Monday, October 20, 2008

Game Design Documents


Game Design Documents (GDDs) are the bread-and-butter of a Game Designer's role, and just like bread (more so than butter), they come in many different types and textures. Some designers believe in a 200-page Game Design Bible, which details everything about the game, and some believe in separate documents to be used for different purposes; in short, different designers tend to write the GDD in different styles based on the dynamics of the development team.

I personally believe in the David Jaffe school of GDDs, which generally follows the KISS rule, "Keep it simple, stupid." My general rule of thumb is not to include any unnecessary information in the document just for the sake of it, as many people are tempted to do for the sake of convenience. As with any form of communication, the most important thing is getting the message across to the people that matter, through whatever means possible.

Game Design Documents

Below are some samples of the GDDs that I have written. Meteor Garden's GDD is a more for general use and to convey the game concept, whereas Mūzaïc's GDD was one written more for internal use to convey detail the design to the rest of the development team.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Level Design


Level design in itself is often an art, given the limited amount of resources which are the core mechanics, it is a game / level designer's jobs to use the available mechanics to squeeze out as much interesting gameplay possibilities as possible.

Many things go into the level design process, from the level's conflict elements, e.g. enemies unique to the level, insidious puzzles to overcome etc., gameplay flow, to the story that is often the icing on the cake that ties the whole level together, a 10-minute level that goes into the hands of the player is often much lesser time spent than the sum of the development time of its individual parts.

Nonetheless it is the Level Designer's responsibility to try to make it the best 10 minutes possible for the player.

Level Maps
Troll & Armor Level Maps

Puzzle Design

Platform Puzzle Design

Enemy Design

Level Backstory

Frevendia, the region of the Great North is a region of harsh cold, snow, ice and beautiful auroras. However, as with all things in Haelum, contrast is the order of the day. Frevendia's climate hangs in the balance as it is also home to the Living Mountains, organic, living, breathing active volcanoes kept dormant by their existence in the cold climate.

Of the smaller inhabitants, there are two races, the Pengus and the Hammoths. The Pengus (Pengi) are cold climate creatures, a playful and carefree bunch and mostly live out in the cold, in a shire of snow caves built atop the surface of the icy lakes of Frevendia. The Hammoths are mainly a mining race, unaccustomed to the cold weather, and deeply religious. Making their homes, work and places of prayer inside the warm interiors of the Living Mountains, hardly venturing out into the cold unless necessary, like for reasons of trade and commerce with the outside world. But other than that, they are rather self-sustaining.

However, the long years of being cooped up indoors has made the Hammoths secretly envious of the luxury that the Pengi enjoy, of being able to live out in the great outdoors. Thus, when Marty comes along and offers the Hammoths a chance to make their wishes come true with Steampunk technology, the Hammoths more-than-readily accept Marty's help, and him as a Savior. Digging deep into an ancient Hammoth volcanic temple built into the Chief of the Living Mountains, a Great Volcano, Marty harnesses a its great volcanic activity to power a thermal generator to supply electric energy for the heaters and microwaves that the Hammoths were given to survive out in the cold.

However, little did Marty or the Hammoths know that the intense use of the heating technologies used by the Hammoths would cause an increase in the climatic temperature, disrupting the magical balance of the region, and leading to the Living Mountains erupting. The most drastic disaster occurred when the Great Volcano erupted, sending forth a gushing flow of volcanic rocks and lava, flooding the entire lake of ice beneath it, destroying the homes of the Pengi and changing the entire landscape of Frevendia.

Rusty and Troll arrive in this disaster-stricken land, and are tasked to help the troubled inhabitants and to find a way to restore the delicate balance to the land of Frevendia....

Used with permission by Emerging Entertainment
Copyright of Emerging Entertainment

Wednesday, October 15, 2008



Any good Game Designer should be worth his weight in presentations, after all, one of the primary roles of the Game Designer is to sell the game idea, not only to external parties, but also internally to the team.

I remember an article that wrote that it is important for a Game Designer to be able sell how fun a particular game idea is to the team, as the team needs something to believe in and be convinced of when they spend weeks or even months before something tangible and playable is realized. And for the times in between, they more or less only have the designers' words to go by.

Presentations are vital to communicating game ideas, and pretty much go hand-in-hand with the Game Design Document, some teams even make their GDD a PowerPoint file, for easier reference.

