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Design docs

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So I'm an audio guy interested in learning a little more about the design process. I've got plenty of experience with music and audio, but recently have been getting interested in some design aspects. The group I'm working with at the moment had some design issues, and through discussion we worked them out, and I really enjoyed doing it, leading me to the following questions... Lets say that I were to have a burst of creativity and decided I was going to draft a design doc--how would I go about it? Is there a template or general set of guidelines that I should follow? Clearly, too, the first draft will be short, but how do these docs get filled out? For those of you on the inside track of the industry, are there certain guidelines for putting together a well-organized doc? I apologize for asking what are probably very basic questions, but you've got to learn to write before you can draft a screenplay :) I just have a few very basic ideas floating around in my head, and would like to know what a good framework might be for getting them organized.

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Hi Blaise,
You wrote:

>Lets say ... I was going to draft a design doc--how would I go about it?

You would start by writing down the central idea, then thinking about the primary user interface. Since you're an artist, you can draw pictures of the primary game view (including onscreen UI elements). Then describe it in writing. Then start thinking about the other aspects of the game, a piece at a time - story elements, story progression, game setting, game levels/progression, user interface (onscreen and touchy-feely), menu system...

>Is there a template

Not really.

>or general set of guidelines that I should follow?

Yes. You could have found them if you'd just done a search. Check the design FAQs here on this site, and read FAQs 2 and 13 on my site.

>Clearly, too, the first draft will be short

Actually, you need to make a longish first draft before you can condense it down to a proper treatment and concept paper.

>I apologize for asking what are probably very basic questions, but you've got to learn to write before you can draft a screenplay

You wouldn't have thought it necessary to apologize if you'd simply searched for the information before asking.

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I'm not a professional (yet ;) ) but I do know there are quite a number of articles available in the [Resources >> Articles and Resources] section of this site. Regarding the layout, that varies based on the game, the studio and personal preference. As long as you cover all the important aspects in a clear, unambiguous and logical manner, then it should be acceptable.

You'll need to cover at least the following things:
1. Basic Details
:: Working Title
:: Basic Description
:: Game Flow
:: Platform
:: Genre

2. Game Mechanics
:: All of them... in detail
:: Perspectives from programmers, artists, designers, writers

3. Game Elements
:: All characters, art elements, levels, objects, weapons, vehicles, etc.
:: Same perspectives.

4. All Narrative, Setting & Lore
:: Written for internal communication, not outside publication

5. Interface
:: Written descriptions on how it works
:: Mock-ups

6. Multi-player & Single-player Descriptions
:: How it plays.
:: Objectives, mechanics, etc.

7. Technical Aspects
:: How it's going to be made.
:: Engine.
:: System Requirements
:: Scheduling and financial concerns.

It can go on forever.

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Quote:
Original post by Tom Sloper
Yes. You could have found them if you'd just done a search. Check the design FAQs here on this site, and read FAQs 2 and 13 on my site.

>Clearly, too, the first draft will be short

Actually, you need to make a longish first draft before you can condense it down to a proper treatment and concept paper.

>I apologize for asking what are probably very basic questions, but you've got to learn to write before you can draft a screenplay

You wouldn't have thought it necessary to apologize if you'd simply searched for the information before asking.


Thanks for your input Tom (and Nathan)--I realize I made noob errors--again, audio guy here; the resources are different, so I didn't think to look for them. Thanks for pointing me towards this stuff, it's all very helpful; clearly you've put a lot into your site, so thanks for sharing the wealth.


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I don't mind the sharpness--I've dope-slapped my fair share of audio noobs :) As long as it's with the intent to offer good advice, criticism is not a bad thing, in my book. Again, thanks to the both of you.

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Theres no real template on how a design doucment should be set out. It varies from designer to designer. Many design documents these days only upto 30 pages long because the publisher don't want to trawl through hundreds of pages. As long as the right topics are covered and you're mechanics are well explainned you realy can't go wrong.

Here's a first draft of the context of a MMO design doc i've been working on at work. Big or small as-long as it covers everything :P

Obviously a MMO is a bigger and much more complex game so in theory the docs bigger. This document reaches arround 900 pages at the moment. Thats in Artist language and programmer language :P as-well as the dumbed down pages for the publishers.

