What Should Go into a Game Design Document? - Game Developing

Game design documents are more akin to business plans than blueprints or a building or a mechanical engineering diagram in that the industry has developed no standardized formal requirements for a game design document. This is part of the lack of development discipline and rigor that is pervasive throughout the software industry. Games used to be so much smaller in scope and complexity that it was much simpler to document the game design, so no great amount of formalism was required. The movie industry has settled down to such a degree that there are hundreds of universities and colleges that offer specific courses on how to write a movie script. The game industry grosses more revenue than Hollywood does at the box office, yet just a few pioneering universities and colleges are offering classes on game programming and art for new media. I know of no class that teaches game design. Thus, we are just too young an industry and our technology is changing too rapidly for us to settle on the requirements of a game design document. Another complication is that all of us get our starts on smaller projects or conversion work where the demand for a detailed design document is substantially lower, robbing us of an opportunity to grow our game design skills before we reach the Big Project.

What am I going to do about this lack of a game design document standard? I am sharing my game design requirements as well as providing information from other development houses illustrating what we are doing in the field and what we are looking for in a game design document.

A happy, productive game developer backed up with strong designs

A happy, productive game developer backed up with strong designs

The game design document should describe to all the team members the functional requirements of the features they are implementing for the project. The ideal game design document is complete and has seen revisions to fix gameplay and add clarity. In theory the game developers should be able to take their copy of the game design document and run with it. In practice it is very difficult to create a document that strong.

Section One: Defining the Game
I will discuss the content of the game design document by using sections; the order of the sections was chosen to lead the reader from general information concerning the project at large towards the details of the project that are specific to only certain members of the development team.

Articulate What the Game Is as Clearly as Possible
I remember reading the postmortem of Tropico in Game Developer magazine. I really appreciate reading postmortems of game projects, and I am always grateful to the developers who have the courage to document what they did wrong and what they did right. The most amazing thing I read in the Tropico design document is that after a year of development the team came to the shocking realization that there were about half a dozen different visions of Tropico being developed by various team members. Each team member was implementing his or her own version of the project! I was first shocked to hear that something like that could happen; I was then shocked to read that the team had the courage to document it and share it with the industry. Then I thought about it more carefully, and I realized that every game project has the potential to splinter off into separate projects and that many other projects have suffered from the
same lack of central vision. I believe this is why so many developers advocate a strong lead designer who dictates all decisions from art to dialogue to placement of buttons on the screen. Experienced developers have been burned by design-by-committee too many times to tolerate their time being frittered away, and they demand a strong and clear vision for the game. Every game design document should have a section at the front that clearly describes to the reader what the game is. It should be written so clearly and succinctly that it does not leave any vagueness in the reader’s mind what the game is about. It should describe the world, the gameplay, and what motivates the player. Following are a couple of examples.

Pac-Man: An arcade game featuring a single joystick for controls where the player directs the protagonist, Pac-Man, to clear levels of mazes of dots by eating these dots. The enemies of our hero are four cute pastel-colored ghosts that will eat our hero unless our hero is under the influence of the big power-up dot.

Doom: A first-person shooter played on the PC platform, where the player controls a space marine in a 3D environment against a horde of bizarre monsters. The player has a configurable set of controls taking advantage of the keyboard, mouse, or joystick. The gameplay is action based with no strategic or role-playing elements; instead the game depends on bleeding edge technology providing a rush of adrenaline through its aggressive attention to carnage. Single-player mode will provide three episodes of missions against an increasingly horrible cast of monsters and scary settings; the multiplayer mode will feature an unprecedented level of player-to-player combat.

