Category Archives: Game Design

An Actionable Game Design Document Template

When I first started teaching game design, I searched the internet for templates my students could use for writing their own Game Design Documents, but I was disappointed that every template I found was essentially a table of contents for a GDD and not a guideline for what to write for its content. So I eventually decided to create my own template, based on what I taught my students about game mechanics and system design, and I think it has been very successful in getting my students to understand how all the elements should work together.

And so, without further adieu, here is is the template I created for to them.

Overview

This page simply contains the elevator pitch and overview information you created for your concept’s green light presentation.

Elevator Pitch

Example: Somehow it always falls to Mustachio to rally his friends for their many adventures. Run and jump through a side-scrolling world made of and inhabited by blocks. With mustaches. A world full of action, puzzles and arbitrary danger that Mustachio faces boldly with his mustache-fueled power to make block duplicates of himself. What? Cloning AND mustaches?! You betcha.

Executive Summary

High Concept: A one-sentence summary of the game’s premise.
Game Genre: First person shooter, platformer, role-playing game, real-time strategy game, etc.
Setting: Medieval fantasy world, modern day city, etc.
Target Player: Interests, age, gender, casual vs. hardcore, etc.
Play Value: What will make the game fun to play? Be specific and think in terms of the player experience rather than game features. Is it reality-based or fantasy-based? Is it predictable or full of surprises? Is it immersive? Is it a mindless pastime or challenging? Are there few or many rules? Do you build or destroy things? Do you cooperate with other players or is it a competition? Is it funny, scary, suspenseful, tranquil, cheerful or gloomy? Is there a risk of losing progress, lives or the entire game?
Competition: What game(s) have a similar setting, genre, and/or mechanics.
What’s Unique: What makes your game different from similar games?
Game Engine: Game Maker, Unity, Unreal?

Ideal Play Session

Create and name an imaginary player and then put yourself in their shoes playing the game for five minutes, beginning with him or her starting the game for the first time.
Focus on the player’s experience: what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing, what they’re doing, and what they’re thinking about. Any thoughts or feelings they have should be reflections of what is going on in the game.

You may write this in paragraph form or as a step-by-step list.

Example

Joe sits down at his computer ready to play a game he saw on Kongregate and decided to try on a whim. Seeing the logo on the title screen he sees what appears to be D.I.B.B.s front and center wielding his batons with two figures standing behind them both with cheesy grins on their faces who he assumes are probably Factman and Noggin. Behind all three of them stands an ominous figure surrounded by robots and from that he presumes (and presumes correctly that this is the primary antagonist of the game). From this logo he can infer that this game is a bit cartoony and probably comical at times, but he is also taken aback by the use of rock music in the theme song, but slowly starts bouncing his head as he gets used to it.

The first thing that he sees is a short cut scene detailing the past and how that has led to the present. Joe sees the almost comic book style of this scene and laughs at the jokes that he sees and before he knows it he see DIBBs at stage 1 of the very first level…Ready to go Joe is relieved that this level is a tutorial as he sees a series of on-screen text boxes detailing the world he is now and how he should interact with it and thus he can actually practice the controls scheme that he saw in the earlier screen.

What he sees now though is a scene reminiscent of a laboratory with white walls and equipment making up the background; DIBBs, the obstacles and the enemies he has to face in the middle ground; and wires and slender beams making up the foreground all of which give this game an artistic depth. As he looks he is also hearing the intro to the music that will accompany him at this stage of the game. The music while in the sound that deviates from the standard Pop that goes along with cartoons these days gives him the sense that he is actually going on a journey.

The first thing Joe does is actually practice through a step by step prompting of these text boxes with the melee and ranged aspects of his weapon on the enemy Robots that are on the screen. He then is introduced to the Med Packs and Blaster Packs which replenish both his health and blaster energy, respectively, and he also realizes that he needs to keep an eye on both resources.

