A Game Design Document (GDD) Tutorial That Will Save You Time And Energy

Game Design Document - GDD

Game Design Document - GDD

I have a degree in game design from a state college called IRSC. In our game design classes, the curriculum was pretty adamant that we have a game design document (GDD) for each of our games. The professors weren’t too terribly strict about how it was organized, but there were stipulations on what it should contain and how it should be updated.

Once I got out of college and started designing games on my own, I threw all of that out and found a better way.

If you’ve ever worked on a game before, you know that the original idea doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you end up changing your idea because the prototype just didn’t work right, or the play testers straight up said it “isn’t fun” (this is why I highly recommend prototyping and playtesting early on…more on that later). You then either have to scrap the game, or you pivot and salvage whatever is useful from the work you’ve already done. Either way, building and then having to rewrite a GDD before that is going to end up a massive waste of time.

The thing is, we can’t just get rid of the GDD altogether. There needs to be a written (or typed, or drawn, or musical) plan of what’s going to be in the game, what it’s going to do, and where it’s going to go.

So I developed a much shorter, easier to maintain GDD, and I made a template I’m going to share with you below.

The Rules

First, lets discuss a few rules.

  1. Use something like Google Drive. You can hold everything in a folder and interlink documents, plus your entire team will have access to the latest versions all of the time.
  2. This GDD sticks to strictly the game design itself and doesn’t include any of the business end of things like marketing. I use a business plan for all of that.
  3. No images/videos/media. Keep them in a folder and link to them. This is so the document is easily editable and no one will have to spend time rearranging images because text got added, or something.
  4. If a change is made, do a “Save As…” and name it something like “GDD_2”, “GDD-3”, etc.

The Pages

First Page

Start Off With The Name

Name the game. You can use a working title if you want. I usually don’t think of game names until much later into development, but the game needs to have a name of some sort from day one.

Ex:

  • Garrett’s Good Game Of Game Goods

Add Your Team’s Names

Add the names of all of the members of your team. Hierarchy and ranking aren’t necessary, just put them in an order that makes sense to you.

Ex:

  • Garrett Mickley
  • Tom Ato
  • Ollie Tabooger
  • Willy Finish

Second Page (And All Pages From There)

Elevator Pitch

You should have an elevator pitch for your game. An elevator pitch is one sentence describing the game briefly but in enough detail that a person should be able to decide whether or not it’s something they would be interested in.

Ex:

  • It’s a cross between hockey, bowling, and shuffleboard, but two dimensional on a touch screen. (used for my game I Hate Red Squares)

Story Brief

A brief, one paragraph (at most) synopsis of the story. If the game is going to be some sort of epic with a huge story, put that in another document. If your game doesn’t have a story, you’re doing it wrong. Every game needs a story. If your story is only one sentence long, that’s okay.

Ex:

  • Steve (the player) wakes up on a deserted island. He has nothing but the clothes on his body, and a vast expanse of material in front of him. He uses the materials to build tools, shelter, and explore. When night falls, monsters come to attack him. He does everything he can to survive.

Gameplay Features

This is where you describe how the players play the game. Include all of the features that will be involved. Break down each feature into its own little section so that everyone knows what each individual thing is, and so that if something needs changed or removed, it’s easier to find. Include game controls in this part (A for Jump, D-Pad to move, etc).

Ex:

  • Players will tap their finger on the screen and send the blue circle towards where they tapped. The Ideas is to tap towards the red squares at the top of the screen. The red squares will then bounce around the screen. The object is for the player to knock all of the red squares off the top of the screen with as few taps of their finger as possible. Sometimes there will be grey squares, which are immovable obstacles.

Levels (If Needed)

Not all games have levels, but if yours does, you will need this section. Otherwise, just skip it.

If you do need it, include the level number, name (if appropriate), and a description of the level. As before, make sure each one is in its own section in case it needs to be edited or removed.

Ex:

  • Level 1
    • The Darkness. Player has to move through the darkness and find a flashlight. The player wakes up and must navigate their room to find a flashlight. They won’t be able to leave their room until they do. The level ends when the player find the flashlight and approached their bedroom door to leave.

Menu Screens

Describe each menu screen and everything that will be needed in them. Most games have at least a main menu screen, a pause menu screen, and a settings menu screen. Many games also have level menus, character design screens, etc. These are important to list out. Make sure each one has it’s own little section so that if something needs changed or edited, it can easily be found and changed.

Ex:

  • Main Menu
    • Three buttons(Level Select, Settings, Quit)
  • Level Select
    • Has list of all 15 levels.
  • Settings
    • Options to turn music and sound effects on or off.

Art Assets Needed

Here is where you will include all of the assets needed as well as brief descriptions. I will be up to the art director to discuss the details of the art with the artists who will be making hte assets. Don’t forget that there will need to be art for each level, zone, menu, etc, so this can be broken down here.

Ex:

  • Level 1
    • One blue circle
    • One red square
    • Left wall
    • Right wall
    • Bottom
    • Background
    • Pause button

Sound Assets Needed

This is just like the art assets list above but you also list out the sounds you need.

Ex:

  • Level 1
    • Tap sound
    • Circle hitting squares sound
    • Squares hitting squares sound
    • Circle hitting wall sound
    • Squares hitting wall sound
    • Square leaving screen sound
    • Circle leaving screen sound
    • Background music
    • Pause button sound

And that’s it! That’s all that’s really needed to throw together a solid GDD that can easily be modified.

