Design Docs: IC Character Case Studies

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

Previously I shared a bunch of character specs from Infinite Crisis. These were finalized spec documents, representing the end point of a long iterative design process before production on the character began in earnest. This time let’s look at some of the documents that I wrote as part of that design process.

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Design Docs: IC Tooltips

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

From 2012-2014 I worked on a DC Comics MOBA called Infinite Crisis. I was one of the Champion Designers: our team was responsible for designing the character abilities and overall balance. I ended up as the tooltip guru: I cared a lot about their conventions and the way we used language and keywords. I have a small collection of documents related to this work!

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Design Docs: IC Character Specs

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

From 2012-2014 I worked on a DC Comics MOBA called Infinite Crisis. I was one of the Champion Designers: our team was responsible for designing the character abilities and overall balance. Generally, a given character would be owned by a single designer from start to finish, and over months of design iteration (which I’ll cover in another post), we’d eventually reach a state where we were confident in the design we were going to make. At that point the designer would write their first draft of the complete “Character Spec” document.

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Common Game Design Documents

In a recent twitter thread, I posted a general challenge to professional game designers to share more of their game design documentation. The goal: give academia more examples to learn from. I’d better put my money where my mouth is!

But first, I wanted to share some general thoughts about project documentation, and examples of common documentation archetypes.

The Monolithic Game Design Document (GDD)

When I was in school my professors spent a lot of time teaching how to write formal game design documents (GDDs), stressing their importance. These were single monolithic documents that supposedly captured every detail of a game’s design. In theory the entire team would read the GDD, refer to it often, and trust it to have any answer they might need. They would set and communicate both creative and art direction!

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Class Prompt: Enforcing Content Conventions

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

As game designers, you’re used to thinking about games as systems of rules. You may know rules as things that are enforced by game systems via constraints and affordances: a game is hard-coded to allow this action, but not that action. Voilà, a possibility space is defined!

But many rules are NOT enforced by code or systems, and are instead conventions, patterns, or best practices that the developers stick to when building content. Let’s look at some examples.

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Achievement Design Guidelines

Preface (3/24/2015): In 2011 I was tasked with designing an achievement system for one of the games I was working on. That system never saw the light of day, but I did write some guidelines on achievement design, intended to help future designers that might work on the system. This is an excerpt from those guidelines. Many of these were derived from reading achievement guides written by other designers – but because I never expected to publish this, I didn’t do a good job of saving links to those guides. If you have written similar guides on your own blog, please link to them in the comments here!

While researching achievement systems, I came up with a number of guidelines we should attempt to follow while designing achievements. An important thing to understand is that achievement systems can be used to incentivize a very wide variety of player behaviors, to the point that players will do things they do not enjoy just to earn an achievement.

Push players towards enjoyment

If there is a type of play-style or mechanic that players enjoy already, it’s a good candidate for achievements. Think carefully before incentivizing something they do NOT enjoy.

Evaluate an achievement by the most efficient method it could be earned

Ask yourself: if I was a dedicated player out to earn this achievement as fast as possible, how would I do it? Make sure the answer is something we’re willing to live with. (more…)