From this point Joe moves on to a room with a fairly large pit with a hook on the ceiling. At this point he learns about the whip function of the batons through yet another set of step by step instructions, as a means to traverse around the space and proceeds to use that whip function to cross the pit worried that he may not make it, but thankfully on his first attempt does.

But that is only the beginning….

 

Inspirational Media

Assemble an image and link for 3 DIFFERENT GAMES that have inspired your game concept. (Other media are acceptable as well, but make sure there are at least 3 games before adding non-game media)

Include for each game:

  • Screenshot
  • Link
  • Genre
  • Gameplay
  • Goals
  • Resources (e.g., currency, health, mana, weapons, territory — anything you have to collect or protect in order to obtain your goals)
  • Obstacles (e.g., enemies, traps, puzzles, scarcity, randomness — anything that makes getting your goal challenging)
  • Play Value (what makes it fun to play – use your game analysis skills here, and reference such terms as immersion, engagement, complexity, depth, pacing, novelty, stimulation, challenge, threat)
  • What game elements inspire you and might you emulate in your game

Procedures

Goals

Describe what is the player trying to accomplish (e.g., solve a quest, clear a level of enemies, escape from a monster, get a high score).

Set-Up

List all of the steps required to set up the game before players actually start playing (e.g., level generation, enemy placement, resource allocation).

Progression

List the general steps that the game or players must perform to progress the game from start to end. In other words, list the rules for your game as though it were instructions for a board game.

Special Situations

List any special modes or situations that are not the normal part of progress (such as landing in jail in the game Monopoly)

Resolution

List the different ways the game can be brought to a close through winning, losing and/or a draw.

Mechanics

List each of the mechanics the player can perform in your game (move, maneuver, jump, combat, aim, shoot, collect, buy, build, destroy, etc.)

For each mechanic describe:

  • Action: The action the player performs.
  • Purpose: The reason why the player performs it.
  • System: What game system is this action considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
  • Challenge: What makes performing the action difficult?
  • Trigger: What events or situations makes the action necessary.
  • Cue: What, if anything, lets players know that it is a good time to perform the action..
  • Requirements: What resources and/or procedures are required to perform the action perform the action..
  • Limitations: What rules place limits on the action’s frequency or effect? (e.g., cool down period).
  • Feedback: What, if anything lets players know they performed the action successfully?
  • Reward: What does the player receive or accomplish for performing the action. (e.g., resources).

Resources

Examples of Resources: Action Points, Score, Lives, Health, Money, Building Materials, Mana

For each resource describe:

  • Resource: What the resource is..
  • Purpose: What is the resource used for in the game.
  • System(s): What game system(s) is this resource considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
  • Production: How is the resource produced?
  • Consumption: How is the resource consumed?
  • Ownership: Who can own the resource? How does resource ownership change
  • Storage: Can the resource be stored? If so, how?

Elements

For each game element ( obstacles, deadly traps, units, enemies, bosses, tools, power-ups, pick-ups, power-ups, controllers, chargers, etc.) describe:

  • Purpose: What purpose does the element perform in the game? How does it help or hinder the players from achieving their goals?
  • System(s): What game system(s) is this resource considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
  • Production: When and where does it appear in the game?
  • Consumption: When and how is it removed from the game?
  • Attributes: The numbers describing the element’s capabilities (e.g., speed, hit points, damage, area of effect, sensing area). If an element has multiple attributes, construct a table. (At this time, you may not know specific information for such factors as starting character health, weapon damage, terrain movement penalties and the like, so feel free to use relative values such as Low, Medium, and High. It’s also okay just to pick a number as a starting point.)
  • Behaviors: The actions that perform. Describe what triggers the action and the effect of that action. If the element has different states that determine what actions can perform, draw a state diagram.

Systems

What are the systems in your game that determine what actions players can perform, how resources are produced and consumed, and how game objects behave?

