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  • Four Ways to Write Your Design Docs

    [05.05.09]
    - Tim Lang

  • Gimme some of them tools!

    So now I'm going to go into detail about four different methods of writing GDDs, including two that may seem unusual to you. I'm just going to talk about the different options and their strengths and weaknesses. If you were hoping for a decision on which one is the best, sorry! I won't be rating any of them. The good news is that if you read all the pros and cons, you'll probably be knowledgeable enough to make your own decision!

     Wiki

    In a short time, Wiki is already taking the game design community by storm. Designers love it because it's web-based, it's searchable, and it keeps the document sizes small. What's not to love?

    Well first off, you can't print your entire GDD very easily. There's basically two methods: Printing it out page by page, or use the built in include function ({{:pagename}} in media wiki). Including it is the way to go, but it still formats weird, and doesn't come out very well.

    It also doesn't import tables very well (there are converters out there: http://area23.brightbyte.de/csv2wp.php) and importing images is less than easy. (No drag and drop for you!) You also have to learn a new markup language to write all your wiki documents. Hope you like = and [, cause you'll be typing them a lot! I'm told there are WSYWIG editors out there, but I haven't seen any yet.

    Pros

    • available anywhere
    • editable
    • source protected
    • edit history
    • web-based (no special software needed-except to install it on a server)
    • imports images
    • easily searchable
    • small page sizes
    • if organized correctly, easy to find specific information
    • quickly updatable
    • pages can be subscribed to
    • available RSS feed plug ins
    • multiple user editing

    Cons

    • have to do weird format coding (not WYSIWYG)
    • have to learn wiki formatting
    • hard to print entire GDD
    • importing excel spreadsheets is difficult
    • hard to add and format photos
    • can't link to external files (unless those files are web-based)

    It's hard to say if the benefits outweigh the difficulties. We're currently using Wiki on Tech Deck Live. It's solved a lot of problems that plague many projects. On other games, programmers and artists would just come talk to the designers rather than read the design docs. We still get that here, but they usually come to talk to us with a wiki page in their hand.

    Microsoft Word

    Word is the thousand-pound gorilla of the game design document world. I'd estimate that 85-90% of all games in production right now still use Word. Why? Because it's on almost every machine. Because it's pretty easy to use. Because we all already know how to use it. It's a writing standard, and when standards get that much momentum, it's hard to change.

    So why not use it? As we all know too well, GDDs can get massive. Common sizes for a full Game Design Document can reach into the hundreds of pages. Some can even go as high as a thousand pages. Loading that big of a document takes forever! Finding what you need in it is even worse, even with Word's search function.

    Multiple people can't edit the same document at the same time. Like Wiki, you can include separate documents together into a single document, which makes things easier, but that single document is still gigantic! Word is the 1000-pound gorilla because that's how big the full GDD file is!

    Pros

    • easily editable (WYSIWYG)
    • most systems have it
    • most designers are familiar with it
    • easily import images
    • easily import tables
    • can import multiple documents into a single document
    • easy to print entire GDD
    • allows designers to write way more than they need to

    Cons

    • single-user editing (can be worked around)
    • unwieldy to navigate when files get large
    • not available online
    • needs source control program for backups
    • can only edit it when you have access to original file

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