What Is a Game Design Document and What Does It Do? - Game Developing

When one says “Look it up in the design document,” folks are generally eferring to the game design document.This is the fun document that details all of the characters, the levels, the game mechanics, the views, the menus, and so on in short, the game. The game design document for most designers is great fun; here they get to flesh out their vision with muscles and sinew on top of the skeleton of the game concept that it was before. By no means am I saying it is easy to create a complete design document. Creating a finished design document is so difficult I have never been able to finish one of my own, nor have I seen anyone else finish his or her design documents. With my two latest projects, Starfleet Command:

The Next Generation for Activision and Black9, I am certainly taking the design efforts to our highest levels, and I see the results paying off with faster and stronger production.

Where the game design document lies in the project life cycle

Where the game design document lies in the project life cycle

Where the game design document lies in the project life cycle

The game design document is part of a suite of documents that specify the game you are creating. All of these documents I collectively call the production plan:

  • Concept/Vision/Proposal Document
  • Game Design Document
  • Art Design Document
  • Technical Design Document
  • Project Schedule
  • Software Testing Plan
  • Risk Mitigation Plan

The components of the production plan

The components of the production plan

The purpose of creating all of these documents is to know what we are going to do. To figure out what we are going to do, we need to do a bunch of thinking. Writing down what we have thought about in the form of diagrams and notes forces us to drive the quality and quantity of thinking to the required level for making a production plan. Knowing what we are going to do will help us answer a great deal more planning questions: Who is going to do them? How long will it take? What needs to be done prior to getting that done? What features do we need to cut to give us time to do that? What are the risks in this project? This is all the most basic stuff to kick off a software development project to reassure each other we know what we are doing, and incidentally most good publishers require this planning. This chapter will focus on the game design portion of the production plan.

This e-book aims to cover new ground by discussing game production and development as a whole of which game design is a subtask in this greater effort. What I will not do is design your game for you. I will not be offering opinions on whether your game should be multiplayer or 3D or online or all three. I have neither the inclination nor the hubris to make a book offering such suggestions. I am merely presenting a rigorous and systematic approach to game design you might apply to your own creative vision.


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