Examples of game systems:

  • Life (health, healing/regeneration, death, lives)
  • Progression (experience, levels, leveling-up)
  • Combat (weapons, defenses, ammo, initiative, damage/health, power-ups, fumbles, critical hits)
  • AI (spawning, stealth/surprise, pursuit, attack, retreat, surrender)
  • Economy (currency, resources, income, expenses, conversion)
  • Inventory (items, purchasing, selling, trading, storage, equipping)
  • Magic (mana, regeneration, spell acquisition, spell use, effects)

For each system, describe:

  • System: The name of the system.
  • Purpose: The purpose of that system in the game.
  • Actions: Player actions that are part of that system.
  • Elements: Game elements that are part of that system.
  • Resources Consumed: Resources consumed by that system.
  • Resources Produced: Resources produced by that system.

Draw a system diagram, showing how the systems are connected by what resources are consumed and produced by each system.

User Interface

Create a UI Flowchart consisting of all the screens in your game and how they flow from one to another. Past this chart at the top of this page.

Paste in wireframes for each of your game screens, such as:

  • Main Menu
  • Help
  • Settings
  • Main Game Screen (including HUD)
  • Win Screen
  • Lose Screen

Label all elements of your wireframes so the reader understands what each button, icon and indicator is.

Narrative and World

If your game has a traditional narrative, describe it below.

The Plot

Describe the flow of the narrative in your game (as appropriate). If things happen out of sequence, describe the overall sequences.

Backstory
What happened before your game begins. Why is the protagonist and/or antagonist here at the start of the game?

Complication
Describe the protagonist(s) and his/her problem to solve over the course of the game. What is the overall goal of the game?

Body
Describe the challenges and obstacles the player encounters toward the end game. (This will likely be the longest part of your story, since it describes the vast majority of what the player experiences while playing the game.)

Climax
Describe the big boss battle or the greatest challenge in the end game.

Denouement
Describe what happens after the player resolves the final challenge.

The Setting

Describe the look and feel of the setting.

The Characters

Main Character
Goal:
Personality/Appearance:
Abilities:

Main Antagonist
Goal:
Personality/Appearance:
Abilities:

NPCs
List them and their goals/personalities/abilities.

Game Levels

For each level in your game:

  • What is the level’s purpose in terms of game world boundary, progress indicator, closure point, narrative structure, opportunity for exploration, and/or balancing difficulty and complexity?
  • How does it related to other game levels?
  • How is it different from other game levels?
  • (What is the level’s layout? (Provide a diagram or map of the level, if applicable).
  • Where is the player’s starting point?
  • Where are the strategic locations (e.g., spawn points, resource generators, pick-ups, power-ups, chargers, safe havens)? What makes them strategic?
  • What are the resources the player must acquire?
  • Where are the obstacles/enemies? (including spawn points, if any)
  • What are the intermediate objectives? (if any — include waypoints)
  • What are the victory/loss conditions?
  • Where is the level’s exit (if any)?

If your game has fewer than 3 levels, or is not a level-based game, please explain why.

 

If you use this template for designing your own game, let me know what did or didn’t work for you.  I’m especially interested in knowing whether this format helped you to figure out the mechanics, objects, and systems of your game.

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Avengers: Infinity War and Medieval Fantasy Sieges Inspire Games Designed By Scouts At Bill Hart Spring 18 Merit Badge Midway

Several times a year I volunteer at local merit badge midways to run workshops for the Game Design Merit Badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. On Saturday I led a three-hour workshop at the Bill Hart Merit Badge Midway in Santa Clarita, and as with every time I’ve run these workshops, I was impressed with the wide variety of games these young men designed.

My workshops always begin with a Socratic-dialog-heavy talk about the various elements that comprise a game, the different ways we can describe a game’s play value (what makes it fun to play), and how intellectual property rights apply to games. I then do an exercise with the boys in making changes to game rules to see what effects those have on players, using set of Spider-Man tic-tac-toe sets.  (You’d be amazed at the number of variations on tic-tac-toe the scouts have come up with over the past couple of years).  With each of these topics, the scouts satisfy various merit badge requirements.