Here’s the template I made for myself that I use for all of my games. Go ahead and download it. It’s free!

5 Important Steps To Designing An Attention-Grabbing Game

5 Important Steps To Designing An Attention Grabbing Game

5 Important Steps To Designing An Attention Grabbing Game

Brief Audio Summary:

Designing games is the most fun thing in the world that can become a life-long career. If you’ve ever had an idea for a game, or played a game and thought “if I made this game, I would have done X differently,” you’re already a game designer.

I mostly design video games but I do sometimes work outside of the digital realm and make games that exist in meatspace. This guide will work as well for video games as it will for board games or table top games, or any other type of game you can think of.

To be honest, it’s not really that hard and you shouldn’t be afraid to do it. Designing a game is easy; designing a good game is difficult. My first game designs sucked. Some of my more recent game designs suck. It happens. Don’t let it stop you from designing more games.

1. Come Up With A Concept

I come up with a new game idea every day. I don’t even have to force it — it’s something I’m passionate about and so it comes naturally to me. I will admit, I had quite a bit of practice. Short backstory: I used to play a lot of D&D and other tabletop games as a kid. My friends liked when I was the Dungeon Master and I didn’t have much money so I usually created campaigns instead of buying pre-made ones. Eventually I decided I didn’t like some of the monsters and player classes in D&D and I started creating my own more basic tabletop role playing games based on the D6 system.

It’s okay if you don’t have this sort of game design background, but I bet you’re here because you had an idea for a game and decided to pursue it. That’s awesome, you’ve already completed the first step. Write it down! You don’t want to forget anything. I use Google Docs for pretty much everything because it’s accessible from anywhere with internet (which for me is pretty much anywhere I go).

Set up a folder for all your game design ideas. Then create a new folder for each idea you have. In that folder, make a document just for jotting down ideas. Don’t forget to get the apps so that if you have an idea, you can get it down quickly. When I was going to college for my degree in game design, I had to drive an hour from my house to campus. During that time I would have ideas, but I couldn’t write them down. I used to repeat them to myself over and over again until I got home (or to campus) so I wouldn’t forget.

Do whatever you can to make it easy to record your ideas before you forget them.

2. Come Up With Gameplay Mechanics

You’ve got the idea, now it’s time to work on the gameplay mechanics. Gameplay mechanics are the meat of the game. If the game’s a video game, this would be something like in Portal, where you can shoot portals and pass through them, or in Super Meat Boy, where you can (somewhat) grip walls and jump off of them. Those are unique and specific mechanics. More basic mechanics are things like: how the player moves, combat, and anything else that involves gameplay side of things. If the game isn’t going to have a basic WASD/Joystick to move, Space/A to jump, etc, you need to be writing it down. Actually, even if it is basic, write it down anyway because when it comes time to build the game, programmers are going to want to know what buttons make the game do the thing.

To design gameplay mechanics you don’t have to know how to program, you just have to be able to describe it. Make sure you get all this information down in your ideas document so you don’t lose them. You may also change them around in the future if you have new ideas or decide to tweak them some. Don’t stress about that unless the game is already in production. You shouldn’t be changing mechanics at that point in development.

In games that aren’t video games, the game mechanic could be something like the way cards interact with each other, or if it were a tabletop role playing game such as D&D or Pathfinder, it would be the dice system.

3. Sketch Out Levels (If Needed)

Not all games have levels, but if yours will, you need to sketch at least a few level ideas out. There is a lot that goes into designing a good level, and if you take your game to production you may end up working with one or more people who specialize in level design. I find level design to be one of the harder things to do. Lucky for me, most of the games I’ve designed aren’t level based.

However, if your game is level based, you’ll be doing everyone a favor if you’re able to sketch out a few levels first. Google Drive does have an MS Paint -like tool but I would recommend just drawing them with a pencil on some printer paper, scanning or taking a picture, and uploading it to your Drive folder where you’re keeping all of your documents related to this game.

Evernote is actually really good for this but I prefer to work with Google Drive because I find it more useful, and because I do a lot of my writing from a Chromebook. You may find Evernote to be more useful for yourself. Use whatever tool is going to make game design easier for you.

4. Write A Story Outline (If Needed)

Actually, this isn’t an “If Needed” it’s an “It’s Needed”. Every game needs to have a story (Tweet That!). Every game needs to have a story, even if the story is short enough to fit in a Tweet. Third time’s a charm: every game needs to have a story.

There needs to be motivation. It doesn’t even need to be a fictional story. For example, in my game Did You Win Or Did You Lose? (in development), the story is this:

The player is on a quest to discovery if they won or if they lost.

But the game mechanic is this:

The player clicks or taps on a difficulty button and finds out if they won or if they lost.

It’s a game as simple as it gets, but there’s a story there. There is always going to be a story. Write it down. Put it in your ideas document.

5. Create A Game Design Document (GDD)

The final step in designing a game is to take all of the stuff we’ve collected, organize it, and throw it into a game design document (or GDD) so that we can present it to others such as investors, or teammates that will be working on the game with us when we decide to take it to production.

Creating a GDD is a huge topic on its own. Next week, I’m going to not only show you how to make a game design document, but I’m also going to give you a free template you can use for your games in the future. Don’t forget to come back next Wednesday!