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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