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Design Documents, used or not used?

10 replies [Last post]
Joined: 08/20/2012

I did a search and didn't find any topics discussing this.

I was wondering if it is a good idea to keep a design document outlining all aspects of a game project, or better yet if people around here actually use them at all.

I have found a few versions of game design documents and I will probably start using them since I usually lose good ideas by putting them in strange places, and if I had a central document then I bet I could organize and self edit myself much easier.

I could probably use the same document to revise rules and mechanics as I get feedback from playtesting, and even have a place just to put the playtest suggestions and keep them organized....

So, just a question, do you other game designers use a design documents? If so, how do you use them?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Design documents are mostly

Design documents are mostly used in video game design because that is how information is communicated between the various people of the team. Today, Design Document are in fact wiki where everybody can contribute.

Still, for board game design, the design document should be your rules. Once you have an idea of how your game is running, even if incomplete, you should start making a rule book where at least you can understand the rules. (It does not have to be user friendly yet). The idea is to make sure all the information about the game is in one place. If you leave the project behind and come back later to it, you can simply read your rulebook to know where you left your design.

Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
larienna wrote: The idea is

larienna wrote:
The idea is to make sure all the information about the game is in one place. If you leave the project behind and come back later to it, you can simply read your rulebook to know where you left your design.

My first write up for a given game, which is usually named **** Notes, not only includes any and all ideas I have but also examples of components; board, cards, etc…

From this I write the first rules draft and create the components. Effectively this is my design document but is abandoned once the initial rules and components are created.

Joined: 10/13/2011
Record Keeping

Hi VorpalPhoenix,

My design process sounds very similar to Dralius. I usually refer back to the original idea notes periodically to see if there are mechanics that might fit better in a different game or to see if there were any ideas that had merit that didn't fully develop in the final version.

I would recommend using the orgainizational system that works best for you :)

Good luck with your designs!

Joined: 07/02/2012
My system is fairly crude,

My system is fairly crude, but effective. I bought a simple spiral bound graph paper notebook at the office supply store. It keeps all my design ideas in a central location and the grid comes in handy for sketching out cards, game boards, logo concepts, etc.
I can take it with me if I travel or just go to lunch. You never know when a brainstorm will hit you. It would be interesting to see a sample document that some might use, a sort of checklist like they use at NASA.

Joined: 07/08/2011
Once I've done some design,

Once I've done some design, I'll write up a design document, just to kind of "see the basics" of a game. It reminds me of what my root goal is on a game. Then, I continue to design. If I'm pitching a game, I'll write a new design document, to make sure anything I send reflects the few sell points on a game. If I can't explain my game in less than two pages, then its probably too complicated anyway (for the time.) Afterall, most of the "complication" should not be in the base design, but in the tactics found deeper in the game.

Taffer's picture
Joined: 04/14/2012
At first I have a rough

At first I have a rough document describing various ideas for the game, in no particular format.

When the game starts to take shape, I'll abandon that and create a rules document.

When there are a lot of things to consider that I won't put in the same rules document that I would show to play testers, I create separate docs. For example, for Lines of Fire, I currently have:

1. Some paper sketches that started the idea (never had a proper ideas doc for that one).
2. Rules -- the current rules
3. Rules Snippets (things that were removed from the rules, but might return as a variant)
4. Strategy & Balancing -- this gets most use when I'm working on a balancing problem. here I describe what I think the winning strategies/moves are and how various aspects of the game should be balanced
5. PlayTest results (to be honest, I haven't kept a very good record of playtests -- mostly it's in my head and I just remember if a play test "felt right" or if something should be changed). I've also had some play testers fill out questionnaires (based on the doc someone posted on these forums).
6. Card abilities doc -- here I describe the ideas for cards, what systems they should be based on and the actual card texts. This is difficult to keep in sync with Inkscape, where i do the card layouts, because text formatting is not easily copied between OpenOffice <-> Inkscape
7. Ideas for expansions
8. Title ideas -- taking example from Tim Schafer, I wrote down a lot of titles before I settled on Lines of Fire.
9. Theme doc -- where I wrote down some ideas for a theme and some links for further research. I actually ended up using the first theme I came up with (Aztec gods)

But really the main document is the Rules doc, Card abilities doc (although I'm still not 100% sure if I'll include cards in the base game) and occasionally Strategy & Balancing. Some of the documents may fall out of date, but I try to keep the Rules doc as current as possible, even starting to write some rules down before I've fully figured them out.

Joined: 08/28/2012
My System

I don't know if the system is a good one or not, but I have a sketchbook I bring with me almost anywhere. This is where I put ideas that I come up. Then, I bring it onto the computer by typing it up or scanning and then I keep everything on a flash drive. I divide everything into folders: I have concepts, images, rules, and to-print game components.

Joined: 06/07/2012
My process seems to be

My process seems to be roughly the same as the previous posters.

Ideas seem to drop into my head with a respectable degree of frequency and I’m also aware of the infallibility of the human memory. From experience, I think it’s fair to say that I possess a relatively good memory in relation to others. However, the rate at which I generate ideas is sometimes a problem.

While I can recall the outline and generalities of a game design the influx of new ideas commonly obscures the subtleties in my designs, making it difficult for me to recall them over time – and in some cases at all.

At the moment I have well over a hundred different game designs on the go, with most of them being about 85%-90% complete. This probably seems like a large amount, but it is the cumulative output of a years sporadic thought.

I ALWAYS carry around a notebook and pen to record ideas as they occur to me.

The format of my notes tends to be very basic. I start with a game title heading – which could be as simple as Game 64 or a working title.

