleplayer aspect is an extension of the multiplayer, it would be easy to limit it to online only play.

The only real code that requires extensive public betatesting is the graphics & physics engine, network algorithms, and resourse management. The rest of the code can be handled by internal Q&A, or should be at least.

In my personal experiance Q&A teams do a good job, and can be expected to catch gross problems in those areas. The only time they havn't were in several games I tested they simply used a public betatest instead of comprehensive internal Q&A, and the final product suffered from bugs and the like.

I don't agree with you that there's no need for a fully featured beta. Weapons code might be unlikely to cause crashes, but it still needs testing. For example, the hyperblaster caused a massive amount of lag in early versions of Quake II, which could have been avoided if it had been properly tested.

And the single player is an extension of the multiplayer, but the bot code needs testing to make sure the AI doesn't do anything stupid like run around in circles or stand banging it's head against the wall, and to make sure it won't cause any crashes.


From : MuuMuu
Subject : Q3Test, and a load of patching?

I must say that the idea of gradually improving the Q3 code through a bunch of little patches made out for a Q3Test... except, I'm afraid it won't work. A similar idea was used to patch Ultima Online.

I ended up beta-testing it (the public beta at least), and got into that world for a while. Almost every day I tried to get in, I'd be downloading about 3 megs of patches before playing (and that's with the characters being purged every week or so, too). I did stop playing the game after realizing I hated it.

The full UO was released perhaps a month or two later. Supposedly the final beta-test was to have fixed the bugs. The bugs, of course, were never all squashed, and they've been blasted by reviewers and suits filed on them.

If id really does have the determination to release a non-buggy game, that process WOULD work. But by the way Quake 2 was released (after a set "when it's done" release date, in fact), I'm not confident their product will be mostly free of bugs.

Of course, public beta testing only works if -

a) the public actually bothers to give bug reports / feedback / comments / suggestions
b) the company doesn't try to shove it out before it's "done"

As for patches, hopefully with Q3Test they would be fairly small. After all, looking at Quake II - most of the patches are only a few hundred Kb. The only time they're bigger is when id adds something like deathmatch maps or visible weapons to the game and needs to release a bunch of new BSPs, models or whatever.


From : Strelka
Subject : Beta testing pitfalls

I agree with you 100% that there should be more public beta testing. I know I would snag Q3Atest the moment I could, play the hell out of it and try to give as much feedback as possible on any bugs I came across. Then, of course, I would spend my hard-earned cash on that puppy as soon as it hit the shelves.

However, a big public beta may not be the godsend you might expect. One big beta I participated in was for Ultima Online. What Origin did was get a bunch of people to log on, get them all psyched up about the game, solicit piles and piles of bug reports ... and then ignore almost all the feedback and release the game essentially unfinished anyway.

In fact, more than SIX MONTHS after "final" release (this was when I finally quit for good), several of the bugs and balance issues still had not been resolved. It wasn't beta testing; it was MARKETING.

The point is that with a public beta test a company can discover many of the problems with their game, attract a following even before the game is put on the shelves and release a finished product (what a concept) ... but ONLY if the company is conscientious enough (or simply smart enough) to make use of the beta testers' input.

I realize that there's the danger of "too much input". I also realize that you can't please everyone all the time. Coming back to UO, Origin created huge imbalances with every "patch of the week", which often came as a result of someone's complaints. One week magic-users were all-powerful and melee-fighters were simply moving targets; the next week mages were neutered, but archers were gods. And so on.

However, what I am talking about here is creating a game that works straight out of the box, not a game that will please every person in every detail. I point specifically to Shogo (a patch released BEFORE the game was even on the shelves???) and, of course, Unreal (multiplayer in name only). Call me nuts, but when I buy a product, I expect it to WORK in the way that it was advertised.

Seems Ultima Online is a good example of public beta testing - a good example of how NOT to do it...


I said last week that my own company, The Coven, would be putting the public beta theory into practice, and now we have done! Monday saw the release of the Deadlode II public beta.

The full commercial version of Deadlode II isn't due out until February, giving us a full three months (or longer if necessary) to iron out all the bugs and game play issues before we try and take some of your hard earned cash for it. In the mean time you get to play the mod for free, without any restrictions or crippled features.


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