From my own experience I know there are many personalities in the game business; some personalities belong to wonderful human beings you want to spend a bunch of time with; other personalities are less inviting. I think a lot of projects suffer when the leaders of the projects choose to practice conflict avoidance. I would hazard a bet that members of the Tropico team sensed they were working towards different goals yet decided not to rock the boat either in an effort to create a more pleasant workplace or to selfishly give their own version of the game more time to grow (perhaps to a level of commitment where it could not be cut back). This is an area I find particularly hard to manage. I think my teammates would be surprised to hear me say that. They would probably say I lead the team well and with strength. However, I must confess there are only a few things in life I like to do less than to cut off the design direction of one of my team members. This is because while I believe a game project needs executive direction, I also believe the best games are made when everyone’s energies are woven into a stronger whole than any individual can deliver. Therefore my advice is to take the time to write up exactly what your game is and present it to your team members as early as possible. If you know one of your team members despises real-time strategy games, but you are committed to creating a real-time strategy game, no good can come out of misleading him tell the truth straight up. He will either do his best to create the best real-time strategy game he can or move on to another project that fits his interest. But by no means would it be a good idea to keep investing in a team member making role-playing features that you cannot use. When it comes time to cut those features out, you will have a genuinely pissed off person and a confused team.

Set the Mood
When the game is so clinically described as I advocate above, often the soul of the game is lost in the translation. Many games are role-playinggames set in a fantasy world. This does not mean that Ultima, Bard’s Tale, Baldur’s Gate, and Pool Radiance are the same game. I like to see a short piece of fiction at the opening of a game design document to quickly give me the feel for this world, to put me in the mood. The intro movie in a released game has the same function: to introduce the player to what sort of challenges the game holds. Some games do not lend themselves well to a fiction treatment, such as the abstract puzzle and classic arcade games of Pac-Man, Frogger, and Tetris. Even so, a snippet of words from an auto-racing television commentary intermixed with entries in a racecar drivers’ journal discussing the upgrades he has performed on his car and how desperately he needs to win this race to pay his debts would quickly draw me into the world of Gran Turismo.

Section Two: Core Gameplay
Now we move quickly from general statements about the game to direct comments about the core gameplay. We want to fix in the reader’s mind the vision and feel for the gameplay early on so that when he digests the rest of the document it will be in relation tothe core gameplay and create a tighter understanding of the game design.

The Main Game View
Some games have only one view of the game; others have several view modes or even different levels of gameplay with different views. This chapter in the game design document needs to define the main game view of the game. Is it a 3D view? 2D? Isometric? If it is isometric, what is the scale of the tiles and characters? If it is a 3D view, what kind of 3D view? Is it an interior engine type game, or do you require exterior environments? If it isan exterior engine, how far does the view need to extend? Is it primarily rendering hills and trees or is it rendering a racetrack or a city? Make a few sketches of the view, or even better get an artist on your team to make a full-color mockup of the view.

Core Player Activity
What does the player do in this game? What is the key interaction? Pilot a starship? Drive a racecar? Organize an army? Maneuver a character through a 3D space? This is where you detail the key interactions between the player and the game. Together with the main view from above the reader will develop a strong understanding of the game you are creating. This is an excellent place to use the UML use case diagrams introduced in the previous chapter to document the interactions between the player and the game. Create the UML diagrams that organize these interactions in a graphical manner for easy digestion on the reader’s part.

The Controller Diagram
A critical diagram to create is the controller diagram. This shows at a glance how the game inputs are mapped to a game pad controller or a keyboard.

The controller layout for Taldren’s upcoming game Black9

The controller layout for Taldren’s upcoming game Black9

In-Game User Interface
Working outward from the view and the core activities, what are the other user interface items visible on the main display? Health? Time? Mana? Distance to target? Radar? Map? Now is the time to detail the rest of these user interface items to be found on the main display. Take the time to create a diagram or mockup for each of these display items and update your use case hierarchy to track these interactions (even if they are a non-interactive display, the player uses these items by viewing them).

An early preproduction view of the Black9 main interface

early preproduction view of the Black9 main interface

Section Three: Contextual Gameplay
This will be a fairly meaty section. In this part of the game design document you will detail all the rest of the game mechanics that were too deep to discuss in the core gameplay section.

Shell Menus
Most games on both the consoles and the PC have shell menus for creating characters, upgrading cars, reviewing inventory, selecting spells, viewing how many stars or crystals have been collected, and so on. Now is the time to create a mockup of the shell menus complete with all the displays and buttons. We have found it particularly useful to create UML use case text and diagrams for all the shell menu activities the player can go through. It is also important to create a menu flow map showing the relationship between all the menus how the player may navigate between the activities in the game.

