The front lines: How a beta makes a game better

07/30/2014 by Russ Pitts | Source: Polygon
Stress.

More than a year after it started, development on Defense Grid 2 is in the final stage.

It is now May 2014. The Defense Grid 2 team leads at Hidden Path, Associate Producer Dacey Willoughby, Executive Producer Jeff Pobst, Programming Lead Steve Messig, Design Lead John Daud and self-described "dev support guy" John Lee are sitting around a table in a room between the kitchen and the rest of the office. There's a Neo Geo arcade cabinet in the corner, board games on shelves against the wall.

This room is usually where the team gathers for fun. This meeting will not be fun.

The Defense Grid 2 beta launched a week before this meeting. Thousands of players have been playing the game. Most of the feedback has been positive. (Too positive, Pobst thinks. He will obsess about the feedback being possibly biased.) But there have also been bug reports.

Beta players are encouraged to send in a report if they discover a problem when playing the beta. Hidden Path has been collecting those, and now has a list. This meeting’s purpose is to sort through them, and make a plan to fix them. If that was all the team had to worry about, the mood would be considerably lighter. It is not.

"This is a very large number of crashes," says Pobst, surveying the list. Portions of the list have been handwritten. It is the most recent tally of "crash" issues reported in the beta. There are around 200 of them.

Pobst wonders if all 200 reported crashes are each unique, meaning 200 separate things that are causing the game to crash. That is yet to be determined, but chances are they are not unique, and that many of the emails are reporting the same thing.

Finding someone to go through the list to determine what is causing each crash, and if they're related, will be tricky. Everyone is busy with other things.

This week there's a milestone for delivering a build of the game to publisher 505. It's also the last week the team has to work on the multiplayer demo being shown at E3 in two weeks. It is also the week all in-game text must be finalized and sent to the localization team that will be translating English into four other languages.

Mention of the E3 multiplayer level causes Daud to shake his head miserably and mutter, "The sync ... the sync."

The multiplayer isn't doing so well. It has a syncing issue, which creates errors and lags when two people are playing together online. It's a typical multiplayer bug, but one that has been nagging the Defense Grid 2 team for months. They now have only a week left to finally fix it.

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