HOW TO MAKE A GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT?
You have a perfect concept for an indie game, but you don’t have it outlined? Your deadlines are stretching and you’re getting torn apart by the ideas in your mind and the resources at your hand? You already have a game cover concept designed, but the artistic design might be conflicting with your video game’s marketing strategy to access a large commercial audience. If this sounds like you, it looks like you are in need of a Game Design Document (GDD). We stress teh importance of a GDD to the students in our game design course, because you need all the help you can get as an indie game maker. Regardless the scope of your game, whether it is an indie game or a triple-A game, you will need a document that describes what your product will be about, and which lists the most important points of your game design project to help you handle it properly.
Before we will actually present you our proposed template of the GDD, let’s talk about the basics that will help you better understand the concept and the purpose of such a document.
THE THREE TYPES OF DOCUMENTS
There are three distinct types of documents that build the entire Game Design Document and serve at different purposes during the game design pre-production process. There is a “Proposal”, the actual “Game Design Document” and “Production Documents”.
The Proposal, also sometimes called the “Concept Document” briefly outlines only the fundamental points of your project. However, it is needed especially if you’re an experienced game designer and willing to sell your product to those who can fund it.
The actual Game Design Document is basically the core of your project, which holds the most vital information about your game. It will contain all kind of details, beginning from the game concept itself, through character descriptions and dialogue lines, to different features that define your title.
And there are Production Documents that encompass all kind of information about the schedule of your team, including budget shifts, long and short-term goals and deadlines.
As a budding indie game developer, working on a limited budget and having only basic resources, you will probably only need a Game Design Document. The Proposal is only of use if any third party agreed on funding your project, and the Productions Documents are especially needed when you’re making large games.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Once you have decided how many types of Game Design Documents you will actually need for your project, it’s time to write them down. There are certain things you want to remember of when outlining the GDD. To some they may seem simple and obvious, however, we decided to bring them up, since they are equally important.
You want your documentation to be clear, concise and grammatically correct. It’s important because the members of your team will probably use the GDD as a working ground, so you want to make sure that they will understand every stage of the production perfectly. To improve the clarity of your GDD, it may be a good idea to use bullet points, bold important ideas, utilise drawings and a clear font, such as Arial or Verdana.
The next thing to remember is that you don’t want to think too much about the document itself. In other words, don’t waste your creativity on outlining the GDD. Remember that “less” can also mean “more”, and that rule perfectly applies to this case. The document will probably be only for you and your team eyes only, so don’t elaborate too much on how it looks, rather make sure that the vision of your game is perfectly understood by everyone else.
Finally, your Game Design Document is not a finite thing. It will evolve in time and change, just like your ideas do, so you have to be prepared to introduce certain changes to the body of the document when necessary.
Once you will understand more or less what’s it all about, it’s time to write down the actual document. You can, of course, write dozens of pages on which you will elaborate in detail on every feature of your game, but it’s better to keep the role of 3c’s – consistent, clear and concise. You will find our example of an 8 point-long Game Design Document below.
1. CENTRAL MOTIF
The first thing you want to define in your GDD is coming up with the central motif of your game. In other words, think of what your game will be about. Think of the most important message you want the game to convey and which you and your team members will always keep in mind during the design process. Just come up with a several word-long sentence that will summarise your product in the best way, both for the selling purposes and to help your team better understand your goals.
2. IMPACT ON PLAYERS
In oppose to the central motif, which helps you keep up with the main idea of your game, you also want to think about the impact that your product will create on the players. Apart from knowing and remembering the central idea, think of the emotions that you want your game to carry.
3. MECHANICS AND FEATURES
Once you defined a groundwork of the ideas that your game will convey, you want to think of the mechanics and unique features. At this point of the list, you will have to outline the description of how the game will play. Ask yourself questions. Will it have innovative controls that may be challenging to master, or will it be easy and approachable for the regular players as well? Think about the tools you want your players to have and how exactly they will be able to utilise them in the game.
4. TARGET PLATFORM AND AUDIENCE
Before you will actually get into writing the scripts and the narrative, think of where do you want to publish your game and who will be your target audience. Video game advertising and publishing is an important part of the game design process. Financial success is important, if you want to continue to be able to make games for a living. Luckily, today you can choose from a variety of publishing platforms, ranging from GOG, Steam to Android and iOS. When it comes to the target audience, however, it will define pretty much what your game will be about. For instance, if you want children or young adults to be your audience, you have to remember about creating an adequately appropriate content.
5. THE BODY
This is the point where you will layout the main aspects of your game, including the story, characters that will feature in it, their development over time and available options that the players will have. Especially if you’re making a convoluted RPG filled with multidimensional characters and plots, this will be the aspect on which you will spend the most of your design time. You will have to elaborate, boost, nerf and appropriately adjust all the necessary elements to make sure that the players will enjoy the outcome.
When defining an artstyle of the game, you want to think of the general look you want to apply to your product. Will it be more fluffy and cheerful, or rather dark and mature? Think of other games you want to draw upon, put links, videos, images and concept arts that will guide you and your team during the design process of the graphics for your game.
7. MUSIC & SOUND
Similarly to the previous point, you want to think about the impact your music and sound will create on the players, and what do you want to achieve with them. Think about the style and depth of your music. Will it have this ambient, minimalistic feel for the most part of the game, or will it change from calm to dramatic tones depending on the narrative shifts in your story.
8. DEVELOPMENT THRESHOLDS
Last but not least, you want to think of the specific moments of your development process which constitute as thresholds for your whole team. In the first place, if you want to avoid stretching your deadlines too much, you want to estimate a launch date for your game. Think of the time you will need to finish and polish all the previous elements. Always double your estimates, because you never know what may come up on the way, which is super important especially if you’re running an indie dev studio. Once you will have a launch date defined, you will be able to list milestones for particular design goals, such as mechanics, boss, character and the story completion.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In this article we chose to make the Game Design Document relatively short (2-3 pages long at most) in order to make it consistent, clear and concise and easier to be handled by you and your team. In the end, however, the length and the particular points that include this kind of document pretty much depend on the character and most importantly the scope of your project. Before outlining a GDD make sure to think through and draft every of these aspects with your team, and only when you’re free of any doubts it will be a good time to make it official.