The Nuts and Bolts of Game Mechanics
Now is the time to talk about how much horsepower that engine will develop, how many marines that transporter can transport simultaneously, how many charges are in your magic wands, how fast the characters move. Detail everything you can of the game mechanics. I find it useful to pretend I am creating a pen and paper role-playing game or board game complete with all the details. Of course all these elements will need to be tweaked and balanced in the future; however, every time I drive down to this level of detail I learn more about my game at the higher levels of abstraction and go back and adjust elements of the higher design. This section should be replete with spreadsheets, charts, and diagrams.

Tutorial Mechanics
Almost all big games have integrated interactive tutorials in the game. Someof these tutorials are explicitly tutorials, others are billed as licenses as in Gran Turismo, and other games simply create very easy levels for the beginning of the game like in Mario64. For Starfleet Command: The Next Generation, we modeled the tutorials around the education an officer in Starfleet would receive while going through Starfleet Academy. Discuss your philosophy when approaching the tutorial content, discuss what you want the player to learn here, and discuss what activities you will employ to reinforce what the player is taught to make for a smooth transition into actual gameplay.In Baldur’s Gate, BioWare had the player character start out in a safe town where all of the NPCs acted partly as an interactive in-game manual and also related backstory to the players to get them into the world. How are you going to introduce your player to the game?

Consciously decide what controls and game mechanics you are going to directly cover in your tutorials and what material you are leaving for the player to learn over time as they master the game. Keep in mind the goal of the tutorial is not to teach everything in the game; rather the purpose of the tutorial is to get the player into playing the game successfully and without frustration as quickly as possible.

The menu flow for Black9

menu flow for Black9

Multiplayer Mechanics
Will your game have a multiplayer component? If so, what flavor? Will you support LAN play for PC games in the office or home LAN environment? Perhaps you will feature online matching via GameSpy or Microsoft’s Gaming Zone. If your game is a massively multiplayer role-playing game, then of course you have a multiplayer feature set to document.

If you did not cover your multiplayer menus in the shell menu section, then this is the perfect place to detail the activity flow between the menus. Write down the functionality of each of the buttons and describe the player’s choices. Also detail the technical requirements of the multiplayer feature set that the technical design will need to address. How many players will your game support? Are these players simultaneous, concurrent players as in a Quake game? Or are the players residing in a hybrid system like Starfleet Command’s online campaign that is capable of supporting hundreds of simultaneous players where the battles
are played out in smaller sessions of up to six players each?

Create diagrams documenting these activity flows. Will your game support the historic modes of multiplayer such as serial, modem-tomodem, or even hot seat?

With the latest generation of consoles starting with SEGA’s Dreamcast and on through Sony’s PS2 and Microsoft’s Xbox, the game designer now needs to consider online multiplayer gaming for their console games. On the console side, multiplayer games have often used multiple controllers. Will your console game have multiplayer gameplay? Will you split the screen? Will you hot seat between players?

Many game designers put off describing their multiplayer gameplay until later in the project. This has led to disastrous delays, poor gameplay and game balance, and outright bugginess. This procrastination in multiplayer game design is fairly widespread and carries down the line, with the technical design stage often postponing a serious discussion of the multiplayer engineering requirements. Sometimes these delays are so manifest, games have resorted to the outright outsourcing of the multiplayer project. Examples of this are Interplay’s Klingon Academy and id’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein, where Grey Matter develops the single-player game and another developer will come along behind and implement the multiplayer aspect of the game. I am highly skeptical of outsourced game creation in a piecemeal fashion. The only reason people delay thinking about their multiplayer feature set is because it is hard. But being hard is not a good enough reason for putting it off!

The menu flow diagram for Starfleet Command 3

The menu flow diagram for Starfleet Command 3The menu flow diagram for Starfleet Command 3

Section Four: Talk Story
This section of the game design document calls for the game designer to elaborate on the world they have created. Many game developers would really rather work on this part of the game design document than discuss the mundane buttons on the multiplayer screens. The reason I have pushed this section back as far as I did is because I feel the game design document should serve the team rather than the designer. So I started with setting the mood and quickly followed with capturing the key requirements of the game. Now let’s roll out the graph paper, character sheets, and scripts for the cut scenes!

