Sunday, July 22

You Shirk it at Your Peril

Game Designer Ernest Adams writes a frequent column for Gamasutra titled "The Designer's Notebook." His latest entry is subtitled: "Why Design Documents Matter." Its a really interesting article explaining why game design documents are necessary to have a successful game development. My favorite part of the article comes on page 3, where Adams describes how "design documents turn generalities into particulars."

The process of writing a document turns a vague idea into an explicit plan. It’s one thing to say “Harpies will be flying creatures” in a meeting, but that’s nowhere near enough to build from. In fact, there’s not even any point in writing it down if that’s all you have to say. What the developers need are details: How high can they fly? How fast do they fly? Are they affected by the weather? Can harpies land? Can they land anywhere they want to? Can they also move on the ground, and if so, what sorts of terrain and how fast? Are they more, or less, vulnerable when in the air or on the ground? And so on and so on, and it all needs to be written down so that everyone on the team has all the information they need to build the product.

It would be nice if game design consisted of sitting around with your feet up and daydreaming about cool content and features, and I’ve met some designers who thought that was the whole job. It isn’t; they were slackers. The vast majority of design consists of figuring out the details.

Although you’ll always change those details later in testing and tuning, you have to start with something. In a real sense, the process of writing documents is the process of design, because it is then that you turn abstract concepts into concrete plans. Even if no one reads your document at all, an idea written down is a decision made, a conclusion reached.

A good example of above excerpt is Warcraft III, which actually has several types of Harpys in game, and to which most of the above questions apply. As a matter of fact, there are many, many types of creeps in Warcraft III, it would be nigh impossible to have designed all of them without a document at hand.

I have taken to writing design documents for my own game concepts. It really is quite fun. When I think about a game I'm creating, ideas pop in and out of focus and also change over time. Remembering all of those ideas is basically impossible, not to mention extremely stressful. At first I write down notes on a legal pad I carry around, pages of notes. I write down every idea that comes into my mind, and all of the variations and potential forms of those ideas. Then, when I feel comfortable enough with where I'm going I take to a word processor and type all of my notes to the hard drive. Then begins the process of refining and organizing and deciding. Its really cool to see how the game develops over time, even conceptually as all of my games do, because eventually you have whatever number of pages of ideas that you can print off and show to people and say, "Hey, this is a game I'm making, what do you think?"

I imagine you go through a similar process. How do your game design ideas develop over time, and how do you keep track of them?

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