CREATING A PROTOTYPE

With any game of any genre (or any product, really) if imperative to test it as soon as posible to find out if it works or not, preferably with the intended market. With text-heavy projects, it may be tempting to write the whole script, develop the story, proofread and then implement it into the game (following a similar process to a movie, where production begins after the script is completed.) But video games are always changing and we need to see if people actually like it before completing the whole thing.

For Destino Indomable, we had the characters down and an outline of the general story and branches, but very little of actual dialogue. We decided that we needed to develop some scenes and show them to people to see if they liked them.

Luckily for us, we were only two weeks away from Game Summit, an event in Mexico City for game devs and fans. We didn’t want to show up with just a video, mock ups or concept art, we wanted to test the whole thing. We wanted people to feel the whole Destino Indomable experience! That’s why we developed a short vertical slice specifically for the event (even shorter than our currently available demo.)

What are the rules for a vertical slice? Well, you need to define what’s fundamental for your game and cut the extra stuff. Just show the core to give a general idea of what your final product will feel like.

In our case, we need to show some comedic scenes, some drama, some choices to show that the player can shape the story and its outcome, and of course, present a mini arc that’s conclusive enough for people to understand the gist of the story. It’s a tease, basically (and obviously, because it’s a telenovela, we ended on a cliffhanger.) Our goal was to make it no longer than 20 minutes, this would allow the flow of players at the event to keep moving, but everyone got the full experience.

We focused a lot in making the game not only fun to play, but fun to watch. This helped attract a lot of people to our booth.

The featured story was from chapter 3 of the full game. We didn’t start from the beginning because this allowed to skip the slow start and character development and get right into the action!

Our main goal was to see if people liked the concept, if it appealed to them, as well as to pinpoint the strong points and weaknesses of our game.

What things were strictly needed for this mini chapter?

  • The script
  • Music
  • Character art
  • Backgrounds

What things ended up being cut?

  • Character animations
  • Voices
  • More characters
  • Affection system
  • Avatar creation
  • Chapter select
  • System options (language, sounds, music, etc.)
  • Final UI
  • Details on visual feedback and UX
  • More expressions
  • Extra costumes for the characters
  • SFX (bloom, inverted colors, blur, etc.)
  • CG Gallery
  • Minigames
  • Etc.

So we had our checklist, now we needed to build the game as fast as posible. In our case, because this is a VN, we considered three main options: Renpy, TyranoBuilder and Visual Novel Maker.

Why not go with Unity 3D or Unreal? While these engines are wonderful, accesible and with a wonderful and helpful active community, we simple did not have anyone on our staff with enough experience with any of them (especially considering that we had so little time.) We’re actually using Unity 3D for the full game, because we want the freedom to port to multiple platforms. But for our vertical slice, we needed to choose the tool that would allow us to develop this product in the least amount of time with the least complications possible. We chose Visual Novel Maker.

We mostly chose VN Maker because it’s easier than Renpy and we were already familiar with some of Device’s other engines, such as RPG Maker or Pixel Game Maker, and they usually have the same structures and logic behind them.

Actually, we’re quite proud of what we managed to do. The event was a success and people really loved the game. We also got some early feedback from them which turned out super useful!

We’re still developing the game, so this feedback is still invaluable to us! If you want to help, you can play our demo and tell us what you think!

And if you want to learn more about the process for building a successful and efficient prototype, we highly recommend the book Lean Startup by Eric Ries!