World Backstory
Detail your world; what is the relevant history of the world? Draw a map of the world the player will explore. Use cool maps for fantasy games such as Baldur’s Gate and Ultima Online, but also include ship blueprints for games like System Shock 2, or the oceans of the world for a naval simulation. The depth of this section is highly dependent on the genre of your game. id Software is very proud that their Doom and Quake series of games have no need for such frills as a backstory! Ultima Online and Baldur’s Gate each draw upon decades of development for their world’s backstory.

A game such as Gran Turismo would only need the lightest treatment of a backstory where the racing events, the tracks, and the manufacturers of cars would be enumerated to flesh out the scope of the world’s backstory.

A fan-made map of Britannia from the Ultima series

fan-made map of Britannia from the Ultima series

Character Backgrounds
The character background section is also game dependent. All games have characters; it is just the concept of what a character might be that is stretched a bit in some genres. For example, role-playing games, action adventure, and platformers would all have a section that is quite straightforward in its representation of characters, with sketches of how they look and text describing their behavior and attitude in the game. Include all of the game mechanics stats that correspond to this character such as attributes and inventory. Include references to where in the game the character will be found and indicate what type of character this is: protagonist, playable, non-player, antagonist, or boss monster.

In the case of Gran Turismo I would argue that the individual cars are the characters, especially unique cars like the Suzuki Escudo. Here the stats behind the cars and the history of the creation serve as the backstory. In a real-time strategy game each of the individual combat units is a character to be detailed. For a real-time tactical game like Starfleet Command: The Next Generation, we actually have three different classes of “characters” that are quite different from each other, but all need to be detailed. These three character types are the classic characters to be found in the story, the ships the player will command or interact with, and the ship officers that the player will recruit and train in the course of their career.

A character concept for Black9

character concept for Black9

Level, Mission, and Area Design
This is my favorite part of writing a game design document. I love examining and reading maps! Most likely your game is broken down into levels, missions, areas, tracks, episodes, decks of a ship, or some other manner of location partition. In abstract games like Lemmings, the levels are single screens of challenge for the Lemmings; for Gran Turismo it is the different tracks of course; for Doom it is bizarre and frightening levels that the designers come up with in a back story after they have made them.

To document a level you have to take into account what sort of game you are making and how it is broken up. For classic role-playing games, large-scale fantasy maps of the countryside with detailed blueprints scaled to ten foot corridors serve very well. For 3D games, whether plat former, shooter, or action-adventure, it can be very challenging for the designer to specify the level in detail. The reason is that the designer may be a good designer but terrible in the use of a 3D CAD tool such as Unreal Edit or World Edit. Often these types of games employ a lead designer who is good with these tools and can articulate her visions directly in the tools. For the developer without these skills, very detailed writing as found in a narrative supplemented with sketches will often serve to give the level designer a strong description to work with.

Be sure to give good detail: Talk about the colors, the textures, the lighting, what the sky looks like. What are the sounds that are present in this area? What are the characters? Detail each trick, trap, challenge, or feature in your level design. On your first few passes through here, just make notes to yourself to follow up later and add more detail in the next pass.

A view of a level in production for Black9

A view of a level in production for Black9

This is the time to explain your campaign structure; show a flow diagram that relates your areas to each other. Is it linear? That is, can the
player proceed through your levels along only one path like the increasingly challenging levels of Lemmings, or can the player wander about without any direct purpose as in Ultima Online? Be sure to diagram this flow. Declare the purpose of the area; is it a key hub area that the player will visit often or is it a bonus area or is it a part of the user interface such as the difficulty selection of Quake I? Discuss how this level may be reused like the reversing of tracks in Gran Turismo or going back for six stars in each of the worlds of Mario64.

Cut Scene Descriptions

If your movie will employ cut scenes, then write the scripts for these cut scenes. While the game industry has no standard format for the description of a cut scene, there are two important components: a storyboard and a script.

The storyboard is a key frame-byframe visual design of the cut scenes that reads much like a comic strip. This is a critical design document for both communicating with the artists who will create the level and for achieving buy-in from the project stakeholders. The script should follow standard movie script formatting guidelines. See the following script excerpt for an example of how to format your script for voice-over (VO) and off-stage (OS) voice work. With this section complete, no reader should have any large questions or vagueness about the world and cast of characters in your game design. The reader should also have a strong understanding of what challenges the players will face as they proceed through the game structure.

