How to create a Game Design Document

Keep on track when starting a new game

How to create a Game Design Document

Staying on track when making a new game is a job in itself, so game developers create a Game Design Document (or a GDD) to record their vision for the project.

Compiling one is an artform, yet it’s an essential practice for anyone who considers themselves a professional game dev.

So what goes in it? What if your vision changes as the work gets going? And how do you get started in putting one together?

Why you need a GDD

If you or someone on your team is unsure about whether a gameplay mechanic, a new character or a music track is right for the game, they refer to the GDD. But this is a living document that grows as the game does, so it shouldn’t be considered a list of commandments carved into stone tablets.

It’s fluid, but more importantly, it’s always up-to-date.

In this feature we’re taking a look at what you need to create a game design document from scratch, the best ways to maintain it, and what you should put in it. We'll cover some of the most useful tools for a GDD scribe, ways in which a team can collaborate on the creation of a single GDD, and the resources that are available should you hit a wall.

As always, we want to hear your thoughts and advice on working with a GDD, so remember to send us links to relevant info and to put your hints and tips in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Tools

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    There’s no ambiguity about the word ‘document’ when it comes to GDDs. If you want, it can be a physical scrapbook, or it could be an online collection of custom-made web pages. Both these options are at the opposite ends of the practicality spectrum, of course, with acres of middle ground between them.

    What you really need is generally little more than a Word document, or maybe a PDF (although this latter format is more irksome to edit as the GDD evolves). So take your pick of your favourite document creation tool and load it up. We’ve compiled a few options below, in case you want to take a new approach.

    Google Drive

    Microsoft Office

    Free Word Processing Tools:

    FreeOffice: Free, available for Windows and Linux
    OpenOffice: Free, available for Windows, Linux and Mac
    LibreOffice: Free, available for Windows and Mac, pre-installed on Linux


  • 2 Skills

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    You must keep in mind that in all likelihood, you won’t be the only one referring to the GDD later on in the development. This means it’s not practical to just hack it together like a scrapbook with a few poorly composed emails and text-speak captions chucked into the mix.

    Your vision must be clear. That’s the whole point of a GDD. So if it’s badly written, and people can’t understand what you meant to say - or you can’t even decipher your own thoughts when you go back to them, further down the development line - then the GDD is worthless.

    So make a little time to develop these essential skills, and your GDD will be the solid foundation you need to build a game upon. The ideas below aren’t necessarily talking about GDDs, but what they offer is every bit as useful for a game dev putting together a technical document.

    Columbia University: Writing Technical Articles

    Writing World: How to Write a White Paper

    That White Paper Guy: The White Paper FAQ

    I Heart Technical Writing: How to Proofread a Technical Document in 15 Minutes

    Excellent Proofreading and Writing: Technical Proofreading

  • 3 Resources

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    Okay, so you know what you need to put a GDD together, and you’ve a better idea about the writing processes that’ll help to make it understandable and useful to the whole team.

    So let’s take a look at what actually goes into a Game Design Document, and different ways you can format them to best suit your project, and your studio.

    Tzvi Freeman: Creating A Great Design Document

    Although it’s an old guide, this is still a great breakdown of how to put together your first GDD.

    Game Design Document Template

    A stunningly comprehensive and convenient Google Docs template. Fill in all these blanks, and you've got a first class GDD.

    STEM Video Game Challenge: Game Design Documents

    Looking for a complete beginner’s guide to GDDs? Look no further, and it even has a couple of example docs at the bottom, from published games.

    David Bud Leiser: Game Design Documents

    Game designer Bud Leiser walks you through his GDD writing process, using Google Drive.

    Justin Kelly: Viral Light Interactive GDD

    Although not especially interactive (despite the title) this is a great example of a GDD that uses visual assets to help illustrate the game design.

  • 4 Hints & Tips

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    Cloud collaboration: Keep your GDD in your preferred cloud storage service, so you always have access to the latest version. Especially useful if you’re collaborating on the GDD with other people, so you’re confident that everyone is working from the same file(s).

    Categorise your GDD carefully: Create a few top-level categories that most any subject or element will fit into comfortably, and then create sub-categories that are more specific. By adding hyperlinks to these you can easily create an index that helps everyone find the info they need, or to add more info in just the right place.

    Analysis: Learning how to analyse existing games can be a good way to figure out what a GDD needs to cover:

    New wave GDD: Just in case you’re looking for an alternative to a traditional GDD, check out what this guy from Jagex has to say on the subject.

    Got some GDD tips of your own, or found a useful resource you want to share? Let us know about it in the comments section below, and we’ll add it to our game design document guide. 

Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.