CAP 211 - Interactive Design and Game Development

Game Design: Design Documents


This lesson discusses game design documents. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Game document guidelines
  2. High concept document
  3. Game treatment document
  4. Design script
Game document guidelines

We will discuss using three types of game documents. Each has a different purpose:

  • high concept - This is a concept pitch, and it is meant to cover many points relevant to getting someone interested in your game. It is a bullet list of talking points that you would cover in an initial presentation to the people who would approve or disapprove your project. Things you would include in this short (two to four pages) document:
    • premise of the game
    • intended audience
    • genre of the game
    • what will be unique about the game
    • platforms the game will be made for
    • game storyline
    • game play description
    • hardware requirements to build and to play the game
  • game treatment - This is a more developed pitch. The bullet points in the high concept document should be developed and described in detail, to show that you have worked on each of them. Things to add:
    • what makes your game better than previous games of this type
    • descriptions of characters, including appearance, history, and motivations
    • screen mockups and concept art
  • design script, game script, game bible - This document is not a pitch. It is a record of all decisions made by the lead designer or the team, used for reference whenever there is a question about how the game is to work. It must include all the game mechanics, all the character descriptions and behaviors, all the technical specifications, and all other design decisions made about the game. This is a living document that continues to grow as long as development on the game continues.

In addition to their separate purposes, the design documents have two purposes in common: to help develop the game, and to help sell the game concept to a publisher or development studio. Why do you need to sell your idea? You cannot create the game alone, so you will need an investor to pay staff, a studio to provide staff and skills, and a publisher to promote and distribute the game. The investor could be the publisher or the studio or another entity related to either of those parties.

All through the design process you should make every reasonable effort to protect your intellectual property. Rolling and Adams suggest on page 570 that you should have your name and the phrase "Confidential - Do Not Redistribute" in the header or footer of every document page. They make other suggestions on that page thate are also valid, but the bottom line is to consider your rights and your property's security before showing your ideas to anyone inside or outside your development staff.

High concept document

The purpose of this document is to provide a basis for a sales pitch for your product. Call it a résumé for your game. This document is a tool to get a meeting with a publisher/investor, at which you will make a real (more developed) pitch.

The document is structured in a series of parts. The first two are loosely defined, the third is more formal, and the fourth is a catch all for whatever did not fit the first three.

Part 1: A high concept statement is meant to be short, descriptive, and attractive to the publisher. It should resemble the teaser blurbs you would see on an ad for the game or on the cover of the package. It should explain the game well enough that you immediately are interested in knowing more about it.

Part 2: A list of features comes next. It should be one page (or less) of bullet points about the features you will want to brag about in your game. Emphasize the most interesting points by putting them at the top of the list, in bold print to catch the reader's eye.

Part 3: The overview section is the business case for the game. Topics that should be included:

  • player motivation - what the player must do to win the game
  • genre - what kind of game is it?
  • license - summary of the reasons to use a licensed property, if you are proposing to do so
  • target customer(s) - demographic description of the audience
  • marketplace competition - summarize what games already exist that yours will be compared to, and why yours will do well in the market against them
  • unique selling points for your game
  • target hardware - game platform(s) the game will be made for, hardware requirements, etc.
  • design goals - describe the experience your game design will give to the players

Part 4: The last section of this document should include points about your game that the other sections did not include. Describe what else the prospective publisher needs to know to appreciate your game.

Game treatment document

The game treatment document should be a printed version of the more developed sales pitch you make for your game in the formal meeting you have with the investor or publisher. It should be an attractive document that can be used for reference after the meeting. Some parts are the same as in the high concept document, but they are more developed and detailed in this document.

  • title page - includes your name and confidentiality information
  • executive summary - summarize the most important things to know about the game; some executives will read nothing else in the document, so this needs to stand on its own
  • overview of the game
    • high concept
    • genre
    • hooks - why players will want to play this game (may relate to technology section below)
    • license
    • game play highlights
    • online/multiplayer highlights - include this section if the game is different when you are in multiplayer or online mode
    • technology highlights - what will this game do that is new and better
    • art and audio highlights - what outstanding features or talent will be used in these areas
    • hardware required to play the game
  • production details
    • current status - what has been developed so far
    • development team - the impressive people on your team, and why they are impressive
    • budget - a real estimate of the cost to produce the game
    • schedule - milestones that need to be hit on a timeline that leads to a realistic ship date for the game
  • competition - games from competitors that have been released or will be released around the time of your marketing date
  • game world - more eye candy and hooks
    • back story
    • objective
    • characters
    • story progression
Design script

The design script is the tool that is meant to be used by your design and development team. It is not a sales tool, it is an ongoing chronicle of design decisions that must contain useful information for the people building the game. This document may be broken into component documents for different teams, but the components must coordinate to represent one vision for the game. This is called the game bible by some, and this is meant to show that the design team views the document seriously. The document must be updated, versioned, and made available to all design staff who need to refer to it. Ideally, any new staff added to the project should read this document to become aware of the work decisions that have been made to avoid any conflict with them.