Clan Combat Draft
Basic Introduction to Game Design

Communication and Game Design Documents

Welcome to week sev­en in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. In this post, we dis­cuss com­mu­ni­ca­tion and game design doc­u­men­ta­tion. While most text­books dis­cuss cre­at­ing game design doc­u­ments in some way, I feel that, giv­en the scope of a game design class, no tru­ly com­plete intro­duc­tion exists for the cre­ation of game design doc­u­ments. Currently, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dis­cus­sion about the worth of design doc­u­ments for a game design team (such doc­u­ments are crit­i­cised, because nobody ever reads them). The one-page design doc­u­ments that have become a lit­tle bit more pop­u­lar help to address many of the short­com­ings of tra­di­tion­al design doc­u­ments. However, with games, before mak­ing the tran­si­tion from brain­storm­ing ideas and con­cepts to writ­ing a design doc­u­ment, you always need to answer these ques­tions first: What is your play­er going to do? What is the player’s role, and what are the actions avail­able to them?

What is a game design document?

Game design doc­u­ments have a bad rep­u­ta­tion in the games indus­try. Jesse Schell dis­cuss­es many myths regard­ing game design doc­u­ments (The Art of Game Design, p. 382–383). One these myths is that design doc­u­ments are a some­what mag­i­cal tool for design­ers to com­mu­ni­cate their ideas to the team, on the con­di­tion that they are for­mat­ted prop­er­ly and are using the right con­cept tem­plate. However, as he notes, dif­fer­ent games require dif­fer­ent doc­u­ments, and it is a rare occur­rence that one tem­plate will fit all the require­ments of your game. The pur­pose of design doc­u­ments is twofold:

  1. Memory aid. Many impor­tant design deci­sions define how a game works in detail. Usually, devel­op­ment of a game takes a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time, so you are like­ly to for­get some ear­ly design deci­sions if they are not writ­ten down. Designers use design doc­u­ments to record their design deci­sions as they are made. This way, you do not have to solve the same design prob­lem mul­ti­ple times.
  2. Communication tool. Since you are often work­ing with many peo­ple on a team to devel­op games, you will need an effec­tive way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing design deci­sions. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a design doc­u­ment is not one-direc­tion­al, and estab­lish­es a dia­logue between you, the design­er, and your team. By cre­at­ing a doc­u­ment that will grow over the devel­op­ment process and that is easy to anno­tate, you are cre­at­ing a foun­da­tion for improved com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in the team.

The exam­ple below shows a char­ac­ter overview that one of our (UOIT) stu­dent teams built for their design doc­u­ment, which was sub­mit­ted as part of a game design com­pe­ti­tion. The con­cept visu­als clear­ly com­mu­ni­cate ideas regard­ing the char­ac­ters, and the stats help the rest of the team to under­stand the strengths and weak­ness­es of each char­ac­ter.

Clan Combat Characters

Main char­ac­ters and their attrib­ut­es in the UOIT game Clan Combat (final­ist in the Ubisoft Academia com­pe­ti­tion).


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Basic Introduction to Game Design

Conceptualization and Idea Generation

Welcome to week six in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. In this post, we will dis­cuss the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion process in game design. This text fol­lows close­ly from our text­book (Game Design Workshop, Chapter 6). After hav­ing dis­cussed game sys­tems, and the roles that skill, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and chance play in games, we are shift­ing our focus to the idea of con­cept gen­er­a­tion. We need not define the act of gath­er­ing togeth­er game con­cepts as a fixed process. In fact, often, it is not. However, there are some meth­ods and tech­niques that will help you become more struc­tured in cre­at­ing your game ideas.

Where do you get your game concepts from?

Similar to most cre­ative process­es, your game ideas can be inspired by any­thing and any­one around you. Ideas are every­where. Being curi­ous helps; so does writ­ing things down. It is a good prac­tice to car­ry a small note­book with you to jot down game design ideas (rough ones) as they come to you. You can always elab­o­rate on them lat­er, but you will be prone to for­get if you do not record them. To help cod­i­fy a more for­mal game con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion process, our text­book dis­cuss­es five stages of cre­ativ­i­ty:

  1. Preparation. You study a top­ic or set of prob­lems deeply and gain deep under­stand­ing  of your cho­sen area of inter­est.
  2. Incubation. You keep the sub­ject mat­ter in your mind for a while, but are not con­scious­ly work­ing toward any par­tic­u­lar idea.
  3. Insight. Your aha-moment, when your idea starts mak­ing sense and works itself into a con­cept.
  4. Evaluation. You eval­u­ate your idea in terms of val­ue of pur­suit, that is to say, on the basis of orig­i­nal­i­ty, fea­si­bil­i­ty, and any poten­tial mar­ket val­ue.
  5. Elaboration. You for­mu­late your idea com­plete­ly and turn it into a sol­id con­cept. This is the hard­est part of ideation.

The stages of this process are not always lin­ear, and can be revis­it­ed in iter­a­tive cycles. The speed at which an idea turns into a con­cept depends on the per­son and any applic­a­ble envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, such as the avail­abil­i­ty of infor­ma­tion­al resources or help­ful col­leagues. Also keep in mind that many game design­ers are inspired by oth­er media as well as their envi­ron­ment. The things around you can trig­ger sev­er­al iter­a­tions of the cre­ative process to occur every day, and it is up to you to turn those ideas into real­i­ties. Continue read­ing