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The Importance of a Concise Game Design Document

    a person watching a computer while playing a video game, representing the importance of a concise game design document

    When you think about game design, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely programming and computer modeling. While these aspects of the game design process are inarguably essential, so is documentation. Game design documentation is as essential to the process as any other part. So, no matter what kind of gaming project you are working on, whether it be mobile, indie, or Triple-A, having a trained documentation writer to create a design document can help streamline the process. The creative aspects would all be handled internally, and then a technical writer would put all of your plans and ideas into clear and concise words. A technical writer can handle all of the documentation needs once they are handed the details. In this blog post, we will take a look at what a game design document is, how to create one, and why hiring one of EDC’s technical writers is the best way to obtain this kind of documentation.

    What is a Game Design Document?

    A game design document is a source of information for all the important parts of your project. It lists the concept of your game, the mechanics, a basic story, artistic style, and the goal of the player. The most important aspect of a game design document is that it is a living document. This means that as your game’s development continues, so will the plans of your document. While you want to create a game design document that is thorough, you do not want to create one that is overly exhaustive. A game design document ideally should range from eight to twenty pages. You should prioritize the essential information first, whether it is story arc or core gameplay mechanics. Additionally, the document you just be descriptive, this means that no programming language or scripting is included. From there, you can add additional details to your game but you do not want to add so much that it becomes cumbersome to keep track of everything. While twenty or more pages can seem at first to allow for a lot of information, you will quickly see how you can go overboard with your creativity. You want to fit a reasonable amount of information into your document. But at the same time, even the perfect amount of information may not fit (later in the article, we will see how technical writers can solve this issue). But for now, it is important to know that having too much information can result in increased development time, which then leads to a rushed or even unfinished game. A notable example of this is the video game Cyberpunk 2077, where an overly ambitious project resulted in the release of an unfinished product, leading to refunds and class-action lawsuits. While the game still made a profit, it was mostly due to the established reputation of the developer, CDProjekt Red. For Indie game developers, such as a startup, they cannot afford such a luxury. Therefore, a well-written game design document is especially important. 

    But before you create your game design document, you first must be able to understand the previously mentioned aspects of what to include in a game design document. By doing this, you establish a framework you can look back at. So, in essence, the game design document acts as a North Star for your team. 

    What to Include in a Game Design Document

    While a game design document is able to be easily defined, what to include in one requires more elaboration. As previously mentioned, what a design document should include, ranging from the story, mechanics, art style, and gameplay goal. 

    • Story: This aspect of a design document is relatively self-explanatory. However, what you should keep in mind when creating the story is what not to include. You should describe the basic plot points, themes, setting, and characters involved. What you do not need to include are aspects such as dialogue, any specific story missions, or level design. 
    • Mechanics: These describe how the game will function. First, you would define the genre of the game you are designing. Once you decide if your game is a shooter or platformer, you will be able to add specific mechanics to help differentiate your game in the marketplace. If you are making a platformer video game your mechanics would describe how your character can move and what they can do. Mechanics also define how your character interacts with the world, such as what character they can interact with, how much of the world they can explore, and what enemies or obstacles there are for the player. Having well-thought-out game mechanics can help ensure that your game is enjoyable. 
    • Art Style: This is the look of the game. While this aspect of your document is focused more on concept art to determine the look and feel of the game, once you start having a picture of what your game will look like, you can also revise other aspects of your game design document. 
    • Goal: This refers to the goal of the player and of the game. To be more specific, for a game such as Pong, the goal of both players is to essentially score more points by hitting the ball into the other player’s paddle. Similar to the other aspects of a design document, the goal relates to the story and mechanics of a game as well. The capabilities of the player, defined by the mechanics, are to achieve whatever goal you as the developer set out for the player. A platformer might be to simply complete a certain number of levels by overcoming obstacles. Or, the goal could be to fully explore the world you create and collect a certain number of items. The goal of your game should also play a part in the story of the game. It helps immerse the player in the world by having their gameplay goal align with the story they are experiencing. 

