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   Guide to Game Design
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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 like this:

Technical Stuff

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 document.

 Now I will go through each part of your Design Document, and make sure you’ve got it all there.

 Design Document

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.
Create atmosphere.
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 this anyway)

 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


 Hello 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.

 Existing Characters

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.

 For 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 playing game.

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!

 So, 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 characters.

 Now, 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.

  So, 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.

So, Farquii 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.

 That 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.

 Ok, 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 world.

 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 location.

 Many 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.

 For 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 Mountains, 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.

  Creating Levels
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 up.

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.

 It 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.

 You 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 your game.

 Then 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.

 Now 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.

 These 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.

 Finally 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, too.

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.

Tyler Trevell.


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