A GDD is a document (very large and in depth in most cases) that contains every single detail that you would ever want to know about your game. It contains details about your art style, your story, the characters, the user interface, everything. The GDD is your game in its entirety; every detail you would ever want in the game even if it isn't possible to accomplish. This document is there so that anyone that will ever work on the project can determine what it is that you are wanting to accomplish, and what it is that they are going to have to do to make that happen. Your final project may only end up being 10-25% of what is actually in the GDD, but the whole point is so that if anyone has any questions at all they have a reference point and don't have to ask you 30 questions.
The GDD is not a write once and done type of document. If anything in the design changes you need to update the GDD so that everyone else knows what changed. This way, down the road you don't end up with wasted work. This process does sound like a pain (because we would all rather be at our computers grinding away at our sweet new project), but the hour you spend updating the GDD every once in a while will save you many hours of explaining and searching later on.
The GDD is also important even if you are working alone. Your game may be your baby but you may notice plot holes, things missing, or things that just don't make sense once you have everything written down. The GDD also helps you think about things that you may have not thought about beforehand. How do you really want this game to look? What sort of functionality do you want in the interface? What type of music would fit this game? If I am doing this to make money, how am I going to accomplish that? You'd be surprised at just how much is missing from your idea once you start writing things down.
Now, there is no real standard as to how you should organize your GDD. As long as it flows, makes sense, and has everything in it, you should be perfectly fine. In general though, there are a few categories that you will want to start with, and it usually flows something like this:
- Level/Environment Design
- Sound and Music
- User Interface, Game Controls
Some of these sections may not apply to your game, and there may be sections that do apply that you do not see here, such as an economy section if you are creating a free to play game with in game currency.
Your asset list is just as powerful for determining what your game is going to look like, sound like, and to figure out what was missing from your idea. This is where you get into the most detail with your design. Every single asset that will be in the game should be listed here, whether its a modular piece to a building, a plane that you use for grass in your environment, or a bottle that will be sitting on a counter; every single thing that you can think of.
The asset list is great for determining the actual scale of your game, because suddenly you go from having a sweet idea to having a list of 300 or so models that need to be created, unwrapped, textured and placed into your levels, and having a couple dozen sound effects just for ambient noise, gun sounds, animal sounds and any other sounds you can think of. Those are just the basics. There are also particle effects, cinematics (if that's your thing), a list of all of the concept art you'll be needing to determine what things will look like, animations, and I'm sure there are plenty of others that I am not thinking of as well.
The great thing about the asset list, is that once you have completed it, suddenly you have a giant to-do list, and you will never be wondering what you should be working on next. You can even take your asset list to the next level. Set up an excel sheet that marks the progress on each asset, and have a sheet track the overall progress of your game's completion. Another thing you can do with your asset list is determine a priority of your assets and colour code everything. The more organized you are, the easier things will be down the road.
Completing a GDD and asset list will only benefit you. It's great to have everything in one place so that you don't need to worry about people wondering what they need to do next. Because I am super nice, I prepared a skeleton for a GDD, and a template for an asset list, just for you. Approaching the GDD and asset list can be a daunting task, and I always find that filling out a skeleton is a lot easier than starting from scratch.
The skeleton for the GDD can be found here: GDD
The template for the asset list can be found here: Asset List
That's all for this week, hopefully this post was somewhat helpful! Share it with your friends if you thought it was!