Game Design Documents are for the Newbie in All of Us

“My name is Daniel and I volunteered to make my teams GDD.”

“Hello Daniel…”

So I tried making my project on loose Google Docs, Trello, and Spreadsheets alone. I failed. Now I have a Game Design Document. Besides the fact that I feel so accomplished that I think I can just upload it to Steam now, I feel like I am on the path to not-failure.

Pitfall, via Activision and the Internet Archive
Pitfall, via Activision and the Internet Archive

I conducted a short question and answer session on a local Facebook dev group about GDD’s. Most people said they really didn’t use them or warned about making them too ridge. I feel like this is good advice (especially for someone who falls closer to the hobby side of the spectrum) but that it shows an issue and misconception about development. Mainly that all the planning can be in our heads and make it out safely.

Maybe some can develop products that way and maybe they do a great job. I could also see solo projects being created in this way. Just you and anyone listening in on your Twitter feed pounding away at code. Cool beans.

I on the other hand became very lost very quickly.

First I was having a hard time deciding how exactly to design level, write story, create asset lists. I had those things but they were scattered all around my file structure. Then trying to communicate to my artists and programmers was difficult because I would have to direct them to three or four different places for information. I needed something unified and central that they could all refer to.

I turned to a GDD because it promised to do just that. My plan is to create a master-outline and then create smaller documents for each tiny part of the project as needed. I think this is perhaps more useful than just the one off documents alone.

To start I found some examples of different GDDs. One that I liked was Baldwin’s. He laid everything out in a skeletal outline allowing you to fill in what you needed. I think it was a little redundant in places but it made good organizational suggestions like making separate lists for characters and then cut scene scripts.

After I made just an outline of the points I wanted to include I went in and filled out what I knew. Then I filled in what I figured would be close. Now I have items that I will need our programmer to fill in. Also I will have to create drawings for mock designs for the artist to follow.

So what went in? Besides the kitchen sink, I made a simple version table at the start. It included the version number, the date, and what I had changed the last time it was updated. Then there was a section for an overview of the game with a big idea section. That was where my pitch, synopsis, and vision content goes. After that each subsequent section was a different aspect of the project.

One area offers what the menus will be and what they will contain. Another section was just story, characters, and overview design. One chapter focused on controls and inputs.

As an exercise this was great as it showed me a lot of things I would not have thought about. Things that I have come to expect from games but have rarely had to consider for my own. One example is how to design an option menu. I just click on it and it is there. Now I actually have to sit down and draw one out. What do I include? What can I include? These are questions that just hadn’t come up during any meetings that now I have a plan for.

The other good thing was that I had a very rough idea of what I would do for each mission. I had where they would be, what they would look like, and the basic mechanics but I came up blank on objectives. Where do I place a puzzle? How does the player solve it? These were questions I had trouble answer in a spreadsheet.

I will say after doing one large scale GDD it is good to keep the size of your project in mind. Sleepy Dev’s project is a good size for our team and it has a lot of moving parts. We needed something a little more robust to work with. On the other hand I’m also doing a GDD for my master’s project. I needed an artifact to show my work on Nrevat, my knock off of Bezerk that I’m trying to build from folksonomy research. Here is my one page GDD for it:

Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts on Game Design Documents or questions feel free to ask in the comments below or Tweet to me. See you next time!


A How-To-Manual


Example GDD 

An Overview


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