The Basics
Genre
• Introduction
• Unique Points
Graphic Look & Requirements
• Introduction
• Main points
• Requirements
Integrated Systems
• Introduction
• Role-Playing
• First Person Shooter
• Real Time Strategy
MMO System Structure
• Basic Structure
• Advance Structure
style
Theme
• Introduction
• Exploring The Genre
• Ideas
• Visuals
Art Directions
• Artistic Points
• Theme Visuals
• Overall Visuals
World Visuals
• Planet Visuals
• Sector Visuals
• Galaxy Visuals
Engine
Introduction
• Introduction
BW Client
• Introduction
• Environment
• Animation
• Effects
• Object Scripting
• Path Finding
BW Server
• Introduction
• Server Infrastructure
• Custom Worlds
• Server Tools
• Server Management & Monitoring tools
• Dynamic World Updates
BW Content Creation Tools
• Introduction
• BigBang World Editor
• Model Viewer
• Particle System Editor
• Client Access Tool
Target Audience
MMO Market
• Looking at the Market
• Looking at Different Gamers
• Targeting & Hooking Players
Client Platform
PC Platform
• Overview
• Advantages
• Disadvantage
Xbox360 Platform
• Overview
• Advantages
• Disadvantage
PS3 Platform
• Overview
• Advantages
• Disadvantage
Host Platform
• Linux
Licensed/Original World
Original
• Introduction
• World
• Originality
• Comparisons
Game Play
Introduction
• Introduction
Brief Gameplay Overview
• Game Play Basic
• Game Play Advance
Life Time Cycle
• Player Lifetime Cycle
New Player Experience
• New Player Experience
• PC Experience
• Console Experience
Competition
Introduction
• Introduction
Overlook
• Looking at Other MMO’s On The Market
• Named Titles
Research
• Introduction
• Star Wars Galaxies
• Eve Online
• Anarchy online
• Huxley
• Freelancer
Results
• Advantages
• Disadvantages
• Unique Selling Points
Budget
Key Points
• Why Fund (never been done on multiplatform)
• Fan & Community Needs
• Next Generation
MMO Market Funding
• Basic Principles
• Detailed Research
Basic Overview
• Basic Budget Sheet
In-depth Overview
• Full Budget Sheet
• Overall Costing
The Team
The Business Side
• Overview of Solar System Studios
• Industry Knowledge
• Industry Advancements
• Partnerships and Trade
The Development Side
• Team Structure
• Team Proven Track Record
• Team Work
• Online Office
Preliminary Game Design
The Story
• The Background Story
• Jump Points in the Story
• Freedom to the Player
Character Races
• Introduction
Human
• Introduction
• Back History
• Present Status
• Appearance
• Religious Beliefs
Empriean
• Introduction
• Back History
• Present Status
• Appearance
• Religious Beliefs
Druadoric
• Introduction
• Back History
• Present Status
• Appearance
• Religious Beliefs
Torcentic
• Introduction
• Back History
• Present Status
• Appearance
• Religious Beliefs
The Universe
Introduction
• Introduction
Galaxies
Gak-Wik-Prime Solar Systems
• Introduction
• Cordia
• Aeo Rion
• Nyah Prime
Omagor9 Solar Systems
• Introduction
• Vornet
• Geox V
• Plutanous
Cordia System
• Introduction
• System Map
• Planets
• Trade Routes
Aeo Rion System
• Introduction
• System Map
• Planets
• Trade Routes
Vornet System
• Introduction
• System Map
• Planets
• Trade Routes
Geox V System
• Introduction
• System Map
• Planets
• Trade Routes
Federations & Galactic Corporations
Federations & Corps
• Galactic Space Federation Council (GSFC)
• USR Parliamentary Alliance
• The Federation of Shires
• Economic and Universal Coalition of Territories (EUCT)
• Omega Titanious Alliance
• Technocratic Solidarity of Yandor
• Alliance Gak-Wik-Prime
• Authority of Star runners
• Plutocratic Syndicate of Governmental Problems
• Union of The Suns
• Unity of Stars
Military Federations & Corps
• The Titanious Galactic Federation
• The Mechanized Optic Association
• Brotherhood of Cortec
• The Ironfist Alliance
• Imperial Government of The Nexus Systems
Cities
Introduction
Capital Cities
• Delarey
• City2
• City3
• City4
• City5
• City6
• City7
• City8
• City9
• City10
Cities
• City1
• City2
• City3
• City4
• City5
• City6
• City7
• City8
• City9
• City10
• City11
• City12
• City13
• City14
• City15
• City16
• City17
• City18
• City19
• City20
Player Cities
Villages/Towns/Settlements
• Settlement1
• Settlement2
• Settlement3
• Settlement4
• Settlement5
• Settlement6
• Settlement7
• Settlement8
• Settlement9
• Settlement10
• Settlement11
• Settlement12
• Settlement13
• Settlement14
• Settlement15
• Settlement16
• Settlement17
• Settlement18
• Settlement19
• Settlement20
Landmarks
Land Relics

