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Parhelion

How to..? (A question on writing Design Docs)

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Parhelion    122
I find myself with a problem. I am a meticulous individual hell-bent on ensuring that all things are forever documented. When starting a project, I want firm ground to stand on. Yet, I've found myself working with two other individuals in a project to start a new MUD (a type of text-based MMO-like game, very old-school stuff). In these types of games, it seems natural to separate what is viewed as "theme" and what is "code", and I got landed with the wonderful job of "making everything work and designing and programming the code base and recruiting coders." (what have I done to myself?) The other two... well, without spilling out an entire tale of woe to you all, let's just say that I don't think "theme" is going to be done anytime soon. Not even an outline. I've got NO idea what will be going on here, at least for a little while, and quite frankly I want to make sure that my coded backbone for the game can be theme-free, so that I can reuse it as an engine for other games (and so I can take my toys and leave if they can't resolve their differences). I've never written a design document before. Well, I have, but I also had an idea for the game it was being written for, and so the heaviest chunk of the doc was in the features on how stuff was supposed to work -- ALL game-specific. But now I need to write a design document, not for a game, but for an engine. A theme-less, game-less engine. A technical Bible. And I have NO idea how to do this -- what do I really need to have written down and considered before starting programming? What do I need to convey? My audience is going to be a very non-technical sort (the other two indiviudals working on this project) AND fellow programmers whom I manage to con--I mean, recruit onto the project. I was hoping that there were some examples out there on how to write such technical bibles. Any suggestions?

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Cosine    100
In actuality, Design Documents/Bibles (GDD/GDB) are customized by the person who is typing it up. Take me for exampe, I write my Design Documents like a movie script-like cover, table of contents, write everything up like a book, and end it with all materials (art, code, audio, everything) used in your game in a list.

It's better to not make engines, but make games and build off of them, as others say; but if you're building an engine for others to use, then it runs the same way as an average GDD, except with a different subject.

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theOcelot    498
Let me make sure I understand: your two friends are going to be coming up with the game-specific design, and you are just working on the code end. If that's so, what you're doing is not really what's called a "Game Design" at all: you're doing a code design. And you really can't expect to have that mapped out from beginning to end.

It will be almost impossible to write an engine in a vacuum, much less documentation for it. IMHO, you would do well to come up with a thorough design for a mini-game, that you can use to build the engine around and exercise it. For the code, write down whatever ideas come into your head, just enough to get you coding with some direction. Then write the engine documentation as you write the engine, letting the code guide the docs, not vice versa. Then it can serve as a reference for coders, the ones who need it. Non-technical people probably won't have much use for it, anyway [smile].

If you want advice on the actual structure of such a document, all I can say is that if I was reading it, I would want documents describing progressively smaller and more detailed bits of the architecture, starting with a grand overview of the structure, and moving down to individual systems and structures, allowing me to zero in on the part that I'm interested in at the moment.

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