The Game Treatment Design Document
You should know how to write, or have someone willing to do it for you.
I’d say more than 4 hours… but who cares, right? Time is relative!
Previous Note: After posting this tutorial, I’ve had a really nice discussion with two of my Facebook followers about the name of this document. As they (wisely) pointed out, this is usually named “Game Design Document”, and this is the name that you should use on Google in case you wish to read more about the subject. However (and this is a matter of personal choice) I do believe it is more logical to refer to “design documentS” as the set of documents produced during the “design stage”. This may be a question of habit, but I feel there are other documents (like the High Concept), which are also “documents of game design” – however still in a “proto-stage”. Taking it a little to the extreme, and following the sequence of my tutorials, the document I produce when I write about an idea I get, also has the foundations for the design. Somehow I don’t feel right to call one document the “design document” when there are others which are also about “design”.
Anyway, thanks Álison and Tiago for the feedback! It is – as promised – pointed here how this document is usually referred.
I know you’re starting to think this tutorial series is just about documenting stuff. And up to this point you’re right. And at the same time, you aren’t. As I said in previous tutorials, documenting your game design is an excellent way to make you think about it, taking it a step further. At the same time, it is a good way to communicate your ideas to a potential producer, your friends, or your future self.
So YES, yet another document will rise from this tutorial. This document, named “Game Treatment” will expand the ideas introduced in the High Concept, trying to improve them by changing the “weaker points” identified.
Hopefully, after this tutorial, you’ll have a “stronger” idea, ready to be taken a step forward
Game Design, Game Document, Game Treatment, Communicating Ideas, Decision Making, Hooks.
The ‘Game Treatment’
As I said in my previous tutorial, the High Concept’s purpose (although I use it more as a “put your ideas together” tool) is to introduce your game to potential investors. If you have the luck to get someone interested in your idea, you’ll get the chance to talk more about it at a meeting.
On the day of the arrangement you wake up early, shave, take (finally) a shower, dress something nice (and not your regular “I like big boobs” shirt), go to the meeting and make a quick, nervous presentation. Before leaving the room, you should give something to your potential investors that they can read later, reminding them of the things you said, and introducing them things you should have said, but didn’t, because you were trembling and with stomach aches. Well, that’s your Game Treatment document.
Ernest Adams (link) describes this document as the place where you present the game in a broad outline to give more information about it to someone already interested. Its goal is to satisfy initial curiosity and stimulate real enthusiasm, working as a sales tool, aiming to get funding to expand the design, develop a prototype or develop the entire game.
To me, the high concept works as a bigger document that makes you expand the idea on which you’re already working, and already turned into a High Concept. More than a sales tool, I use it as another milestone on the design process, eventually with different versions until getting to a satisfying one.
Either if you look at it as a sales tool, or (the way I do) as “yet another mountain to climb while designing a game”, in Adams’ wise words, we can state that the game treatment is a simple document summing the basic ideas in the game. A good way to picture what to write in the treatment is to imagine you are writing a website to sell your game; then throw in some business and development details for good measure.
In terms of format, the Game Treatment is a 10-20 pages’ document, attractively produced, enriched with many, good quality pictures, according to the following template (which I conscientiously “stole” from my Game Design Classes’ slideshow – credits to teachers here):
- Title Page
- Game title and short tagline.
- Author, date and necessary copyright and confidential information
- Attractive and fun (this is not a court intimation)
- If possible, a big color picture
- Executive Summary
- Like in High Concept, it is a one page covering the most important features of the game
- Copies the best points of later pages
- High Concept
- High concept statement, eventually with some more relevant information added, like some story, or a little gameplay hints.
- Similar to the genre statement in the High Concept, but eventually with some more detail, and if necessary referring similar games
- Game elements of any kind that have the potential to attract the player. In this section, you should choose five or six features to answer the question “Why would a player want to buy this game?”.
- Indicate any license property used by this game, and how its features and public recognition will be used. For example, in a driving game, emphasize the fact you’ll explore the performance characteristics of the cars’ brands. In a game based in a movie, talk about the characters and locations that appeared in the movie.
- Gameplay Highlights
- It is a 10-20 elements’ list of elements describing the experience of playing the game. Center on what features you want to include in the full design, without the need to introduce detailed lists of characters, places or objects.
- Online Highlights
- In case the game has online or multiplayer modes, they should be explained here.
- Technology Highlights
- Here you will explain the innovative technology that your game will include, focusing on what’s innovative. You also name here any game engines you’re planning on licensing, explaining what they bring to the project. Don’t include programming details except when your audience understands them, but explain how software will enhance the game. Don’t focus only on programming, but include anything that uses or requires advanced technology (like the Buzz’s (link) buzzers, for instance).
