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  • Four Ways to Write Your Design Docs

    [05.05.09]
    - Tim Lang
  •  When people find out I make games for a living, their first response is "coooool". The next question is almost always "So you program games, then?", to which I answer "no". Then comes the confusing explanation of what a game designer does. After being asked what a game designer does, my usual answer is, "I write documents that no one reads."

    Yeah, it's a funny answer. And as any game designer will tell you, it frequently rings true. There's two big reasons for that -- besides that all the other game developers are lazy. Our documents are organized in a way that makes it difficult finding the pertinent information and designers tend to write way more than they need to.

    The tools are the thing

    Today, I'll take a look at the first reason: the tools. Like any good carpenter, good tools make the difference between a crappy product and something you'd actually feel good about selling. Most designers use a couple different tools for creating, editing and balancing game design documents.

    These tools fall into a few categories:

    • Text editing
    • Spreadsheet
    • Image Editing

    Text editing is the primary tool. The text editor is what glues all the other design docs together. Microsoft Word is the most commonly used. It's on most systems, and is pretty easy to use. Text editing is what I'm going to be talking about, and showing you the alternatives to Microsoft Word, and the strengths and weaknesses of each method.

    Requirements

    There are a few requirements for a text editing tool that game designers need. Otherwise, Notepad would do just fine. We need our editor to do a bunch of other crap though, so we've got to use something a little fancier.

    So here's the list of requirements that I use to judge the appropriateness of any kind of text editor for designing games:

    Ease of Access

    This is how easy it is to get to the document and edit it. Some are only available in file folders (Word). Others are available and editable online (Wiki).

    Importability of Excel

    It doesn't have to be Excel specifically. As a designer, you're going to be creating a lot of tables of different times. Some will have auto calculated formulas. Others will have images and descriptions and specifications. How easy is it to get that data from a spreadsheet to a table in your primary design doc?

    Importability of Images

    Images are great. When used as a background, they help sell the design. When used in place of text (as often as you can!) they help teach the rest of your team exactly what you meant when you were designing your mechanic.

    Ease of Editing

    This is how easy it is to do your job. Do you have to learn a new language to program your text, or can you use a plain old WYSIWYG editor to input your data?

    Source Protection

    Possibly the most important requirement. How do you control access to editing, and old versions?

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