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Matt Householder, Blizzard North
Another key member of the Diablo II group is Matt Householder, who also shares some comments in Chapter 4. He adds to Roper's discussion on the importance of a design documents and storyboarding of these mega-popular RPGs:
The purpose of a design document is to present the look and feel of the game to the production team (and publisher's management) in an efficient and maintainable way. Begin with a one- or two-page overview, briefly describing the player's viewpoint, gameplay, and controls.
Explain why it will be fun to play. Be sure to cover all the basic issues in brief—single-player, multiplayer, console versus PC, player characters, opponent/enemy characters, animation style, background settings, sound/music, story, etc., and then elaborate on them in later sections devoted to one major topic at a time. Drawings—sketches, character designs, screen mockups—are very helpful to visualize the game. For a large game, the document could grow to hundreds of pages!
A design document is a lot like a recipe for the building of a game, but the best cooks often experiment and modify recipes as they go. Likewise, Blizzard North uses a design document more as a general guideline rather than a "bible" and encourages creative expression by all the production team members—even exploring major design changes during the development process.
And on storyboarding:
It's essential for cinematic production, but not strictly necessary for the production of game code and artwork. One place storyboarding can help a great deal in game production, however, is in flowcharting the user interactions of making choices to start up a game, navigating through game menu screens, and the like.
Both Householder and Roper discuss the art and science that is RPG game design in Chapter 4.
Chris Taylor, Gas Powered Games
The creator of such beloved games as Total Annihilation (when at Cavedog Entertainment) and Dungeon Siege has provided this book with a design document template (see Chapter 6) that you can use as a basis for your own custom document, plugging in the necessary game details to suit your project.
Here, Taylor explains that creating a design document can be approached in many different ways:
Design documents can vary from highly theoretical to very technical and detailed. Over the years I've settled on a system in which I create an overview document and then a series of appendices that add the details. From this I then produce specification documents that break down everything for the person who will implement the specifics. It's great to have a template to work from because then you can just go through and fill in each section. You begin with the high concept, then the feature set. Then you must answer the 10 most jaded and difficult questions that you think someone might ask you about your design. If you can't answer them right from the beginning, you may need to go back and think about why you want to make a game like that in the first place.
Taylor says the importance of storyboarding depends on the type of game:
When there are a huge number of art assets involved, you absolutely must do concept sketches, storyboards, and anything else you can to reduce risk and any chance of doing stuff over and over again. Poor planning will frustrate people and de-motivate them, so storyboarding is a great way to communicate the overall plan, look and feel, style, and scope of the game.
Warren Spector, Ion Storm Austin
In Chapter 4, Warren Spector—best known for games such as the Ultima Underworld series, System Shock and Deus Ex—chats at great length about creating award-winning role-playing games. His suggestions can also be found in Chapters 12, 17, and 21.
Here he discusses the importance of a design doc:
A design doc is absolutely vital to me. I know some other hugely successful developers (who will remain nameless) who insist they never bother trying to document their games. I can't imagine that!
For me, a design doc is many things: It's a roadmap—an abstract, iconic version of your proposed game. If you keep it updated during pre-production and even during production, it's a snapshot, a picture of where your project stands today, right now. If done "right," it includes materials, assets, and information that marketing can use to generate early press coverage of your game (without bugging the development team too much!). Toward the end of the project, a design doc that has been updated appropriately can be a vital tool for manual and cluebook writers, as well as for QA teams looking to generate playthrough and feature checklists. Most important, though, a design doc is a vital communications tool, both internally (ensuring that everyone on the dev team is on the same page) and externally (for publisher, marketing, and even press). I just wouldn't know how to make or manage a game without one.
So, how does Spector—or any game designer, for that matter—write a design document?
Unfortunately, no two projects are the same, no two teams are the same, no two genres have the same requirements, and therefore, no two design docs are going to be the same. You just have to find the elements necessary to describe your game to your team and to your publisher. Figure out what you need to provide to ensure that your team has enough information to implement the vision of a game. Allow each person on the team to contribute to the extent of their capabilities and/or interests, but give one person "ownership" of the doc. (In other words, one person should say yes or no to any idea before it's incorporated into the final doc.) Plan on revising throughout development, to ensure that the doc reflects the changing reality of your game's development. Recognize that a time will come when reality overtakes your doc and continued updating may (MAY) be unnecessary. And then read the book I obviously have to write on this subject! I'm completely overwhelmed by how much there is to say so I better stop. Sorry...
Spector admits that storyboarding has never been a big part of his development process:
It's vital, obviously, when planning cinematics, but that's about it. You always want concept art for characters and locations/maps/levels before you spend a lot of money modeling and creating them, but that isn't really storyboarding per se. I remember reading a fine little book called Behind the Scenes at Sega, about the making of a platform game, that said every aspect of the game should be storyboarded. That idea just isn't applicable to the kinds of games my studio produces (and illustrates the fact that development processes have to be appropriate to the game you're making—there's no single Right Way to make a game...). Storyboarding is probably vital to games where you know exactly what path players will take every step of their journey and where you pre-plan every puzzle and its one solution.
Storyboards were certainly an important part of the Wing Commander games, with their emphasis on cinematics, and I bet the Lucas Arts adventure games use them heavily. But if you're making something more open-ended than that, storyboards just don't seem all that useful. We're not (or shouldn't be) making movies here...
American McGee, Carbon6 Entertainment
American McGee, creative director at Carbon6 Entertainment, has worked on such renowned PC titles as Doom, Doom III, Quake, Quake II, and most recently, American McGee's Alice for Electronic Arts.
