Saturday, October 16, 2010

Game Design Documentation

Game Design Documentation is the name I have given to written material that describes the design of a game and the methods that support this endeavor, i.e. guidelines (the does and don’t), templates (outlines and structures) or rules (what the content should contain).

As a game design tool, documentation is a way the design can become tangible (something others can evaluate), communicated, and referenced. Documentation is mostly used to support the design and tuning phases of the game design process. Design documentation (a concept borrowed from film production) is probably the first game design tool to make design tangible besides seeing the game up and running, and is sometimes seen (dangerously so) the primary contribution of game designer. Currently, there is a lot of contention concerning the use of game design documentation.

Note: Documentation concerning story, technology, and art should be considered development/project documentation 

The following are concepts that can help you use this tool effectively.

(1) Communication in Documentation

A game design document can be more than text. Documentation can also include design tools like flowcharts, mock-ups, design analyses and matrices, which can help enhance quality of documentation.

(2) Size
A game design document can be a single page or more than hundred pages (especially if you include tech, art and story documentation). One way to handle the size of a design document is to use a wiki or blog, while another approach is to create 'design chunks' where the document can be split into relevant pieces that can distributed separate from each other.

(3) The Designer's Notebook
In this approach the document is used as a reference for the designer, and is a way of keeping track of design decisions and new ideas for features. It is usually written after prototypes (physical or digital) of the game have been created. Because the notebook is the designer's responsibility and a source for directing the design it isn't a binding document and features can be cut when necessary.

Having documentation is a way to keep oneself honest, and prevents trying to implement spontaneous ideas (good or bad) that jump into one's head while game is in midst of being created (e.g. programming, standing behind the programmer, etc.).

(4) The Book of Stupid
This is the approach of creating detailed documentation before any kind of prototype or version of the game is made. Using this approach is only recommended if you are dependent on a designer who will not be around in the near future, and only then the documentation is only useful as reference. Basing all your design and development on this form of documentation is not recommended.

In the waterfall method of game development the game design document was created first. This upfront approach required the designer to try and imagine everything about the game possible in a written document. It is not surprising that they became known as bibles and tomes, as these often became the sole contributor to deciding the design and only after a game was built and played did faults in the design become apparent.

Links about Game Design Documentation
Game Design Documents in Tools for Creation / Game Design Tools

Books with information about Game Design Documentation

Game Design Logs (Danc)
Format for Game Design Specifications (Tom Sloper)
Game Concept & Design Document Template (Micah Hrehovcsik)
Game Design Document Outline  (Mark Baldwin)
Game Design Document Template ( Chris Taylor)
How to Write Great Design Documents (Damion Schubert)
Outline for a Game Design (Tom Sloper)
The Anatomy of a Design Document (Chris Charabaruk)
Video Game Design Document Template  
The Two C's of Video Game Design 
Efficient writing for video games
The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses 
Introduction to Game Development, Second Edition
Game Development Essentials: An Introduction
Game Design: A Practical Approach (Game Development Series)
Fundamentals of Game Design (2nd Edition)
Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition
Game Design: Principles, Practice, and Techniques - The Ultimate Guide for the Aspiring Game Designer
Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light
Game Design Workshop, Second Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games (Gama Network Series)
The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design
Game Testing All in One (Game Development Series)
Game Design
Game Design Complete
Indie Game Development Survival Guide (Game Development Series)