Set in the mission briefing room of the Genesis Operations Headquarters in the LAX spaceport metroplex. The mission briefing is a short cinematic sequence performed in letterbox format using the in-game Matinee feature of the Unreal engine. The briefing room has four characters: the player character, the Genesis Operations Chief, and two other contract Genesis agents, one large, physically powerful male and one slim female.

We have a very serious development with our secure AI labs on the moon. We have had no communication from the base personnel in 36 hours. While the computer network seems to be functional, we have lost access to the data arrays—somebody has changed the authorization code. Fly-bys show no actual damage to the structures and we have sent two regular patrols from Luna II—they have failed to report in after reaching the lab. (beat) It appears that The Tea-Drinking Society is getting desperate now that we are so close to our goal; they must have launched an assault on the lab and taken physical control—now they’re busy downloading all of our hard-earned work. Your mission is to reclaim our labs and eliminate any hostiles that may be present.
You have two support operatives this time.
The Chief gestures towards a slim female in black super-hero spandex

Cassandra will provide you with infiltration and electronic hacking services. Her job is to get the team in there as quietly as possible. The goal is to catch The Tea-Drinking Society in the act, get it on film, and eliminate the suspected TDS agents before they are able to return to their masters with the fruits of our lab work!

Nodding towards a bulky male human with obviously large guns

Section Five: Cover Your Assets
This section’s format really is particular to your game’s genre and method of construction. This last point is so important I would recommend notcreating asset lists until you are mostly through the technical design stage. You should certainly jot down the assets that come to mind in each section at the end of your first pass on the game design document; however, your technical design document might reveal that on the platform of your choice and with your particular set of requirements, you are limited to the creation of just 20 character models rather than the 100 your initial design called for. Or you might find that the technical format and specification of your assets goes through some bit of exploration during the elaboration of your game in the technical design stage. Nevertheless, here are some categories of assets you should list in your game design document. These lists will come in handy when creating the production plan, which should be created after the technical design stage has been mostly completed.

2D Sprites or 3D Models
Whatever your technology, no doubt your game features moving bits of eye-pleasing pixels. Write up the list of such assets in a spreadsheet and include columns for attributes that are specific to your game’s design and technical requirements.

A character model in production from Black9

A character model in production from Black9

Missions, Levels, or Areas
List the missions, levels, or areas to be created for your game. Indicate game specific parameters such as size, priority, or placement in a hierarchy of

The city of Baldur’s Gate

The city of Baldur’s Gate

It will be way too early to document this section in the early phases of game design; however, strong description of the voice actors required can certainly be detailed early in the project. As production rolls along, maintain this section to prevent a panic workload when it comes time to record the voice.
Command 190: Basic Controls
Setting: The Neversail NCC-0001 at Treasure Island, San Francisco, Earth

    Phaser Fire (somehow have plenty of phasers to fire)
    Destroy Cargo Boxes

Title: Command 190: Basic Controls
Briefing: This simulation will cover the basic controls of a starship.
Setting Text 1: Aboard the Neversail NCC-0001
Setting Text 2: Starfleet Academy, Home Fleet
Setting Text 3: Treasure Island, San Francisco, Earth
{The Neversail NCC-0001 is a police frigate armed with only Phaser-3s}
{The screen is already set in full screen mode}
{There is no terrain, only a beautiful backdrop}
{The player’s ship is already in motion at a speed of 10}
{The player’s ship is already at Red Alert}
{VOICE TALENT: FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: Scotty? Not Sulu – we will save him for later tutorials.}

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Lieutenant, welcome to Starfleet Command school. To earn the rank of Lieutenant Commander, you must pass both Command 190: Basic Controls and Command 290: Intermediate Helm Controls. Let’s get started.”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “The basics of starship control are very simple, yet require a lot of training and practice to master. Let’s begin with basic helm control aboard a small police vessel, the USS Neversail.”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “To turn the Neversail, use the mouse and left-click on the 3D tactical display. This will issue a helm command to port or starboard.”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Left-click on the 3D tactical display in the direction you wish to turn. Your helmsman will choose the appropriate turn, port or starboard.”
{Wait for the user to turn the ship. Add sarcastic/encouraging comments to the player to hurry them along.}

Sarcastic Comments
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Well Lieutenant, what are you waiting for? A Klingon invasion?”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Lieutenant, when I give an order I expect it to be obeyed.”
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “I don't have all day, Lieutenant.”
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “[Sigh]. We are all waiting.”
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Lieutenant, make up your mind before I make it up for you – and give you a failing grade.”