For this chapter on storyboarding, McGee gives us his vision for the cinematic intro to Alice. Read on, and enjoy. If you've ever played the game (and you should!), you'll get a lot more out of this having experienced the breathtaking intro sequence.
American McGee's Alice intro, written by American McGee
Snow flurries dot the night sky. Storm has passed.
Camera glides through leaded glass French doors into the library of a comfortable Victorian manor.
[Full] moon's glow, intensified by snow, lights the room. Shelves overflow with books and papers.
Camera moves toward a large fireplace.
A napping cat stands, arches his back, and uses the leg of a nearby desk to sharpen his claws.
Retreating, he catches a claw on a damask cloth, which is decoratively draped over part of the desk.
An oil lamp sits on the cloth.
Trying to get free, cat pulls the cloth. The lamp is drawn to and over the edge. Smashes on floor.
Oil covers the cat and flows towards the glowing embers in the fireplace.
Flame explodes out of the cinders and engulfs the cat and paper-filled desk.
Fire spreads through the library at an alarming pace.
Smoke slithers the door and up the stairs—along the hallway and slips under Alice's door.
Camera moves to sleeping Alice.
A tendril of smoke wisps up her nostril.
WONDERLAND—GNOME GARDEN—TEA PARTY
Alice and a small assortment of Wonderland characters—Mad Hatter, Gryphon, March Hare, Dormouse, White Rabbit—having tea around a huge table. Mood is light and playful.
Mad Hatter, pouring tea for Alice, drops the pot, which shatters with the sounds of breaking glass. Suddenly, the ground around the table splits open and fire comes through the fissures.
Smoke billows around everyone. The shadow of the Jabberwock passes overhead. Screams.
Fade back to Alice's moonlit, smoke-filled room.
Alice awakens from her interrupted dream.
The [muffled] screams are coming from inside the house.
Alice leaps out of bed, clutching her beloved white rabbit, and runs to the door.
Hallway is filled with smoke and licks of fire.
She bolts towards her parents' room, and trying the doorknob burns her hand severely.
She pushes the door in a little—flames come billowing out.
Alice, driven back by heat, distraught, screaming in agony and frustration, retreats.
Camera follows as she runs wildly down hall.
Camera watches as Alice exits house through the front door and stumbles down the steps.
Screaming, coughing, covered with soot, she collapses on the front yard in a large snow drift.
House is completely engulfed in flames; a section of roof/wall dramatically collapses.
She curls up in fetal position, eyes locked on the burning house.
Camera flies into the fire burning in Alice's right eye.
Cut to asylum...LET MUSIC MAKE THE TRANSITION
INT CHILDRENS HOSPITAL/ASYLUM
Rain is falling outside.
Camera slowly pulls away from Alice's vacant eye. She's curled on a bed in a private room.
Sterile, impersonal except for framed facing photos of her mum and dad on bedside table. Shares space with a bowl of food and a large spoon. A chair is the only other piece of furniture.
No longer the pretty little girl of earlier sequences, Alice is a drawn young woman; has not seen the sun in ages.
She clutches a dirty and threadbare stuffed rabbit, whose only eye stares off into space.
We see numerous scars on Alice's wrists. Some fresh. One wrist is bandaged.
The night, visible through a barred window, is boiling with bad weather.
A nurse in foreground turns and walks slowly to the door shaking her head, speaking to herself.
Glad I saved that moth-eaten relic [the rabbit] from the dustbin.
(Turns and says, in full voice)
Please try to eat something, dear. Good night, Alice.
(The nurse will resemble the Duchess in game.)
Nurse locks the door behind her as the darkened sky outside unleashes a burst of lightning.
Alice flinches and grasps the rabbit tight.
Camera pulls in again on Alice.
Every time there is a lightning flash, she flinches slightly; exhibits no other signs of activity.
Another flash offers the opportunity to cut to a close-up of her head and torso, where the rabbit in her hand slowly turns its head to look at Alice.
It whispers in a raspy voice, sounding like the worn-out toy it is.
Alice, pull yourself together, girl. You must help us!
Another flash pulls the camera back out; Alice slowly turns her head to look downward at the rabbit.
Another flash and the rabbit is gone from her hand, but something else is in the room with Alice.
Camera pans as if to look out of Alice's eye and finds a large white rabbit dressed in undertakers' garb standing before her.
You must help us, Alice. You really must. Follow me, we haven't much time.
Walking toward to the door, the rabbit pulls a key from its waistcoat and unlocks the door. Pushing it open, the rabbit steps through into darkness and begins to run away, again exclaiming:
Hurry, Alice; we're very late already!
Alice slowly rises from the bed; she takes the spoon (this will become her knife) and shambles slowly to the door. Grasping the frame, she propels herself through the door and into the darkness beyond.
WONDERLAND—INT RABBIT HOLE
Alice is falling.
Alice cries out as she falls. She is once again tossed down the rabbit hole and through the entrance to Wonderland. But this feels different.
She falls for quite some time, with the images of her parents, her childhood lifestyle, and her years at the asylum blending together. Images twist and warp and several of the twisted Wonderland creatures are briefly introduced here.
The shadow of the Jabberwock flies across Alice. The Mad Hatter rides a Victorian bicycle across her path, only his coattails and top hat visible. Furniture twists and changes, the walls are pure darkness.
This feature is taken from chapter five of Marc Saltzman's Game Design: Secrets of the Sages, Third Edition.
The book is available inside Macmillan Software's Game Programming Starter Kit 5.0.
Copyright © 2003 CMP Media Inc. All rights reserved.
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