The Guide to Game Design
Chapter 1 - The game
Game Design is one of the most interesting jobs in the world (in my
opinion) I mean, what’s better than making a game, selling it, and making
millions. But hang on, hold your horses, its not that simple.
In this book, guide or whatever you wish to call it, I will
explain to you how to go about designing your game. I will guide you from the
first inklings of an idea, to the final stages, and moving into production.
Starting with Ideas
So, you have an idea? Good, we can start. Grab a pen and paper, or open
up a word processor. And right every single thing you want in the game, for
example, weapons, vehicles, characters, storylines, quests, interface designs,
quick notes of gameplay, anything!
Now you have this huge list, probably not in any particular
layout, order, or what have you, no worries. Sort all your ideas into a format
And then you have the beginnings of a Design Document, but you’ve got a
long way to go before making this awesome idea of yours, because it is just and
“idea” and nothing more.
Now you have this Design Document, you need to keep filling
it out, until its no long three pages long, but over 30 pages long. For an
example of a brilliant Design Document, take a look at my Design Document
Template. You can input all your information, ideas, etc. into one easy to read
Now I will go through each part of your Design Document,
and make sure you’ve got it all there.
Ok, let’s start in the order of the previous list I gave you. First of
all, you have to describe your game. A good technique is to imagine you’ve got
an English speaking alien reading your document, and he has no idea about
anything what so ever.
Make it readable to all, you can probably make this section
at least half a page long. Or at least that how long this section should be. So
explain what your game is, what you do in your game, etc. Basically the idea is
to summaries your entire Design Document up in half a page, write about
everything and anything to do with your game.
So you’ve described your game in around three hundred
words. Now move on to the next section. This happens to be the Story.
The Story is what people by games for, not the amazing
graphics, or the simply outstanding support. It’s the story that gets player
interested. So you should know your games story. If not, how did you finish the
last section? This story has to be, fun, believable, interesting, and above
all, non-stop action!
If a book has several pages of characters talking, it gets pretty
boring, you need action to get the players adrenaline going, and their heart
nearly exploding with excitement.
So, go ahead, write your story, in the story you should:
Explain what happened before the story/game.
Have a believable story, nothing irregular.
Don’t end the story quickly.
About finishing your story… Basically don’t, always leave a
cliff hanger, why you ask? One, this creates suspense, and two; it leaves an
opportunity to continue the story in a sequel, etc.
Ok, so you’ve got your story written, whether you wrote it yourself, or
you got someone else to do it. Try not to base your story on previous books,
games, TV programmes, movies, or anything already done!
Ok, so next we need characters, you’ve probably already
made them, and put them in the storyline, which is fine, now just type up about
two paragraphs for each of the main characters, explaining their background,
race, likes, dislikes, wishes, and so on. These “Character Profiles” will be
useful for concept artists to draw from.
Sometimes a quick sketch of the character adds a nice
touch, just to show the reader what they look like, nothing special, just a plain
mug shot will do.
So you have the main characters all planned out. Good, now
who are they against, in every game there is an opposition, whether it’s the
classic “opposite race of Orc warlords” or the street racer your trying to beat
to win his ride. Every game has an opposition.
So now, you must do the same as you did for the main
characters, but for the enemies. Mug shots can be used here too.
Once you’ve got every single character covered like the
above, you can move on to designing your world, which in my opinion is the best
part of all.
In this section you should describe the environment and atmosphere. Write
about Locations, History, and so forth, obviously with certain games you can go
into more detail such as Role Playing Games and First Person Shooters. But
still you should still do this section regardless.
Also, you can include sketches of the world, certain
locations, maps, etc. This all helps to give more information about your game.
Now we’ve done that, this game is really starting to get
designed. I bet your thinking “wow, this is gunna be so awesome to play, I cant
wait” and then your immediate reaction might be to close this guide down, go on
the net and look for a hundred programmers, artists, etc. But WAIT! There is
more to go yet.
Ok, so you’ve gone as far into designing the world without
physically building it. Now is the time to design every single object you
interact with in the game, this ranges from weapons, vehicles, scenery, to
food, chairs, and even lighting.
So, you’ve got to list every item the player will
interact/use. And describe it, writing amounts depend on how important/native
it is to the real world, don’t write three paragraphs about a table, unless it
has hidden heat seeking missiles and a jet pack. Write the most about things
that don’t yet exist, such as space ships, guns, swords, etc. This can section
will be much easier if your game is based on fact/history, etc as you can
research on all of the items.
Ok, so you have your list over items and objects, now is
the time to get nitty-gritty, and down and dirty. You have to decide how the
game plays, design user interfaces, choose camera angles, and lots more. This
section can take a long time to write up. I would suggest starting from when
the player starts the game to when they die, lose, win, or complete the game.