The more advanced (and most fun) requirements involve the scouts proposing a game concept, and once I approve it, prototyping their game and playtesting it with other scouts.

Here are some of the games the scouts designed last weekend.

 

 

Race For The Stones!
by Ryan H, Troop 484

ace For The StonesThis trivia game was inspired by the upcoming Movie Avengers: Infinity War. If you’re a Marvel fan who has seen all the movies, this is a game for you! What impressed me about this game was the amount of details and thought that Ryan put into his game rules.

Vision Statement: Race for the Stones is a 2-4-player Marvel trivia game where you collect and battle for Infinity Stones as you move around the board answering trivia questions.

Play Value: A competitive race for the Infinity stones, the challenge of answer trivia questions, and building your ream of heroes to battle for victory.

Set-Up: 2-4 people can play.

  • Each player chooses a character tile  (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, or Thanos).
  • Players put their player token on the Character Card space in front of them.
  • Divide character cards into two piles – Hero and Villain.
  • Place character cards face down on the board.
  • Place the 6 Infinity Stones on their matching Location spaces on the board
  • Shuffle and place the trivia cards face down on the board.
  • To determine who goes first, each player rolls the dice, lowest roll goes first.
  • Play goes counter-clockwise.

Progression:  Player rolls the dice and moves the corresponding number of spaces in any direction along the path. Players can turn corners, but cannot reverse direction on one roll of the dice.

Landing On Open Space

  • Draw the top card from the Trivia Card pile.
  • The player to the current player’s left reads the question.
  • If the question is answered correctly, the player keeps the trivia card in front of them.
  • Trivia cards are used as “points” toward obtaining Infinity Stones.
  • If the question is not answered correctly, the card is put in the discard pile and is not used again in the game
  • Multiple players can share a single space.

Land On Rainbow Bridge Space

  • If the player lands on a Rainbow Bridge Space, by exact count, they can move to any space on the board and act on that space.

Land On Character Card Space

  • You do not have to land on a Character Card Space by exact count.
  • You can stop movement on a Character Card without using the full role of the dice.
  • Player takes the top card off the pile. This is the end of your turn.
  • There is no maximum # of character cards a player can collect.

Using Character Cards:

  • Character cards form your “team” and are used to battle other players for Infinity Stones.
  • Each Character Card has a point value (1-5) used in battle.
  • Players keep character cards face down in front of them.
  • Hero Characters (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor) can only pick Hero Character Cards; The Villain character (Thanos) can only pick Villain Character Cards.

Infinity Stones/Location Squares

  • You must land on Infinity Stones/Location space by exact count or by coming from a Rainbow Bridge space.
  • To get an Infinity Stones, place 3 trivia cards from your pile on the discard pile.
  • Place the Infinity Stone face up in front of you.
  • If a player lands on an Infinity Stone/Location space they do not have to ‘buy’ a Stone.
  • If the stone from that location has already been collected, a player may challenge the stone’s owner for the stone. (See Battle Rules)
  • Once you declare a challenge, you cannot back out.

Battle Rules

  • Each character has a battle value from 1-5.
  • Both players, (Owner and Challenger) select up to three cards from their cards.
    • If the Owner being challenged has fewer than three cards, they play the cards the have in the battle.
  • Players call out “3-2-1!” and place their cards down face-up.
  • The player with the higher point total wins the battle.
    • If the stone’s owner wins, they keep the stone.
    • If the challenger wins, they take the stone.
  • If there is a tie, battling players take turns rolling the 6-sided dice, challenger goes first. The 1st player to roll a three (3), wins the battle.
  • The winner keeps one of the cards put into play during the battle that matches their character, hero or villain.
  • The remaining five cards are returned to the bottom of their respective piles (Heroes go back to the Hero Pile, Villains return to the Villain pile.
  • The winner of the Infinity Stone places it face up in front of them.

Resolution: The first player to collect four Infinity Stones wins, or the player with the most stones at the end of agreed upon play time.

