Why I use Game Design Docs

When people think about Game Design Documents (GDDs), they normally think about these gigantic reams of paper that detail everything about a game before it goes into development.  Today, that’s not the case.  Many people don’t use them and go straight into developing the game.  While that works for some, it doesn’t work for me.  I’m a bit old-school in that respect.  I like to have somewhat of a plan before proceeding.  This is why:

1. Everything is written down

Do you ever get information overload, that you have so much information in your head that you simply cannot absorb anymore or think new thoughts?  I don’t have a filter on what information I absorb.  It just barges its way into my brain whether I want to tune out or not.  Using a GDD forces me to write down what I have in my head.  It allows me turn this vague notion in my head into a concrete concept and lets me see what I need to work on.  It also empties my brain so new ideas can form or inspiration can strike.

2. The template forces me to flesh out points I haven’t thought about yet

It’s all well and good to have a game concept, but getting that concept to fruition, it requires more than just a storyline or a vague notion of what you want to make.

When I started developing Hunters, I only had the storyline and a vague sense of what I wanted the combat to be like.  By using the GDD, it made me think about the user interface (menus, dialogue screens, etc) and how the game architecture would work.  How does the player access a menu?  How do they move from area to area?  How will the game go from a dialogue screen to where the player can move around the environment?

3. It evolves as the idea of your game does

I learned Project Management at university, while studying for game development.  Game development is exactly like project management, so why not use the similar strategies to accomplish it?

A GDD is a cross between a project plan and a design document.  It contains all the information a design document would about the product, but it evolves like a project plan should.  A term I heard a lot in class was “a living document” – a document that changes as the project progresses.  The Hunters GDD is on its 24th version.  The different between the first version and the latest is about 100 pages.  The document evolves as I modify my thinking about the game, and record all changes I make (a habit formed from being a documentation manager).

4. Modify it however you like and to how you work best

I like penning my ideas down so I can look at them and get them out of my head.  This is how I work best.  If you don’t like documentation, find a short template.  It’s good to jot your concepts down even if you don’t like writing a heap.  That way you have a record of your thoughts and can return to them at any point to understand where you are at.

Don’t be afraid to modify the template to suit what genre you’re developing.  I’ve added 7 sections to the Hunters GDD because it didn’t fully suit my needs.  It’s all about what information you need to store or flesh out.  Add sections for dialogue scenes for RPGs or visual novels, the weapon arsenal and all their stats for FPS or day/night system details for simulation games – just to name a few.

In the end, there are many templates out there to choose from.  Google can be your friend or worse enemy in this respect.  Just choose one and have a go at filling it in.