Game design documents

This week, we talked at some length about the “game design document,” a kind of loose rubric around which games are often (but not always) designed, funded, and built.

For next week, please think about the game you have been working towards — it may be the one you prototyped in C3 or Pico8, or it may be a different set of ideas that you’ve been kicking around.

In either case, prepare a one-to-two page “game design document” that features the information classically delivered on the first one or two pages, the “Game Overview.”  These pages might include, for example:

  1.  Your game colorfully, meaningfully described in no more than 5 sentences.  In other words, this is the “elevator pitch” for your game;
  2. A short, evocative list of sources, influences, and major competitors;
  3. A brief explanation of your target audience/market, together with insights as to how/why this game will appeal to her;
  4. Condensed description of important game mechanics/core game play.

This is, in effect, the “executive overview” of your game design document, and it should be assembled with care.  You should be able to explain or justify every sentence that appears therein.

Remember:  There is no single Game Design Document; rather, it is a genre of document that illuminates game-designer and game-publisher culture in interesting ways.  Even so, it can be very (very!) useful to force yourself to reduce your game to a coherent set of sentences.  As we’ve seen, gameplay almost always exceeds the grasp of language.

To that end, it is worth noting that these documents seem to gain greater purchase in the industry on a yearly basis.  Here is an outline, for example, for a game design document intended for a US national STEM Game Design contest (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, areas of study that American public education has been focused on for nearly a decade now):

For consideration:
Pierre (Game design document)

Generic game design document

Arcana Project game design document

Gameplay for Next Week

For this coming week, I’ve asked you to bury yourself in the gameplay, aesthetics, and mechanics of a game of your choice so that you can speak about it, with authority, on Tuesday. You may object, “I don’t know how to ‘investigate the mechanics’ or ‘assess the gameplay’ of a game.” But of course, you do, and that is one of our most important points thus far: Games are socio-cultural contrivances, created and consumed by people as a form of play. In the digital, we must all become game designers in one fashion or another, whether we like it or not.  (What’s more, as masters students in an interdisciplinary program, you should relish opportunities to scrutinize new and unfamiliar things. It is what you do.)

A propos of which: There are many of us who have not yet volunteered to offer observations about others’ presentations, offered presentations of their own, or otherwise taken part in class discussion. I appreciate that getting started can feel like an impossible challenge, but it is a necessary one, if we are to make progress. As the syllabus makes clear, your active participation is key to our success (and key to your course performance). The activities this week are intended to give you a chance to find your voice.

The following brand-new board/card games will be in the Studio on Friday AM, and will remain there until Tuesday. Please don’t remove them from the Studio unless you check with me, first.

Rouge Flamme (bicycle racing boardgame)
Ascension (fantasy-themed deckbuilding game)
Cards Against Humanity (profane party-style card game)
The Metagame (less profane party-style card game)
Twilight Struggle (Cold War-era political strategy game)
Plus one more TBD.

Digital games are fine for analysis too, of course. In either case I remind you that I’ve asked you to tell me what game you’re analyzing. Since it is possible that I will object to your choice, the sooner you tell me, the better.

Finally: Note that half an hour of work on this assignment is unacceptable. Game play is part of the expectation of this course:  It is unavoidable.  When you talk about your game on Tuesday, the time you’ve spent with the game(s) will be obvious.  I fully expect you to spend five hours or more playing through your game. On top of that, I would hope that you would do a bit of basic research about your game, discover what others think of it, look for articles related to it, and so forth.