We’ve been asked on multiple occasions why we refer to the current version of Aes as an alpha, rather than the more commonly used beta. This was not an attempt to be different for the sake of it or to sound cool, but a concerted effort to divide the development period into distinct phases.
To us, a beta item is one that resembles – at least in general form – the intended finished product. A core book for Aes that’s in beta will have most of the section, rules, and a content intended for eventual release. This will be content that is deemed thematically and mechanically appropriate as an introduction to the basic game and be enough for those who only have this one purchase to play enjoyable games. The content will be cut, expanded, or revised as needed during testing, but the central “meat” will stay consistent through iterations.
An alpha, by contrast, is much more open ended. We’re still in the “throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks phase.” We know that not everything in the alpha booklet will be in the core. That’s okay! Anything not in there will see use (hopefully) in other pieces. At least it gets playtested and refined now. At the same time, there could be really fundamental shifts in the game play or design, such as with talents, materials, and durability.
Another benefit of having an alpha stage is the lack of limits. We can think of wacky, crazy ideas, put them in the book, see how people like them, and then integrate, modify, or reject them based on feedback. Doing this for ideas we know will be expansion material down the road allows us to have it in the lore and game design from the start. Then our expansions feel less like they were tacked on and more like an additional piece of a larger plan. A narrow focus at the beginning hampers “next step” planning down the road.
At the same time, when it’s time to focus on a beta, the supplementary material will be shifted out and left alone for a while. Plans are in place to stow this material into a supplementary document called “The Sterling,” which playtesters and developers will have access to, but not general beta testers. That will allow interactions to still be tested, while emphasizing what is and is not core to the first release.
Right now, a timeline is not yet in place for when the switch from alpha to beta will occur. It won’t be before the basic mechanics are properly soused out. For example, differentiating the types of weapons, plus talents, memories, memberships, and ideals all need to be implemented before a beta can occur. This will all unfold over the course of several alpha versions, each addition tested and vetted for adding to the game before being allowed to remain.