Positive Remarks
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Very good, Lieutenant.”

{Add 1 prestige point for each helm command up to 3 points}

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “The farther you wish to go from your current heading, the tighter your turn will be. Starships are massive vessels, even one such as this quaint police cutter. It takes time to maneuver them. Plan your turns in advance for maximum advantage.”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Now let’s talk about phasers. I knew that would pique your interest. To familiarize you with the trustworthy phasers, I have created replicas of standard Federation cargo containers for you to target and destroy.”

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “To target a container, point the mouse at the container that you wish to target and right-click. This will set the cargo container as your current target. Alternatively you may tap the T key to cycle through all targets in sensor range.”
{Add 1 prestige point for each targeting command up to 3 points}

{Wait for the user to target a container. Add sarcastic/encouraging comments to the player to hurry them along.}

Sarcastic Comments
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “C’mon, Lieutenant. It doesn’t take that long to target a container.”

{Default the weapons to 1 at a time firing}

FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “To fire a Phaser-3 at the selected cargo container, left-click your mouse on the fire buttonin the lower left corner of the display. Alternatively, you can tap the Z key to issue a fire command. Either one will direct gigawatts of ionized superheated particles at your target. Sounds impressive.”
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Now destroy all three targets.”
{Wait for the user to fire upon a container. Add sarcastic/encouraging comments to the player to hurry them along.}

Sarcastic Comments
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “What’s keeping you? Most midshipmen enjoy this part of the tutorial.”

Encouraging Comments (when container destroyed)
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “There she goes!”
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Good! Starfleet doesn’t approve of mindless destruction, but phasers do have their uses.”
{Add 2 prestige points for each container destroyed up to 6 points}
FED-INSTRUCTOR-EARTH: “Excellent, Lieutenant, you are coming along very well. Perhaps Command 290 will provide
a greater challenge for your abilities.”

Key Framing and Motion Capture
If your game features human characters moving about, then you might require motion capture or you can use key framing to animate your characters. List your characters and the required moves for each character. Maintain this list during production. See the following example.

The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9

The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9The list of moves to be motion captured for Black9

Sound Effects
Sound effects are elusive critters to nail down early in the game design document. My best advice is to mentally walk through the mission/level/area section of your game design document and listen to what you hear as you walk through these areas.

Almost all games feature music; the only exception I can think of is Quake III, which opted to allow the player to play his or her own favorite music In this section, list the various tracks you will require to help set the mood of your game. Some games employ sophisticated track blending routines to go smoothly from tense battle music to celebratory victory tunes. See the Black9 audio bid on the following page for an example

The combat sound effects list for the character Nevin from Outrage’s game Alter Echo

The combat sound effects list for the character Nevin from Outrage’s game Alter EchoThe combat sound effects list for the character Nevin from Outrage’s game Alter Echo

Black9 Audio Bid
Note: The goal of the budget is to come as close to the final product as possible. In a game of this scope it is impossible to know the exact amount of minutes of music. Both parties understand that these figures could change slightly either way but that the figures given should be a very good representation of the budget needed.

In-Game Music: There are 3 different “worlds” in Black9. The music styles would be representative of those worlds but would follow a sci-fi ambient based vibe (refer to CD). Analog pads, percussion, arpeggiatted synth lines and Enya themed instrumentation will all be used to accomplish our goal. For certain worlds and levels such as China we can incorporate ethnic Asian instruments such as Tibetan Bowls, Java Gamelans, Korean Gongs, Chinese Cymbals, Japanese Kotos and Taiko Drums to give it a certain environmental flavor. Music does not need to be triggered at all times during the game. In fact a lot of the game should be sci-fi environmental location based ambience. “Sci-fi analog action style” music can be triggered when certain key events in each level happen (i.e., Canyon Chase sled escape). Refer to last 2 songs on audio CD called “Wild 9” and “Hover Bikes”. The use of short (3-5 second) musical stings can also be used when certain events happen (i.e., pulls important lever to open important door). There are 3 different “worlds” in Black9.The music styles would be representative of those worlds but would follow an ambient sci-fi feel/vibe. Mars World:
6 search/ambient songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 9 minutes)
4 chase/battle/vehicle songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 6 minutes)
5 stings (@ 5 seconds = 25 seconds)