    To understand how a game design document could look, we can apply these concepts to an already existing game. For example, a game design document for a new video game might look something like this. The core story follows Character X, who must save Character Y from the Villain. Some story details may change game from game, but the game design document will only need the basic plot points of the story. The setting of this game starts in a fictional kingdom. From there, the game sets out to create a new kind of world for Character X to explore, as well as new characters for him to meet. These new settings would be in the story section of your game design documents. Aspects such as dialogue and character acting would be left to later parts of the game development. 

    The mechanics of a design document for this game would look similar to the story section. This is because the core mechanics are often the same, but with new additions in each new one. The appeal of a 3D version of this game is the freedom of movement. So when planning out the mechanics, the document will encompass the numerous different movement options he has. But, another core aspect of this game is different new power-ups and game mechanics for each new entry into the franchise. This is an area where the document could potentially have too much information. The developers could have fun and introduce numerous different power-ups and mechanics. However, logistically, doing so would increase development time and go over budget. This is a reason to reign in your ambitions for your game. Putting too much investment into one aspect such as mechanics or art style could then lead to less room to explore other aspects needed in a design document. Finally, the mechanics section would include how Character X interacts with the world. He might be only able to jump to a certain height, or specific enemies might harm more than others. 

    Next, the art style of this game is bright, saturated colors with a cartoon-style design for the world and characters. For a new game, the art could include what the new worlds would look like, or what new movement or power-up Character X can perform. And lastly, the goal of each game is to reach the final world, defeat the Villain, and rescue Character Y. This relatively simple goal means that it is essentially described as the game design document progresses. This plot point is laid out in the story, while later in the mechanics section, the developers define what Character X will be able to do against the Villain. In the first game, he simply has to evade the Villain’s attacks and get past him. In the newer ones, this encounter becomes more elaborate, so the developers must define whatever gameplay mechanics Character X might have at the end.

    Having equal focus over the story, look, and mechanics will result in a more cohesive product. How you present your story, art style, and mechanics determine the audience of your game, as once you have a clearer picture of what your game will be like, you can determine who this appeals to. A better quality game would result in better sales.

    Game Design Documentation and Technical Writers

    Now that we know what a game design document is and what should be included, the next step is to identify who is best equipped to create such documentation. Technical writers are one of the best candidates for the position due to their writing and communication skills. This is because of the purpose of a game design document is. The document is to communicate to your development team what they will be creating. Thus, you want the documentation to be as clear and concise as possible for your team to know what your expectations are without overloading them with too much information. And even then, your company may not have anyone with the writing skills to fit all the essential data of your game into an eight to twenty-page document. What might seem doable, might quickly become too much. Remember, you must describe in detail all of the mechanics as well as how the story progresses, from all of its plot points, its meaning, and what the end goal is into a single document. This is where technical writers come in. 

    The details of what to include in your document, such as the story or mechanics, are left to the heads of your creative team. Once you determine an outline for your game design document and specifications, a technical writer can simply come in and put all of your ideas and thoughts into an eight to twenty-page design document. EDC’s technical writers are trained to be as clear as possible and communicate what the essential ideas are in a concise manner. By bringing one of EDC’s technical writers on board, you can expect them to work with you throughout the entire development time of your game. And a technical writer would also take a burden off your shoulders. Writing a game design document takes time and effort. So, with a technical writer handling the job of writing a design document, you can put more time into planning out and perfecting your vision. 

    Conclusion

    The gaming industry is a rapidly growing one. Whether you are a startup developing their first game, a freelance developer hired for a job, or a large and established Triple-A studio in need of organization, you can depend on a technical writer to assist you in any documentation needs. EDC’s technical writers can provide such excellent service. With poor documentation, your team may misunderstand your intentions and as a result, your vision may be compromised. Any delays can potentially snowball into a larger issue for your development team. That is why, with a trained technical writer you can expect a smooth and streamlined development process, with fewer risks for any major issues.

    How EDC Can Help

    Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish. At Essential Data Corporation, the quality of our work is guaranteed. Contact us today to get started. (800) 221-0093 or sales@edc.us

    Written by Stanley Chu

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