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Design Documents.. Part One

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Well, I've just come home from a great holiday in the lake district. The place is undoubtedly one of the most glorious areas of the UK, filled with rocky hills and epic views to inspire the imagination. The time spent enjoying the views has certainly made an impact on the mental images I have of the Axiom landscape, hopefully for the better!

Before I went on holiday I got roughly half way through the design document and its peripheral reference guides, which I'm writing simultaneously. I had spent about forty hours on the documents, that includes research time for language features and development tools. I had a read through the work I had done, to remind myself where I had got to and was unpleasantly surprised by how much I was unhappy with. While the core concept remains the same, I have made a few U turns on some fairly big gameplay systems. I also found lots of places where better descriptions were needed. So yesterday I edited for three hours, making the changes I had noted down previously.

I'm fortunate that I learned how to write good design documents a few years ago, at uni, but a refresher is always worth while. Gamedev and Gamasutra host loads of articles about doc's and even have full examples and templates. Here's my favorites...

Monolith's Claw Design doc is a great example of a professional design document.
Tom Sloper's article is a concise look at the main uses of a design document.
Chris Taylors Design document template is invaluable.

I've used Chris Taylors template with nearly every project I have worked on. It saves a huge amount of pen and paper and page formating to have so much of the document framework laid out when I start. Although thats no excuse to sit back and assume I have everything covered! The largest challenge so far, has been keeping track of points I need to expand on in later sections, and then positioning them somewhere appropriate in the design doc. So, some pen and paper note taking has been a necessity, but generally a template is a damn fine thing.

In other news, I've begun work on concept art, nothing flashy for now - just some GUI designs and a little pallet testing. I want to have a few concept pictures in the design doc when version 1.0 is published. Next time I'll hopefully be reporting on the finished design doc, and provide a detailed look at some special sections that will aid remote indie development teams.
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