Your Mission - From Beta Testing to Release and Beyond
By Geep, 2020
This article elaborates typical steps for beta-testing a mission beyond its packaging, namely: distribution, forum presence, and testing. This process continues to Final Release and any updates. Consider this a follow-on to -
- A - Z Beginner Full Guide; and
- How to Pack your Mission, which fully describes the vital process of packaging and testing a .PK4 archive. Using a .PK4 is the best approach for formal beta distribution, and the required approach for final mission distribution.
Prepare a Location to Host Your Mission's Beta Distributables
For a single-developer FM, create a sharable folder on some publicly-accessible site under your control, e.g., Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. (Perhaps you already set up such a site during FM development, say, for private offsite backup of your evolving source files.) You will use this site to provide access to your pk4 (possibly multiple beta versions and the final release), plus related mission screenshots and any supplemental companion documents you wish to provide. When you get to Final Release, you use this site to convey both the .pk4 and the screenshots to be used in the official TDM Mission List.
Large collaborative FMs may accomplish similar ends through a hosted revision control system, e.g., SVN, Git, etc.
Create Screen Shots
Screen shots, manipulated, are used for a variety of purposes. Internal to a .PK4, they are used as -
- a background for your Loading screen
- an optional "install splash", that appears as a translucent install-panel overlay during mission install.
- optionally, slide overlays during the briefing process.
The other main uses, external to a .PK4, are -
- as a set of 1 or more images for your FM in the Mission List of the TDM server. Locally cached in the end user's _missionshots folder, these often use a naming convention of previewshot_*.jpg. They vary in size and ratio; a width of 800 px seems popular.
- as attractive content for your Beta-test and Final-Release TDM forum threads (of which more below)
- as advertisements for any outreach you may wish to do on social media or other game forums.
For these external uses, here are some considerations -
- Before taking screenshots (e.g., with F12 in-game), decide if you want to show or hide the lightgem and inventory items. If you don't want them, you can either crop them out later, or suppress them in advance:
- To make all HUD elements invisible, use the cvar "tdm_hud_opacity 0".
- To just hide the light gem, use either "Settings/Gameplay/Hide LightGem" or cvar "tdm_hud_hide_lightgem 0".
- Typically, you would capture screen shots at full-screen resolution, to allow cropping potential while maintaining quality in the final result.
- Capturing dynamic behavior usually involves lots of screenshots and then winnowing.
- Crop and change gamma/brightness/contrast as desired. For shots for forum posts or the Mission List, be sure to brighten any dimly-lit scene. For example, using Microsoft Office Picture Manager to increase gray tones by 35% often works well, without bleaching the shot too much.
When finalizing a forum post image, it's traditional good practice to reduce the file size while retaining visual quality. Your favorite image editor can let you -
- shrink the image size while maintaining its aspect ratio. Given that the image when posted will not be viewed full-screen, there's little need for it to be higher than 1200 px, and you could go as low as 800 px in height.
- use a "save for web" feature, e.g., save to .JPG or .PNG with, say, Medium Quality.
It is helpful to create a screen shot with burnt-in title and author (again, with your image editor) in appropriately olde-world fonts. Potential uses include your Beta and Release forum posts and eventual Mission List. Also, this would be one option for the in-game Loading background (in which case you would leave the text overlay empty).
Create a Forum Thread for Your Beta Testing
The best place to create a forum thread (aka topic) is within Internal Development/TDM Mission Beta Testing. The title format is usually some variation on <MyTitle>: Beta Test or Beta Testing: <MyTitle>.
Once created, your first post is important. It should contain -
- some screenshots and brief descriptive text to attract beta testers.
- links to your .PK4 and any other downloads.
Consider this first post as something you will edit further if you have beta version updates. In that regard, the "other downloads" mentioned could include Beta Release Notes, that detail the difference between consecutive beta versions, indicating to beta testers that you have understood their concerns. (Or if you prefer, just include such notes directly into the first post, within Hidden aka Spoiler tags.)
Subsequent posts in your forum thread by beta testers and yourself will be where you get most of the feedback and beta-related discussion.
Spread the Word
Also announce your beta(s) on a few other forum threads where you hang out, e.g., "So, what are you working on now?". Include a link to your beta thread; screenshots are good too.
Manage Your Beta
Even more so than with pre-beta work, it helps to have some system (which could be as simple as a table in a document) to
- organize each item of beta feedback;
- decide a response; and
- if a game change is needed, mark off when it is completed.
If your FM is a collaboration, probably a shared resource (document or task-tracking project) would be best. In any case, the "Beta Release Notes" suggested above would then be a reader-friendly summation of your task list.
Making It Official - Final Release (and Updates)
- You decide, after rounds of beta testing, feedback, and revision, when your FM is ready for release. Likewise for updates.
- Consult this list of members who can upload to the TDM server and accept your request. When you PM them, include links to both your .PK4 and your screenshots (separately or in an archive) for the Mission List.
Your FM's Player Forum
Once it goes live on the TDM server, create a new topic thread within the forum's General Discussion/Fan Missions. A typical topic title format would be Fan Mission: <MyTitle> by <MeOrUs> (YYYY/MM/DD).
The content can be similar to the Beta thread, with a first post with eye-candy screenshots, an engaging description, and -
- links to a backup location to download the mission.
- announcements of any updates.
Or alternatively, plan on starting a new forum thread for every update.