Unlike the previous appendix, in this section I have included the design document for a published game that shipped in early 2004: The Suffering . Developed at Surreal Software and published by Midway, the game endeavored to explore the horror genre but apply a significantly more action-oriented experience to it. I was lead designer and writer on the project, meaning it was my responsibility to create and maintain the design document. The document has been included here in an unedited and unpolished form, warts and all as it were. This is exactly the version of the document used during development. As I stated in Chapter 19, The Design Document, it is not actually that important that your design document be written with flowery verbiage or perfect grammar, as long as it conveys the information you need to get across.
For space reasons, this document was edited down from its original form, which was just about twice as long as what you see here. Most of what has been removed are the specifics of various game-world entities (weapons and NPCs) as well as a lot of the Gameflow section, which described specific environments on a room-by-room basis. These details were all specific to The Suffering , and are repeated in other examples you will find still in the document. I have tried to maintain the overall structure of the document, however, leaving in all the major section headings. Whenever you see [ ] you will know that something was cut from the document at a particular location in order to allow it to fit in this book.
It is interesting to notice what information is not included in the document that probably should have been. The main area in which The Suffering innovated was through in-game storytelling techniques, and, strangely, many of these unique techniques are not covered in this document. Our morality/reputation system was also one of our biggest points of differentiation, but the mechanics of how it works are not discussed in this document. Also, we amped up the horror components of the game quite a bit midway through development, though those changes never made it into the document either. Finally, we did a lot of work on enhancing the behavior of the creatures , but none of that data was added to this document. For each of these changes and refinements to the game, new documents were drawn up, but they were never incorporated into this main design document. As I have discussed, one problem with a big design document like this is that it can be unwieldy to find information in. Thus, for these later changes to the game, it was easier to isolate the new information in a smaller document to which people could easily refer. Further complicating matters are some sections of the document that were added not because they were well thought-out or even especially needed, but because someone not on the development team requested them, to make the document seem more complete. For example, the section on vibration is not particularly detailed and the final vibration implementation is significantly different.
Indeed, if I were to create this document all over again, I would try to write a significantly more condensed document that would convey information more simply and in less space, while also hyperlinking to separate, more detail-oriented documents. A number of sections of this document could easily be broken out into separate documents. For example, it would be good to have most of the back-story and character descriptions in a separate story bible. Having a number of separate documents would probably work best over a Wiki-type web-based system that everyone on the team could easily access and update. Also, the biggest problem with this document is how fossilized it is. There are many sections that are out of date, such as references to the game s old targeting system that was scrapped midway through development. In part, the reason so many other documents were made instead of updating this one is because, after a given point, the programming team knew not to trust the design document for the definitive word on any given feature.
Since it was so out of date, fans of The Suffering will find many differences between this document and the final game, some of which may prove amusing. In addition to all of the changes from earlier in the project that never made it into the document, readers will notice that this document is dated July 7, 2003, a full eight months before we finally shipped. Of course, during this time many changes were made to the game. Some of the more interesting differences include:
The game was originally called Unspeakable , but this was changed halfway through development, and I saw no need to update the document for this cosmetic change, except in the title page of the document.
The Quest Items were cut from the game completely, and the puzzles that used them were redesigned.
Dozak was renamed Xombium.
The Cartwheeler creature was renamed the Slayer, and the creature that was originally called the Slayer was renamed the Marksman.
On the art side, the Stun Stick was conceptualized, modeled , and textured, but its functionality was never implemented because there was some concern whether it would be a fun weapon to use and we ran out of development time.
The introductory Level 0 was added very late in development and is not in this document at all. It was subsequently cut from the game and re-added as a bonus, unlockable feature. A different introductory section to the game is described in this document. This introduction was never attempted because it was decided it was too high risk and labor intensive for what it accomplished.
Of all the sections of the document, the gameflow changed the most. Of the gameflow included here, the basement is much shorter and simpler than what is included in the shipped game. The basement was an example of unanticipated level-bloat that occurred during development. That said, it is generally agreed the final basement level turned out quite well and is one of the spookiest spaces in the game.
Despite all the changes, it is interesting how much the final game matches a lot of the mechanics, story, and general goals set out in this document. Fairly early on in development I made a focus statement for the game, and the final game follows it to a remarkable degree.
Unspeakable is designed to at once frighten and horrify the player, while being a fast-paced, action-oriented game. The controls will be tight and responsive , with an emphasis on allowing the player to easily navigate the 3D environments while defeating a large number of opponents. The player s character will be strong and dexterous to the point of being superhuman; the character will be able to overcome overwhelming opposition with primarily projectile weapons. The horrific creatures the player battles will take the form of perversions of the human form, creatures that should not be and which are upsetting to look at in both appearance and movement. The setting, with the exception of the monsters, is fairly realistic for a computer game, and the game touches on portions of human history that will inevitably be unsettling and disturbing to the player.
In the end, despite everything that did change in the game but not in the document, it was still an essential tool for developing The Suffering . Though I would write it differently in the future, many games in the past have certainly done far worse .