- Art and Audio Highlights
- Here, include the details about audio or art that work as selling points for the product. As an example, you may point here the fact that your soundtrack is composed by some recognized musician, or the characters were designed by some outstanding artist, or had their movement modeled after some top football player.
- Target platform and minimum configuration (in case of a computer).
- High Concept
- Production Details
- Current Status
- If you have anything developed (like a working prototype or proof-of-concept) indicate it here, explaining its features. If all you have is an idea, leave this section out.
- Development Team
- List the names and qualifications of your key people (around 6), indicating their role in the project. For each one, include a short synopsis (NOT résumé) of their story (who they’ve worked for, games on which they have worked, etc).
- To make it straight: it is impossible at this point to get to a proper budget. Only after clearly know what will be included in the game, will you be able to proper budget the project. The budget that really matters is in the contract. For now, all you must do is include a value working as a guideline, showing the type of game you want to make: casual games are more modest in money spent. When it comes to a blockbuster, “the sky is the limit”.
- Like with the budget, the real schedule will only appear on the contract. Here, simply put the target shipping date, and some milestones, to show how ambitious you think you project will be.
- Current Status
- List the games that are expected to be in the market, and that you will be up against. For each game, list its name, who makes it, which machine it’s for and when it’s supposed to ship, along with a description of its key features. Then, indicate what makes your game different, and more important, better. Remind that your game will take some time to be ready, so you should not look to games already on the market (except if some sequel is under development), but to games expected to be ready when your game is also predictably ready. You’ll need to read the trade press and industry web sites, to find the information you need.
- Game World
- If the game has story and characters, include here what has happened in the past which lead to the beginning of the game.
- What is the player trying to achieve to complete the game? It is possible for this to be only an apparent objective, and the real one is to be found while the game is being played.
- When justified, include here the characters’ names, pictures, backgrounds and special abilities.
- Mission or Story Progression
- Lay out the game’s narrative arc as far as you know, documenting the twists and turns the story might take, indicating the way the player’s success or failure will affect his progress through the game. If the story is linear, explain what the player must accomplish to proceed. If the story includes branching, say that and explain how the player goes down one branch or another. This is not a novel, so keep it as short as possible, and only list the key events that constitute an outline for a novel.
On the next section, I will introduce the Game Treatment to our game. You will see it includes some changes to the ideas in the High Concept, trying to correct some mistakes identified by the hook evaluation.
‘Evacuate, princess!’ ‘ s Game Treatment
As a previous note: still not sure of the game’s title.
A princess, a castle, a lasso, toilet paper, and lots of fun!
By João Camilo
[An outstanding concept picture]
- Control your princess through a 2D puzzle platformer, using the resources you have wisely, trying to escape the witch who has you imprisoned;
- Return to the wonderful enchanted stories from your childhood. But since you’re not a kid anymore, let’s give Rapunzel some acids!
- Beat different puzzles in imaginative levels, which never let you fall into monotony;
- Three different princesses, each with different characteristics (and personalities) will make the player play the game in a distinct way;
- Collectible elements will help in keeping the player motivated;
- Extremely simple controls, to keep the player hooked from the first minute. The difficulty comes from the puzzles.
- The comics’ look used in all the game is different from what’s usually seen, and will help the player realize he is in an “enchanted story”.
- Different ways to succeed on a level, allowing creative thinking.
- 3 different stories, according to the selected princess, will keep the player hooked.
What if MacGyver and Rapunzel had a daughter, and she needed to escape the tallest tower of a castle using only toilet paper and a lasso, and somebody made a game about it? Well, this is that game!
Don’t be one of those soft, pretty princesses from the kids’ stories. Who needs a prince? If women can vote, they sure as hell can jump, swing, and use toilet paper to make a slide. Forget MacGyver and Rapunzel, this is mother(…)ing “medieval, badass, Tomb Raider” mode, bitches! Chose your princess, and let’s go!
This game puts the “High” on “Highness”!
2D, level based, sequential and linear puzzle-platformer. The levels are designed in the good old “classic” platformers’ fashion, with a cartoony and colorful look, like in Sonic the Hedgehog or Cool Spot. However, you’ll have to find your way, using your resources wisely, sort of like Fantastic Dizzy, or Braid.
- The overall look of the game: from the icon, to the characters, and scenarios, it brings you back to the games, to the cartoons, the books, filled with princes and princesses, and to the enchanted worlds they held. But they’re different now, filled with nonsense, some “grown-up” jokes, and lots of cross-references.
