I've been working as a creative manager for a major video game publisher for several years and the one thing I still don't get is why development teams are so hesitant to put their designs on paper. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to their reluctance - there's been a silent war within the industry for years about the need for game design documents (GDD) - especially when the results are 300 page tomes that no one wants to read. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Personally, I'm a fan of Mark Cerny's "Method" - which inspired many of my own views on game design documentation - Cerny promotes a "Macro Design" which is no more than five pages that covers the character and moveset, exotic mechanics, level structure, size and count, level contents and the games' overarching structure. In Level Up! I share my own version of the game overview that I call the "ten pager" which adds in the topics of story telling, AI and bonus/DLC materials.
I think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism and sometimes it still bothers me - it stems from the fact that no one likes to be wrong. I understand the feeling that when ideas are put down on paper, they become "real things" and therefore subject to criticism.
You get the feeling that the designs become locked in stone and can't be changed. Teams have often told me that they don't want to create paper designs because it takes away from time that could be spent putting the design into the game code.
But what I find ironic is, THIS IS THE FUN PART OF MAKING GAMES! Where the sky is the limit! You can come up with anything at this point as long as you can dream it. Sure, you'll eventually have to be grounded by reality but I find creating gameplay designs to be the least stressful part of the job.
Now I'm sympathetic to these concerns regarding time and scheduling but it in all honesty, it doesn't take that long to write down a design. If you spread the work out or work with others, it can go that much faster.
So here are seven reasons why you need to get your designs down on paper:
1. Paper designs allow you to get a picture of the entire game's scope. I was once shown the paper designs of Galaga and the entire game was all there on paper - before a single pixel had been drawn or a line of code written.
2. You can work out size, distance and proportation relationship before building a character or level. Plus it prevents you from having to resize models.
3. You can quickly find descrepancies in pacing, combat, rewards, economy and even story if you use tools like a beat chart.
4. You can spot where the player might be given too much information at once to help ease confusion or information overload
5. You can determine where you might need to add something new and help promote good flow in your game.
6. The human mind is a slippery thing and it's easy to forget good ideas. Get them down before they're gone forever!
7. You get cool artifacts as reminders of your thought process - plus if you don't use a design, you can always save it for another game!
Hopefully I'm convinced you (even a little bit?) to why you should document. Let's hear your reasons!