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Level Two: Polishing
Beat 2. Epicenter
Feeling the Wave
The second part of your pitch presentation, the middle, is about presenting what the player will do and experience. This comprises your game loop, your game’s general aesthetics and mood, its dramatic structure, and a brief walkthrough, preferably by means of a prototype.
Up front, two points of critical importance.
First, it’s a pitch presentation, not a scientific paper, so your methodologies are of no interest to anyone. Don’t pelt your audience with dimensions, territories, or anything else Ludotronics, or with the specifics of any other methodology you happened to use. The only thing that counts are results, and you have to convey these results in a language everybody understands, which is industry language. Keep your methodology, any methodology, out of your pitch!
Second, it’s a pitch presentation, not a show & tell session, so established game mechanics, also called “pillars,” are of no interest to anyone either. Don’t pelt your audience with well-known features like your quest-giving mechanic, crafting system, AI behavior, monetization scheme, and similar. The only thing that counts in this department are the elements that differentiate your game from other games aimed at your target audience, not tried-and-true industry standards.
The first three elements, game loop, aesthetics/mood, and dramatic structure, need to be distilled from what you have accomplished in the Process phase. The final element, the walkthrough, builds on your work from the Prototype phase. Again, let’s have a look at each of these elements.
The game loop is essential. Prepare to describe what the player will do again and again in vivid detail. For extras, you might want to throw in some innovative rules, game mechanics, input methods, emergent properties, agent interactions, or difficulty options that you created in the Process phase’s Level Two: Interactivity. But mind the operative word “innovative.” Don’t present any stock features!
For your game’s aesthetics and mood, you need to prepare style samples that represent your genre, period, and presentation styles on the one hand, and some outstanding examples from your range of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or mythological artistic abstractions on the other—based on your work from the Process phase’s Level Three: Plurimediality and Level Four: Narrativity, respectively. At this juncture, mood boards, stock samples, or written briefs won’t do. You need to present at least a few original sketches or samples, but preferably pieces of original concept art, composition, or equivalent work. Needless to say, these should be technically impeccable, professional, and inspiring. On top of it, again, you can throw in something noteworthy, be that interface details, camera handling, or elements related to sound or speech. (If audio of any kind is important, make sure you’ll have excellent speakers at your disposal during your presentation, or provide them yourself.) Once again, that an element is important, or even exciting, doesn’t justify its place in your pitch presentation. It must be different and innovative, compared to similar games aimed at your target audience.
For your dramatic structure, you should prepare the most relevant elements from the three development arcs of your game. If your game is dramatically complete, that would be your story development, character development, and player development arcs. Be snappy. Limit yourself to the defining and most relevant elements of each arc. If you want to go beyond that and present details, like characters or elements from your world narrative, the rule applies again that it has to be something that differentiates your game from similar games directed at your target audience. Finally, is your theme of any interest here? Not in and of itself. But if you can use it to explain important design decisions so your audience gets a better sense of what you’re trying to achieve, then sure, go ahead and reveal your theme.
Finally, the walkthrough. If you created a prototype, here’s where you will present it in action. If it’s a digital prototype, prepare a well-edited video with the parts that illustrate your game loop, your USP, your mood, and so on. If it’s an analog prototype, prepare a well-edited recording of a play session, either sped up and slowed down, or with fast-forwards, or as a time-lapse video, or any other means that help you highlight relevant parts without detaching them from their contexts. All in all, this should not exceed two minutes. Which sounds short, but it will feel very long in the context of a pitch presentation. If your prototype has sound, everything about it should be professional—no bland stock music, no Hans Zimmer rip-offs, no trite dialogues, no terrible voice acting. Also, if your prototype has sound and needs commenting on, you don’t want to stage a shouting match between yourself and the speakers during your presentation. Instead, edit necessary comments into the video, either with audio overlays or with captions or subtitles. Finally, follow up on it with an ultrabrief overview of the learnings gathered from playtesting. If you didn’t create a prototype, you’ll have to improvise—a viable solution would be to prepare professional storyboards, or at least a series of professionally looking sketches, to simulate a walkthrough.
Preparing all this will eat up a lot of time. It will also set you back a few bucks. But you shouldn’t cut corners here. If you didn’t invest in your ideas, why should anyone else? And again, make it shine, but stay honest, especially with regard to your prototype and playtests. Talking of honesty, there’s the question of creating and showing a game trailer. The recommended answer is, prepare a trailer only if it’s explicitly expected by your host. The skills to create a great game or game treatment and the skills to create a great trailer do not necessarily intersect, and a trailer can never be a proof of concept because it doesn’t actually address the hard questions that only a prototype can address, and demonstrate. Also, a prototype is something tangible that your audience can try out in a subsequent hands-on session, at least if it’s a digital one. That alone counts for far more than a reel full of bombast and braggadocio.