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The Darkside of Gamedesign Document Part 4: Think inside the box

Although game production is an artistic and creative industry, it also has its own rules so that it do make difference with the other. The nature of this industry is normality, is the ability to calculate volume-speed-resources, and even reuse ability.

Teddy Phan, Blogger

April 4, 2017

12 Min Read

The Darkside of Gamedesign Document

Part 4: Think inside the box


If you think this article will be a critique of the stereotypical work-style, advocating the thought of "Think outside the box”, it will make you dissapointed. Although game production is an artistic and creative industry, it also has its own rules so that it do make difference with the other. The nature of this industry is normality/standard, is the ability to calculate volume - speed - resources, and even reuse ability. Sometimes, you are in a situation which you have to compromise the features, content, and resources to keep up the pace of the project, which makes you regret having decline your idea of hearts. You may feel constrained to think within the framework or limit, can not fly with liberty wings. You may feel angry because of Programmer and Artist always want to cut down features and content which you wrote in GDD. I have ever been in these situation, and I wanted to shout on their face that “You do not know everything, it will make our game better”


But I figured out the answer for this situation, which including two Keys:

  • A thing we write in 1 line, the other team must accomplish in 1 day, may be 1 week (in condition that we analyzed it carefully and wrote clearly)

  • Our company or team has some limit: staff - time - money

If we want complete the mission, we should reconcile the ego and the collective resources. So how do you keep your creativity? Please consider the following examples:


1. Limit content to products in the same segment

You are looking to make a game in line with Game A, (of course, must have USP), you find it has 20 Heroes and 30 Screens. if you want to make it "deep" with 108 Hero and 256 Screens, you should rethink, consider the other games in the same line and wonder why they did it. Doing more does not make it more outstanding. However, it is necessary to look at the product development process and the actual parameters to make a decision for yourself.

User can be quite satisfied with 30 - 35 screens for a TD game; pushing up to 80 Screens does not make sense at alltrong . Whereas 80 screens for a Match-3 Puzzle game seem to be short, the user wants more. The same thing happens with Hero, Unit, Skill, Map, .... and the game mode. The company not only defines their game’s segment and the customer in order to provide the corresponding volumne but also sets a clear goal from the beginning, determines the amount of work done to get a quite clear Timeline and try to follow it.


2. Content Limit and Content Density:

This is a sensitive problem, concern of creativity. Both you and I desire to make a great game with lots of Heroes, Units and complex Skills. I tried to design a huge amount of it like Dota 2. Every Hero and Unit has its Skill, user has hundreds way to mix it and change strategy. I love it  so much, inspire of preventing other member, I deciced to do it and I paid a much cost for it. I and Tester tested playing game but we could not understand at all. Skill does not visualize, the effect is unclear, too many kind, high density, can not realize it from who and can not calculate the result of skill. I became crazy with what I had designed, and after sometimes like it, I find out something such as below

For a game controling multiple characters, the skill must be simple, low density. Game allows controling less characters may have complex skills, high density. Skill is simply one- parameter skill, fixed and easy effect, like one in Deal X Dame, Y AOE, Slow A% in Bs, etc. Skills having lots of effects, conditional trigger secondary effect, and being based on the correlation between 2 Units or environment is listed as the "complex at all". One useful tip is to write down all the Mechanisms - Condition - Effect of the Skill and then re-pair, then finish.

Example of Skill Form

The number of the skill is easily recognizable. Like 25% Critical, Slow 50%, Increased 30% AtkSpd ... clearly noticeable effect, but some kind of 2.5-3-7.2% is unrecognizable, also complex. The number of the skill is to ensure Effectiveness - Attractiveness when upgrading by Level. There are two tips for this situation:

  • Tip 1 is based on time you will be able to calculate how many times you will have to use skill in battle, you will have Min-Max of the effects you need. For example: a game that is about 3 minute long, a cooldown skill of 30, a side effect of 10% Double damage, the Double damage effect may be not appear in 6 out of 6 spells  According to you, how much should that ratio fit?

  • Tip 2 is the control of probability, limiting the use of pure probability. User understands 50% ie 1 in 2 times, and with technician it is difference, if it unlucky may be 0 in 100 times.

What does Combo Skill look like? The same way - Inverse, Inner - Buff from allies - Curse from the enemy, directly and indirectly interact with each other. The more skill you write, the harder it is to combo, think about it.

Visual Effects is also a headache problem. For all small units, there is a maximum of 3 positions to display. Effect on the Top - Body - Under, how to express all effect on an Unit is a problem. It is the definition of effect types to determine which types of effect groups are in place on a single position - the uniformity of displaying with each type of effect is the default in all GDDs, but only in Normal conditions – Single moment. Let's try two examples:

  • Question 1: Unit has a Buff at 10 HP/s, plus a Cursed at 5 HP/s. The question is when he is affected by both 2 skills, how do I display enough, without missing the effect of both Skill ???

  • Question 2: How many units displaying the same effect at one position? If a group is next to each other then how do ???)

Effect Format in a Unit

How Skill density is enough? When writing out each unit, you often feel guilty not giving an effect or a certain skill to that one, feeling that one only the big index is not enough - is missing. But let calculate the unit density on a screen and the intensity of Skill / Effect will come out the density of that group. A Battle, where the skill is continuous and jerks constantly, will be interesting with a quick look but not sure being able to control. And then it is time to cut out what kind of skill it feels like a flesh cut.