Underneath this I add a sub heading from the categories - mechanics, components (including artwork), theme, potential problems/flaws, production, market entry strategy, or interesting stuff. I also include a 1-100 rating for my general feeling about the games viability in respect to these areas in total.

The notes themselves tend to be fairly detailed. I have an academic background in Business Enterprise and Philosophy. My philosophical leaning has given me the ability to follow a logical stream of thought and this reveals itself in the comprehensive notes I make in my notebooks/journals or computer documents.

Saying this, there are times when I quickly jot down simple ‘off the top of my head thoughts’ which are placed under the heading of junk in my journal(s). These are scrappy and lack any real detail other than the general outline of an idea. They don’t even have to be about a specific game, they could simply be a general theme of interest, a singular mechanic with no follow through, or an idea for an interesting component or presentational medium.

These ideas are never linked to an actual game per se and they exist to be slotted into games at a further date. Junk ideas can also be generated by a failed thought process. I might have an idea for a game, follow it through, and then decide it simply doesn’t have what it takes.

In these situations I will disgregard the game as an active design.

However, I will leave the notes as they are – in case a further idea leads to their development as a whole. I will doodle a little trash can icon next to the title and pull out any interesting aspects that I might one day find a use for in another game. These segments are then re-recorded in my dedicated useful stuff journal(s) as separate entries under the relevant category.

When a journal is full I will add the contents to a computer document(s). Each game is given its own document or set of documents in a folder – rules, artwork, production and marketing notes and so on. I will also add a brief synopsis about what the game is about and a very brief commentary about any items of particular interest in it.

These documents are also backed up on a second computer and two usb flash drives. This re-recording protects my notes from loss and it also allows me to take any separate entries linked to a singular game and combine them into one convenient document or place. Having everything on computer also allows me to add in any artwork I do for a game or any links (or physical addresses) for companies that I intend to use to develop prototype components.

Having everything recorded allows me to dip into the content at any time. If I decide to focus on a game I can quickly print out the documents relating to it. I will then sit down with a notebook, in a comfortable and quiet location (usually the local coffee shop) for a couple of hours.

I love quality coffee and my local coffee shop provides the perfect atmosphere for creating. The women that work in the shop are wonderful, if my heads down and I’m scribbling then they leave me alone to do what I’m doing. If I’m leaning back with a satisfied smile on my face then I’m open to chatting and having a laugh.

In my opinion, finding a comfortable place to sit and think is essential to generating new ideas and working on existing ideas. The coffee shop is where I’ve developed or consolidated the groundwork for most of my current game designs.

During this time, if I’m working on a pre-existing design, I will read the brief synopsis and take what I can recall from memory about the game. I will then proceed to design the game again, using these two sparse records as my launch pad – with my useful stuff journal(s) close to hand.

Only when I’m finished will I read through the detailed notes I previously made about the game. I will then compare the old notes and my new outline together. There are times when the old design stands firm, sometimes the new outline takes precedence and in the majority of cases it results in a combination of ideas from both of them being used to create a new design – a design that is closer to what I believe will be a decent game.

And that’s basically how I go about designing my games and recording my ideas. So out of all this waffle what’s important –

If you rely on your memory to keep your ideas safe you will forget them.

Ideas can occur to you anywhere and at any time. So ALWAYS carry around something to record your ideas with – even if it’s just a piece of paper and a pen. A rough scrappy record is better than no physical record at all.

Include a simple form of categorization in your note taking – so you can combine everything together in a cohesive whole at a later date.

Even a failed design can contain elements that might have value in another game – so never throw anything away completely.

Atmosphere is important to creativity – so find somewhere you feel comfortable to work on your designs.

Back up everything you record.

pelle's picture
Joined: 08/11/2008

I have a text document for listing ideas and games I barely started working on. I combine board and computer games in that same document. When I do more design on a game than what fits in a few paragraphs, I create a folder for it and in there it gets its own text document where I gather all ideas, plus prototype graphics.

Recently I switched from just plain text to having text in org-mode format for almost everything. It is still plain text, but similar to the Markdown syntax you can use on this forum with some special format for making things into section headings or links or lists etc, allowing my editor to do things like collapsing sections, so I can have only the parts I currently focus on expanded on the screen. Files can still be read and edited on a device with no special support for that format or even really basic software like Notepad when/if required.

Everything is in a git version control server I can access from anywhere, so I can easily synchronize to all of my computers and devices. Guess something as simple as dropbox or google drive or something would do as well (and they also have some simple form of version control that lets you inspect old versions I think). Or a flash drive, but that would still require some extra software to easily manage different versions of the games.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I currently have a plastic

I currently have a plastic box where I can store flat sheet of paper. When I get ideas, I write the title and the date on it and write or draw anything I want. The papers are classed in a separate file for each game. Some of example of papers for board game design can be found here:

Once done, I revise the written material and integrate it in the rulebook since the rule book since this is the "master" of the game design. I will re-read my rule books but will not be very likely to re-read my notes. I place an IR icon (In rules) on each sheet corner when the notes have been integrated in the rules.

I tried to make a document cycle system, it use currently roughly used. It goes as follow

1. Write the rules

2. Take notes while playtesting

3. Revise test note and write a list of changes (sometimes published on my web site for users to learn more about my game)

4. update the rules with the changes.

Generally, the interest for designing a game drops after the play test. So I try to write my list of changes so that when I come back to the game, I can read the original rules for the play test and see the proposed changes.

Here is an example of changes document or one of my games:

Sometimes I do it more simple and I note a few ideas or write an update text on the page of the game idea.

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