This will mean it is all in order, and brilliant for
programmers to reference to. So start to write this up, you should end up
writing about two to three pages here, it’s a slow process.
Once you’ve covered every single detail of how your game is
played (hence the name “gameplay”) you must get a bit technical. Now is the
time to decide on how your game will be developed. Choosing platforms, game
engines, API’s, physics engines, and so on. Your best bet is to get the help of
a programmer here, with a relative amount of knowledge about making games. He
will probably be able to let you know what systems, engines, etc. to use. And
which languages to program with.
Of couse, if you can program, you can probably do this
yourself, so, don’t go looking for more programmers yet.
So, once you’ve got all the possible technical details
ironed out, your final step, and this I will leave you to, is to finalise your
Design Document, finish any little details you may have missed out, and fix any
errors, or change any old information there might be in the document.
The Name, what a game!
So now you’ve got the design document done, there’s only one more step
to go before you can start to look for artists, programmers and other people. And
that is coming up with a name for your game. (if you’ve already done this, read
Now, you probably have some idea of what you want to call
it. And if not that’s fine, it will come to you. Re-read your design document
and any phrase that sticks out as important, or is repeated quite a lot is a
good place to start. Like naming a song, normally the most used lyrics/word in
the song is used for its name.
So, once you’ve got a name, what you have to do is protect
yourself. There are millions of games out there, and chances are, the name
you’ve got is probably taken already, It is also wise not to have the same name
as any other product or company because copyright laws will be against YOU!
So, do a quick search on the net, and if anything comes
across as close to your desired name, I recommend re-considering it.
Chapter 2 - Character design
again, i am back again. In this volume, I will be concentrating on Character
Design. And the following articles will follow this pattern, of small documents
filled with lavish amounts of information.
Most of the
characters you know and love went through almost the exact process that is in
this document. From Tomb Raider to Tarzan, from Face Huggers to The Terminator.
They were all designed and created on one idea. Entertainment.
example, Tomb Raider, she’s sexy, has guns, and jumps around from rock to rock,
if that isn’t entertaining then I don’t know what is. Then there’s the Face
Huggers, who scare you to hell and back, making you jump 5 feet in the air. Yet this
is still entertaining.
The Process of Character Design
First of all,
lets start off with a list of what needs to be done for each character. A list
will be fine. For this document im going to design a character for a role
Farquii the Barron
Farquii is very tall, with long blonde hair. Blue, almost grey eyes. And a
small goatee like beard.
He Grew up in the heartland, and moved into the Great City
at the age of twelve. He is now part of the Bandit Guild and is notorious for
murdering the queen of Grenwitch. He is now known as the Barron, and stalks his
victims only to torture them in the most gruesome of ways imaginable.
Farquii wears a black cloak and hood. With the markings “Barron” on his back.
What ever he can get his hands on to kill his subjects.
Now that we have the basics laid out wee can go into more detail. One thing I
have learnt, and keep coming across frequently is how difficult it is to make
an original character. Is that because they are all used up? No, it’s simply
because we are losing our imagination. With movies, games and books that have
these characters in them, we tend to sub-consciously copy them.
This is seen all
the time. Many projects I have witnessed have taken form of another project. This
is because we like the concepts that are chucked at us. And because of that, we
cannot think of our own concepts and ideas.
So, I have found
something that really helps, as strange as it is, don’t read books, watch
movies, and play games, and then immediately go “wow I like that” and go and
use it yourself, not only will this get you into copyright laws, but your
project will lack that special thing that people buy games for. Originality!
let get back to the task in hand. We’ve got our basic idea, now’s the time to
broaden our horizons a bit. Ok we have a murderer nicknamed “The Barron”. We
know who he is, and where he’s from. Now we need to get a few concepts into our
head. “A cloaked man, feared by all”. Keep thinking of things like this, and
start to build a picture in your head of what he looks like, how he moves, and
al those nifty little details. As those nifty little details are what makes
go away and sketch your character, even if your no good at drawing have a go. Heres
one I did, nothing special just a man I a cloak.
you’ve got a picture of what the character looks like, you have a description,
a name. But what about all those other things, like speech, and movement, that
are in games. Without these parts, those animators and sound artists can go
away and make your character.
speaks in a dead tone, he has a croaky voice, which thunders when he shouts. When
Farquii the Barron speaks, he seems calm and harmless. Yet this isn’t the same
for his movement. Farquii moves with great speed, and never stays in one place
for long. Always moving, only staying for a brief murder session. He moves low,
never exposing himself to the outside, always moving with the shadows.
little bit of text up there tells you exactly how the character speaks, and
moves, if you were to do this for all the little details that appear with your
character, your sure to be able to make it come to life. And above all, make your characters ENTERTAINING!
