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Game Design: Writing A Design Document

July 19, 2013 Game Design and Production, IADT General 0 Comments

Writing A Design DocumentWriting the design document is one of the most important steps to making your game concept a reality. It tells a programmer or designer everything they need to know about how to create your game.

According to game designer and developer Brenda Brathewaite, “Almost every game that’s on the market had some form of design document.” Without it, the game could lose focus over the course of design and production, costing you time and money.

But how do you write a design document? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you begin writing:

Have you already written your concept paper?

A concept paper can be considered a shorter version, or early draft, of your design document. Tzvi Freeman, a Canadian professor of Game Design and Documentation, describes the purpose of the concept paper as defining the concept, scope, worthiness and feasibility of your game. It can be used to pitch your idea to clients, publishers or employers.

If you have already written your concept paper, you should refer to it as you write your design document. Video game developer Tim Ryan outlines a standard concept paper:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Description
  4. Key Features
  5. Genre
  6. Platform(s)
  7. Concept art

This information can also contain details of your game, such as your target audience, compelling features, market information, and the cost and time needed to develop the game. This must all be included and expanded upon in your design document.

Who is your audience?

Remember that the audience for your game design document is different than the audience for your game. In your document, you are writing to designers, producers and programmers. You are talking to people who are familiar with the gaming industry. Do not use promotional or enticing language. Be informative. Provide in-depth details that show your team how the game must be structured. Be sure nothing is ambiguous.

What is your core statement?

What is your game about?

Your design document must answer this question, especially if you expect designers and producers to create your dream game from this document. Brathewaite notes two kinds of core statements: direct and genre.

A direct core statement looks like this:

  • The game is about being…
  • The game simulates…
  • The game allows you to play…

If you’ve already chosen a genre, then your core statement could fall into one of these categories:

  • Role-playing games are about character development.
  • Real-time strategy games are about resource capture.
  • Simulations are about building.
  • First person shooter games are about survival.
  • Racing games are about being the first to the finish line.

It’s normal for a core statement to change over the course of production. Brathewaite advises that if your core does change, you must revisit the rest of the game’s design to be sure it’s still cohesive.

What is your feature set?

A feature set refers to the tasks or goals of your character that must be fulfilled over the course of the game. Feature sets are concrete statements. Grammatically, they are structured as commands.

A feature set can act as the basis for your design document; it outlines what the character must do to achieve the ultimate goal of the game. The set can also allow you to see the overall direction of your game.

Do you have a table of contents?

One of the final steps in creating your design document is structuring your table of contents. The table should include every aspect in the game, except the storyline. (The story is typically written in a separate document by a narrative designer.)

For an idea of how to generate a table of contents, you can reference the manuals from your favorite games. The manuals often come from the design document and can be a high-quality resource for you.

Remember to include as much detail as possible in your design document. Do not simply tell your readers what will happen; try to describe it so they can imagine how the game progresses. Most importantly, however, your document should be readable. Consider the writing sources available to you at IADT when you begin constructing your design document.

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