4 Reasons You Need a Game Design Document

Whether you’re working alone or in a group, the most important thing to have on hand is documentation. Enter the game design document (GDD). If you’ve been a part of any game development group, at some point you’ll run into a discussion about whether people should use a GDD or not. At this point you might be asking yourself the same thing. Do you really need one, especially if you’re a solo developer?

The answer is YES. You should absolutely have a GDD. It doesn’t have to be 100 pages long, but a good GDD is a lot more than just guidelines for your game.

Organize Your Ideas

GDD organize

Studies show that our memories aren’t very reliable. While this study focuses only on our recollection of events, it’s also true of our own ideas. You might have come up with an amazing idea in the shower, but as the days or even weeks go by without writing it down, the less you’ll remember. A GDD is an excellent way to keep track of your ideas on paper.

More importantly, it’s a way for you to reference certain features or aspects of your game. When you’re working with a team, a GDD provides all team members with a deep understanding of the game’s overview and how it works. This makes communicating between different departments much easier and reduces confusion and the amount of back-and-forth saving you a lot of time. If you’re a solo developer, a GDD is still useful because it serves as an excellent reference. No one’s memory is 100 percent so it’s likely  you’ll forget some details. With a GDD, you don’t have to worry about that (unless you somehow delete it).

Keeps You Focused

Some developers suffer from feature creep while others don’t have enough features. A GDD could solve either option. In the case of feature creep, a GDD keeps you focused on your goal. All of the features you need are already in there and you’ve already laid out how everything interacts with the various systems. You can look at the GDD and ask yourself if that feature you want will really add to the overall game or if it’s fun, but unnecessary. More often than not, it’s the latter.

A good GDD can also reveal missing features and functions in the game. Perhaps you have a platformer game but you didn’t include a jump feature. Unless that’s part of a conscious design decision, it’s definitely something you should add.

The GDD should serve as your master checklist. Checking off the various items on the list can be hugely motivational because it means you’re one step closer to finishing your game.

Sets a Schedule

I used to just assign deadlines in Trello without a second thought about timing. But after looking over various sample GDD templates, I found they all include a schedule. When I tested it out, I realized setting milestones for each item forced me to really think how long a task would take and where exactly I wanted the game to be in 1 month, 6 months, a year and so on. It made me more conscious with the interaction of each separate task from art to sound to programming.

While not everyone will feel the same way, I think it’s worth a try, especially if you find yourself starting game projects but never finishing them. Really take a good look at all of the features in your GDD from the art assets to programming and honestly think how long each task would take. That means you need to factor in other things like your day job, family and other items, then give yourself even more time. If you think something will take one week, give yourself two or three weeks and so on. Development ALWAYS takes longer than you think.

Great for Marketing

When done well, a GDD is pretty much a goldmine for PR and marketing. It contains all of the unique features of your game, concept artwork, general theme and more. From it, you or whoever handles your marketing can put together screenshots, trailers, press releases and more. And since a good GDD generally has some information on the target demographic, you or your marketer should know exactly how to create these items to make sure it catches their attention.

Interested in creating a GDD but don’t know where to start? Here’s an awesome template you can use from Nikkona of VitalZigns. It’s free, but why not show your support and donate a couple bucks?

Cover image via Tuts+

Developer Blog

The Apprentice – Character Introduction

We’re gearing up for the Very Big Indie Pitch in San Francisco so most of the work is fixing some bugs and making the game look and sound prettier. Not necessarily exciting stuff so we figured we’d introduce you to the main character of the game – The Apprentice.