Personally, I've done quite a few presentations, the biggest of which was during Gambit Media Day presentation when I presented Mūzaïc to the members of the press and reporters; and also when I pitched Troll & Armor to some big publishers back when I was with Emerging Entertainment.


Download Gambit 2008 Game Design Test - Roy the Bouncing Hippo

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Story & Script Writing


Most modern games contain some form of story, some even place narrative above gameplay, like classic adventure games such as Hotel Dusk (NDS) or the Phoenix Wright series (NDS), while others place almost equal emphasis on story and gameplay, such as Final Fantasy.

There is no denying that games are a viable medium in telling an involving story, some times to the effect of being even more emotionally charged than film because of the more interactive nature of games.

Whatever the case, story in games has been around since the early days of gaming (Bionic Commando, anyone?) and are definitely not only here to stay, but will continue to evolve with the medium. And as story evolves in games, storytelling techniques start to become more relevant in games.

Backstory Writing

Some samples of the backstory material I co-wrote for Troll & Armor.

History of Haelum

Destiny, the force that ensures that everything has its place and time. Mortals have long since been subjected to its control, but legend has it that there exists 12 Invitations that can allow a man to free himself from his preset fate. It is said that these books were placed in the world by a child wizard so powerful that he managed to defy his own destiny through the power of his mind; through the power of his imagination. This inspired him to provide 12 privileged souls the opportunity to escape to his world, the world of Haelum. It is said that in Haelum, dreams can be fulfilled, hopes can be rekindled and lives can be redefined.

With his profound wisdom and unsurpassed creativity, the Grand Magus was able to derive an equation that allowed him to transcend space and time; to reach into a dimension that was parallel to the world that we live in. That dimension started out as a blank canvas; a void so to speak, but the Grand Magus saw limitless potential and there he created his own world, where things were not bound by convention or natural order. What was most intriguing was that existing outside of the stream of Time itself allowed the Grand Magus to look into the Past, Present and Future. It was as though he had taken a step back and could see the picture in its entirety. But that was when he also realised that the Future was a fixed variable in the equation of Time, which meant that Man could do nothing to change His own Destiny no matter how hard he tried.

The Grand Magus longed to free mankind from his futile struggle against the inevitable, but he was afraid that too bold an approach would draw the attention of the Magic Council to his magical empire. So he wrote 12 Invitations to the world of Haelum and sent them out to Earth, a subtle and powerful solution that would allow a select few to free themselves from their Destinies.

The World of the Wizard

I set my feet upon the ground of this brand new world and gaze out into the distance. I behold an ocean of darkness, glistering with stars and all manner of heavenly bodies. I raise my head and set my sights on the space above me. It is not the sky that I see, but a massive body of water, defying the laws of gravity, suspended in mid-air. I smile to myself, for it is all good in my eyes.

This is the world that I have always dreamt of; a world of perfect chaos. In my world, nothing has to be what it was supposed to be. A world where Laws have no power, Seasons follow no order, Opposites can coexist and Systems have no place. My world exists in utter rebellion to yours. It is the anti-thesis of all you know, believe in, and hold to be true. This is the world through my eyes, the eyes of an unrestricted child, a child with no respect for boundaries or placement. This is my grand design of chaos, my world of paradoxes.

In my world, pre-conceived notions of perfection you call “expectations” will do you no good, not when you will never know what awaits at every turn. So, prepare your hearts to be amazed at the things you will soon see. Creatures that live beyond your wildest imagination wait to bewilder you. Lands that defy all manner of logic beckon your arrival, lying in wait to bend your mind and open your eyes to the truth … And the truth is … there is no such thing as an “Impossibility” in my world, the world of Haelum.

- Words of the Grand Magus

Script Writing

Here are some excerpts from the Troll & Armor script which I co-wrote.

Excerpt #1


Invitation to Freedom

Scene 1 --- Concept Introduction

[Intro begins with a completely black screen, with words flashing by and igniting ablaze as they scroll pass the screen]

Narration: “Destiny ... The invisible force that drives us all to become what we are meant to be, or is it just a restriction that dictates all our lives?”

[One of the Grand Invitations is seen swirling into the centre of the screen]

Narration: “If we are unable to change our fates despite all our efforts; if the course of our lives have already been pre-ordained, then does freedom truly exist?”

