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The Recipe AKA Game Design Doc (GDD)

To make The Mixture you need to know what effects will it have - same with the game. Define what it will be about, from the basics, keep it simple. To create a game you need to have The Recipe - a Game Design Document.

This article was published on site The Alchemy of Gameplay. Enjoy!

Every one wishes to make a game. The task looks simple  - just create a game!  But wait...

As Alchemist you don't want to make just a mixture without a name, you want to make The Mixture, a Potion! A Health Potion, A Mana Potion, Stamina Potion.

To make The Mixture you need to know what effects will it have - same with the game.  Define what it will be about, from the basics, keep it simple. To create a game you need to have The Recipe - a Game Design Document.


These are questions about your game to see clearer what you want to make

1. What your game will be about? About what you want to make game?

  • I want to make a game about being a tree.

It may sound stupid. It does... a little... my friends smiled and laughed about the idea. But the sense is there. They don't see it, we need a big picture. There is a game about controlling slimes, sounds weird but what about game World of Goo? Now it starts to sound like an Idea. Maybe a game about "Super fast hedgehog".

Of course you can make a less abstract. Maybe a "Game about being Futuristic cop that is an android and fights crime" or "Treasure hunter on its mysterious journey". Oh what? They made games and movies about it already?

The idea can also have some information about game SETTING - in short worlds in what fantasy your game will be set.

2. What's characters/games story?

First question is: "Do my game really needs a story?".

If you make some big game, game with character that player is controlling, game story based, a virtual novel, a horror game... A good story will help you make game more interesting, and players will forgive not having super realistic graphics, mind blowing sounds etc.

If you are making a puzzle game, an arcade game etc. Maybe you don't need it or you can have only an introduction. Every one knows Angry Birds game series. The game has simple story - there are birds and pigs who want to steal eggs from the birds. Every new episode shows part of story and also a new game mechanic. This is perfect for such small game. Player sees whole game idea in 10 seconds, sees mechanic that will be used in current episode. The animations are simple but entertaining enough, they are funny and ideal for a break from tapping. The answer for my project is:

  • Player is a seed that has fallen on the ground, carried by wind far far away from it's Mother Tree. The seed germinates, and player needs to help it grow first leafs, roots , transform from a plant to tree and fight with nature and insects living on same field.

It will be simple game, this story is enough. The story question adds few more questions behind: Who is the main character(s)? What are game locations? What enemies or NPC will player meet? ...  What type of game it will be?

  • It will be Clicker type game with character skill tree building elements known from RPG games.

Simple enough. I want to give option for player to help getting points by clicking on the plant (or some other place on the screen). Similar to mechanic used in Cookie Clicker. The points can be transformed to some skills and parts of the tree, and 'upgrades' which will be the RPG part. Some skills will 'do the clicking' for the player.

Unique Selling Points

3. What are my future game USPs?

Hey! But what is USP? Unique Selling Points, USPs (or sometimes called Key Selling Points) are the elements that make your game stand out, what makes it better than and/or different than titles from the competition. Note the "Selling" part. These points are supposed to make the players want to buy the game. Or at the very least, make the publisher want to invest in that project :) source: Technical Game Design.

You can read more about USP on Technical Game Design.

If you want to make a game just to make a game, you make a mixture. We want The Mixture, define Unique Selling Points for the game. I know you can give away your Potions, but still -people must want to drink them! So your game needs to have something outstanding. Unique Selling Points are mostly presented on game trailers:

Dying Light

First I will start with Dying Light cgi trailer, the game is close for me because I’m one of Level Designers creating it. Who will know game mechanics better than LD?

At the beginning we see four people running/jumping on the construction site running towards air drop. We see some zombies. Characters have got custom adapted/crafted weapons as wrench with electric damage. There are some different zombies, very fast ones. Death reaches every one from the team. And at and main character gets hit by some other man, probably bandit. USP for Dying Light are:

  • 4-player coop with free run and parkour elements.
  • Crafting weapons
  • Enemies are not only zomies but also humans

Of course there are more UPS for DL but these are main to see in this trailer.

