Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Design formats for non-designers

A question to those people who don't work in design, but rather work with it (i.e. programmers, artists, audio guys, animators, producers, dialogue writers - if we have any here -, whatever).

Game design is, as has often been stated, a fractious hotly debated and often disrespected end of the industry, and many's the time that a studio has had to face a design which is in the monolithic GDD format of no use to man nor beast.

I for one think that, much like in other industries, design could be abstracted out into a separate discipline, possibly even a separate company (I think the same is true of most disciplines in game development actually) but that for this to happen a truly standard design format needs to be developed.

Most other industries have developed a system of standardised documentation, from the architectural plan to the stitching diagram to the screenplay, and a common theme between them is that said documentation is standardised in such a way as to be useful to the craft practitioners first and foremost. Architectural plans are detailed on several levels, for instance, representing the necessary beams and electricals, but they contain none of the presentational guff for what the architect intended with the building. Screenplays are completely devoid of many of the elements of regular fiction (such as telling us how the character is supposed to feel) and are a literal image-by-image account of what the film is on-screen.

We lack this standardised approach in the industry. As I've blogged about before at length, design documentation in video games tends to be a pell mell mix of descriptions, business references, woolly ideas of how AI works, marketing spiel, maps, lots of paragraphs about how things are supposed to feel, what players are supposed to think etc etc and so on all put together in a haphazard way with the result that they are often not read. They tend not to serve their purpose as a result, and instead appear to please only other designers.


What do you need to see in a design?
What do you not need to see in a design?
Do you prefer having one document, do you prefer having lots of smaller docs per discipline?
What format would like to read a design in?
How big or small should it be?
How literal vs explanatory should it be?

Please try and be as specific and detailed as possible in your answers.

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