Joystiq: When are you planning on rolling out the beta?
Hecker: It's going to be just that, "rolling". My plan is to start a couple weeks after E3, and the first batch is going to be my earliest core testers, probably 10 people or so. It will be pretty raw at that point, with lots of missing features people expect a networked multiplayer game to have. We'll do some scheduled play sessions, like, "everybody log in at 8pm PDT on Friday", and iron out the really obvious initial bugs and crashes. Once those 10 people are playing the game relatively smoothly, I'll invite the next 20 people in. Then everything will break again, and I fix it. Then 50 people, then 100 people, and so on until I can have 1000 or 5000 people join in a batch and it "just works". Then, the plan is to turn off the beta sign-up, and invite all the folks who signed up in, and let them play each other for a couple weeks without mixing new people in as a kind of "thank you" for signing up. Then, I open the flood gates to the public. I figure this way all the folks who signed up early will be able to complain about the good old days before the masses came in and ruined everything, which is good for community building!
What will be offered in the beta, in terms of playable content?
The beta is always going to be the bleeding edge of what I'm developing, since the purpose is to test, balance, and tune the game. For now it's going to resemble the PAX East build, because since then I've been focusing on the networking infrastructure to make the beta work. This means the current 22 characters, 6 missions, 3 maps, and 3 gameplay modes.
Will you be swapping out content as it goes?
Oh yes, definitely. Once I get the network infrastructure where it needs to be to accept new players easily, then I can get back to the game itself and adding features, maps, improving the artwork, and everything. I have two missions that are currently partially implemented, Poison Drink and Steal Plans, and a new map I want to make that is a courtyard with a single statue right in the center, and I can't wait to get back to those and see how they play. There's a lot of work to do on the network side of things, so it's going to be a while, but beta players will get access to the new stuff as soon as it's ready. Maybe too soon, since some of it will be broken. I might have a group beta players can optionally sign up for, that will let them test the really broken in-progress stuff if they're feeling brave.
What are your plans for Mac (beyond "it'll happen eventually")?
Not much beyond "it'll happen eventually". I definitely plan to do it, but I have to stay focused on the gameplay right now, because I want it to be perfect before I start porting it everywhere. Getting a game working on different platforms is a lot of effort, but it's not a very big risk, whereas making a deep and fun game is a very big risk, so I want to tackle that challenge first. Once the game is where I want it, I'll port it to anything that will run it!
Anything to say about XBLA/PSN yet? Any chance the beta will end up there?
The advantage of doing the beta on the PC is I control all the variables, so I can figure out exactly how I want things to work without any kind of external influence, like cert, requirements, agreements, or whatever. I can build the exact thing that's in my head, and iterate quickly. Once the changes get smaller because the game is getting close to what I want, then it makes sense to put it other places. The plan is definitely to do XBLA and PSN, and I'm talking to both Microsoft and Sony regularly (they even signed up for the Early-Access Beta!), but right now I need to stay focused on tuning and balancing the gameplay to make SpyParty the deep player skill game it wants to be.