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Pre-Alpha? Not quite

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:12 am
by Seith
This is just something that really puzzles me: nowadays I see official videos for AAA games that are officially branded as "Pre-Alpha Version". Yet, when you watch the video what you see is clearly at a release-candidate stage, complete with full gameplay, lighting, animations, effects, features, music, voice-acting, etc...

I mean the game is not finished in the sense that all of the missions/quests are not yet finalized of course. But that is the definition of an advanced beta (at the very least). Meaning it has the potential of becoming a Release Candidate once the last details are added. That's got nothing to do with "pre-alpha" whatsoever.

When I posted the pre-alpha footage of Ghost of a Tale, it was really that; extremely limited in size, no real interaction to speak of, place-holder assets, and literally nothing to do as a player, except run around in circles on the beach.

It may have looked like it was much more, but that was all done on a shoestring with about 2% of what's supposed to be the game's content. In other words it's closer to a concept than a finalized product!

So I would like to submit that some marketing people in those big AAA studios (I won't name any) should really take the time to learn about video-games and look at an actual definition of software development ( ... life_cycle).

Managing potential players' expectations is good. Misrepresenting the game's development stage by calling it "just a concept" when talking about a near-finished product is not.

It only serves to confuse players as to what they should expect to find when playing an alpha, beta or RC version of a game...

Re: Pre-Alpha? Not quite

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:20 am
by evilkinggumby
Yeah I tend to agree. I think they use that term loosely to try and convince the fans that it is a early and still not perfect version and so they label it with the earliest stage possible to get the most latitude for avoiding criticism. Cause if you put out there the beta version of the game, and people see it and think it looks terrible/unfinished/crap you are only really 1 step from release and it'll shake the confidence of your buying public, potentially killing sales. Saying it's in the alpha stages really would be OK to do but they shoot wide instead. "Yeah this game is barely made.. really.. "

But then again due to budgets and schedules, AAA gaming operates under a much stranger code of ethics than indie/small publishers. Often times games go gold (sent to the cd making press to replicate for retail sale) well before they're 100% bug free(or in some cases finished). Every time you buy a game on a console or pc the day it was released, and the first thing it does after it installs and loads is "This game has a required update" you are seeing the fact that bug testing and fixes were not actually complete. So the "beta" test and QC phase have either been cut short, or require too long a period to effectively be done.

It is a sad state of affairs. I am slightly nostalgic of the old days when the concept of patching/fixing a game was non-existent and if you released software with a major issue/bug/glitch the only way to "fix " it was to replace the product with a later-release version. In terms of cartridges this RARELY happened. Now, it is the crutch every big company uses for their sales. We've gotten USED to it, really.

But I also recognize that back in the day games were far less complex and development teams were fairly small handfuls or less of people. Now we see games with hundreds of staffers on the credits. Most modern games I see have like 10 minutes of credits.. lol...

One thing I can give them is if it is a game where they had to custom develop the game engine from scratch (instead of using unity or the unreal engine or crytek) and for that there is usually a lot of assets and pre-design work done that is mostly there for testing and conception. I saw a few games footaged in the past like that, sort of a "proof of concept" to show and test the game engine out and give an idea of some of the ideas they're shooting for. Usually it is just a single area to run around in, and basic assets (along with some pre-baked models and possibly plugins like havok physics). But really it's not anything you'd see in the final game. In those cases it is truly accurate for a pre-alpha flag. But only a few developers are doing this. making your own engine is.. a hell of an investment.

Re: Pre-Alpha? Not quite

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:37 am
by Pulsar
I really do not know much about this sort of thing however I was under the impression that because alpha is just a stage of testing how the game 'functions' in general, the state of assets such as voice acting, textures, animations etc. can be anything from almost non-existent to almost complete and since the big studios have many dedicated asset creators the game will have a lot of content by the time it comes together for alpha testing.

Re: Pre-Alpha? Not quite

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 9:02 am
by Seith
@EvilKing: "Ethics" is a wise choice of word, indeed.

@Pulsar: Well, at the alpha stage the game is supposed to be really incomplete (lacking lots of features), a time where the engine is tested with very rough assets (usually polygon place-holders like colored cubes) and very crash-prone. In other words barely "playable" at all. And voice-acting usually sounds like writers speaking in a microphone.

I mean don't get me wrong it is absolutely understandable that developers want to make sure people know that they're not being shown the final product. But this is frankly getting ridiculous. It's like saying a car is still at an "early conceptual design stage" because the back seats aren't bolted yet.

Pre-alpha is generally abstract game-design, engine-coding development, testing of ideas, etc... Now with that in mind, here's a typical case: (this game looks like it's going to be great, btw)

Re: Pre-Alpha? Not quite

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:00 am
by evilkinggumby
yeah that's a lot more polished than a pre-alpha should be. but at the same time you have to consider this is a spiritual sequel to Dead Island, also made by Techland, and using their engine (chrome 6 for this, Dead Island was on Chrome 5) so really a lot of the assets they are using are direct rips from the dead island/riptide games. The final game could look very VERY different if they plan to create most of it from scratch.

Though I doubt it. Techland is a small studio and I expect they'll reuse their old content whenever possible to save time and money. That way they just have to build and mesh 1/2 the stuff. notice this looks like it's a rusted out old town with.. lots of tropical plants around? Dead island was mostly tropical greenery.

Now if this was in a mountain town full of evergreens and deciduous trees, I would be impressed.