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Weekly Post #25 - Game Design Documents (GDDs)

Hello again fellow gamers and devs! Before we jump in to this weeks topic I have a good new turn of events to report since my laptop was fried a couple weeks ago. A good friend of mine recently upgraded to a newer gaming laptop and I was able to take his old gaming laptop off his hands so I am now am back in action to work more on my games in my down time at my day/night job. This should help speed along development and get me back on track to be able to make these posts more regularly/on time. Really has helped me get a lot done my game design documents....speaking of let's jump into this weeks topic:

This week I'd like to take a look at and share a bit about Game Design Documents, or GDDs, and how or when they are important in game development. When I made Probe I did not use any GDDs and later on wish I had when I added some elements that would have been good to have planned for ahead of time like the scoring system and leaderboards. This is why I began creating them for my next title and already it's paying off.

So what is a GDD? A GDD is a document intended to outline every aspect of your game from boot screen and menus to gameplay elements and enemy AI, items...even marketing plans. For smaller hyper casual style games you probably don't need a GDD for it if the mechanics only utilize simple one action button systems and/or minimal menu options similar to flappy bird or many other mobile casual games. With a game that will have multiple gameplay mechanics or systems, and especially if it is story based or open world, or if your working with a team of devs you will definitely want to make a GDD before starting development. I am already seeing the huge benefits of drawing up these documents for my next title. It's allowed me to make the necessary cuts in content to make the scope more reasonable within my limitations as a solo/indie dev.

Recently I found a very useful, well outlined, GDD template made by a developer named Mark Elliott. You can go grab it for yourself or just view it here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cUnWONjtAAr7zXPWDMsVKI7N5cQFs-JI_AN3_rZQe8A/ (For a copy go to File>Make a Copy to copy it your google drive account or download it in a text file from File>Download)

This GDD template is what I am currently using and will most likely to continue to use or build on for future games. While this may not fit every games needs, it is easily tweakable to meet the needs of any games design or planning. If anything you may have to remove some sections depending on the game. In addition to this template I have found it more convenient to use separate documents like spreadsheets for item ID's if there is to be a inventory or weapon system and especially for dialogue trees if there is to be an interactable dialogue system with NPCs. I highly recommend using the free google docs on google drive to do this, especially since if anything happens and you lose power or your computer crashes while saving or your hard drive gets wiped for example you won't lose your progress or end up with a corrupted document you can no longer access - something I am all too familiar with in the recent past but luckily have had backups. There are also other programs out there for dialogue systems and such but for now let's stick to the basic GDD and save that for a future topic.

Most everything is very well detailed out in the template I linked but there are a couple things I would suggest adding to help with the games release process. One of the main things I would add are genres/tags for the game. Best way to determine tags, from my research of what seems to be common practice, would be to pick around three to ten games that are similar to your game and look at their top ten tags and narrow it down to five tags that are similar to the others like it and go with those for your base main tags but don't use the "indie" tag if you can avoid it - I've seen many indies say it's so overused it is almost pointless. If it's a hybrid of different genres make sure you include multiple titles with all the different mechanics/features in your research.

Another good thing to include is a one line description of your game called an "elevator pitch". This should be what sums up your game in a nutshell but make it sound appealing and attention grabbing as well since this is usually what appears on a Steam game hover over preview before navigating to the game page. A short paragraph for the game page extended description will also help you be ready to simply copy and paste or setup your game page when it's ready to go live.

Personally, I also found it helps to add some concept art or sketches of what certain things should look or behave like, especially the UI. You can easily drag and drop images into the google documents. Then again I am a very visually minded person so do what is best for you. If it's a game you plan on pitching to a team or publisher most devs will suggest that you're going to want those images or concept art to help grab peoples attention.

In addition to this base GDD, like I said, I recommend having some separate flow charts or spreadsheets of items, levels or story and dialogue elements. I already have a spreadsheet for each of these for my next title as well and it's helping shape things up quite nicely. I find it much easier to sort through and plan with these in separate documents rather than one long document to sift through. Then again, the way the template is set up with the table of contents you can also click on a section and jump straight to it, so do whatever fits you or your teams preferences and needs. For my next game, I have all the planned game mechanics in my GDD and the basics ready to go but still working on the levels and story. Of course some of that will most likely change as development progresses but of course I'll be making sure to update those changes in the documents. May even make alternate save versions of the documents to monitor the changes in case something ends up not working as well as intended and can dial back when needed. Once this next game is fully released I will post some of the content from my documents to kind of explain my process and how it worked best for me...while keeping spoilers out of it of course.

Well, I hope some fellow devs found this information useful or that my fellow gamers found it to be an interesting peak into the development process, or at least how I am going about my development process. While I haven't finished the story/dialogue and quests documents just yet I have started to get the project underway in Unity by setting up the main menu systems, visual effects and some basics that I outlined in my GDD. Next week I think I'll post about why I decided to go with Unity for this next project in comparison to other engines...some of which I have used and some which I have not. If there is a particular engine you would like me to cover or if you would like more specific details about the game design documents that I didn't cover please leave a comment or shoot me an email and I'll include a response in next weeks post as well. Until then, hope all is well with everyone and stay safe.


Nathan Hicks

Nate Bit Games


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