Game Design Documents

Standard

Note: I did this before looking at the outline featured in the book Game Design Workshop. I think the one featured in this book is overall better & more in-depth than the one I have below. Having said that, there are a few sections I have below which this book doesn’t feature.


I’ve been looking through some templates for game design documents. I know that they’re supposed to contain detailed information about every aspect of the game (or at least the design of it all) but I’ve been a bit unsure as to how to properly structure one. Based on what I’ve seen & read, there doesn’t seem to be any industry wide standard for how to do that. This is understandable as each game is different.

Still, I’d like to have something that would work as a starting point & framework for sorting my ideas. So, based on what I’ve looked at (I’ve added links to most of these at online resources) I’ve come up with my own basic outline.

If you plan on using this, note the following:

  1. I’m very much a novice at this kind of stuff. If there’s anything you think I should add/change please tell me. I would have done a bit more but I’m at the stage where I just want to share what I’ve got :P.
  2. This should serve more as a starting point for fleshing out your idea & getting you to think about important aspects you may have missed.
  3. Feel free to change it to suit your needs. Templates should be adapted to suit your game not the other way around.

Cover Page – title, author, & legal info, maybe

Index

Design History – changes made to this document as the project progresses

Overview – high level view of the game

Intro/Summary/Vision Statement

Setting/Theme/Genre

Target Audience, or Player Mindset – description of who this game is designed for

Features/Main Mechanics – what makes this game good/unique

Philosophy – the thinking behind the game

Design Pillars, or Goals – what all of your design decisions should be based on & work towards

Influences/Inspirations

Gameplay – breakdown of the general game experience & interaction

Overview – description of what the player does & experiences.

Features – detailed list of features, e.g. dialogue system

Controls

Camera – first-person? does this change at any point?

Mechanics/Rules – detailed list of the game rules

Modes – built-in modifiers & ways of playing the game, e.g. deathmatch, singleplayer/multiplayer, easy difficulty, etc

System – breakdown of technical & background aspects

Platforms – what this game will be built for & played on

Algorithms/Formulas, e.g. damage, chance of rare loot, etc

Other aspects specific to your game, e.g. physics, etc

Setting – breakdown of the game environment

Overview – general description of the setting

Theme/Style – the feel of the game. What is the overall art & audio direction? How are graphics & lighting rendered?

Environment/World – mid-level? description of where the game generally takes place. More detailed than the overview but not as low level as the levels section. What general environmental features are there?, e.g. day & night cycle

Story – high level version. Extensive dialogue scripts & the like should probably be kept separate.

Levels/Maps/Places – detailed information about each play area. What happens there? What role does it serve? What other areas do they link to?

Entities/Objects – interactive &/or “living” elements in the game environment

Characters – description, what they do, their role in the game, general AI, etc.

Items/Pick-ups/Power-ups

Walkthrough/Game Flow – the entire experience of playing the game, from opening the EXE to the ending credits. Best use a diagram for this. Includes menu navigation.

Assets/Media – lists of required: images & animations, sound effects & music, UI elements, etc. This may work better as a separate document.

Appendices – for everything else that doesn’t quite fit in any of the above sections


I’ve encountered most of these sections as well in existing templates:

  • Class Hierarchy/Coding
  • Dialogue/Story Script
  • Lore/World – If you’re going for something extensive, e.g. Middle Earth, think of the “World Building” section of the Dungeon Master’s manual.
  • Marketing
  • Project management
  • Technical Specifications

Most of these are either sections I don’t believe belong in a document geared towards design or are sections that could bulk the design document too much. It seems like a common trend to bundle everything on a game project into a “design” document. Personally, I’d rather keep them separate.


As I’ve assembled this I’ve been asking myself questions.

Should information on the levels be part of the setting section or walkthrough section?

Should information about art design & art assets be kept together in the “art” section, or put the art assets into the “assets” section? An “art” section would be useful for an artist so they know what they need to do, but an “assets” section would be more useful for a project manager so they can find a list of everything needed for the game in one section. Perhaps you could do both, but that means you would need to make sure both sections are the same & don’t contradict each other (especially if future changes are necessary); this is something well designed data bases excel at doing. Whatever approach, it’s best to be consistent with other areas like audio, pick-ups, characters, etc.

I guess the best answer to all of these is – it depends on the game & project. I think this will be enough for me to properly flesh out my current ideas.

Farewell.

P.S. I seem to love making lists don’t I.

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