As an independent game developer, creating a good game design document (GDD) is crucial for ensuring that your vision for the game is implemented properly. A clearly outlined and understood document will keep everyone involved in the project headed in the same direction as focus shifts, time lapses and goals adjust. A well-structured GDD can help you stay organized and on track through the development process, and can also help see potential risks and challenges ahead of time. Here are seven items that every independent game developer should include in their GDD:
1. Overview and Vision Statement
In this section, provide a high-level overview of the game, including the genre, target audience, and overall vision for the project. Make sure to highlight the features and gameplay mechanics that will set your game apart from the others. If this changes the whole team should know so they can adjust accordingly
This doesn’t have to be a long piece of content. Consider this an elevator pitch for team members, or customers alike. A concise vision for the game will set a tone for a lot of the remaining details. For example: “An isometric tactics based RPG, set in a futuristic world like Blade Runner.” – I’m sure everyone has an image in mind already about gameplay mechanics, dark colors, neon lights and a heavy focus on story.
2. Gameplay Mechanics
Detail the core mechanics and systems that make up the game, including character abilities, item systems, and enemy AI. Describe how these mechanics will be integrated into the overall gameplay and how they will effect the player’s experience.
A lot of these elements tend to be prototyped or “fresh” ideas, and can be a huge effort to implement. By writing them out in detail it will help avoid mistakes, and hone in on the vital the mechanics.
3. Story and Narrative
Give a detailed overview of the game’s story and narrative, including the background, setting, and characters. Explain how the story will be presented to the player, including cutscenes, in-game dialogue, and other narrative elements.
Setting a story-telling style and trajectory is important to avoid creating games with disjointed sequences, scenes that feel off and other long term planning issues that can arise. A more fleshed out story, with a consistent tone, will pay dividends in the final product.
4. Art Style and Visuals
Describe the overall art style for the game, including character designs, environments, and user interface. Concept art can help guide story and mood, so generate this early in the project. Provide a visual reference for your team, including concept art, character models, and other visual assets.
5. Sound and Music
As many other aspects of the design, the vision statement should set the tone for the sort of sounds and music styles. Outline the overall sound and music direction, including action and dynamic sound effects, ambient noises, and music. Provide a reference for your team, including audio assets and sound design guidelines. Consistency is key here.
6. Technical Specifications
Detail the technical requirements for the game, including hardware and software specifications, game engine, and target platforms. Also, consider and describe any technical limitations or constraints that need to be taken into account during development.
An important aspect that can be overlooked in the indie space is the scope and resources needed for a game. Especially if there are online aspects required, or very complicated mechanics, which could adjust the tools, servers and libraries required to build the game. Without thinking this through in-depth you can easily run into budget surprises, which brings us to our next item.
7. Project Schedule and Budget
Provide a detailed overview of the project schedule, including key milestones and deadlines. Estimate the rough budget for the project, including resources, expenses, and funding sources. Finding the scope of the project ahead of time, will drastically effect the cost. It can kill a game before it gets off the ground.
Including these seven sections in your GDD will help you to create a comprehensive guide that clearly outlines your vision for the game. This will help ensure that everyone involved in the project is working towards the same goals and minimize the chances of unexpected issues or delays during development. As an independent game developer, a well-structured GDD can be an invaluable tool for keeping your project organized and on track.