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GCG: Shred Nebula Releases Design Documents

CrunchTime Games’ Shred Nebula was recently released on Xbox Live Arcade – and now founder and CEO James Goddard has freely published its d
In a world where such precious papers as design documents are kept under lock and key (or rather, NDA) as trade secrets, it’s almost unprecedented for game developers to make them public. But CrunchTime Games CEO James Goddard has decided to openly release two official documents that were key in getting his studio’s Shred Nebula accepted for publication on Xbox Live Arcade. Creating these two papers is crucial to the acceptance of any game to XBLA by Microsoft, and by sharing CrunchTime’s pitch paper and a manuscript required by Microsoft called "60 seconds of gameplay," Goddard hopes to educate aspiring developers and students in the XBLA pitch process. Why? He’s not only CrunchTime’s founder and CEO, but he’s also a professor of game development at the University of Advancing Technology. Because of his position as a teacher, he has a unique interest in sharing knowledge with the up-and-coming generation of game developers. And as the company’s founder and CEO, Goddard says he’s free to treat its IP and internal documents however he pleases. Gamasutra sister site GameCareerGuide.com has made PDFs of the two papers openly available (the pitch/design document and "60 seconds" essay for Shred Nebula can be downloaded directly from this site). The pitch document is officially what allowed Microsoft to give the game the green light. The "60 Seconds of Gameplay Essay" is a separate document that Microsoft requires of all its published games, whether developed in-house or out. In it, the authors must describe, step-by-step what the player does, sees, hears, and feels during a full 60 seconds of gameplay, which can be taken from any point in the game. "[O]ur game is done; there is no reason to keep these secret at the expense of helping our future developers and sharing some design know-how within our industry," Goddard said in a prepared statement. "CrunchTime Games, Inc., is very excited to offer this reference to the vast communities of aspiring developers, students, educators, and peer in the industry, showing how we tackled the task of pitching Shred Nebula [which was tentatively titled R.I.P. ROCKET, and often referred to as such in the documentation] back in 2006. We hope this open sharing sets a standard for others in the industry," he said. GameCareerGuide editor Jill Duffy spoke to Goddard on the phone a few days before the game’s release. He stressed to her that the purpose of making the documents publicly available was to promote more openness and sharing among game developers, but particularly between the industry and academia. In his 17 years creating video games, Goddard has worked on numerous pieces of documentation for games, the kind that can make or break a game’s ability to get published. "I personally have created many detailed design documents and high-end pitches for the games I have worked on over the last 17 years as a lead designer, director, and character gameplay programmer -- all of which are stuck under an NDA blanket and therefore hidden away from those who could greatly benefit from the experience," he said. "It is my [pleasure] to finally release this kind of documentation from our game Shred Nebula for Xbox LIVE Arcade." Goddard said the inspiration for his take on the "60 Seconds" essay came from comic books and storyboards. He used screenshots to illustrate what was occurring on screen, then annotated the images with text descriptions. It’s a technique he calls "visual game design" that he has adapted over the years, and which reflects some interactions he had early on in his career with the Japanese game industry. The team at CrunchTime Games has only Goddard as an experienced game-making professional. The rest of the team that made Shred Nebula was first-time programmers and artists, many of whom were still students at the time. But Goddard says that no matter how much experience one has, writing a pitch document is perennially difficult. "Doing a pitch for a new game idea never gets any easier. It does not matter how much experience you have or if it is your first game idea, selling a concept to others is tough," said Goddard. "A major challenge for students and aspiring game developers is finding legitimate reference on how this process works by seeing real design docs from released games. The game industry is loaded with NDAs and other secretive philosophies that make it tough for us as an industry to a) help the future designers/developers have solid reference to learn from and b) strengthen the trade of 'planning/game design' and progress it as a technical art form through sharing and innovation."

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