For those unfamiliar with the term: a vertical slice means that you fully develop a small fraction of a game, implementing most or even all features that will be in the final product. It’s a short demo reel that showcases all the mechanics and possibilities featured in the final product. It’s generally the first step in full development and is used to, even after the creation of a satisfactory prototype, ensure the experience is as perfect as it can be. After the vertical slice has been approved, the game will be fleshed out with extra content using mainly gameplay mechanics and other elements that helped create the vertical slice.
Quick demo showing adaptation of their hand-drawn style character art to the prototype.
When Kobojo (acquired in July by another Paris-based game developer, Celsius Online) turned to us in 2015 to develop a vertical slice prototype for a new JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game, e.g. the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series), we were very eager to start working on it.
They wanted to build the game in Unity 3D, which was something completely new for them (at the time they were primarily known for the Flash-based social game PyramidValley). Fortunately, we were able to use our broad knowledge of Unity 3D to build a sharp vertical slice prototype of what would ultimately become Zodiac Orcanon Odyssey.
While such a project went beyond the scope of the majority of our projects, we took this exciting challenge to heart. We worked closely together with Kobojo programmers and artists to incorporate everything. ‘Everything’ being a colorful 2D level that could be explored by a flying avatar, as well as a strategic turn-based combat system, complete with friendly and enemy artificial intelligence. The graphics were a particularly interesting challenge. Kobojo had a specific, hand-drawn style in mind, and while the development of prototypes is usually light on graphics, we were able to deliver some stunning results with the help of our huge network of game developer friends.
With this vertical slice prototype in hand Kobojo was able to get some big JRPG names behind the game. The soundtrack was composed by none other than Hatoshi Sakimoto of Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story fame, and the story of the game was written by Kazushige Nojima. He also wrote the scenario for a little game you might’ve heard about called Final Fantasy VII. Not too shabby!
After its release on iOS platforms, Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey did very well for itself. It quickly became one of Apple’s 2015 picks for best game on iPad Pro and it also swept away some awards at the Tokyo Game Show. A trailer for the PS4 version of the game was even featured in the PlayStation press conference at PlayStation Experience in San Francisco. And it all started with the vertical slice prototype by PreviewLabs!