Developer Feature: Söldner: Secret Wars Developer Diary #4
The developers of Panzer Elite share the production in's and out's of their next game, Söldner: Secret Wars, in part four of this developer diary series.
Welcome back, soldier! It took a while to write this diary entry simply because we have less and less time to do anything other than finishing Söldner. The game is now moving into a phase of development we like to call the "finishing run". This phase is very important in terms of quality control, so as a team we must concentrate on the priorities : development & testing.
We are repeatedly asked about beta testing and whether or not fans can participate in it. As written in our official FAQ, we will have two phases of testing: an internal beta and public beta. Both tests will concentrate on the multiplayer facets of Söldner. Single player will only be tested internally with selected testers. Let's walk through the specific plans for testing.
Only a few selected testers will be invited to this test. This is because during this stage of testing the game can be unstable, unbalanced and difficult to use, which can lead to frustrating experiences that may give a totally inaccurate picture of the game. However, difficulties like these are normal for the first tests of any game. Every game on the market goes through this phase, but only hardcore fans would know this. The development team needs professional feedback, and testers who are experienced usually give better feedback even if the game experience is frustrating. "This sucks" doesn't help us as much as "The server selection is slow and leads to frustrating waiting times between matches."
Internal Beta Selection Process
We will only select people who are registered in our forums with a complete profile and a non-hotmail or yahoo (or similar) email. People will be asked by us to participate- we won't have a public registration page for the internal beta. Guilds who have already participated in professional testing have a high chance getting selected. Don't ask us if you can participate, you will get an email from us if we want you to. The exception to this is groups who already have testing experience - feel free to email us if we don't already know about you. This may seem unfair, but the reason is simple: internal testing is tough work. See below.
Public Beta Testing
The public beta test will be available to everyone, and will be downloadable from our website. To provide feedback you'll need to register in our forums where we will open sections for various aspects of gameplay, as well as technical feedback. We will provide a means to give feedback via email along with diagnosis files provided by the game or the tester's system. This will help us narrow down problems due to system configurations and driver issues.
Beta Testing Timing
This is the most difficult question we get asked right now. Söldner is moving through a complex time in the development process and timing is crucial for a version to survive a beta test. As things change daily, the only answer we can give is the beta will begin "sometime this summer." We know that gamers are eager to play, but the timing must be right.
Söldner and its Competition
As a team, we are often asked what type of game Söldner is, and what games out there qualify as competition. Obviously, I'd like to say that Söldner has no competition! But the team as a whole has taken cues from a variety of sources. I'll explain some of the design processes which have influenced Söldner, and how the game has changed over the course of it's development cycle.
The Original Idea
Plans for Söldner were initiated in 1999 when our team looked to do a follow up to Panzer Elite. It was named Stealth Mission Force at that time and was based loosely on an old classic called Carrier Command from the 1980s, available on the Atari ST, the Amiga, and the PC. We took the basic idea and inserted some modern game design elements. Soldiers weren't possible in 3D during the 80s when computers were only able to push a couple of hundred polygons, so Carrier Command only had a carrier, tanks, and jets available.
We wanted to make the game much more realistic by using modern military equipment instead of sci-fi stuff. The reason was simple: marketing and consumers. The gamer is much more familiar with modern combat equipment than with any futuristic units we could come up with. This makes the game much easier to become immersed in. Instead of learning how to use new units within a new game, the player can concentrate on learning a new game experience as most units are already familiar.
The problem using real units is that it limits our creative freedom. Once the team puts gameplay over realism, we might get too restricted using reality based units. To remedy this, we moved the game into the year 2010. This gave us the freedom to slightly change realistic units, since the modernized versions might include similar changes in the future, right? We won't spoil your favorite units, and we won't change them into unrealistic super weapons, either. We've limited the amount of change and adaptation to things that help units fit nicely into the world of Söldner.
The Basic Elements
To compete in this game genre is tough. Many games, from Rainbow Six, America's Army, and Operation Flashpoint placed the bar very, very high for Söldner. So how could our team compete with these and other titles?
Our thought process was simple: divide and conquer. Let's divide the genre into its basic elements and explain our thought process and why Söldner turned out the way it did. To make our thinking a bit easier, let's divide a game of this genre into Toys, Environment, Soldiers, and Missions.