Joe Danger Studio Says Design Documents "Insane"

Joe Danger Studio Says Design Documents "Insane"

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Design documents are often required in game creation, but the studio that created Joe Danger doesn't believe in them.

A videogame's design document is often considered its "bible." Along the development process, designers can look to the document to know where they can and can't go. Though this is somewhat of a standard in game development, Hello Games of Joe Danger fame thinks documentation in game creation is useless.

Sean Murray of Hello Games recently said at the Eurogamer Expo: "You can't have design documents." He thinks: "Writing what a game is going to be is just an insane idea."

"It's like sitting down to write a recipe and never actually cooking something," Murray added. He justifies his position by referring to classic Japanese games that were designed though experimentation and iteration, rather than typing thousands of words and following along an outline. "I don't think you could design Street Fighter II on paper," he said. "You wouldn't know if it was fun or not. Everything I've read about those developers is that everything was iterative, everything was 'cooked'."

Hello Games was able to free itself from the design document by remaining an independent developer and self-publishing though the PlayStation Network. "We had the benefit of not having a publisher, we had time to develop things, we weren't driven by milestones," he reveals. Murray says that because of this, Hello Games can make better products: "We don't have a publisher, we have gamers. And gamers tell us what they want."

If the method of creating a videogame is to truly approach that of art, Murray is right that it probably shouldn't be overly documented. Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas? Being locked into a document would seem to eliminate some of the freedom needed to the include cool new features that a studio comes up with on the fly.

Source: Eurogamer

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What a load of crap.

Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

If he had 100 different personalities each working on a different part of his painting, then YES. YES HE WOULD.

In other news, banana salesman says spoons are useless for eating fruit.

Ya I'm going to have to disagree with this man. When working on a game, especially a big buget title design documents play a huge part in the game making process. One, they allow the investor, or publisher to see what the game is going to be about, this can make or break the funding you need to get the game off the ground. Two it gives you and the rest of your team a clear idea on the direction the game is going. You can't have 20 different people working on 20 different ideas of what the game should be like.

Maybe with smaller independent studios you can make due without these design sheets, but I'd like to play this Joe Danger first and see how that works out before commenting on whether this ideal even works for that.

Good for him. Now where's my PC or XBLA Joe Danger fix?

It's debatable.
Small groups of people, like less than 50, can easily work by wire.

But large groups, teams of hundreds or more, it becomes very difficult if not impossible for everyone to share the same vision- such a possibility is instantly retracted when anyone in the company simply works for a paycheck and feels little for their work.

Interesting idea, I want to see a couple more of Hello Games' products and see how this tactic works out. For larger companies design documents are a must just to keep everything organized, but I see how not having them could benefit a small developer focusing on experimentation.

I think he has an idea to a certain extent.

You need to know what the point of the game is going to be, and how it it going to work, but then you can use just the examples given and add your own things into the mix.

Like a couple of others have said, it's fine if it's a smaller team per game.

I wonder, though, how much better design documents would be if they were more visual. They certainly help with cooking recipes :).

poiumty:
What a load of crap.

Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

If he had 100 different personalities each working on a different part of his painting, then YES. YES HE WOULD.

In other news, banana salesman says spoons are useless for eating fruit.

You've got an entirely valid point, but do you think that design documents on larger projects limit creativity at all? Could that be part of the reason why we see big-budget games that have absolutely terrible mechanics in them, despite millions of dollars spent?

It depends on the game. Something like an epic RPG (Fallout, etc...) needs careful planning and scripting to be done correctly. Simpler, and somewhat shallower/less story driven games are something else.

I can see where you can wing it with a game like Joe Danger, where the plot is pretty much "do cool stuff in a car" or "Street Fighter 2" where the game comes down to two dudes beating on each other as the core element.

However when you build a franchise and need to work towards consistincy and quality, a solid plan is needed. I wouldn't be surprised if with "Street Fighter 2" they winged it at first, but one of the things that sold the game was the personalities and the storylines (as simple as many of them were) and that needed to be kept consistant and watched, especially as the roster increased. On top of that as people played the game more and more, and things got competitive, even just in the arcades, careful attention had to be paid to game balance. When people start playing a game like that seriously, giving a character some kind of abillity simply because they can, and think it would be cool isn't going to work. Every character has to be fairly balanced, and viable against every other character in the game. This means that the moves, countermoves, defenses, even frames of animation have to be carefully planned and tested. With "Street Fighter 2" nowadays you couldn't just give say Zangief laser beams that shoot out of his eyes with a single button push and are spammable "because it's cool". That would ruin game balance. If you do something like that, you also have to give something to every other character, as well as aways to counter with laser-Zangief spam strategies. Especially when you consider that Zangief having no ranged attacks has been a crucial part
of the game balance for a very long time.

All that rambling gets down to me seeing their point, but I don't think they are correct since it depends entirely on what your doing, the nature of the game, and even how big and long running a franchise is. As "other M" demonstrates, even something as "simple" as giving a character a voice "because we can do it, and it will be cool" can backfire epically which is why planning and researching is needed, even when dealing with something as simple as a run and gun platformer.

poiumty:
What a load of crap.

Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

If he had 100 different personalities each working on a different part of his painting, then YES. YES HE WOULD.

In other news, banana salesman says spoons are useless for eating fruit.

It's not "a load of crap", as your final sentiment proves: design documents are useless for them. The problem is attempting to extrapolate that to larger studios and different kinds of game. It's also very poor for a game that's primarily narrative, or aesthetic. For a game focused entirely on gameplay, made by a small team, their approach is likely ideal.

Also, spoons are actually fine for bananas, provided said bananas are peeled and sliced. 8D

I disagree. Design documents are important, and not just for big studios. If they don't have a plan, they won't know where they're going from the beginning and by the end the game will probably be severely inconsistent. I'm not saying they have to follow it by the letter, but knowing the direction they're headed towards is necessary if you ask me. But I'm no game designer, so what do I know?

As a software engineer who has worked in the games industry, I know exactly what these guys are talking about.
Some publishers want every single aspect of the game detailed in a massive 500-1000 page document. When the game is commissioned, this document is thrown in the bin and no one looks at it, including the publisher.

This kind of up front design in software used to be commonplace. However, it is now becoming more prevalent that you dont need these. Agile methodologies suggest, "Working software over comprehensive documentation". It is a practice that is used in the entire software industry, not just in games.

Some publishers are starting to understand these practices, but most are dinosaurs.

I was under the impression that design documents were consistently changed throughout the development process allowing for some creative freedom while still protecting the game from radical changes. I've always read that the first design of a game is never a good game. If the design document is never changed and followed then the end result will be a bad game. Going with their cooking analogy a chief typically writes down a new recipe they want to try and then cooks it. Afterwards they try again and update their written recipe.

Tom Goldman:
Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

Picasso wasn't collaborating with dozens of other people or for that matter, worried about coherent or commercial design. Yes, if you want a game that plays like a Picasso, and that is to say an incoherent, disjointed mess, then you would do well to emulate him.

Not to say that a lack of a design document can't work for some people. But in many cases you wind up with a 3D realms/ion storm situation, where a game has no design document thusly, no limitations on when it's really finished. Necessary? No. Insane? Hardly.

While it sort of makes sense, I don't think his opinion would hold true for *every* game. For a game like Joe Danger, sure, you can just "cook" stuff together and come out with a successful project. But for much bigger games (aka the "Blockbuster" AAA titles), you really need that documentation if you want your story or gameplay to make any sort of cohesive sense.

Um, a game design document isn't something you just "[write] what a game is going to be" anyways.

As far as my limited experience goes, it serves the purpose of (gasp) documenting the progress of your project.

It pretty much emerges from the concept of the prototype you're planning to develop. And given that publishers usually want to see a prototype before giving you money, you can show them its design document and work out where to go from there, i.e. determine the project's scope.

Independent development and self-publishing is all nice, dandy and good for them, but come on... don't just blurt out stuff looking like you don't have a clue how things work.

As already said, publishers familiar with agile development (hint: the good ones) acknowledge the flexibility and free room you need when making games.

I wish my University tutors thought like that. I spent ages writing and researching about what I was going to do and in the end I didn't have time left to actually make the damn thing.

Wouldn't design documents be sort of like a developer's version of an outline for a book? They work in similar fashions.

A better idea would be that you shouldn't be beholden to the design document like it's scripture. After all, many writers can (and will) slip away from their outlines while writing a book, but it's always handy to have one ready as something to refer back to when you get lost. Similarly, those design documents can keep a project focused on the essential elements of a game so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

Of course, some writers don't use outlines, as well, so it really comes down to personal preference and how disciplined you are as an artist. Plus, this comment from Mr. Murray:

It's like sitting down to write a recipe and never actually cooking something

is entirely wrong-headed. After all, cooks do still write down recipes.

The man is right for games without any real density, such as a silly, cartoony racing game (cough, cough), but any game with complexity needs to have structure in order to become viable.

Tom Goldman:

poiumty:
What a load of crap.

Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

If he had 100 different personalities each working on a different part of his painting, then YES. YES HE WOULD.

In other news, banana salesman says spoons are useless for eating fruit.

You've got an entirely valid point, but do you think that design documents on larger projects limit creativity at all? Could that be part of the reason why we see big-budget games that have absolutely terrible mechanics in them, despite millions of dollars spent?

Terrible mechanics? I'm not sure I agree with that. Some might, certainly, however you can hardly say that about all big budget games. Starcraft 2's mechanics were polished to a mirror shine and that's about as big budget as you get unless you're going for MMOs, but even those aren't all bad (though often they take a while to get that polish done. See: WoW. Good lord was Vanilla WoW awful at first).

While it is arguable that a design document on a big product might limit creativity somewhat (though even that's debatable, it also allows for greater polish on what you do have. The amount of "small group" games which aren't polished at all are arguably far worse than having 'terrible' mechanics.

Reduced creativity, in moderation, could even be argued as helping games along. Allowing developers entirely free reign is like...having an author without an editor. Yes, it allows the author to do whatever s/he wants with their book, but I would argue it would lead to poorer results.

