What Does a Vertical Slice Look Like for Homegrown?

After poring over Eastshade's devblog, I became especially interested in the concept of the vertical slice. I had heard the term before, but reading this post helped me truly appreciate its value.

In game development, a vertical slice is a fully playable piece of a game, so named because when one imagines a game as horizontal layers of systems, a vertical slice takes the most important parts of those systems (usually including artwork) and combines them to create a small, playable chunk of the game.

Their value is somewhat debated in the game development world. What Games Are author Tadhg Kelly likens asking for a vertical slice to “asking to see a piece of the final cake before agreeing to pay for the whole,” arguing that creating a vertical slice actually requires completing most of the game, even though the slice may seem to lack content.

In Homegrown's case, it is true that in order to create a vertical slice of the game, most of the game's underlying systems must be complete. However, since much of the game's content is either procedural or user-generated, a vertical slice is very similar to the complete game.

To get a feel for the overall gameplay of Homegrown, a player would need a few blocks to work with (like grass and wood), a basic background environment, growing plants, a model editing system complete with a few enchantment options, basic multiplayer interactions (like visibility), island-hopping, and working visual artwork and sound. Together, these things certainly seem to be “most” of Homegrown, even while leaving out a tutorial, richer player interaction, many block options, and more developed enchantment capabilities.

Homegrown has been in development for over a year, and it still lacks many features, especially in terms of aesthetics: while the game has many underlying systems completed, it has no visual artwork or sounds yet. I have been hyperfocused on completing whole systems, trying to make the game work without aesthetics, but this results in some frustration: progress can be difficult to identify and describe when changes happen on the back-end over time. Similarly, any screenshots I were to post here would be remarkably unattractive. As I continue to post here, a lack of beauty might become an issue.

Even if the expectation of a vertical slice is unrealistic as a demo, reaching one might still be an important milestone. The slice gives developers a more solidified vision of the final product, forces many systems (including artwork) to be somewhat developed, allows for better visual promotion, and, in Eastshade's case, perhaps offers a boost of motivation. Maybe a vertical slice is worth working toward for these reasons alone.