GameDev #3 : Game Design Documents

Posted by Aidy Burrows on September 19th, 2014 | Comments (8)


I’ve got some upcoming tutorials, breakdowns and a basic demo coming very soon. Right now though I’d like to introduce…… (drum roll please!!) THE GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT!!!!

Yeah I know right?! Not particularly exciting stuff. BUT! Stay off the moors and stick with me if you think you might go down this gamedev road too.

game design document

The Fabled Game Design Document







What’s a Game Design Doc Good For? What’s The Point?!!!


Well that’s an abrupt start with a faint touch of despair. The main thrust of a design document is to get the idea out there, the earliest prototype of what it is. The fastest way to get your idea from out of your head and into the real world.

2 main use cases for a design document…

  1. The first use case is where the most good is done with a document and that’s in large groups to keep everyone on track.

  2. Though they are also good for small groups (even just an army of one!) to just pinpoint what it is that you’re trying to do.

The mind has a tendency to flit around chasing after whatever is right in front of it. These distractions might be for example to include the latest fad such as the game must now have motion control, or have no onscreen GUI, or be post apocalyptic or whatever, all those things are great but are those things part of the core reason to play your game?

The result of creating the document might show that perhaps there isn’t really a good reason to make the game aside for the fun of creating it. Which is fine, but if you have investors (these might be people giving you time, resources or money) then this might be a reason to shift gears and do something that you’ll have fun creating but also has a chance of benefiting someone else somewhere down the line.

In practice, not everyone is going to read your design document. In a large team you might be surprised how many people just want to know what they’re expected to do and just get on with that.


So Why Have I Decided to Make a Design Document?


Well ‘document’ can be a pretty loose term, my first ‘document’ was just a couple of scribblings in a text file and a couple of tests in a blend file. That was enough to prove the idea had enough merit to me to expand a bit.

So what follows is my basic design document for the project. Here are the categories/chapters I’ve decided to go with to help communicate the idea to myself and to other people…


  • Name

  • Premise

  • Overview

  • Back story

  • Enemies

  • Player defense and weapons

  • Goal & victory conditions

  • Art style

  • Audio

  • Map

  • Target platforms/distribution

  • Unique aspects

  • Further considerations

  • Similar existing ideas


While this might not be too necessary as I have the idea fairly clear in my head. It will of course help others who want to follow along with some of the art creation and provide general design decisions a bit more context.

Also it might help me to stay on course with whatever it was I thought was the reason to make the game. To check my development doesn’t stray too far from my early justifications. Or conversely show that changes are necessary based on new ideas or information.

You’ll notice I have a section for ‘Further considerations’ this is something definitely worth thinking about even though these ideas might not be included in the early iterations of the game/franchise.

I’ve placed marketing here as though it’s just an afterthought. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve definitely given this a lot more thought than might be suggested here. I’ve left that aspect out of this document because I’d prefer to keep this more art and design than business. Partly because this might be uninteresting to most people and partly possibly because it’s laborious to keep track of in this form here. Though i’ll certainly share requested details or pertinent findings along the way.

I’ve included a ‘similar titles’ section too, this is for reference, and is in some small way to make sure i’m not treading ground that has been too commonly tread before, or at least in my opinion anyway.


A similar title – Pacman – The first survival horror game?


Oh and one last thing, if it wasn’t obvious before this will probably be edited and evolve so nothing is especially written in stone here. Mostly it’s written with zero’s and one’s on google docs.

Game Design Document Link

 (you may get a ‘file unavailable’ error on that link occasionally, press the ‘reload’ option that comes up and it should then show up properly)


Extra Resources For Making Design Documents–active-10140
I may have elaborated further on the subject here but there’s no point, just check out this link instead. In my opinion, the best explanation and most thorough guide to creating a game design document.
Design documents are no good?!?!!? Some alternative thoughts on the design document, actually you could say the alternatives suggested are pretty much what i’m doing/have done here.
Old but good further reading on the subject.
Another old link from gamasutra but still good further reading on the subject.
Links to some complete Game Design Documents, including the Doom Bible, An Ant’s life and several others.
A repository of design documents.



If you also happen to be making a game at the moment, please post a link so I can follow your progress! – Aidy :)

  • James Sky

    Hey, nice tut! A great tip/summary for anyone looking to go into game dev :) Thanks!

    • Aidy Burrows

      Thanks very much for saying so! I’m really glad someone might get something out of it.

      Documents and UV’s are notoriously unpopular so I’m not expecting to win any popularity contests from posting this sort of content although it is really useful for a select few. Really it’s just all the stuff I wish I could’ve found when I was starting out! :) – Aidy.

  • Reverend Speed

    There’s a great Eisenhower quote that has relevance here, I think:

    “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

    I’ve worked on a couple of projects where I’ve spec’d everything out in a game design document – to the point where whenever anybody had an issue or question about the project, I could always point them towards reading the document! And I did!

    Like an idiot!

    It did not go so well!

    Some folks became pissed, and with the benefit of hindsight, who can blame them? Who wants to work through a 30 page manual to answer a single question – especially if the issue is best explained person to person, or if that particular person strongly dislikes reading technical prose (or in some cases, finds it very difficult to?).

    I’ve since embraced the ‘living manual’ philosophy for teams – requiring nobody to read technical docs, and keeping technical documents (for public consumption) as simple as possible. I still spec out designs in as much detail as I can – but that’s mainly for me, so I can always answer questions from the team, making myself as available to the team as possible (hence ‘the living manual’).

    In addition, it’s possible I should also mention Mark Cerny’s ‘Method’, which has always seemed like a great, flexible system for development (used now by Naughty Dog and others):

    Aidy, you’re doing yeoman’s work on Blender’s UVs and workflow for games. This GDD article is an awesome intro and I’d've loved to have had it years ago. =)

    (Not working on a public project at the moment, but will probably be entering the Point-And-Click jam at some point, if that counts. )

    • Aidy Burrows

      Very cool Reverend! Thanks for the extra links. Good luck in the Jam!

      The document definitely depends on the people involved and the type of game. For me I know i’ll end up developing the game idea and potentially start to go down some path which has nothing to do with why I thought it’d be cool to do in the first place, so hopefully this will remind me. Even as simple as it is!!! – Aidy

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  • Will Jones

    This was a very funny and useful article. Some of us are stuck in the traditional way of creating a game design document and even creating game assets, but something new has emerged and I would like for everyone to check it out!
    Drum roll please…..

    The newest and easiest way to create a game design document is to use It has just been released in Beta mode I’m looking for game designers or developers to start using and providing feedback to help make it better. No one has ever seen a web application that is only used to create a great game design document, but now there is.

    Feel free to contact me an let me know what you think! This is very exciting!

    Will Jones

    • Aidy Burrows

      Looks pretty interesting! Thanks for sharing! :) Aidy.

      • Will Jones

        Thanks for checking it out! There are a couple of starter templates that you can use to create a new project with. If you decide to create your own custom project, you can save that as a template and re-use as well. Let me know what you think. Oh and…could you add it as a resource link? I would greatly appreciate it!