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Advice on writing a design document

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#1 Jovince   Members   


Posted 19 April 2013 - 11:41 PM

Hi everyone,


I would like your help on how to effectively write a game design document. From the templates and examples I have seen, the style of writing and the sections included can vary. I would like to know what sections you think are compulsory, such as, maybe core game play, levels etc, and any important sub sections within the sections you identified. Feel free to include any other relevant advice in writing a game design document.


For me, sections that I find important are, the mechanics section for defining how the game plays, the AI section to explain how the AI-controlled characters behave, and the contents section for defining any items and objects that the player can obtain, utilize or interact with in any way. I look forward to reading your replies :)

#2 overactor   Members   


Posted 20 April 2013 - 02:32 AM

I think it's important not to overlook sections like soundtrack, camera behavior and character controls.

it all varies heavily based on what the focus of your game is on of course.

If you want to create an art game with heavily stylized graphics, you're going to have to spend a lot of time and effort on the section where you elaborate on the visual style and design of environments, assets and characters. If you're making an RPG, you're likely going to spend ages on the back story and traits of the plethora of characters your player can encounter in the world.


What you want to achieve by writing a game design document is that when someone reads it, they know exactly and entirely what kind of game you want to make. So every section should contain all the information you have to add to it.

"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last-minute panic."

#3 mippy   Members   


Posted 20 April 2013 - 02:52 AM

I would write or create a mood board with images, associations, keywords etc. that reflect the kind of emotion which I would want to expose player to. Moodboards like this can be very helpful for yourself and artists when they go ahead in choosing music and such.  

#4 Azaral   Members   


Posted 20 April 2013 - 08:36 AM

I typically do it in two sections.


The first section is a description of the game from the player's perspective. It will have part that will read like an instruction manual telling the player how to play the game, and part will describe the flow of the game action if it needs it. This section will also detail the artistic styling of the game in terms of the visual style and the music and sound FX style. I will usually present this part to a few people and get some input.


Once that is done I start on the second section which is the technical spec that goes through and in detail describes how to actually do the things put forward in the first section. How am I going to construct this or that thing in the game. What is this stuff going to look like. What sound plays when you do this. That sort of stuff.

#5 JustinS   Members   


Posted 21 April 2013 - 07:51 AM

The best I can recommend is to start with the Chris Taylor template and tweak it to your needs. It's a good baseline, it has everything you strictly *need* and a few extras that are just helpful. It comes with a table of contents that doesn't take much effort to adjust, and has a good layout that makes it easy to tell where any additional sections should go, which is good because no matter what template you start from you'll need to add things.

#6 Mratthew   Members   


Posted 21 April 2013 - 11:26 AM

I find my documents tend to change from game to game to accommodate the design focus and the team I'm working with.


Like any writer, I start with a creative document (most of the time I use a Microsoft Office Outlining [View>Outline] ) like point form or a story web or even a collage just to get the ideas someplace for me to recall and rework them if need be.


Next I move onto my design brief. This is a document that works like the conversation you have with people when they ask you what you're working on. If you start this part as part of a development blog then you can actually answer people with the link to this document. Make sure this document lives up to its description. One paragraph or two and don't worry if people compare your game to other games at this point. (Only worry if they compare it to bad games ;)


Last is the main document, start with focusing on parts of the game you can't or won't be building. Its important your team has direction first. Then shift gears and work towards the areas of the game that will be earlier milestones (as you indicated your game would have a focus on how the AI reacts). Next focus on the parts of the game that have any emotional connection with the player and then "finish" the document for the dev team so that when they ask "Can I read the design document?" you won't need to tell them its a work in progress. No design document is ever really finished. Even post launch changes are encouraged. But having a document with a beginning, middle and end for the dev to keep as their bible is important. All members of development should have access to all aspects of this design document because a game is entirely interconnected and having all the teams eyes scouring the design for early bugs is important.


Once you are in development, make your document illustrated. Keep it updated by inserting all the concept art, screenshots, videos and fan art, so that the dev team always has a reason to look back at it. This keeps your document the end all be all go to for anyone on the team. Teach you team how to navigate it and tricks to search and narrow down answers to questions they may have along the way. If you've done it right your team will have days where they don't seem like they've gotten anything done and when you ask they'll say, I spent a bunch of time reading through the design document. JLW is right, Chris Taylor's template is where I started as well. Hope this helps.

Edited by Mratthew, 21 April 2013 - 11:27 AM.

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