I wrote this Base GDD to help me to be tidy in my next projects, and because I know how difficult it is to write a GDD, I decided to share it with you. I hope that it helps!
This Base GDD is based on my experience as a Game Designer and is the way that I do things. Write a GDD is not an exact science. You will never found the perfect template because a GDD is a living form that changes between designers, companies, games, and time. This is only a guide, nothing more, nothing less. Maybe you will read it and found it useful, or perhaps you will read it and think that it’s incomplete. That’s fine and normal. All GDDs are incomplete for other designers! Take this just as a flexible guide.
But, what is a GDD? Well, GDD means Game Design Document, and it’s where you, as a game designer, will write ALL about your game.
A GDD is a guide for you and your team. All games start with one, where the designer divides his/her idea into smaller portions to make it more sharable with a team. Each part is then again divided and explained in detail. Finally, a good designer will add mockups, concepts, references, and examples that will make the document visual and fast to read. Once it is done, you will be ready to share your idea with anybody and answer all the questions that your team, audience, producer, etc. will make to you.
And what happens if one that questions don’t have an answer in the GDD? Well, that will happen. A LOT! But it’s your job as a designer to take note of the question and answer it as better as you could. Then you will need to adapt your GDD over and over again to your team and game necessities.
Sometimes, the GDD that you wrote at the beginning, with all your love, passion, and illusion, will be nothing to be with the final result. Because, we, as designers, can see a mechanic in our heads, working in perfect harmony with the rest of the gameplay and the aesthetics, until your programmer, your producer, your artist, and many, many times, even yourself, realize that that mechanic or aesthetic, or story is not working. And then, like when you fix a car and change the piece that it’s broken, you fix the GDD. You adapt it, preserving the essence and the experience the most you could, you change that “piece” that it’s not working and replace it with another that could work.
So, imagine the GDD like a pile of clay. Pick a color for your clay (your essence) and then think about what do you want to build with it (the experience), then build it and rebuilt it until it’s close to what do you want.
Maybe you are thinking, “this is a lot of work, why is so important to write a GDD, anyways? Maybe I can just tell my team the idea and work on it. It’s a small game. A GDD must be important for a big game, with a long story, complicated mechanics, and a big team.” WRONG! If you don’t write a tidy and concise GDD, even for the smallest, simplest, and fastest game ever, you run the risk of never finish your game or have a messy result at the end. A GDD is a guide and insurance. For example, if you want that a ball in your game will be red, and you don’t write it anywhere, maybe your artist will put it yellow or pink, and give it to the animator that will provide the animation to the programmer that will put it in the game. And when you realize that your ball isn’t red, you will need to tell all your team that they need redo all their work because the ball isn’t red, and that color is important because it represents passion. And then you probably will need to argue with all of them for a single detail that could have been done right from the beginning if you had written the GDD. The lack of a good GDD can mean lose lots of hours in stupid details and discussions because we are humans, and we can forget about something that was said in a reunion or just let our creativity flow like a river after heavy rain… So, write it and thank me later.
Write good GDDs isn’t easy and requires practice and patience. An excellent way to practice is to choose a game that you like, play it completely, write a lot of notes and take a lot of screenshots, and then try to do its GDD. That exercise will help you to see how different must be a GDD from another and to learn, with time, which information is essential and which one is expendable.