As you know, for a couple of years now Pioneer has had an alpha release on the second Friday of every month without fail. The dev team has always considered this to be an immovable deadline, and it has been useful in giving us something to aim for. To try and help make sure the alpha releases are sort-of stable, we've also had a "freeze" period a week before the release, to allow testing and last-minute fixes to happen, ensuring a stable release.
Lately its become clear that that model isn't giving the best results. Very few people actually do freeze testing, so we don't usually find any problems, yet real actual bugs are often missed, leading to the situation we've had a couple of times recently where the alpha has a nasty bug. Its usually fixed hours later, but that fix doesn't make a release until the next alpha a month later. Meanwhile, new development continues to happen on the master branch during the freeze week so that by the time the alpha is released it's already obsolete.
All of this means the alpha releases are becoming more of a burden than a useful part of the process, so we've made the decision to drop it. Obviously though we need to get something out into the hands of players and testers, so we're intending to promote the nightly builds to "official" status as follows. Twice a day a complete build for Windows and Linux will be run and uploaded (though obviously not if no changes have been made). Version numbers will be changed to YYMM.BB, where BB is the "build number" for that month. So a build for today might be 1305.2. The latest build will always be linked from pioneerspacesim.net, and the last week's worth of builds will be archived, just in case.
To keep the changes visible, we'll be making a "what's new in Pioneer" post to Space Sim Central, the G+ page and a few other places at the start of each month with the changelog for the previous month. Of course, the current changelog will always be available from the homepage and in the release archives proper.
This should mean that if you encounter a bug, the fix is available to you in an official, supported build as soon as possible. Of course, there's also challenges involved with this. It will mean that we need to be more careful about ensuring that broken code doesn't make it to the master branch, and we can't be as blasé about breaking savefile compatibility as we have been in the past. That's good though; it puts pressure on us to work towards things that we've been wanting to do for a while now, like a new save system that better supports upgrading old savefiles and stabilising the procedural generation so that minor code changes don't break the entire galaxy.
Right now OS X builds won't have the same twice-daily build schedule, as they're currently compiled semi-automatically by Philbywhizz when he has time. We're working on getting these happening as soon as we can, which might mean changes to this process, not sure yet. We'll let you know the outcome of that. The homepage will list the most recent build available for OS X.
We're aware that asking people to regularly download a 150-200MB archive is a bit of a stretch, so we're also looking at ways to reduce the amount of stuff you need to grab to get a new build. That might be splitting the game data from the binaries, it might be a patch system, it might be something else. Again, we'll let you know.
This change is effective immediately (as soon as I've made the necessary changes to the build system to support it). So there won't be an alpha 34. The first builds under this scheme should be available in the next few days.