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:
- 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.
- 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.