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Class for Dark Forces Editing : Beta Testing and Finishing Out
LESSON ONE - WHEN AM I DONE?
There are multiple criteria for when you are completed, but most of them depend on the particular level. However, there are some universal qualifications that cannot be questioned.
A great vocabulary word in an art class is Unity. Break the word down - UNIT. Unity is a state in a work of art (a DF level is undoubtedly a work of art) when all of the UNITs work well together for the good of the whole.
Another important art word is Impact. Does your level simply fade away and leave the player forgetting about it? Or does it leave an impression on your player. There are three distinct levels here that apply directly. 1) When the level fades away and is forgotten. 2) When the player remembers the level. 3) When the level is never forgotten, it is emblazoned on the memory of the player because it had Impact, it left and impression. In art there definitely is, but in Dark Forces levels, it has yet to have been reached but probably exists, it is 4) When the level actually changes the life of a person, and leaves a deep mark that morally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically (heh heh, it could happen) changes the person.
Something to ponder about halfway through your level is the ending to it. How will it end? There are some good ways to end it, and some bad ways. A good way is a cliffhangar, that keeps your player interested until the next level comes out. Another good one is a surprise. Obviously, there's no way I could describe how to do this. A commonly attempted but rarely acheived way is to put real action and excitement into the ending. For the best possible example of this, go see Mt. Kurek. That is why Jeff Walters' level is in my mind the best ever, because of its ending. It simply gets your blood racing!
LESSON TWO - BETA TESTING
Once you believe that you are finished with your level, send it out for beta testing. Alpha testing is what you yourself do while you are making it.
It's a good idea to already have 4-5 people signed up, hopefully with a variety of playing conditions (ideally, you'd have 1 Mac, 1 iMac, 1 Win3.1, and 1 Win98. It'll be hard to find a Win3.1 tester, but that's what you might try looking for). Also look at RAM memory and the enviroment (many computers have background programs running, such as SETI@home, which may cause different conditions for different bugs).
Hopefully within about a week, you'll have all of your reports in. Your testers should have reported on how much they liked the level, the LFD, and overall. However, they also need to tell you about and majour problems (crashes, serious HOMs, bad clipping, bad bugs in general) and minour problems (slight HOMs or clipping, little stitching problems, whatnot). They should also report on opinion problems (maybe a player has a problem with the placement of a particular enemy or powerup, and little issues like objects and texture selections). While the real problems are very important and all available resources should be thrown into fixing them, the opinions are the heart of beta testing.
It's probably a good idea to send out at least 2 stages of testing. After the first one, do your best to fix the real problems (HOMs, clipping, that). Then let your testers know what you fixed and didn't, then let them run through it again. During the wait time, you can be working on the opinion stuff. Then you ought to get a more complete list of opinions, now you can go through and solve these problems. Then, you may even want to do another stage, after you really think you're done.
Remember that the beta testers usually are a good cross-section of the general public, and so their opinions should be held highly. However, you DO get the final say in things.
LESSON THREE - FINAL FINISHING TOUCHES
Here you would beautify the level a bit, maybe even write down a list of things you would change if you had the time. If you find time later, don't hesitate to make a special edition! The public loves those. If your level is a huge hit, you may have people coming to you wanting to make a special edition themselves!
In this short stage, you make yourself a home for the level. If you've got a webpage, you put it there and give EVERYONE a link to it. Set up some kind of an advertising campaign for it. Remember, your goal is to get as many people playing it as possible.