On the second day of development, I was feeling great about where Ring Fling had gotten and decided to see if anyone wanted to meet me down at the pub and have a go. My very kind friend, Mike Bithell, volunteered to play Ring Fling and give me some feedback. The boys from Makielab were also up for a laugh. Little did I know, that Ring Fling had gone Alpha.
Obviously, on and indie title, there are no publishers and no milestones. I was just coding along doing whatever I felt like. In the console game industry, there are 4 major milestones for a game: green light, alpha, beta, and gold. In theory, green light is when you have a “vertical slice” of the game to determine if the project is worth moving forward on or not, alpha is when the game is feature complete, beta is when all the critical bugs are fixed, and gold is when you have a party. In my experiences, though, it’s very different. Green light is when you’ve hacked together a demo that convinces that publisher that you might actually be able to finish a game. Alpha is when you’ve made the game you originally set out to make in your game design document. Beta is when you’ve changed the game you thought you were making into a game that you’d be happy to show to the public. Gold is when you send a build to your publisher and feel really awkward for a few weeks because you have no work to do, but you don’t know if you’re actually done yet.
Anyway, by my own definition, Alpha is when you’ve made the game you originally set out to make. The implication is obviously that the game you set out to make is generally not any good. There’s no real way to know that it wasn’t going to be any good, though, other than to make it and try it. Well, if you’ve had as much experience as me, it’s easy to know that it won’t be any good, but nearly impossible to know exactly what parts won’t be good and what kinds of solutions will address those problems.
So we sat down at the pub and started to play. One of the incredible things about having such talented friends is that within 10 seconds, people were demanding changes. Fully expecting this to happen, I had brought my laptop. I’d never done live coding like that before. Within about 20 minutes, we had done 10 iterations on the game. We tweaked the sizes of each of the zones. We added clearing of rings in between rounds. We limited to the number of rings you could fling. It was incredible how much better the game got after 20 minutes of tweaking.
However, it was clear that there was still a lot of work to be done. There were quite a few features that were requested that I couldn’t get done in a few minutes and I added all of those to a list. What really stood out, though, was that playing Ring Fling for 20 minutes was exhausting. There wasn’t a whole lot of strategy involved. It was just a game of speed and accuracy. While that wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t something I was remarkably happy with. In fact, one of my biggest regrets with the gameplay video I posted is that I didn’t show much strategy with charged shots. I was just in a rush to edit something together that I grabbed all the “exciting” parts rather than clearly demonstrating the full range of the game.
We spent the rest of the night just chatting about Ring Fling, Thomas, and Makies. I wrote down any ideas that I thought could make the game even the slightest bit more varied and strategic. Before that night, I naively thought I could have the app ready for App Store submission with another 6 hours or so, bringing the total up to 18 hours. However, after a 20 minute play session at the pub and a conversation for a few hours afterward, I knew I’d be investing a whole lot more time into Ring Fling. I had started on my path to Beta, turning this little game into something I’d be proud to release on the App Store.