/Think I'm rambling a bit.

I need to mak GDDs for my games in digipen.

they are lame. I AGREE!

dave_:
As a software engineer who has worked in the games industry, I know exactly what these guys are talking about.
Some publishers want every single aspect of the game detailed in a massive 500-1000 page document. When the game is commissioned, this document is thrown in the bin and no one looks at it, including the publisher.

This kind of up front design in software used to be commonplace. However, it is now becoming more prevalent that you dont need these. Agile methodologies suggest, "Working software over comprehensive documentation". It is a practice that is used in the entire software industry, not just in games.

Some publishers are starting to understand these practices, but most are dinosaurs.

In addition to this though, think of how often the design document is changed during the course of a game. It changes all the time when the team perhaps realizes something isn't feasible or thinks of a great idea - then the design doc is changed to reflect this.

If there was simply no document people wouldn't need to keep changing the damn design doc every time something new comes up.

They seem to hav e done well without them too! Way to break tradition!

I get where he's coming from and I'm inclined to agree. I wouldn't say they are "insane", but maybe sticking too them too much is insane.

The cooking analogy is particularly appropriate. I doubt a cook sits down to jot down a number of strict guidelines on what he puts inside the pan before just doing it. If he wants to try some honey in there, he'll just do it.

Ofcourse, in our current situation with this childish focus on AAA, 10+ hour HD graphical games it makes sense to have documentation. Noone wants to blow 50 million on some guy's dream, and orchestrating 100+ people based on experimentation is not very practical to say the least. I get the usefullness of documents in this situation, but most often all they lead to is functional, well scripted games without any kind of soul or merit. Very playable, very nicely executed but entirely forgettable.

My recommendation: Smaller teams make better games. Maybe not as long, maybe not as pretty but a better experience.

Tom Goldman:
Would Picasso have written down exactly where he was going to paint on a canvas?

You wouldn't believe how meticulously some artist plan their work. Especially when you look at old masters, like Da Vincci, who spent months and months on indivudual paintings and had large preparatory phases before they even started. Picasso had extensive training and planning, it's not like he just sat down like some kind of flowerchild and just went at it.

The 'design documents' in art aren't written, they're drawn. Sketches, live studies, impressions, countless revisions of initial ideas.

http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/guernica/glevel_1/2_process.html

"I mean it's not like art can arise through seriously meditating on how to convey a specific theme, am I right? You have to just, like, let it flow, man. I'm an idea man, man! Don't wreck up my game your talk of 'plans' and 'practicalities.'"

"A game is supposed to be fun. How can you plan FUN with WORDS?"

"Street Fighter 2 is a work of art. Plain and simple. YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW, MAN. YOU. DON'T. EVEN. KNOW."

teknoarcanist:
How can you plan FUN with WORDS?

(First, I realize that the quote must have been sarcasm, still was useful to get this out of my system. :D)

"Fun" doesn't just happen by accident or fooling around. At least nowhere near as fast as when you have some plan of the outlines. It'll save you a lot of work and nerves.

Granted, there is no magic formula and it's encouraged to stretch or break some rules, but the theory is there, it is extensive and it is immensely helpful.

I don't know (or care) how close game design is to any other art out there, but personally I just prefer the approach of craftsmanship or engineering over that of an artist - or at least of the picture some people have of artists.

Really doesn't mean you can't put your heart into it, though.

If that works for them, then nice, but I really don't think saying the design doc is useless is correct. It's the same way that architects work, you need plans to know where everything is going and to make sure things are coherent and logical.

I agree that you can't always tell if something is fun or not by going off a doc, but just because you have plans doesn't mean you can't go and change things that aren't working, or tweek things as you go. It should be viewed as the base for everything to be built upon and changed where necessary. It's just an overarching guideline to make sure people have the same idea of how the project is meant to be built, not a sacrosanct set of restrictions.

I think he makes a point, but it only works if the company keeps it's self informed constantly of the direction they're going and that the game is non-serious; mainly games like Joe Danger and Trials HD. However with games like Silent Hill...A lack of a design would of destroyed the game. A game that relies heavily on the environment is very easy to mess up and there-fore requires a ton of planning before hand.

Headwouend:

teknoarcanist:
How can you plan FUN with WORDS?

(First, I realize that the quote must have been sarcasm, still was useful to get this out of my system. :D)

"Fun" doesn't just happen by accident or fooling around. At least nowhere near as fast as when you have some plan of the outlines. It'll save you a lot of work and nerves.

Granted, there is no magic formula and it's encouraged to stretch or break some rules, but the theory is there, it is extensive and it is immensely helpful.

I don't know (or care) how close game design is to any other art out there, but personally I just prefer the approach of craftsmanship or engineering over that of an artist - or at least of the picture some people have of artists.

Really doesn't mean you can't put your heart into it, though.

Exactly. Every medium has the artistic side, and the side of technical craftsmanship. You can't negate one for the other--art without craft gives you a big self-indulgent pile of shit, and craft without art is just a soulless commodity.

 

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