Vertical What Now?
You may be wondering what we've been up to recently, well we'll tell you!
At the beginning of the project we went wide. By that we mean we looked at the structure and plot of the whole game, breaking it down and then blocking it out with our core mechanics. We began to 'greybox' (building in a quick and crude manner using simple un-textured geometry) the world of Röki to get a feel for it's size/scale and how the various locations would fit and hang together. This 'Wide' stage was essential to get a feel for the whole game and a VERY rough idea of how Tove's adventure would feel.
Tove aside, there was no other animating characters, sliding placeholder cut-outs were used in their stead. It was important in this stage that we didn't want to invest any timecreating polished art assets as the critical factor at this point was to be able to work fast rather than making something that looked nice.
However a few weeks ago, once we had a feel for how the wider game would feel, we decided to start work on Röki's Vertical Slice.
"What is a Vertical Slice?" you might ask! A Vertical Slice is a common term used in games development and it means a small(-ish) section of the game that has all the key mechanics, systems and techniques of the wider game proved-out to a polished standard. Essentially a 'slice' of the finished game. If you imagine cutting through a cake (the game), when presented with a slice you would see all it's different layers and ingredients (in this istance the ingredients would be the mechanics/art style...). Creating the Vertical Slice is the exact opposite of the initial stage were we 'went wide' and blocked things out in a rough manner.
So why is this a common stage used in games development? There are a number of reasons:-
1) Solidify Core Mechanics, Gameplay, Techniques and Tools
Rather than using the entire game as a test-bed to fully prove out your core mechanics, techniques and tools, it is helpful to narrow the scope and have a smaller area to iterate on. Having this narrowed focus, rather than working across the scope of the whole game, will speed up your progress as there is simply less content to work on.
Once you have proved out these elements in your Vertical Slice and resolved any issues, you can then scale out to work on the whole breadth of the game, with the confidence that the foundations are solid. Not doing this could mean that you're working on game wide content but the foundations are wobbly and the whole thing could fall down!
A good example of something we're firming up at the moment as part of the Vertical Slice is the animation systems. Rather than sliding placeholder characters our characters have to actually physically sit on chairs and climb ladders. Getting them to actually do stuff rather than slide around makes you resolve a whole load of issues:- How your animation are blending, how high are your chairs or the rungs of your ladder (so that both Tove and Lars can climb them with their differing heights), how are you triggering your different animations...basically a whole bunch of stuff to resolve for the wider game.
2) Get an idea of how long things take
Our vertical slice will be used to resolve a whole load of issues and teething problems, not just with the game itself but also how we're working and the methods you are using. You may need to invent new methods or learn new techniques to achieve what you are setting out to do. Once these methods are resolved your work will undoubtedly speed up but the vertical slice will still provide a good insight into how long things take to make and build. This obviously is invaluable information to be able to plan and schedule the rest of your game. You might think this sounds a little dull but it actually it's incredibly important!
You may say ”You've been making games for ages, don't you know how longs things will take already?”, well no. Each game is different and depending on any number of factors (complexity, art style or techniques) the time taken to create something will vary wildly (for example I spent over 3 months modelling a super realistic and highly detailed character for Killzone 2, and created Tove in a little over a week)
3) Public-Facing Playable Demo
Creating a Vertical Slice can also provide you with a playable demo that can be shown outside of the studio as it should be indicative of the final standard of the game. Having the Vertical Slice in the bank (once we finish it) will provide us with a demo we can use to publicly showcase the game, whilst beavering away on the rest of it.
Even if someone has a good understanding of games development showing off a demo with 'Greybox' assets, sliding characters and no bells and whistles can be a bit iffy as they may very well assume that it is indicative of the final quality of the game. Even seasoned games developers can sometimes struggle to get past shonky placeholder visuals and see the game behind so it's good to have a super-polished section of the game that you're happy showing off if the need arises!
(In fact as an interesting aside, to avoid this it's good to make sure your 'Greybox' levels are REALLY basic, so no-one could consider they are representative of the final game, any whiff of an art-pass and a switch goes in people's brains and they will start to consider the art even if told otherwise)
And this, dear reader, is the stage we're in the midst of at the moment. Our Vertical Slice is coming together well, there is a still a ways to go but we're excited with the way it's shaping up!
That's it for today, hope you found that interesting,
Alex & Tom