- The well-designed, challenging levels, but with different possible solution, stimulate the creative thinking, at the same time that create some strategic decisions (“Should I use all the toilet paper now, and make this obstacle easier, or go the other way around and spare resources for later”).
- The replaying value originated by the existence of three different princesses, with different weights, which make them need different amount of toilet paper, which will make the levels be played differently. In this game, different difficulties do not mean one or two more foes per square-meter, they mean the player will need to change the way he plays the level. Besides, each princess has her own personality, with different ways to respond to what happens in the world, creating different humorous situations. 3 princesses, 3 “different” games.
- Lots of collectible and sharable content, like comic strips, drawings, etc., bought with the points the player obtains, give an extra motivation to play (and replay) the game. Getting all comic strips, have fun reading them, and show them on social networks, work as a way to get the player interested.
- An extremely easy control system almost completely removes the learning curve, no matter what type of player is playing. Hardcore and casual players will learn how to play almost instinctively. Besides, the saving system, and short levels, allows different playing intervals, which can occur anywhere, anytime, for as long as the player wants.
- The entire game look (and levels’ changes) is like playing a gigantic comics’ album (like in Comix Zone).
No license will be needed. All characters will be completely original.
- 2D typical platformer levels, appealing to old-school players, filled with differentiating details giving them a humorous touch.
- Each level works as a puzzle, where the player must use its resources to go from start to the end.
- Different possible ways to succeed on a level, allowing for creative thinking, and strategic decisions.
- Short, numerous levels and sub-levels, which may be paused (and saved) easily and at any time, with no loading-time between them.
- Very easy to learn and start playing, but with an increase difficulty.
- The difficulty level changes according to the princess you chose (3 possible princesses). Each princess has a different physical constitution, which will make the player change the way he solves the puzzles.
- Varied obstacles, foes to be avoided and/or pursuing you will create a variable game, both in the actions the player may execute, and on the pace of the game.
- 3 lives, no more! No matter if it is a puzzle, it is still an old-school platformer, and infinite tries are for wimps! It’s like in old times!
- The way the game is played is associated to the score the player gets. The points obtained may be used to unlock some extras, like videos, images, or comic stripes.
- Different levels show different areas of the castle. Some of them are what you’ll expect to find. Others… well, let’s just say there’s something wrong with the people who live there!
- Catch power-ups to help you on your path.
- There’s no predicted online mode. The players may, however, share their accomplishments on the social networks.
- The game will be developed using Xcode and the Cocos2D framework.
Art and Audio Highlights
- The entire game is drawn as a comic book, where each sub-level is a page. This works perfectly with the cartoony, childish look we want for the characters and levels. At the same time, people are also used to have humorous comics. The childish look and weird humor, with the overall nonsense idea of the game applied to the classic princess history, will work amazing in a “playable, weird, funny game”. Even the content will appear in advertising pages, similar to the ones on old comics.
- The “classic and fun and weird” game will have a suitable silent-movie-like music.
- iOS devices, primarily. Later, eventually, Android devices.
- Something around 200.000€ / 259.540 USD to pay a team of 6 for a year.
- 12 months’ development.
- 1 month to design the main characters and a test level, to define character movement with programmer’s art, and to program the game’s “skull”.
- 1 month to design the movement to one of the princesses and the art for a test level.
- 2 months to create a playable demo and design the movement for the remaining princesses.
- 2 months to implement changes, the menu structure, design in-game art and implement social networks’ connection.
- 4 months to design all the levels, art, content (including trophies), story and sound.
- 2 months for final tests and changes.
With the existent dynamics in the AppStore, it is difficult to predict which games will appear in the future. However, I shall introduce some existent franchises which may appear as eventual competitors.
Sonic the Hedgehog franchise
- Sega’s franchise has a legion of fans even today (and even with some of the newer games’ quality very far from the first ones.). Releasing older games for the iOS proved a success, and the fast paced platformers got the attention for the nostalgic 16 bit age’s players, together with some who never got to play the games in Sega’s consoles. Sega released a few games in this format, and others are expected. Eventually, “Evacuate, Princess!” may dispute the market with this games, for it also appeals to old school players. But overall, the games are too different (in look and mechanics) to make the players choose disjunctively. And after a few Sonic games on a row, it’s possible that iOS players need a little break from the blue hedgehog.
Max and the Magic Marker
- This game, released in 2010 by Press Play to several formats (including iOS) is still considered one of the good puzzle / platformers in the market. Although never being a big success (and mostly now, several years after its release), this game is considered “competition” by also having a cartoony look, like ours. However, we aim at having a different mechanics, even simpler, to make the game playable by everyone.