Watch Dogs

I won't write what we see this time. Just watch and try to 'find' USPs by yourself.

  • Open world action game taking action in a city
  • Player can use weapons but also can hack
  • Player is in controll of the town

Assassin's Creed Unity

  • Action take in Paris in times of French Revolution
  • Four player co-op
  • Player is in controll of the town

Getting back to my game example, USPs will be:

  • Clicker and strategy game hybrid with tree character skill elements
  • Player uses photosynthesis skill tree to grow a better plant

4. What are winning and failing conditions?

  • Reach four top skills in skill tree.
  • When tree will lose its vitality (represented as points/or color) game ends.

In some games you don't have wining conditions - as in simulator as Sim City, the game will never end until you fail.

The game could end when player will solve final task, kill last monster or finds the murderer in a crime game.

In some MMO games there arent't any winning and failing options. Player dies with punishment losing some exp points, gold or sometimes random item. Also players can't finish game because there isn't any ending point. This Doesn't mean that game don't have sence and a story. Such games has other never ending goals for players.

There are also questions about game design process, a guideline.

5. What are the production assumptions?

  • Don't make game full of features. Choose best of them and make them real good.
  • Keep the solutions simple.
  • Start with simple single player mode.

6. What are the objectives of the game?

  • Create full working game from basics.
  • Prove that I have skills to build a game OR Create a team of people working together and willing to do great games as one team.
  • Integration with social sites as Facebook and Twitter
  • Create User-boards which will allow players to make duels via social sites.

 7. What are the expectations?

  • Positive review somewhere, anywhere.
  • Gain min 2000$ from game sales.
  • Get 10000 fans on Facebook or Twitter

For what other purpose than myself I need this GDD?

This question I left as last because it means a lot.

Writing a design doc will make you think about your game in more creative way, and also it will make you ask important questions that could never be asked.

If you are one person developing game or a team with 50+ people you will still need a Game Design Doc. As in planning sprints in SCRUM - making game also needs to be planed - you need to think what you are going to do, and how long it will take. How much 'power' to you need to finish your game. Maybe you will need some music for it, programmer to write some mechanics.

I think there weren't many games that were created without Game Design Doc - if yes - Designers had luck or games were poor designed with lots of iterations in production and inaccuracies in game itself. Did Flappy Bird needed a Game Design Doc, probably not but the exception proves the rule.


There are more questions in design doc. We will see the full list where I will present my GDD Recipe.

One-page Game Design Doc

As an Alchemist I don't give a 19872 pages recipe of my Potion of World Domination to people interested of making a production line with me. It don't means that I'm stingy. People may not have enough time to read it, and don't forget the beginning of my recipe. Instead of that I prepared a special mini recipe - having right information about The Potion, presenting effects and basic ingredients.

The Game Design Doc can have a lot of pages, when it has all the information about game, ideas, monsters, NPCs, etc. In big projects such doc can become a Game Design Bible, a huge book with everything about the game. Such book is shared between co-workers to pass information about the game, and learn about the project, but sadly - it has so much information that they can be more confused after reading it than before.


Imagine that you are looking for an investor or someone new comes to your team - you don't wan't to talk about whole (I'mean everything) game, possibly forgetting some important parts. Your game idea can be misunderstood then and it will be imagined as a poor project. To keep chaos controlled - create a short one page document, where you will have information about the game, game modes, short story, it's USP's, mechanics. And use this doc as a basic, for more advanced users - you will still have the Game Design Doc. There are also schools that use only the One-page Game Design Doc, read this scroll to know more about it.


What else is there?

There are several ways to write down a game recipe, read the 5 Alternatives to a Game Design Doc scroll to know more.   If you have your own thoughts about GDD, please write a comment.

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