3. Content Representation Limit

It is a common issue when we choose Theme games and often get in the way with Artist - Animator. Just imagine when you choose Theme game is Greek mythology, where you will come first? Hercules, Medusa, Centaur, Chimera, Hydra, Cerberus, Manticore, Harpy, Apollo, Artemis, Hades, Cyclops ... But please analyze the following table to find out the problem:

Take a quick look , there are 12 units including 11.5 Forms + 8 Moving Form + 7 normally Attacking forms. Imagine how much more you will be adding to the extra animations like Critical, Evasion and Skill. This is not to mention the animation for the snake tails or bird wings has been classified as the hard and cost-time form. The next point of this mythical theme is the variety of projectiles and visual effects, water - fire - ice - lightning - smoke - light - animal ... , this workloads will increase a lot.


Compared to the military theme, the human Unit Forms, Projectile and Visual Effect are multi-form bullet and rocket, fire in general. You can see that a military theme is much easier than the theme of the Greek myth, knight or Scifi. However, this article is not intended to recommend you make a lightweight military theme, but to convey the idea of optimized content - making games efficiently, so that the project can reduce resources and costs, Thereby reducing the production time - increase feasibility.


4. Content Development Limit

This section focuses on two areas: Building - Upgrading Unit / Weapon and Implementing Level Design. Let me know which document do you create while doing this. Ignoring the file which descripting Anim, Visual Effect, this is my answer - the way I usually do


Group A. Create New - Upgrade Unit

A1. File Overview Unit: This is where to talk about unit, writing comfortably

  • Unit Characteristics

  • Comparing correlations of KEY Index and characteristics according to Characteristics (stop at correlation, scale from 1 to 10, and only KEY Index)

  • Skill description (not in need of number) according to Characteristics

A2. File Conversion Rate + Unit Define: is the intermediate file from Overview file to Boundary one

  • Conversion rates from Scales Index (of A1) to Real Stats Range

  • Min-Max Real Stats Range, according to the techniques and desires of the Designer

  • Formulas of indirect Stats, including Move Speed + Attack Speed

  • Description of Structure and Max Skill (alo name Skill Form)

  • Formula for calculating unit’s power of other Stats + Unit Skill

  • Unit price formula from the Strength Stats (if there is a unit purchase)

  • Level and EXP, generic or individual formula for each character. If separate, then move to file A3.

A3. File Detail Unit: A large file, containing all the real Stats of the Unit

  • All Stats of the unit, including the Base and the Gain Stats per Level: this option to increase the fixed or random Stats in different tables.

  • All of the Effects and Skills of the unit, including Base and the Gain Stats per Level (if any).

  • Calculates the strength of Units.

  • Set a price of Unit and being a basis for manual bidding.

  • Upgrading cost includes price, time, conditions (if any)

A.3 ,,,,,, 5. File Skill: is a file that describes the skill, depending on the genre of the game and the amount of skill that should be considered to split into separate files for easy management.

  • Load Here: Describe Structure and Max Stat of Skill

  • Load Here: All of the effects and skills of the unit, including Base and the Gain Stats per Level (if any).


Group B. Create New - Upgrade Weapon: Same as Unit, there is less common formulas to avoid duplicate.


Group C. Level Design Group

C1. Level Design preparation files: Preliminary design files for the Level Design process

  • Statistics and Evaluate factors that affect Level Difficulty (Map, Unit, Item ...)

  • Tactical Modeling in Levels

  • Level Design Requirement Description à Level Design Document


C2. File Level Design Path: is a file showing the design direction, showing the Monetization intent of the product

  • Session and content structure by Theme

  • Difficulty Standard Scale

  • Level Difficulty Scale, based on unit strength stats and other influencing factors (if there are multiple difficulty levels in one stage Easy - Normal - Hard, just put it in here.)

Reference link: http://thegamedesignforum.com/features/acceleration_flow_1.html

  • User-Oriented and Content Rotation Strategy

  • Battle Reward Scale, including Account EXP + Unit EXP + Gold + Secondary Reward

  • Route to release new Content at each Stage

Source: Internet

C3. File Level Design

  • Level Design in the form include: Strategy + calculation of participation factors + release of Content (if any) at each Stage

  • Battle Reward details at each Stage

In my own experience, it is very unlikely to miss the A1, A3, and C3 files because they are the last, will directly create the product's exterior. But you are often lack in intermediate files like A2, C1, C2 or even none. The lack of these files does not make the product unworkable, but makes them work without any logic, everything by sensation. At the Balance Phase or the product that needs to be adjusted many times, you will re-edit the improvisation, then again and still not follow a basis at all.

Creating these intermediate materials significantly increases the volume. It also makes the designing always have to rely on a yardstick, add a little bit more, but not as liberal, not casual as people thing. But in return, it helps you get hold of your product at hand, spot specific issues and make plans to change more clearly. Please spend more time on this part, as it is your own property. Even if you submit it to the company, only you understand why it is so, the other just give a cursory glance. That is why many studios clone the big games but the result is not the same. Other people can clone the outside easily, but it is very difficult to do what they do not see

Back to the question that I set out initially, to follow the framework - to calculate like this, how to keep the creativity. My answer is to devote creativity to the right things, to make it a point, do not use rampant. 10 Units of the Human form will set off 1 Unit of the Dragon form, 10 Monster with only Stats will be the background of a Monster which have Skill or Effect, some stages with the same motif will make a different stage becoming the highlight. Optimize content, balance creativity and practicality when calculating product feasibility, that's the key.

Hopefully it works for you!

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