Battlegrounds
• Great Battle of Earth
• Necrumender Supremacy agaisnt the Kabowa System
• Accursed Transfiguration of the Lost Saint
• Bloodstained Rite of the Ensnaring Soul of Edges
• Damned Spirit's Abjuration of Silence
• Decrepid Sacrifice of the Hours of Darkness
• Enchantment of the Abyss
• Ghostly Sacrifice of Cortec 4
• Golden Conjuration
• Cairns of Flesh
• Low Souls' Sacrament
• Profane Lords' Evocation of Decay
• Rite of the Snare of Annihilation
• Spectres' Incantation of the Decrepid systems
• Crooked Sacrifice of General Nerthron
• Universal Edge of Annihilation
• Divnity of Hours
• Inverted Sacrament of Chaos
• Sacrifice of the Ghostly Crypt
• Yandors Princess Evocation of Fate
• Rite of war sector 8
• The Wraith of Ferdan dorna
• Sacrament of Necromunder blood
• Monolith of the Abyss
• The Day of Visions
• Unnamed Incantation of Four Fiendish Arch-angels
Other Places
Religious Structures
Ruins
Society Buildings
Travel
Planet Travel Routes
• Route Map
Solar System Travel Routes
• Route Map
Main Gameplay
Combat
PVP
PVNPC
Battles
Wars
Guilds
Introduction
• Introduction
Pre Made Guilds
• Introduction
• Pre Made Guilds
• Purpose
• Player Interaction
Player Guilds
• Introduction
• Guild System
• Ranking
• Purpose
• Entertainment
• Team Work
Player War Guilds
Introduction
• Introduction
Guild System
• Guild Commands & Controls
• Ranking
RTS Element
• Key Points
• Commander Rights
• RTS Vendors
• Build System Structure
Learning & Advancement
Pioneer Professions
• EUCT Route
• OTA Route
• Mechanized Druadoric
• Templar
Skill Sheets
Ability Sheets
Magic Sheets
Weapons
Melee Weapons
Short Distance Weapons
Long Distance
Heavy Weapons
Items
Components
Furniture
Player Buildings
Space Craft Components
• Engine
• Wing
• Weapons
• Ammunition
• Bombs (Other)
Clothing
Clothing for Each Body Part
• Head Ware
• Neck
• Chest
• Shoulders
• Arms
• Wrists
• Hands
• Hips
• Legs
• Footwear
• Back
Vehicles
Land
• None War
• War
Sea
• None War
• War
Space Craft
• Introduction
• War/None War
• Space Crafts
None Player Characters
Wildlife & Creatures
Mission System
Missions
• Introduction
• Basic Missions
• Advance Missions
• Expert Missions
Credits

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You being an audio guy, I would learn to program first. I think the most important ability for a designer to have, is to being able to implement ideas quickly. To me a design is just a hypothesis, which will either be proven, or disproven by a prototype. If you can't program, you will never get feedback on whether or not what you're designing is actually fun, and your design skills will never progress.

A hard truth, is that 80% of the ideas a designer comes up with, are going to be bad. I read a book 10 years ago, where Sid Meier stated that he had roughly 40 prototypes that he had written, collecting dust on his hard disk. That is what makes him a great designer, he has enough sense to test out his ideas, and only go with the ideas that actually turn out to be fun.

I would skip writing a really long design document, and instead put that energy into learning to program, or learning the scripting language of a game in a genre that you are passionate about. Then I would start with simple designs, implementing them, and seeing how they pan out.

Hope that helps.

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Quote:
I would skip writing a really long design document, and instead put that energy into learning to program, or learning the scripting language of a game in a genre that you are passionate about. Then I would start with simple designs, implementing them, and seeing how they pan out.


d00d, i just wantz to rite teh gamez!!! i haz gud ide4s sum1 shud prgrm 4 me!!!

But seriously...damn, I was afraid someone was going to say that (the 'learn to program' part, not the 1337).

Any suggestions as to what might be a good language or scripting language for me to start learning? I took an amazingly basic class in college that was based on Scheme, but I've had no other experience. I'm on a Mac (non-Intel, so no dual boot) at the moment, which is great for my music and sound, but I know may limit my programming options. Thoughts?

Again, thanks for all the feedback on my bonehead questions.

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It depends strongly on how much interest you have in programming and what sort of games you wish to program. The best thing to learn would, in my opinion, be C++. It offers great power and flexibility, but some find it rather challenging to learn.

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I would not recommend learning programming unless you have a few years to burn. It takes quite a while to become a decent programmer, and it is not difficult to design a game without programming experience.

To actually create a game generally takes a programmer, but if you focus on making money instead, you could probably hire a skilled programmer to produce a prototype for relatively little cost.

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If you just want to learn programming for hacking prototypes and testing ideas, I would recommend Python. With Pygame for 2D and Soya for 3D stuff you can build prototypes really fast and the performance is good enough for testing purposes.

Python is easier to learn than C++ and has good modules for nearly everything.

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A great program on the mac for organizing your ideas for a game is Notebook, by Circus Ponies. Watch the tutorials on their site though as they have a lot of shortcut keys and youll be swearing up and down and hate the program like I did (until I learned that there were shortcut keys, now I love it.)

Also the IDE I use on the mac is Netbeans. Some people like it (myself) some people dont (lots of people) but it supports a lot of different languages and runs pretty decent.

As for layout I do like Tom Slopers guides and use them quite frequently. Also I do searches online to see what others documents look like. They are all fairly standard but its still nice to see some examples.

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Hmm, on a PPC Mac your options are somewhat limited. There's a version of Blitz Basic for the Mac, which will enable you to get something on the screen prety quickly. As an audio guy, you might want to try one of the audio languages, like ChucK, http://chuck.cs.princeton.edu/ , which might be more interesting to you.

I would try to get an Intel PC of some sort, it will open up a lot of options in terms of the scripting languages you can learn.

Hope that helps.

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This topic is 3480 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

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