Chris Rubyor is often mocked for his politician-like skills in avoiding giving a straight answer to any question; his magic replies of "Maybe" and constant use of smilies often infuriating otherwise sane members of the C&C community. So you can understand our joy when Delphi told us, in straightforward language, and without a "=)" in sight, that there was going to be a Beta test for Generals.
Subsequently re-named to the "Multiplayer Test", the Generals online beta will give fans the chance to play the latest Command and Conquer a few months early, as well as giving EAP feedback and views on the game. No matter what way you look at it; it's good. Not only should it iron out the majority of bugs in the game, but also gives us, the fans, a chance to give our feedback on balancing issues. If only they'd have done this before the release of Yuri's Revenge...
GTA3 - The ladies of the night just weren't realistic enough.
Public Beta Tests, and the results of these tests, are often viewed sceptically by both Publishers and Developers of computer games. Experience however, shows the value of such trials; giving the game a broad run for it's money on every system specification imaginable; and by extension, giving the developers a critical insight into stability and compatibility issues.
GTA III, despite having phenomenal success on the Playstation 2, failed to make any true impact on the PC market due to horrendous performance on even the most souped-up gaming machine. Unsurprisingly, there was no beta test. The result of this? A string of patches and embarrassment for Scottish developers "Rockstar Games". Thankfully for us, EAP have taken warning of Rockstar's folly; and decided to implement a public beta.
3000 lucky members of the C&C community, as well as the punks who caught the link to the signup page from The Shack or Bluesnews, will get to play the next instalment of C&C before the rest of the world. At present, the only stipulation that seems to exist is that you have at least a 1GHz processor, even though the minimum required speed is estimated to be closer to the 750MHz mark. I'm sure EAP have their reasons. I'm equally sure Delphi won't tell us why. The 10th of October is tomorrow: The launch of the sign-up page is the biggest event since "The First Hours of C&C" was announced on Gamespot. Again, the amount of discussion and widespread coverage created as a direct result from the sign up to the Beta should make us wonder why more developers don't manipulate a public test as another arm of advertising.
Of course, we must consider the other side of the coin. One of the biggest strategy games of the year so far, in my view at least, did not have a public beta test. Medieval: Total War was tested in-house and privately. It lacked any severe bugs, but will have to have minor patches applied to catch bugs.
I think the creators need their eyes tested, let alone the game. Or maybe it's just Jim's crap computer.
No matter how good or widespread a Public Beta test proves to be, there will also be errors that people somehow miss, or are simply too lazy to report. To this end, It would make sense for, at the end of every game you play during the test, a form pops up in your browser, inviting you to fill in your comments. Ultimately, those playing the beta must remember that they are not playing the full and polished version of Generals; but a relative "rough draft" of the game. What the testers are doing is effectively helping to file off those rough edges and help EAP make Generals the best that it can be; there is more to a beta than just getting the game early. The lack of a demo makes the error reporting from the "Multiplayer Test" that bit more important.
So, when the clocks strike into October 10th 2002, and you scramble along to the sign-up page to enter the lottery of Beta Test slots, try and remember how important a role the test the fulfils in making Generals more playable. Alternatively, you could just fill in 3 or 4 forums under pseudonyms like the majority. And if Delphi's reading this, remember that I'd be an ideal candidate for Beta testing because I'm very dedicated and....