Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. Our seventh game, currently in development, is Pig Eat Ball on which we started working in 2013. This is behind the scenes thoughts about game development and marketing.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Vertical Slicing to Efficiency

Before game developers can get a publishing deal, sometimes a publisher will request a "vertical slice" of their game to show them what the game will be really like. It can tell them a lot of things, such as if the game is fun, what the minute-to-minute gameplay is like, what the "higher design" ideas are like (do you have continues, is there dialog branching, what is the main goal for a player, how long is a good chunk of gameplay, etc.) It can also show the publisher that the dev team can complete the designed game, and also how long it takes them to complete the work. Plus it's awesome, smarmy marketing-speak.

It often feels unrealistic though, from the developer's perspective, to create a perfect slice of your game right up front--something already polished and fun. Sure the publisher is supposed to understand that Quality Will Improve, but I've heard many developer woes about publishers "not getting it". They can't see the vision that the developer does.

One thing a vertical slice can do for the developer, though is hone their own work. I'm looking to show several publishers a portion (one might call it a vertical slice if one were feeling marketing-y) of Grapple Buggy to try to get funding and a 'deal'. In the game, inside the buggy itself are your two main characters who deliver spoken dialog furthering the story and also giving the player hints.

We recorded a good portion of the dialog about a year ago, and it took a while to process for the actual game. That was because of the amount of the dialog, but also because the methods used to process it and the design direction were all in flux. Everything's pretty nailed down at this point, and when we had to record a few new lines to make the flow smoother for the demo, it went really quickly. I knew what compression to use, resampling quality, the volume levels, and the post-processing effects that would make it all sound great. Figuring those things out earlier took forever and caused a lot of angst. But now, adding new content to my "vertical slice" went really fast and with total confidence.

I love bashing publisher-marketing talk as much as the next dev, but in this case the concept can work out. Taking it beyond just a prototype, and polishing a portion of the game right up to near-finished can really show you how you want to do everything and how good the game will be. It can not only show the publisher you know how to do it, but you and your team as well.

1 comment:

VoodooChief said...

Although i agree with the principals of it showing your team how good stuff can be. Vertical slices cn take an amazing amount of time, and so for a very large team this always seems expensive and unreasonable unless a project is already funded quite significantly.
Then the slice is supposed to show how much of gameplay? Too much, AI, graphics player control, interface and audio are a few of the major components, but getting al these to semi polished stages always seems unreasonable.
From what i have seem of other large games vertical slices is that they are always sub-standard, always run really slow (yeah, performance is coming later, cough cough). Then the real game has to have large sections like the ai rewritten to be usable for the big finished product.
So mostly i have seen them be a waste of time so far. Such a pity.
Heres hoping others have a better experience with them. (my experiences have never been my own vertical slices btw).

Da Voodoochief