[The Grand Invitation lies still in the centre of the screen as chains fade in from the darkness and make a scene where the Grand Invitation is amidst an entire network of chains]

Narration: “What if ... all our fates had already been decided from the day we were born? In such a world, we would all become what we were destined to be; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”

[The Grand Invitation starts to glow and resonate like a heartbeat]

Narration: “A cruel world indeed that would be... but fret not ... for I can offer you an escape ... a taste of true freedom ... a world where Destiny and Order have no place.”

[The Grand Invitation opens and all the chains around it shatter. The screen fades out into white light]

Narration: “Would you like to change your destiny?”

Excerpt #2

Scene 6 --- Heart of a Hero

- Scene kicks in when all the Steampunks are defeated
- [Rusty and Troll are seen side surrounded by rubble]
- [Troll is dusting off his hands after the battle]
- [Rusty turns around and gives him a smile]

Rusty: “Seems to me like we're getting good at this.”

- [The doors of the houses start to open one by one and the inhabitants start to emerge cautiously]

Rusty: “Now that the cats are gone, the mice are coming out to play.”

- [The Hammoth and the Pengus gather round the heroes amidst mummers and mutters]
- [Azenta is looking on in wide-eyed amazement]

Azenta: “What are those things?”

- [Zoom in on the Pengus and Hammoth one after the other in sync with the dialogue]

Rusty: “Pengus, and Hammoth. Strange seeing them together though. They don't exactly make the best neighbors.”

- [The Hammoth Elder steps forth]

Elder: “Mighty warriors, the gods must have answered our prayers, for you have come in a time when we are in need of deliverance. Please, be so kind as to hear our plea and rescue us from the great misfortune that has befallen us.”

*** Note that the Hammoth all speak as though they are singing, making random tunes when they are stringing their words together.

- [Rusty just walks past the elder, ignoring his presence]

Rusty: “Nope. With all due respect, you're barking up the wrong tree, we're not here to save you guys. All we want to know is where we can find the clown that created all those robots.”

- [One of the Pengus answers in a snap]

Pengus: “He headed further north. He and his crazy jetpack.”

- [Rusty starts to walk off]

Rusty: “Why thank you. Let's go, Troll.”

- [Azenta screams at Rusty]

Azenta: “Hold it right there! You can't just leave them like this! They need our help!”

- [Rusty just continues walking]

Rusty: “You think? We don't have the time for sightseeing, Azenta. Marty's probably miles ahead of us by now.”

- [Suddenly Troll grabs Rusty from behind and looks at him sternly]

Rusty: “Don't look at me like that, I'm doing it for you too, brute. You don't want to stay like this forever do you?”

- [Troll stomps his fist into the ground and shakes his head]
- [Rusty looks around and sees all the sad faces around him]
- [Rusty gives a sigh]

Rusty: “Argh! Alright then. It's your loss anyway, brute.”

- [The Pengus and Hammoth standing around rejoice at Rusty's decision]
- [Troll and Azenta smile at Rusty]
- [The elder tells them to meet him in his house to hear more about the situation]

Used with permission by Emerging Entertainment
Copyright of Emerging Entertainment

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Paper Prototypes


Paper prototyping is essentially a representation of the game on a non-digital medium. Meant to mostly be low-fidelity, quick-and-dirty representations of the game, or particular aspects of the game; paper prototyping is mostly used to test functionality of the core mechanics, new features, UI functionality, or even entire game systems.

Naturally, paper prototypes often require their own set of rules that attempt to aggregate the rules of the game system, and in such an aggregation, there will certainly be some elements lost in the digital to non-digital translation.

Nonetheless, I personally believe in paper prototyping as not only is it quick-and-dirty, it also gives people a good feel of the game in play. Despite being a dummied down or sometimes really slow representation of the actual digital game, there are certain issues that can be identified with the game systems even in the early stages of paper prototyping, and it is best to address to be able to test and address whatever can be tested on paper, before moving on to digital prototyping, which is a whole new can of worms.

Mūzaïc Paper Prototype

Friday, October 10, 2008

Interactive Storytelling


Interactive Storytelling, much like its name, is a means of telling a story that involves user / reader interaction. The story and reader are both part of a back-and-forth system, where every interaction choice displayed by the user is followed by an evolution of the story according to that choice.

Modern games such as Mass Effect and Oblivion employ techniques of Interactive Storytelling, in order to make the player feel that he / she is central to the game's universe, and that the decisions made by the player in the game, do affect the game world and the outcome of the story that is told, thus resulting in players having more personal experiences.

Story Elements

  • Premise - The setting and introduction to the story.

