August 2, 2008

Reading week 1: The Design Document

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 5:32 pm

The Design Document  - a reading and summary of chapter 14 “The Design Document” from the book “Game Design Workshop” by Fullerton, T., Swain, C., Hoffman, S. (2004).

This chapter discusses the needs of developing a sound Design Document for communication purposes as well as suggest an example of how the Design Document might be arranged. [This blog has been written after reading Chapter 15 of Rouse's "Game Design: Theory and Practice", (2000).]

The Design Document

The opening section of the chapter outlines that the Design Document describes: “the overall concept of the game, the target audience, the gameplay, interfaces, controls, characters, level, media assets etc. In short, everything the team needs to know about the design of the game” (Fullerton, Swain & Hoffman, 2004, p. 370). Fullerton et al. also say that the Design Document may sometimes be called the “design bible” (p. 370).

The first citation above elaborates more about the contents of the Design Document than Rouse (2000, p. 294) [discussed here].

Communication and the Design Document

This section describes the importance of communication, and stresses that the Design Document is not just written for the sake of writing it but rather for use as a communication tool (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 371). The following quote illustrates how the development of the Design Document itself aids in communication:

In order to create an effective design document, the game designer needs to work with every other member of the team to make sure that the areas of the document affecting their work are accurate and achievable. In this way, the writing of the document itself becomes a process for communication. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 371)

Another interesting point to note is the overall size of the Design Document. Fullerton et al. (2004) indicate that although Design Documents can blow out to be hundreds and hundreds of pages in size “A good design document can be created in 50 to 100 succinctly written pages, well-organized and labelled, so that a busy executive or programmer can find the areas that affect them quickly and easily” (p. 371).

Contents of a Design Document

Here, Fullerton et al. (2004, p. 372) list the areas that the Design Document can be broken down into:

  • Overview and vision statement
  • Marketing and legal information
  • Gameplay
  • Characters (if applicable)
  • Story (if applicable)
  • World (if applicable)
  • Media list

[The above list appears to support what Rouse (2000 p. 302) describes as to what should be included in the Design Document with the exception of "Marketing and legal information" which Rouse states do not belong  in the Design Document - see "Schedules and Business/Marketing Documents" here.]

Fullerton et al. (2004, p. 372) provide some very useful advice when it comes to starting a Design Document:

… we advise you not to write your design document until you’ve built and playtested a working prototype of your idea. Having this type of concrete experience with your proposed gameplay can make all the difference in your ability to articulate that gameplay in the design document.

The following is also worth considering in the development of a Design Document:

You should also think of your design document as a “living document.” You’ll likely have to make a dozen passes before it’s complete, and then you’ll need to constantly update it to reflect changes that are made during the development process. Because of this, it’s important to organize your document modularly. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 372)

Fullerton et al. (2004, pp. 373-376) then provide a reasonably detailed outline of the headings and subheadings of the Design Document. What follows is an abbreviated example that only lists the headings of the table of contents in the Design Document for the game “Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 376):

  1. Design history
  2. Vision statement
  3. Marketing information
  4. Legal analysis
  5. Gameplay description
  6. Game characters
  7. Story
  8. The game world
  9. Media List
  10. Technical spec
  11. Appendices

[Again, Rouse (2000) - see here - may find some of the above contents a little disturbing - he states that the Design Document should not contain Marketing documents (p. 302) and perhaps one could assume he would have issues with "Legal analysis" as well. Perhaps this information could be included in the "Concept Document or Pitch Document or Proposal" (Rouse, p. 293)? As for the "Technical spec" one could argue that Rouse would have this defined in its own "Technical Design Document" (Rouse, p. 301).]


This chapter reading had some valuable points, especially with the application of the Design Document as a communication tool amongst team members not in the document itself, but in the development process of the Design Document (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 371).


Reference List:

Fullerton, T., Swain, C., Hoffman, S.. (2004). The Design Document. Game Design Workshop (pp. 371-376). San Francisco: CMP Books.
Rouse, R. (2000). Game Development Documentation. Game Design: Theory and Practice (pp. 291- 303). Plano, Texas: Wordware Publishing.

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