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What is a Game Design Document and How to Write it?

Let’s say you have an idea for the perfect game. You have already acquired investors, you also have a competent team ready to work. It's time to determine the exact content of the game, prepare the list of necessary systems, and to write a plot. Everyone needs to know what to do and how their work will connect with what the rest of the team is doing. How to do it? This is where a Game Design Document comes to the rescue.

In this article you will learn:

  • What is a Game Design Document (GDD)?
  • Why is GDD so important?
  • What should be included in a GDD?
  • Importance of GDD for game developers

What is a Game Design Document (GDD)?

Game Design Document (or GDD) is a compendium of information about the produced game, describing as accurately as possible everything related to it. Contrary to the pitch for investors, GDD meant for the production team, and should exhaustively describe all elements of the game. Its first version is developed in the pre-production phase and is based on prototypes and initial concepts, before even a single line of code for the actual game is written. During the course of the actual production, it is regularly edited and should take into account any changes made along the way.

Why is GDD so important?

The Game Design Document plays a vital role in understanding the game’s identity and keeping its vision consistent. It is a kind of a bible for the creators and accompanies the entire team working on the game. It also allows to determine how much content will need to be made and how much work will be required to produce it. Thanks to GDD, any team member joining mid-project will understand exactly what they are working on.

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What should be included in a GDD?

The structure of GDD largely depends on the type of game being developed. Depending on the needs and the course of production, its content may differ dramatically or be divided into separate documents dedicated to a specific issue. Nevertheless, we can assume that the most important issues that should be included in such a document are:

General Overview

A brief summary of what the game is meant to be. Imagine that you want to recommend a new game to a friend and need to briefly explain what it is all about. Operate with references to other games, define the title, genre, audiovisual aesthetics, as well as target platforms and audience of the production.

Story Overview

This is where the key information about the plot should be: what period does the action take place? Is it a realistic or a fantasy world? Who is the hero? What is his long-term motivation? What characters will appear in the game? However, it is worth maintaining a certain moderation: this segment is not the place for a full scenario. It is a guide for the team and is supposed to help set the mood of the production and design the audiovisual setting of the world.

Gameplay and Game Mechanics

Probably one of the longest segments of a GDD. This is where you should put a list of key mechanics and a comprehensive description of the rules governing them. The questions that you should answer in this section could be:

  • What is the crafting system like?
  • How many character classes will the player have at their disposal?
  • How do they gather resources?
  • What side activities may they encounter in the game world?
  • How many modes will the game have?

It is worth devoting a separate subsection to each of these elements. Based on early prototypes and proof of the concept, describe the process of creating them and the technologies used - the programmers will appreciate it.

Level Design

The locations and landscape elements within them should be listed here. A good GDD should describe locations in terms of:

  • Appearance and intended aesthetics
  • Main theme - e.g. "medieval castle," "Japanese garden," "underground bunker"
  • Dominant mood
  • Purpose of the location

Thanks to this, the artists will be able to do their jobs more efficiently. If the area is to be used as a boss fight room, they will know to place additional medkits and ammunition for the player to gather. If the player is to sneak through the level, they will plan the location of hidden passages, covers, etc.

Sound Design

In this section, describe which musical aesthetics you are measuring. Which instruments best emphasize the atmosphere of the game? What ambient sounds will accompany exploration? Are the noises meant to scare the player or to evoke a feeling of safety? It is worth including exemplary references to the soundtracks of other productions.

User Interface (UI)

Explain which interface elements the player will need and what will be their purpose. This will allow you to make a preliminary estimate if it will not take up too much space on the screen and will not be too distracting. A well-designed interface will provide the player with all the necessary information, while not cluttering the game world.

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Importance of GDD for game developers

GDD is of great importance for game development. Not only does it help produce a consistent and thoughtful game; It contains the entire history of the production process, the history of changes, and concepts that were not included in the final product. Even after the project is completed, it is worth keeping such a document and drawing as many conclusions as possible from it. The knowledge it contains can be useful in future productions, and will help avoid repeating past mistakes - this is how the team will learn how to make better and better games.

You already know how important Game Design Documents are. While writing a comprehensive GDD may seem like a daunting task, it doesn't have to be! Its preparation is nothing other than giving your ideas a tangible form! Video games are created mainly by enthusiasts - having faith in the project you are working on significantly speeds up its execution. It is no different from writing GDD! There is nothing to be afraid of - you can only gain from such a document!

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