State of the D:U (my understanding for now)
Descent: Underground is being released for testing in three stages before its official release.
1. The Proving Grounds (pre-alpha)
When an internal build of D:U is deemed worthy of a wider release by the Dev team, it is made available to people with Proving Grounds access for playtesting, feedback, and bug reporting. These people are a select few high level Kickstarter backers, and also anyone who has backed or pre-ordered a copy of the game at any level and additionally has purchased a subscription to "The Underground," their private forum which gives members greater access to the team and development news not shared outside.
When a Proving Grounds build of D:U is deemed worthy of a wider release by the Dev team and Proving Grounders, it is made available to people with Alpha access for further playtesting, feedback, and bug reporting. The Proving Ground will then get a new build with new features implemented.
When an Alpha build of D:U is ready, it is made available to people with Beta access for one more round of balancing and feedback.
This cycle will repeat until all of the D:U's features are created, implemented, troubleshot, and balanced.
4. Commercial Release.
At this point the game is complete and will be available on Steam, from Descendant themselves, and likely from many other sources.
-I backed a kickstarter package that included Alpha and Beta access, the reason I chose that one. I decided last week when the very first Proving Grounds build was released that I wanted to test it out so I bought a one month "Underground" subscription. At the end of that month I will no longer have PG access, but I'm hoping for two things; that Alpha will be reached by then, and also that Sol Contingency will release its own Proving Grounds. Who knows, I may discover that I like pre-alpha testing enough to extend my membership ($10 per month or $99 per year).
-Only the Proving Grounds requires a subscription. Alpha and Beta access are a permanent privilege that can be bought as an addon to your copy of the game for a one time fee ($10 for Beta, $25 for both).
-If you pre-order the retail game now I believe you are getting it at a steeply discounted price. Currently the basic game costs $30. If I'm remembering right it will be $50 at retail.
- All of this is optional for those interested. Anyone who just wants to buy and play the finished product has that option too. Their target is next spring.
The most recent Proving Grounds build has:
- 4 Ships to fly with different flight characteristics
- 2 Primary Weapons; Laser Levels 1-4 plus Quad, and Vulcan
- 3 Secondary Weapons; Concussion, Homing, and Mega Missiles (the homing missiles don't work very well)
- 2 Built in ship specific tools. Each ship gets one tool and they can't be swapped; Mining Laser, Special Attack Configuration
- 1 Countermeasure; Laser Grid, a item that is dropped to wall off a small tunnel with an extremely damaging (usually instakill) forcefield
- 3 Maps
- 2 Game Modes; Anarchy, Capture the Core (Similar to King of the Hill)
- Basic Options to configure Controls, Graphics, and Sounds
- Simplistic Matchmaking; You are placed at random into a game with other available players. There is no custom game option yet.
- Solo Test; You fly alone in one of the maps for the purpose of testing and tweaking your configuration in safety.
- Great Music composed by Dan Wentz
My impressions so far after 6 nights of play:
It's full of bugs and questionable design choices. The Laser Grid item is much too powerful. I think its function needs to be rethought before it stops being gamebreaking. The ships are all different sizes and shapes. Two of them have hitboxes so small in profile that they are far too difficult to hit. The team went a small way towards fixing it in the second build which I played yesterday by speeding up the laser projectiles. I don't care for Capture the Core (I always hated King of the Hill in Halo). The game doesn't yet have much variety, especially in the weapons department. I get bored quickly of only Lasers and Vulcan. There are loud, annoying, intrusive announcements whenever a player does simple things like picking up an item or entering an energy station "SOMEONE IS CHARGING! SOMEONE IS CHARGING!" The sound effects for the weapons are weak and unconvincing except for the Vulcan Cannon. That thing sounds awesome. The team say that the sounds are only placeholders for now though so we'll see.
The game is fun to play even with all of those problems. I have a hard time stopping for bed every night. The flight feels wonderful and it translates to my joysticks perfectly. There might be as many as 50 different people in the Proving Grounds from around the world so there is almost always someone to fly with. The skill level varies wildly since the population is small and the matchmaker has no filters at all, but I'm in the lower middle of the pack so far and I personally am happy with flying against players much better than me and dying a lot. I love two of the maps and I don't mind the third. Overall I like the visual design of everything, especially the ships. The Mega Missile has a smiley face on the nose! Anarchy is awesome. Aside from the tiny hitboxes it feels very much like my few forays into multiplayer Descent (which is high praise).
I'm glad I backed the game and I'm glad I got the subscription to the "Underground." I'm having a good time with the game and the people. The developers are listening closely to what we are telling them and responding quickly with improvements; it was only 6 days between the first and second builds with the second being a noticeable improvement. If their progress continues like this I think that Descent: Underground will be an excellent game.