James Goddard recently pitched a game to Microsoft for inclusion on Xbox Live Arcade. His game, Shred Nebula, was accepted. One of the crucial steps in landing this achievement was creating two official documents: a pitch paper and a manuscript required by Microsoft known as "60 seconds of gameplay."
In a world where such precious papers as design documents are kept under lock and key (or rather, NDA) as trade secrets, it's almost unprecedented for game developers to make them public. But Goddard has decided to openly release these two papers.
In light of the news, GameCareerGuide.com has made PDFs of the two papers openly available (the pitch document and "60 Seconds of Gameplay" essay for Shred Nebula can be downloaded directly from this site). Excerpts from each can be found on pages 2 and 3 of this article.
Goddard is CEO and founder of a small game studio called CrunchTime Games, Inc., but he's also a professor of game development at University of Advancing Technology. Because of his position as a teacher, he has a unique interest in sharing knowledge with the up-and-coming generation of game developers. However, as the founder and CEO of the company, Goddard says he can do what he pleases with the IP, company documents, and the like.
"[O]ur game is done; there is no reason to keep these secret at the expense of helping our future developers and sharing some design ‘know-how' within our industry," Goddard said in a prepared statement.
"CrunchTime Games, Inc., is very excited to offer this reference to the vast communities of aspiring developers, students, educators, and peer in the industry, showing how we tackled the task of pitching Shred Nebula [which was tentatively titled R.I.P. ROCKET, and often referred to as such in the documentation] back in 2006. We hope this open sharing sets a standard for others in the industry," he said.
I spoke to Goddard on the phone a few days before the game's release. He repeated to me several times that the purpose of making the documents publicly available was to promote more openness and sharing among game developers, but particularly between the industry and academia.
In his 17 years creating video games, Goddard has worked on numerous pieces of documentation for games, the kind that can make or break a game's ability to get published. "I personally have created many detailed design documents and high-end pitches for the games I have worked on over the last 17 years as a lead designer, director, and character gameplay programmer -- all of which are stuck under an NDA blanket and therefore hidden away from those who could greatly benefit from the experience," he said. "It is my [pleasure] to finally release this kind of documentation from our game Shred Nebula Xbox LIVE Arcade."
The pitch document is officially what allowed Microsoft to give the game the green light. The "60 Seconds of Gameplay" essay is a separate document that Microsoft requires of all its published games, whether developed in-house or out. In it, the authors must describe, step-by-step what the player does, sees, hears, and feels during a full 60 seconds of gameplay, which can be taken from any point in the game.
Goddard said the inspiration for his take on the "60 Seconds" essay came from comic books and storyboards. He used screen shots to illustrate what was occurring on screen, then annotated the images with text descriptions. It's a technique he calls "visual game design" that he has adapted over the years, and which reflects some interactions he had early on in his career with the Japanese game industry.
The team at CrunchTime Games has only Goddard as an experienced game-making professional. The rest of the team that made Shred Nebula was first-time programmers and artists, many of whom were still students at the time. But Goddard says that no matter how much experience one has, writing a pitch document is perennially difficult.
"Doing a pitch for a new game idea never gets any easier. It does not matter how much experience you have or if it is your first game idea, selling a concept to others is tough! A major challenge for students and aspiring game developers is finding legitimate reference on how this process works by seeing real design docs from released games. The game industry is loaded with NDAs and other secretive philosophies that make it tough for us as an industry to a) help the future designers/developers have solid reference to learn from and b) strengthen the trade of ‘planning/game design' and progress it as a technical art form through sharing and innovation."
Excerpt from Shred Nebula Pitch Document
1. High Concept
1.1 The Hollywood One Sentence Pitch: "Asteroids meets the Running Man set in high def, free-roaming fight for survival through uncharted space."
1.2 The Core Concept: R.I.P. ROCKET is a top-down free-roaming space shooter with unparalleled action and dept, featuring ship based space combat, intergalactic exploration and multiplayer dog-fighting.
R.I.P. ROCKET is the main character of the game and is a prototype ship that is the first single man craft capable of intergalactic travel. The ship is loaded with new features that give it unique flight abilities and a constantly upgrading supply of weapons. The game will tell the story (arcade style) of what happens when the player takes R.I.P. ROCKET on its maiden voyage thought a wormhole to completely uncharted space. The resulting story is one of pure survival, a battle against all odds as one resourceful pilot utilizes tha amazing tools of R.I.P. ROCKET to make it back home and create the legend of the Relentless Intergalactic Personal Rocket...
Based on this simple premise, the game will take players on a tour-de-force of space combat, traveling to unknown galaxies rendered in exquisite detail, fighting through a vast array of enemies that feature multi-tiered attacks and defenses while searching for critical "jump-coordinates" needed to make each Hyper-Jump closer to home.
The game at its purest core is a shooter, but the game's structure and key ingredients are set up to give the player choices, constantly shifting to challenge the player to more than just shoot -- in fact, the highest leader board scores will be held by players that master all three key concepts in the game: Action, Critical Navigation and Collection.
The game is powered by CrunchTime Games' new R.A.K. Engine (Roaming Arcade Killer Engine) which has been built from the ground up on DirectX 9.0c with the Xbox 360 and multiplayer combat in mind. Never before has the next-generation console world experience this genre with fully modern and cutting edge controls, over the top animation, gloriously rendered living sci-fi backgrounds and gameplay that has been hand-crafted with weapon-to-weapon counters to create intense dog-fighting in space. Any skill level player will instantly be able to pick up the control and play, the game will ramp the player through challenges designed to turn beginners into strong players ready for online multiplayer ballet for endless replay value and weekly evolutions of strategies for years to come.
Excerpt from "60 Seconds of Gameplay" document
We join a first time player starting Arcade Adventure mode...
Note: Words in bold italicized text indicate control input, a game related feature or other key game concepts.
Level Launch Cut scene (Intro Images 1 and 2): Space is torn apart in a spectacular lightning strike; out of the rift, a small ship appears. Note: This will be a real-time engine cut scene.
Intro Image 3: The camera tracks the craft's movement as it passes by (side shot) and the rift snaps shut with a thunderous clap. Slowly the camera pans sideways to reveal the 1 man ship code named R.I.P. ROCKET. The energy residue from the Hyper-Jump slowly rolls off the hull and dissipates casting a faint wake behind the craft.
Intro Image 4: The camera pans to the left and pulls back slightly as the ship's Main Thruster spins up with a distinctly muscle car inspired throaty whine as the Thruster fires up (the controller rumbles simultaneously).