Game Design Documents

A Game Design Document – folks in the industry often call it a GDD for short — describes the overall vision for a game. Not everyone in the game industry agrees on what should be included in a game design document or what order different topics should be covered in. At the STEM Challenge, we think that the best game design documents address the target audience, the platform, the genre, the core gameplay, the visual style and characters and storyline. Each of these components is described in more detail below.

In the professional game industry, GDD’s guide all of the people who work together to make a game – the artists, the programmers, the level designers, the sound designers, etc. – so that they all can understand and work towards the game designer’s unique vision for the game. In addition to describing the creative vision for the game, professional game design documents often include material about how the game will be made including things like team members, technology, budget, and schedule. For your STEM Challenge project, you do not have to include any of these.

Overall Vision for the Game

This section should provide a short summary or description of the game. Imagine you are ‘pitching’ the game to a friend while riding on an elevator. How would you describe the game in one minute or less? Why would they want to play it? What makes it sound fun and engaging?

Target Audience

Great game designers always design their games with a specific audience in mind, and this section should describe that audience. For example, are you designing your game for young kids, older kids, or adults? Boys, girls, or both? Is the game designed for hard-core players who like deep, highly challenging games or casual players who like to play a little bit each day?

Platform

Is the game designed to be played on a game console? A mobile device? The web? A good game design targets a specific platform and uses the capabilities of that platform to its advantage. Doing a 3D first person action game in a web browser is hard (but not impossible!), and you can’t count on your players having access to a joystick if they’re going to be playing on a smartphone.

Genre

This section should describe the genre of the game. Popular genres include action, adventure, sports, strategy, puzzle, racing, platformer, and role-playing. Is the game a mix of genres (e.g. action-adventure or a clever combination that’s never been tried before)? Or maybe you have created an entirely new genre!

Core Gameplay

This section should describe in detail what playing the game is like. Most game design documents will do this by talking about some or all of the following things:

  • Core game mechanics: What is the player doing in the game? This is often best described through active verbs like running, jumping, racing, counting, puzzle solving, or exploring. Is the game single player or multiplayer? Cooperative or competitive?
  • Goals: What is the player trying to accomplish in the game (i.e. what is the ‘win state’)? What does he or she have to do to achieve that goal? What barriers or obstacles exist that make achieving that goal difficult? How can the player fail at achieving the goal(s) (i.e. ‘loss states’)? What kind of feedback does the player get on progress towards the goal? How is the player rewarded when a goal is achieved?
  • Components: What kinds of things are there in the game? For example, enemies, objects in the environment, power-ups, points, etc. What do they look like? What do they do? How can the player interact with them?
  • Controls: How does the player control what happens in the game? What does pushing a certain button on the controller do? Can the player move a block by touching the screen and dragging it?
  • User experience: When the player starts to play the game, what steps do they follow? What screens will they see? How are levels in the game structured? How does the player move from one part of the game to the next?

Visual Style

This section should describe the look and feel of the game. Where does the game take place: In the real world? A fantasy world? Space? Underground? In the past? In the future? Is the game a 2D world? A 3D World? What does the art look and feel like: Is it gritty and realistic, beautiful and fantastical or something else? Many GDD’s include drawings or graphics to illustrate the visual concept.

Characters and Storyline (if applicable)

This section should provide a short summary or description of the game. Imagine you are ‘pitching’ the game to a friend while riding on an elevator. How would you describe the game in one minute or less? Why would they want to play it? What makes it sound fun and engaging?

Sample Game Design Documents

Here are a few GDD’s created by game industry pros: