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We’ve said throughout this book that digital game development is an inherently collaborative medium. In the last two chapters we’ve looked at all the various types of people that make up that collaborative environment, as well as best practices for structuring the production process to ensure that these people can achieve success. One of the most important parts of managing this process is communicating the overall vision of the game to each and every team member. If your team is very small, or if you’re working alone, this might not be a problem. But most games are complex enough, and most teams large enough that the most effective way to ensure communication is to write down that vision as well as a detailed plan for executing it.
This plan is called the design document, or sometimes the design bible, and the game designer is its primary author. The design document describes the overall concept of the game, the target audience, the gameplay, interfaces, controls, characters, levels, media assets, etc. In short, everything the team needs to know about the design of the game. The artists use it to lay out interfaces that reflect the features you’ve designed, the programmers use it to define the software modules for those features, the level designers use it to understand how their level fits into the overall story arc, the producer uses it to generate an accurate budget and schedule, and the QA department uses it to develop a comprehensive test plan.
The reliance on a design document is a relatively new trend in game development and there are many ways to go about creating such a document. Until the 1990s, games were made by individuals or very small teams who worked together so closely they were able to communicate their designs to each other with little or no documentation. As team sizes, schedules, budgets, and the overall complexity of game designs have grown exponentially in the last 10 years, the need for clear, comprehensive documentation has become clear. Most game developers and publishers today would never think of going into production without a detailed design document. Writing and maintaining this document throughout production is a critical responsibility of the game designer.
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