  • Middle Elements - The plot points in the plot pool that should ideally be coherently linked to at least 1 other middle element / ending.

  • Stasis Elements - Elements that describe a state in the story.

  • Process Elements - Story elements where an event takes place.

  • Endings - Possible conclusions to the story.

Possible Plots
Using the story elements given above, I have formulated 8 possible plots that could occur based on the decisions that the player makes in the story as Billy.
Each possible plot is noted with the traditional story-telling elements of Turning Points, Dramatic Events and Ending Climaxes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Character Descriptions

A sample of some of the character descriptions for Troll & Armor.

Rusty, The Embodiment of Will

Marty's reflexive attempt to destroy Lucan was a failure, but not a complete failure: The armor, unable to be harmed, remained intact. The armor lost its hold on Lucan's body, but it held on to some of his essence. Rusty, as the armor is now called, possesses Lucan's consciousness, intelligence, partial memory and force of will.

However, Rusty also possesses a personality of his own, and a strong one at that. Rusty often reminisces about the good old days with his former wearers (i.e. King Arthur, Conan, Prince Valiant). Yet, at the same time he often laments about his own tragic fate of fading into the pages of history as nothing more than a mere object which exists solely to assist its owner(s).

Rusty likes to brag about all the adventures he went through with the heroes of old, and is constantly at loggerheads with Azenta, especially when she gives advice or when she unerringly inquires more about his former owners (which she admires greatly). But deep beneath the tough exterior (pun intended), Rusty is a brave and trustworthy companion to the young visitor.

Troll, The Embodiment of Instinct

The rest of Lucan; his passions, emotions and desires, remained with his body after the Transformation Spell hit Lucan. Being left with only the primal, lower instincts and emotions, Lucan's body grew and morphed to fit the remnants of his soul, taking the form of Troll. While Troll is large and strong, he lacks the intelligence and ability to control his powerful emotions and the powers that are tied to them.

Troll is all emotion, and can be likened to a pet puppy, a small child or an angry gorilla. Driven purely by emotions and instincts such as hunger (especially), Troll will instinctively smell out and move towards the nearest rocks (a favorite of Troll's) he can find to satisfy his never-ending hunger. Troll's emotions and powers can vary based on the stuff that he eats, especially when it comes to gems (a mythical favorite dish among Trolls). These gems are said to incite Troll to unleash some of his latent powers when eaten.

Used with Permission by Emerging Entertainment
Copyright of Emerging Entertainment

Monday, October 6, 2008

UI Design


User Interface or UI is a vital part of games, since it is the part that connects the game to the gamer. The functional aspect of UI Design mainly takes into account the accessibility and the usability of the interface.

UI Flow

UI Flow is the flow or order of the different screens of the UI; from menus, to loading screens, to the actual gameplay screen.

UI Flowchart Sample

Mūzaïc UI Flow Diagram

Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Another functional aspect of UI Design is in the actual layout of the elements in the HUD / GUI of the in-game screen, and this is normally represented in a GUI mock-up before it is passed on to the artists to beautify it.

Mock-Up GUI

Mock-Up GUI with Description

Audio User Interface (AUI)

An often overlooked aspect of UI design, the audio user interface some times plays as important a part as the GUI when communicating information to the player, for example, in Halo's use of the beeping and refilling sounds to indicate low health and danger.

Since Mūzaïc was a game that was supposed to be made accessible to the blind, every aspect of the GUI had to have an accompanying AUI to make the game entire accessible, and it had a separate document solely for UI design (available here)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Academic Writings


Before I was a Game Designer by profession, I was a university student. And I had to do the things that other university students did too, which was to critically analyse an issue in an academic manner, citing references and trying to make sense out of jargon.

Fortunately, the jargon that I was reading about was at least somewhat interesting jargon that was relevant to game design and games in general. Thankfully, there is an ever-growing interest in media studies that actually embrace games a legitimate form of media worth studying and researching about, it sure made my academic life easier.

Academic Writings

My two cents worth into the ever growing fountain of the academics of games.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Design Analysis

In my opinion, an important aspect of being a Game Designer is being exposed to a large number of games across different genres. A good Game Designer is not only one who can quote other game as references at the tip of his tongue, but also one who is able to critically analyse and dissect games to identify what works and what doesn't.
In this section, I will identify and critically discuss some of the games that I've played and personally feel have aspects that are noteworthy, inspiring, excellent or just plain bad.
Design Analysis