Chapter 3 - Level Design
If oyu’ve read parts one and two before this one, then by now you
should have already got a design document, and several character designs. In
this Article ill be focusing on Level Design, and the process from beginning to
end. I suggest that you read the other articles (one and two) before this one.
so just like the last articles, I’m going to be making an action/adventure RPG.
So this gives me nearly an endless amount of possibilities in creating my
First of all lets take a look at worlds
from existing games. In this article I’m going to look at the Elder Scrolls
Series, the world featured in these games is simply mind blowing, its huge! Obviously
in the real world, more than just one person would be building such a large
project. So don’t expect that your game will come close, although it may.
As you can see its
defiantly big, and this map is only for one of the games in the series. Each of
the games have huge worlds. Its probably the trademark left by the series.
As I said before,
don’t go planning a huge scale world. Start small, maybe one location, such as
a city, or race track. Eventually it will grow to something maybe as big.
The world of
Oblivion has more than eight major cities, more than five races, and supports a
huge selection of wild life and monsters. In this article ill show you how to
design, create and bring to life a city. Let’s start by designing this
people think that design equals draw. Not true, designing is the art of
creating an idea and fine tuning it. Of course this can be done with drawings,
and even 3d concepts. But you’re best to start of with writing down your ideas.
this article I’m going to design a dwarven city. In the heart of the mountain
ranges. First of all, like with designing our characters, we need make a list
of details that describe this location.
Ragnorth is a city deep under the Capthirion
forged in The Old Chapter. Ragnorth is the central, most powerful city under
Dwarven reign. Never has the city been controlled by any other race, and with
its huge gates and walls, it probably never will be.
The Golden Dwarves built the city over eighteen ages ago, and still control the
vast area today.
Ragnorth, built in the Old Chapter, has only ever been under attack once.,
during “The Capthirion Siege”. Of course the Siege failed and many warlords
were shattered. A memorial stands in the heart of the city, showing one of the
Golden Dwarves, Ragnorth III, slaying three ogres with his two great axes. The
Statue was forged in the heart of the Capthirion’s only volcano, created from
pure gold; it towers over the citizens today.
There we have it, my city design, only a few paragraphs, and could
probably be many more. Ill leave that there, and go into more detail later on.
Ok, so once you’ve don’t the above, for probably wondering how you go about
bringing this place to life. Well first of all, artwork, such as sketches,
plans, and paintings really help. This of course is called the concept stage.
If you’re not an artist, no worries, try to find someone who is that can help
you in this field. If you can draw then start drawing overviews of the
location, layouts of buildings, places of importance. This really helps in
later stages when modelers and programmers actually build this from the ground
So, get a big
collection of artwork that gives everyone the idea of what your trying to do. Then
its now the time to start making each and every individual building, prop, and
object you’ll find in this location. You’ll already have all the artwork to go
by, how the buildings will look, etc. for “Ragnorth”, all the buildings will be
carved out of the huge supporting pillars holding up the mountains above. So
quite primitive in design, but possibilities are almost endless.
helps if you take a look at real cities, and towns today, whats there that’s
needed. Well, houses, stores, factories. All of these can be used in your city.
Changed to fit the style of your game.
should start to construct your world, starting from the most important
buildings to the least important. Start of laying out the city with basic block
buildings, to show a brief idea. Then go and make each building to the specs of
once you’ve got the buildings, you’ve probably got them sitting on a flat plane
or box, not good enough, no area is truly flat, you’ll need to choose where
those bumps are, and make height maps, this gives a really good indication of
weather your idea will work or not. A few minor details will be made
through-out this process.
Mood and Atmosphere
Ok so you have your world, but it has no sky, lighting or atmosphere what so
ever. That’s easily fixed, add a skybox, in my case it will be a rocky ceiling.
But normally it’s a sky either at day or night.
you have your sky, you need lighting; otherwise you’ll be in the dark all the
time. Choose where your main light is coming from, such as a sun or a tower, as
there is no visible sun in “Ragnorth”, the light will come from huge hanging
balls of light, like baskets full of fire flies.
lights will make your buildings and props cast shadows across the landscape,
creating a really nice level to play in. now the mood, is this place evil or
good? Well, “Ragnorth” is a good place, so lighting will be bright, so there
won’t be many dark alleys or evil looking buildings.
weather, because my city is under ground, weather isn’t really an option,
however ill have huge dust clouds that are made from falling rocks, obviously,
outside, all of the normal weather patterns will take place, and in your game,
Ok, so now you’ll have your first level, fit for a dwarven warlord, or racing
speed demon. Now you should go on to create the entire world in this process,
and at the end, your world will be stunningly beautiful.
Thank you for reading.