Hong Kong World:
6 search/ambient songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 9 minutes)
4 chase/battle songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 6 minutes)
5 stings (@ 5 seconds = 25 seconds)

Moon/Luna World:
4 search/ambient songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 6 minutes)
2 chase/battle songs (@ 1:30 minutes = 3 minutes)
4 stings (@ 5 seconds = 20 seconds)

Total In-Game music: Approximately 40 minutes

Cinematic Music: Story and cinematics play an important role in Black9. The music for the cinematics should be extremely subtle so that it adds a layer to the dialogue but does not get in its way. There doesn’t have to be music playing during every cinematic and some of the in-game music could be used as well.

Mars World: 3 songs @ 1 minute = 3 minutes
Hong Kong World: 3 songs @ 1 minute = 3 minutes
Moon/Luna World: 2 songs @ 1 minute = 2 minutes

Total Cinematic music: 8 minutes

Menu Music: There will need to be menu, sub-menu, and credits music. These can be based off of popular motifs we would be creating for the game. Until actual screen interfaces are created it is hard to visualize the style and tempo.

Menu/Sub-Menu theme: 2 minutes
Credits music (variation of menu?): 3 minutes

Total Menu music: 5 minutes

Music Totals
In-Game: 40 minutes
Cinematics: 8 minutes
Menus: 5 minutes
TOTAL: 53 minutes (approx.)

53 minutes x $1,000 per minute = $53,000

Sound design will be the most important audio element in the game. In-Game SFX: Big and beefy reverbs, amazing weapons, huge deep doors, frightening alarms, etc. Think of the best sci-fi movie you’ve ever heard… then double it!

The main character will have common sounds that will always need to be loaded in memory (footsteps, weapons, getting hit, landing from a jump, etc.). There will be other common sounds as well (pause menu, text messaging, pick-ups, health, etc.) Each of the 16 levels in the game will have unique sound effects for the enemies, vehicles, objects, surfaces, elements, etc. I would average about 50 unique sounds per level considering some of the enemies and weapons will be reused throughout the game.

Common sfx: 100
Level sfx: 50 X 16 levels = 800 sfx

Environmental/Ambient SFX: Strange room tones, machinery, equipment, and generators no one has ever heard before, airy and cosmic tones, deep analog sweeps, dark dramatic atmospheres. Each area may have a different “tone” which when mixed properly gives the sense of travel and exploration. These ambiences should be looping, streamed, and about 1 minute each in length. In some areas you would only hear the ambiences with no music. These are very important! The player will hear these more than they will the music! Ambiences can be reused for multiple areas. If we budget 3 looping ambiences per level we could mix and match just fine.

16 levels X 3 looping 1-minute ambiences = 48 minutes of ambience

Cinematic Sound Design/FX: The cinematics will be in-game based (not FMV) so technically they will be handled the same as the in-game sfx (SPU based). I would estimate another 10 unique sfx per level to be used in the cinematics.

Cinematic SFX: 10 sfx X 16 levels = 160 sfx

Menu/Sub Menu SFX: Would depend on the look and style of the menus.

Menu SFX = 10 sfx

Sound Design Totals
In-Game: 800 sfx
Environmental: 48 minutes/sfx
Cinematics: 160 sfx
Menus: 10 sfx
TOTAL: 1000 sfx (approx.)

