Tips for Polishing the Last 10 Percent

Thursday’s session, “Indie Polish : Making the Most Out of the Last 10%” had a lot of good suggestions. We all know that the last 10% of any project is always the longest, and often the hardest. It’s where we go from a working concept to a product ready for the consumer.

There are certain tasks that are no-brainers at this stage; however, there are other things I hadn’t really thought about before, such as hiring voice acting talent.

This session was by Mike Bithell  |  Developer, Mike Bithell Games

Mike has had a notable career with game companies, but eventually went indie. His most recent release is “Thomas Was Alone”, and it does quite well on Steam.

As usual, I’ll give you the GDC summary, followed by my thoughts.

The Last 10%
The Last 10%

Session Summary

“As independent game developers, we spend a long time creating the perfect play experience, but do we spend enough time finishing the perfect play experience? Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone, Volume) runs through a bunch of the polish work on his two most recent games, in the hopes of opening up how he (and, well, you) can get that last part of the puzzle just right.” –

Hodge’s Thoughts

I don’t have much of a complex opinion on this. It was simply good. I’m going to list off the things I don’t want to forget.

1. Focus on making games that are within one’s own (or the teams) skill set.

If a particular piece is truly needed, and you (or the team) either do not have that skill or aren’t very good at it, hire someone who is.

Mike mentioned that there are individuals in the game industry who are veterans with years of experience that like doing freelance gigs on the weekends. He pointed out that he once needed PlayStation 1 era art created. No one specializes in that anymore (making super low poly look good). He connected with a well known artist who has been working in game art since the days of the PS1. The artist had been looking for projects that allowed him to re-explore the art constraints of that time period; so, Mike got a really good deal on art from an experienced game artist.

Mike also noted that his experience in the industry has been in laying out graphics. He could not make the 3D model of a gun, but he can take renders of the gun and create a composition that makes it look AAA quality. With that in mind his game ‘Thomas Was Alone” is made entirely of rectangles, because laying things out in a grid (or box modelling the composition) is what he’s good at.

Mind you those are some fine looking rectangles. Since his background is graphic layout and composition, he knew how to make those rectangles look AAA-ish.

2. If the player isn’t going to see it, or it isn’t going to be used much, don’t spend a lot of time on it.

If you aren’t going to see the legs on the frog, you should be asking yourself “Does the frog need legs?”

This is a point I have to pay attention to. I know the rule that if the camera doesn’t see it, don’t build it. That’s why movie sets are usually just the front of buildings. This isn’t new information and I tell it to my students often; however, that doesn’t change that when I’m in the moment of creation the perfectionist in me always takes over. When I make anything, I want it to be perfect. I loose a lot of time to this.

I need to put this one into action more.

3. Voice Over is cheaper than you would think, and adds volumes to a game’s perceived production value.

For “Thomas Was Alone”, Mike was able to hire Danny Wallace. Danny has a higher profile in the UK. In the US we’d recognize him from Assassin’s Creed III as Shaun Hastings. Mike couldn’t go into the current voice over rates of actors, but he said it’s often incredibly reasonable for the amount of value they add.

When we think of hiring actors, we think of the large amounts the press reports them to make; however, voice over work is often just a two or three hour session in a sound stage that is convenient for them. In addition, many actors personally enjoy this sort of work, and realize they’ll have to take far less than they’re used to in order to get it.

I may not check this out for the game I’m trying to push to completion right now, but I certainly will look into it for the next.

4. Localization doesn’t have to happen right away.

According to Mike’s talk, non-English speaking countries are far more tolerant of English speaking games, than we are of other other language games. Basically, releasing it for English speakers only won’t kill off your chances in other locations; so don’t worry about it in the last 10%. Focus on polishing the English game experience, and worry about delivering localized versions in updates.

5. Squash and Stretch

Mike said he took the time to read the first two pages of every animation book he could find. He quickly realized that the principles of squash and stretch can greatly increase the look and feel of any game. It’s probably the single most important thing you can do, next to timing.

*Note to my students: You should all be familiar with squash and stretch by now. If you tell me you aren’t I will dock one letter grade; also, I won’t like you.

It was a great session, and I look forward to giving at least one more full write up on the topics I attended.

Thanks for reading, and stick around for more GDC posts!

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