Resources: 

  • 1 six-sided die
  • Game Board
  • 369 ± Trivia Questions. Each card has the related movie, the question and answer, and question # (for editing purposes) printed on one side of the card.
  • 30 Hero Character Cards (Labeled “Character Cards”
  • 30 Villain Character Cards (Labeled “CC” for the prototype)
  • 6 Infinity Stone markers
  • 4 player tokens

 

 

Stick Man Kingdom
by Russell R, Troop 484

Stick Man KingdomRussell was a little light on his rules but went all out on his board design. I especially liked his catapults!

Vision Statement: Stick Man Kingdom is a free-for-all board game for 2 to 4 players in which characters have exciting battles in the 4 turgs of Stick Men Kingdom to be the first to reach the end of the path.

Play Value: This board game has excitement with the challenge of battling enemies.

Set-Up: Each player chooses a character to play: a dwarf, a wizard, a knight, or a warrior, each having their own powers and weaknesses.

Progression:  Players take turns:Pick the top card from the deck to know how many spaces you can move and attack.

  • When you land on a space, it will give you instructions for what to do:
    • Ø means there is an enemy blocking the way
    • Ξ means you can battle an opponent
    • ↑ means you can level up
    • δ means that you get damaged on that space.

Resolution: The first player to reach the end of the path wins.

Resources: 

  • Player Avatars
  • Playing Card Deck
  • Catapults

 

 

Spin The Coin
by Diego T, Troop 2

Spin The CoinA game doesn’t need to have elaborate game board or rules. I think that scouts at the workshop had the most fun with this very simple party game.

Vision Statement: Spin The Coin is a cooperative team vs. team party game in a competition to get the lowest score.

Play Value: The cooperation of team effort and the competitiveness of trying to beat the other team.

Set-Up: Players divide into pairs. Each team gets a quarter and decides who will spin it.

Progression:  The game is played in 10 rounds.

  • One person on each team spins the quarter on a table.
  • The other person on each team tries to stop their team’s quarter from spinning.
  • The first team to catch their team gets 1 point, the next 2 points, and so on.

Resolution: The team to get the lowest total points at the end of 10 rounds wins the game.

Resources: A quarter for each team.

As always, the scouts were very inventive, given the limited resources and time they had available. Even better, they were not only proud of the games they made, they really enjoyed playing other scout’s games. After all, as I explained to them, creating fun experiences for others to enjoy is what game design is all about.

 

 

Fortune Challenge
by Mack B, Troop 582

Fortune ChallengeThis game also needed more development of its rules, particularly in making the game more replayable, but I liked the paper fortune-teller used in the game, since I used to make these when I was a boy.

Vision Statement: Fortune Challenge is a party game in which teams use a paper fortune teller to receive randomly assigned challenges, trying to be the first team to win 10 of them.

Play Value: The surprise of the challenges to perform.

Set-Up: Players divide into pairs. Each team receives a paper fortune teller that has been constructed beforehand with challenges inside.  Half are the mental challenge of answering a trivial question, the rest are physical challenges such as winning an arm-wrestling competition.

Progression:  The game is played in rounds.

  • One person on each team holds the fortune telling device.
  • The other person on the team chooses one of the four letters written on the outer folds of the fortune teller.  The first player then opens the fortune teller alternately left/right or forward/back based on the named letter’s position in the alphabet (A=1, B=2, and so on.)
  • The other person then chooses one of the numbers revealed inside the inner fold. The first player then opens the fortune teller alternately left/right and forward/back based on the number chosen by the other player.
  • The players then open one of the exposed flaps and performs the challenge written underneath.
  • If the players succeed in the challenge, that team gets a point.

Resolution: The team to first earn 10 points wins the game.

Resources: Paper fortune teller.

 

 

As always, the scouts were very inventive, given the limited resources and time they had available. Even better, they were not only proud of the games they made, they really enjoyed playing other scout’s games. After all, as I explained to them, creating fun experiences for others to enjoy is what game design is all about.