Basic Information

  • The Apprentice14 years old
  • Started apprenticing for the Master Painter at the age of 10
  • 5’4″
  • 115 pounds
  • Has an older sister

The Apprentice has been painting for as long as he can remember. He likes to tell people he was born with a paintbrush in his hand. While certainly an exaggeration, even his parents can’t remember a time when he wasn’t creating some piece of art. By the age 5, he was entered into a prestigious art school to hone his skills and give him more competition. Only 5 years later it was clear to the teachers his talent and work ethic far exceeded his peers, so they arranged his apprenticeship with the Master Painter. Generally these apprenticeships go to older children, but The Apprentice was such an anomaly the teachers wanted to see how far he could grow. Since that time, he has been learning new techniques from the Master Painter, helping him restore old paintings, arranging the still life references and scouting out locations for landscape paintings. While he respects the Master Painter’s talent, The Apprentice is easily annoyed with his devil-may-care attitude. Still, he continues studying under him in the hopes that the Master Painter will acknowledge his talent and allow him to create an original painting.

Art might be his number one passion, but The Apprentice is also fairly athletic. On his days off he plays pick-up soccer with a local team and practices some martial arts. Although he isn’t as naturally talented at sports as he is with painting, his teammates and martial arts instructor consider him in the top 30 of his age group.


Game Design Lessons from Greg Trefry

Image taken from Big Fish Games
Image taken from Big Fish Games

The other day I attended the Playcrafting NYC event hosted by Greg Trefry of Gigantic Mechanic. While it was mainly used as a teaser guide to his upcoming full game design classes, he still imparted plenty of wisdom on the crowd. He covered some great topics that illustrated how designers go from a fun idea or action to a more engaging game experience. If you’ve done research on your own about the theories behind game design, a lot of what he says is familiar and in truth he is just reiterating what others have said in the past. With that said, they are worth repeating because they are the key elements of a fun and engaging game regardless of the medium. During  his presentation Trefry went over several points that really stood out to me:


As a game designer, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of adding as many cool features as possible into a game. The thing is though, often we don’t need to have all of them to make a really good game. In fact, good design distills the game down to a few core features and then finds a way to implement them as easily as possible. As Trefry stated, if a cardboard box works perfectly fine, then go with a cardboard box.

Build a Prototype and Test Quickly

How many of us are guilty of just writing down cool ideas for a game mechanic but spend all of our time thinking about it and not actually testing it? The problem with this is that we’ll never actually know if the mechanic works in real-life without testing it out. Focus on one mechanic to test out at a time and then see which one works the best. If there are several features, go down the list and start with the most basic one and then test how the others work once you have figured out the basics. This will save you a lot of time in the long run and will help make your game that much better.

Be Intentional in Your Approach

Of all the points Trefry made, this one resounded the most with me. As game designers we need to always keep our target audience in mind while creating the game. Every step of the way we need to evaluate if these rules or mechanics make sense within the type of game itself and will actually resonate with the gamer. When building a game we need to always ask ourselves: What makes this game fun for the player? How does this play into the overall theme of the game? How will players react? What aspects can we add to increase the “fun” value and does it make sense within the world? What are the aesthetics of the game?

Learn from Each Game

After Trefry described each game he created he would always say, “And here’s what we learned…” Every game is a learning experience for a game designer and that’s true whether it’s your second or 100th game. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. The more you can learn from each game the better your future games will be! The best game designers can look back at their successful and not-so-successful games and understand what exactly worked and what didn’t. Don’t just focus on the negative aspects of failed games either. Look at parts that actually did work and try to understand why it didn’t come together as a whole. Maybe you can take some of the good ideas and implement it better in future games.

At the end we played a quick game that was basically a modified version of tag. The person who is “it” is a zombie. When s/he touches a person, they become a zombie and the goal is to be the last human standing. During gameplay, each faction would have different turns where they could move two spaces. It’s best to do this in a confined space as it will evoke a feeling of tension for the remaining humans towards the end of the game. After we played a round, we discussed some issues with the game and then broke up into groups to play test new features we came up with that would improve the gameplay experience. I urge you to do the same with a group of your friends! Keep the brainstorming session short and then play test all the different ideas you come up with. Let us know what ideas you formulated during your tests in the comments below!