other stuff


Adventure Games and Design Documents

It’s the middle of the night and you’ve come up with an idea for an adventure game. It’s an unwritten law of nature that inspiration and great ideas come late at night, when your mind reaches a certain level of creativity, fuelled by sleep deprivation and caffeine. You know that this idea that has just flashed into your brain, is a great idea and that when the game is made it’s going to be the best adventure game ever made, or at the very least, really, really good. So what do you do next? Well first of all, I’d recommend you write it down, before you forget it. These flashes of inspiration rarely stay focused for long. Next I’d suggest you get a good night’s rest, if you calm your agitated brain enough. You have long days ahead of you before your game will ever see the light of day, so it’s best to get some sleep to counteract the late nights to come.

So hopefully now, it’s the next day, and you’ve probably started to flesh out the idea for your game some more, the story and characters, perhaps some sketches for the backgrounds or character designs. This will depend greatly on your own particular interests and the talents that you possess. You should enjoy this period, whilst this is not the only fun part of game development, it is the one time where you are still ignorant of how much work it’s going to be and be blissful in that lack of knowledge.

After a variable amount of time, it could be a few hours, a couple of days, weeks or perhaps even months, you will have a good idea of what your game is about and have developed a vision for it. No doubt, there are multiple scraps of paper lying about your desk detailing various facets of the game, but for the most part, the vision exists solely in your mind. Now you want to get started on making the game, the sooner you get it finished, the sooner you can play it, or even better, other people can play it. Unless, you’re a multi-talented person with a lot of energy and time to spare, you’re going to need help. If you’re lucky, you’ll know some people already who will be willing to help you, but for most, especially if you are working on their first game, you’re going to need to find some people to complement your own talents. These may be artists, writers, programmers or composers, in any case it’s a fairly safe bet, you’ll need at least one other person to help you out. So where do you go looking? A lot of people post advertisements to message boards and mailing lists, indeed if you are a visitor to some adventure game forums, chances are you’ve come across such an advertisement before. Quite often, these posts remain unanswered? “Why?” you may ask. Let me answer by illustration.

“Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a game. It’s gonna be set in a planet with one-legged aliens and you’ve just crash-landed in your spaceship. You need to find parts to fix your spaceship and the graphics will be like my favourite adventure game, ‘A Giant’s Tale of Woe.’ I’ve got lots more planned, but I want to keep it secret till the game is made. Is anybody interested in helping out?”

While your idea might indeed be a really good one, if you post something like that, why would anybody be interested? Very little information has been given, just about the basic premise and style of graphics. Not only that, but there is a distinct impression that you’ve put no work into the idea, despite the possibility that you’ve planned the game for the last two months. The impression given is in fact that you’ve just had this idea five minutes ago and decided to post about it at the forum. Normally, you have no reputation at these boards, since you have just registered so you can post the advertisement, so nobody has any prior knowledge or experience of the type of person you are. Based on all of this, why should anybody think that you’re actually dedicated to making this game and that it’s actually a good idea? They shouldn’t is the short and harsh answer to that.

However, there’s a really simple solution to this problem, one that proves very helpful in a team project in any case. That solution is a game design document. A game design document is a semi-formal description of a game, it describes all the major areas of the game in a detailed manner. If you’ve done any sort of contemplation on your game, you’ve already done the hard work of designing the game. A game design document is just writing down all that information that is in your head, that you have thought about consciously and subconsciously, in a structured manner.

If when you go looking for help with your game, you can provide a design document, you are much more likely to rouse interest. It provides a professional touch to your advertisement and shows that you have put some good work into the game already. Not only that, but it clearly details the game, so that people can see what it’s about and hopefully give them plenty of reasons for them to be interested in your idea. Finally, the effort that goes into a design document will show the reader how dedicated you are to the project, indeed it may even show yourself. As a final note on advertisements, do provide a list of skills that you are looking for. Try and be specific, you may indeed be interested in help of every kind, but it helps if you say what kind anyway: character design, animation, background artist, programmer, writer, dialogue writer, music composer, sound effects artist, actor, puzzle designer or web designer.

Once you have others working with you, you will need to convey your vision of the game to them in any case. Whilst you may have some success, through discussions and sharing some files detailing some areas of the game, more than likely however you will forget something or worse, a member of your team will misunderstand something you said. A game design document forces you to describe the game in such detail, that you are less likely to forget things and it is more likely that other members of the team will understand your vision.

So in a group project, there are two reasons why you will need a game design document. However, perhaps you are one of those rare people who are talented enough and crazy enough to create a game all on your own, there are many of you out there. What reason is there for you to go to the hassle of writing a design document. Well, if you can hold on to your vision, and your memory remains intact, then you will hopefully have no problems in the middle of development, trying to put your finger on what that puzzle was, or what that character was supposed to look like. However, it may be a better idea to fully describe the game, so you can go back a month from now and consult it about a part of the game that you’re just about to start. Besides that, writing a full description of the game, can bring to light something that may not have occurred to you and can help to create a firmer and more complete vision for the game.

Hopefully, having now convinced you that design documents are the way to go, I will now detail my own approach to writing a game design document.