Would you feel comfortable taking off on a flight without any clear plan, just a destination and a vague idea of how to get there? This situation might sound absurd, but companies that make games actually do something similar when they go into a new project without a game design document.
A game design document (GDD) serves as an essential reference and roadmap to game development, and plays an important role in keeping everything on the right track. As such, its importance is comparable to game art design, another element of GDD game development that cannot be overlooked.
In this article, we will answer all of your questions about making a game design document and help you kick off the process with the right knowledge.
What are the Basics of Making a Design Document for Video Games?
Every game project should have a specific set of objectives. Thus, this section provides the game description and classification, giving the main premise and defining the genre and niche that it will take up in the market. It also often includes marketing information such as the target audience, which other games the project is competing with, and monetization strategies.
How can you target the largest audience for your game?
One obvious solution is to make your game immersive, hooking new players in a world that they feel they belong in. If you succeed in capturing their imagination and captivating your players, they will be sure to share their experiences with their friends. On a more practical note, we recommend making a cross-platform game to give it the most reach. High accessibility combined with immersive gameplay is a winning combination that drives up sales figures.
This is a summary of how the game works from the perspective of a player. It usually describes the key plot points and progression of the game through different levels and difficulties. Here, the core gameplay mechanics and additional logic (e.g. for mini-games, side quests, etc.) are defined. Be sure to specify the goals that the player will pursue and the tools they will have available (skills, power-ups, abilities) to progress. The failure modes should also be documented.
What are the best game mechanics to keep players engaged?
The key to success is sticking to your genre. For example, if you market your game as a quick and easy experience that won’t take up much of the player’s time, you can make use of some amazing hyper-casual game mechanics. For example, making them tap and swipe at their screen every few seconds as they try to survive a round of gameplay will leave no room for distraction.
There is some flexibility to this section. Of course, you want to make an estimate of the different art assets you will need in the project, but this will probably be subject to change over time. Thus, you can at least define the main and supporting characters that will need to be designed, along with accompanying assets like concept art, animation, audio and voice tracks, music, 3D models, and so much more. By the time of writing a GDD, it is also recommended to have a basic understanding of the menus and UI that will be implemented.
What is the key to making great game UI?
UI is a lot more than just a bunch of menus and options – it is the primary instrument through which users interact with your game. Thus, to get the most out of your UI, you can try approaches such as minimizing the space that it takes up and delivering information through symbols and animation instead of text, where possible. For a closer look, be sure to check out our article on how to make game UI effective.
4) Project scope
This is the nitty-gritty of your project, including its technical requirements and stack, time and cost estimates, and list of specialists you expect to be involved. Creating these estimates usually requires thorough input and analysis from experts in many fields – marketing representatives, developers, artists, business development managers, and so on. Here, you can also define the roles and responsibilities of the production team, as well as executives responsible for keeping the project on track.
Where can you find specialists for your game?
If you find that you lack several specialists for your project, this should not be a cause for panic. There are several places you can comfortably hire from – local job markets, freelance portals, outsourcing companies. As you look for candidates, you should be aware of the quirks and peculiarities of each job position. For example, finding game artists or technical artists should be done only after reviewing their portfolios. For more information, check out our guide on game art outsourcing.
How Should a Game Design Document Look?
There are no universal norms for creating a game design document, and the main idea is just to fit in all the important stuff that will serve as a reference later down the line. However, from a logical standpoint, it is best to describe the game objectives at the very start of the document. As a studio with years of experience in creating GDDs, we can also recommend making use of images and infographics where possible, leaving plenty of space between sections, and using bold headers to make sections pop. In other words, it will be best to make the document easy to comprehend visually.
In terms of format, some developers release a single edition of the GDD and leave it at that, even if the document quickly gets outdated. Others update the document periodically and let their staff know via updates. One approach that has become most popular recently is hosting the document online, where changes can be added quickly and subsequently accessed by the team.
Making a Game Design Document for Unique Game Genres
The standard approach to GDD creation may not fit the bill for every game type, especially those that deviate outside the norm or seem genre-defying. Let’s examine some things to keep in mind for games in unique genres:
Slot machine game design document
Slot games tend to be simpler to make than traditional games, but feature a lot more UI elements – cards, symbols, reels, VFX, and other elements. Slot game art is mostly focused on 2D elements, so your GDD should include the particular style (and possibly story background) you want to apply to the project. Thus, the GDD will have a robust “Assets” section, featuring core and additional UI elements.
RPG game design document
Role-playing games are incredibly complex in their story for each individual player, so GDDs mostly aim to document the key directions that the story can take without each individual path being outlined. For example, a character can be described as turning to the dark side, staying neutral, or following the light with the appropriate consequences listed instead of a path defined for each unique choice they make. If the outcome of user choices cannot be divided into a few options, the GDD will just allude to individualized results with the dev team having more specific insights.
Fighting game design document
The level of enjoyment derived from fighting games is often dependent on how well AI behavior or multiplayer modes are designed. Thus, if you are building a multiplayer game in Unreal (for example), you will want to outline the matchmaking modes and principles of matching in the document. As for AI opponents, you should at least specify the typical behaviors and patterns that they will display, along with how they will be affected by new difficulties.
Can You Order a Custom-Made Game Design Document?
Yes, absolutely. Such a service exists, and is offered by multiple game design studios, including Game-Ace.
Even if you choose to build the game in-house or go with another provider, a GDD appraisal and creation should be an independent review that rationally and honestly defines the work that needs to be done for the project to succeed.
Our studio has built hundreds of games and created various assets (art, animation, documentation) for many times more, so we know what we are doing. If you have a game project that needs appraisal, you are welcome to contact us and receive an unbiased and accurate report. If you need us to do any additional services, we will also be happy to oblige.
To get your GDD started with Game-Ace, just contact us.