5 Alternatives to a Game Design Doc.


Excerpts from [Source] – See more details and images at the source.

1) Illustration

Few things can sum up your goal like an illustration of the desired result.  Even if you’ve embraced the philosophy of rapid prototyping and iteration, at each stage you need a goal to iterate towards. A visual goal can focus the team on what’s important, and help the designer avoid the temptation to add extraneous features. And don’t underestimate the daily inspiration such an image can provide.

2) Slide Show

What if your game needs moving parts to explain what’s going on? Not to fret. Presentation software is a remarkably easy way to present the actions of a game in sequence.  I made a new slide for every animating progress bar and score increase. It took me about two afternoons to put together, a small amount of time compared to the 6 – 7 week dev cycle ahead.

If you’re lucky, a series of mock-ups like this can do more than explain your goal: it can energize and inspire the team to do their best work. These particular mini-presentations were popular enough that sometimes a few of the senior faculty would sit in on our meetings. The goofy placeholder art and the informal nature of the presentation invited questions and discussion.

3) Flowchart

I first heard about [this] from Steve Swink. The idea is to diagram all the basic components of your game and visualize how they interconnect. Let’s take Pac-Man as an example; Start by writing out all the game’s nouns. Most likely these are the components represented by art assets. Then connect those nouns with the appropriate verbs. This is what the player does in the game.

Next, write out any of the higher-order relationships between various nouns. These aren’t necessarily in the player’s direct control, but they do serve to make the game more fun. Note the many actions that add to the game’s score, and how eating has many different purposes in the game.

If you try diagramming your own game, watch out for nodes that don’t connect to anything. Everything in the game should have a reason to exist, and this is a good way to cull the things that aren’t important.

4) Prototype

One of the surest ways to communicate your vision is to make it playable. These are screenshots of an earlier build of Gravity Ghost, a game assembled from basic geometry, a few simple scripts, and a single art pass.

You might think your coding skills aren’t up to snuff, but please take my word on this: you don’t need a lot of programming experience to make something playable in its most basic state. There are plenty of resources online for this sort of thing.

5) Cloning

One easy way to demonstrate your design vision is to steal it from a game that already exists. Keep a close eye on the top 100 paid iPhone apps, and simply copy the most successful… just kidding. Never do this. Every time you clone a game an angel smacks a puppy.

5) Illustrated Game Design Doc

If you absolutely must explain your game’s systems using large blocks of text, use a visual aid whenever possible. Challenge yourself to present your ideas both visually and in words – people tend to learn better when given redundant information.  The spec doc outlines the entire scope of the game in a broad sense – I created it to show to potential programmers.

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