Sound Design = $30,000

Because of the sci-fi nature of the game, effects will play an important role in the creation of the voices. All sorts of robotic, helmet gear, radio, flange/phaser, strange and unique effects will be used in pre- and post-production. Think Star Wars.
Cinematic Character voices:
Genesis Contact, Player, Aegis, NPC Buyer, First Guard, Genesis Man, Oberon, Black Dragon Master, Genesis Operations
Officer, Fire Elder, Fire Elemental, Piwan, Dr. Tan, Agent Cassandra, Protagonist, Babbage Entity, Elder, Tea-Drinking Society Operations Officer, TDS Ops, Hashi, Dr. Kellon, Tran, Automated Receptionist, TDS Shuttle Captain, Charles, TDS Man, Gardener, Zubrin Marine, Zubrin Operations Officer, Lao, Zubrin Man, Zubrin Merc, Civilian, Zubrin Ops, Ambassador. (35 total)
Enemy voices: There would also have to be enemy character voices recorded. Screams, yells, hits, jumps, dies, etc. We would need about 15 actors to record 35 characters. Each professional non-sag actor’s price would vary depending on experience, how many characters, versatility, etc.

These are not one-liners (like Boxing), this is more serious acting. SAG rate for a 4-hour block-out (3 characters max.) is $612.00. To get non-SAG actors (who are really in SAG) for a buyout usually costs about $750. Some actors will charge $1000 and others will cost only $500. $750 I feel is a good average for a non-SAG buyout. It should take 3 studio days to complete the script. In a script of this nature (characters, acting, size, etc.) it is always smart to put a 10% contingency in the budget for call-backs.

Actors: 15 X $750 = $11,250
Studio: 3 days X $1000 = $3,000
Casting Agent: $1,000
Editing,Mastering: $5,000
Contingency (10%): $2,000
Total: $22,250

This is my recommended buget.

Music: $53,000
Sound Design: $30,000
V.O.: $22,000
Total: $105,000

Breathe, David… breeeeeathe….. Now count to 10.
Okay good!
Please realize that this is a huge game and there is a ton of audio here. I have given my $1,000 per minute of music rate (usually $1,200-$1,500) because there is quantity. Same for the sound design; normally for the amount of sounds required it would be much higher. If you were to go to any company in the industry and ask them for this amount of work you’ll get prices that are a little lower and some that are much higher. The prices I cannot come down on. I cannot go lower than $1,000 per minute and I can’t do 1000 sfx for under 30K. If we needed the budget to be lower we could do the following…

Please keep in mind that the recommended budget was NOT a wish list. I had to struggle to get the minutes of music to where it currently is. Notice that each tune is only approximately 1:30. 2 to 3 minutes is usually the norm, but I feel that because of the ambient style of music we will be using that if I’m tricky with my loops I can get away with 1:30. We could easily just take the music figure down to about 40 minutes and just deal with it. It does start to take a quality hit as far as repetitiveness goes (which I am already assuming in the 53 minutes), but it’s not the complete end of the world. New total: 40 minutes of music.

Sound Design:
The sound design is a tough one because there is no getting around it! The game is big and there are tons of SFX. If worse came to worst and we really had to squeeze it all together we could unhappily shave an extra 5K off the 30K figure and use less looping ambiences and reuse in-game sfx for the cinematics. Once again, quality would go down because of repetitiveness. New total: Approximately 800 sfx.

This one is a little easier but the consequences are greater! We could easily get a bunch of actors @ $500 but I can guarantee you that the quality WILL NOT be great. Acceptable, but not great. We could also take out the 10% contingency and just live with what we get in the sessions. New V.O. total with those changes = $16,500

New Grand Totals:

Music: $40,000
SFX: $25,000
V.O.: $16,500
Total: $81,000

If you are thinking of making this game an A or AAA title, the 100K budget is absolutely necessary. For a B title you can easily get away with the 80K figure. Anything less and you’re headed for the C title blues. Let’s discuss once you’ve had a chance to digest it all and talk it over with some people.



Special Effects
This is a sort of catchall category that is specific to your game’s genre and technical implementation. For example, in Starfleet Command a list of the weapon effects, astronomical features, and other system effects like tractor beams will need to be created. For a firstperson shooter, enumerate the weapon effects and explosions. For a platformer, write down the magical effects when the character picks up a power-up or gathers another star or crystal.

The weapons and ammo list for Black9

The weapons and ammo list for Black9The weapons and ammo list for Black9The weapons and ammo list for Black9The weapons and ammo list for Black9

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