February 22, 2020 — Before any business angel, soft-money bureaucrat, or publishing executive is going to sign off on any funding for a game project, they’ll more often than not expect to see the development team’s creative vision realized in the form of a short and polished playable demo, which in many investor and game publishing circles is referred to as the “vertical slice.”
The purpose of a vertical slice is to showcase a game project’s core gameplay and features through a functional, bug-free, and highly enjoyable experience. A vertical slice may only be half an hour-long, but the majority of features planned for the completed game should be present and must be easily accessible, preferably via debug menus. Though some gameplay mechanics may be missing, the ones included must be in full working order.
To give an example, imagine a game that is heavy on crafting and stealth. The vertical slice will show how those two elements interact in a variety of situations, to provide a “big picture” overview. Thus the vertical slice may demonstrate animation, artificial intelligence, scene transitions, examples of advanced physics and destructible environments, scoring, progression, level design, and story-driven animation sequences.
So, how should developers present their vertical slice as one complete work, and what does it need to include? In our opinion, the ideal slice shows off the core gameplay and is a lot of fun, has graphics that closely resemble the final art-style, runs at 60 fps with no slowdown, is prepared for localization, features an intuitive user interface, and, quite importantly, gets branding right which means the vertical slice is aesthetically consistent. Branding is the game’s overall “look and feel,” and includes the game title’s logo design, HUD, main menu items, the choice of fonts used, and also various watermarks applied to promotional material such as concept art. The look of an RPG game using Arial versus one that uses a custom fantasy-like font can have a subtle and profound long-term impact on the overall experience.
To sum up the above, a vertical slice must provide an overwhelming gameplay experience. Top-notch graphics, tight controls, well-developed branding, an intuitive UI/UX, and great audio are also expected.
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