As I'm sure many of you read, 1.1 is to enter Experimentals this week! It's a significant update to KSP in terms of just how much has changed under the hood. We've done a complete overhaul of the user interface from a conglomerate of interface systems to Unity 5's native system. Aside from that, an entirely new system for the wheels had to be adopted due to the major changes Unity made to the native wheels system, and the list goes on!
Quality Assurance is the most bare bone part of the entire testing process and is performed by around five to ten QA testers pretty much constantly. The focussed testing and efficiency mean that instead of going through the motions of the game as a normal player would, QA tends to identify areas of the new content that would usually be prone to issue and hunt for bugs there. This cuts down the time taken to find issues by a significant margin and means that the content is tested more evenly – playtesting can sometimes skip completely past some aspects of a feature. Furthermore, this method allows the testers to work closely with the developers and compare exactly what they intended to occur for specific cases, to what actually occurs – this is where QA becomes more about feedback.
QA is a lot more than just finding bugs. It’s about having the knowledge of the game (especially how it works under-the-hood), the comprehension of the ideas behind the features in the game, the understanding of what a developer wants the feature to turn out like and how you can assist them in making it happen. Furthermore, it’s about condensing all of that into concise and objectively written issue reports.
The QA process on 1.1 has been going for a long time, but it has been incredibly fruitful: crushing 516 issues in 107 builds! There is still more to do however, in Experimentals we hope to only increase the stability of the game, add polish to areas and carry out some bug fixing as always!
The Experimental Team comprises about 100 testers. All of these testers are volunteers who contribute their spare time to playtest the game. They are normal players, sourced from the various communities via a simple application process. Often and understandably they don’t have as much spare time to devote to testing as the QA Testers and thus there are significantly more Experimental Testers ‘signed up’ than we need at any one time. This works in everyone’s favour as it keeps the activity level throughout an Experimental Phase and doesn’t put pressure on the testers while they also deal with their personal and professional lives.
After we have an update go through QA, as detailed above, it is hopefully free from major issues and each feature has had any needed major improvements and refinements carried out; the update is in a feature-complete state. However, many components of a feature may still be unpolished, such as part balancing, or the performance of newer UI on different platforms. This is where Experimental Testing comes in and assists the developers in cleaning up the remaining feedback issues.
An Experimental Testing phase typically lasts around a couple of weeks, though it is highly dependent on the number of issues that arise and how much further development is required to reach a release state. At the end of the Experimental phase, there are still a fair amount of issues on the tracker that are still open, but it’s important to note that these issues are typically minor ones, ones that aren’t in the scope of the update or simply issues that would take too much time and resources to resolve.
This time around though, things will get even more interesting after Experimental testing! Given that update 1.1 will be unlike any update we’ve seen to date in terms of widespread changes to pretty much any significant and underlying system in the game we're planning to provide an optional pre-release branch of update 1.1. This opt-in branch will run for just under two full weeks before the targeted release date of the final update.
The nature and extent of the changes in the update mean that many plugins and add-ons will require refactoring, updating and at the very least a recompile. Of course modders cannot do this overnight and on the flick of a switch, especially with an update of this scope. Typically a select group of particularly KSP-savvy modders would be given access to the new update to help us find bugs, but the extent of the changes this time around is such that we feel we should open it up to everyone.
The pre-release branch will be opt-in via Steam only, and won't be available via the KSP Store. We really wanted to make the pre-release branch available on all distribution channels but given the frequency of builds, the size of those builds, and the necessity for everyone to be on the latest version for testing it proved to be impossible to facilitate this on the KSP store.
To facilitate discussions of the pre-release branch we’ll be opening up a temporary forum for feedback. Additionally, a separate section will be made available on the bug tracker to report bugs on.
Please feel free to ask any and all questions you have!