Super Meat Boy Touch
- This indie phenomenon, developed by Team Meat, has the retro feel, great design, a legion of fans and high visibility. Also, a great durability, which could occupy the “space” for platformers in the players’ time. However, it’s more of a pure platformer and not exactly a puzzler.
- The puzzle platformer, with a look highly inspired by Limbo (as assumed by the developers – Black Chair Games) received some criticism in the initial release. However, later updates seemed to improve the game, making it a potential hit. Nevertheless its “dark” look, opposed to our cartoony one, somehow excludes it as a competitor, at least for most of the players.
- There is a reason why the princess is locked in the castle. The fact is that it is for her own good. The King and Queen asked the kingdom’s witch (there’s always one) to hold their little girl while she overcomes her little “problem”. One of the princesses was locked to make her go on a diet. Other princess is so pretty that all males in the kingdom fell in love with her. The problem is that she is one of those girls who just can’t say “No”. The third princess… well, she’s just borderline insane. It doesn’t matter which princess is the protagonist of this very special enchanting story: she’ll just not take it anymore. It is time to escape! And no witch (nor parents, nor anything) will stop her!
- Escape the castle. To do this, the princess will need to go to different scenarios within the castle, using her resources wisely. In some areas, she will have to avoid the witch’s servants, trying to capture her.
- Johanna Chez Licken
- This “large-boned” princess motivated jokes through the entire kingdom. Things like “the princess is so fat that it takes 10 dragon eggs to make her an omelet” (medieval humor was not that great). Their parents asked the witch to keep her captive at least until she weighted less than a horse. But this princess gets bad humored when she doesn’t feed properly, and despite her weight, which makes everything much harder, will run and jump out of there, no matter what it takes. Well, or at least roll out of there.
- Tiffany Charmelle
- The prettiest of princesses, hotter than the locksmith’s fire, but lacking some “sparkles in the head”. Maybe she’s just naïve, maybe her brain does not match her cleavage, or maybe she’s just taking the “love your vassals” motto too far (at least with the male ones), the fact is that the king and queen simply had to put her on lockdown in the witch’s castle before some “bastard accident” occurs. Now, she feels lonely, especially at night. And she can only hope that the obstacles she has to face are not too tough: she’s afraid her head will hurt from thinking too much.
- Marion Annabella
- There’s a reason that the Jester of her parent’s castle never made a joke about Marion: he’s a fool, but he’s not stupid. There was always something wrong with the princess, she almost didn’t eat, talking alone in the corners, making dark references and laughing about it, making fun of people always looking serious, and despite of her slim figure, she has some strong arms. “Since the wizards could not help her, maybe the witch could” her parents thought. Now she’s trapped and wanting to get out. Tomorrow’s full moon, and she always likes to be outside when it happens.
- The game starts easy, with the princess having lots of resources and all the time in the world. Later, resources start to become rarer.
- Initially no one in the castle knows the princess is on the run, so no one is after her. When the witch discovers the princess is trying to escape, several servants will try to stop her.
- Eventually, in some parts of some levels, something will happen which will make the princess think fast (for instance, a fire starts in the kitchen, and the princess will need to think fast so she doesn’t get “cooked”).
As the escape progresses, the princess will find out why she is trapped, and deal with her parent’s expectations.
Changes: what and why?
As you could see, there are a few changes from the previous idea introduced in the High Concept document. Some of them are the way I found to turn “No’s” into “Yes’s” in the hook questionnaire, while others are simply new ideas I had while writing the Game Treatment. I will point the major changes, and try to justify them. I do this to show you the mental process I followed. Let’s call it “a trip into the genius mind of a Game Designer”, or simply “Jeff”. Yes, let’s call it Jeff, it’s less douchy!
- The name: I was not happy with the old name, and the hook questionnaire showed that. I tried a “punny” name now, using the word “Evacuate” which can relate with “escape” and “toilet paper”. I’ve read somewhere you should avoid puns in humor. And to be honest, I’m not exactly happy with the name yet. Let’s see if I can think of something better in the future.
- The overall look: There were three questions with negative answers regarding the graphics in the hook, namely “Are the graphics generally likely to be better than rival/competitive products?”, “Are your artists going to be able to make this subject matter look breathtaking?” and “Will people be amazed by the visual effects?”. Three answers that are not easy to turn to “Yes”, mostly because we’re talking about a 2D platformer, so there’s just so much we can do. But these questions made me think more about how should the game look. I first remembered some platformers with “original” graphics, which made them noticeable (out of my head, “Earthworm Jim”). Then I remembered a 2D graphics (in my opinion) top-of-coolness fighting game (Comix Zone). These two references, together with the “Fairy Princess Theme” made me imagine the Fairy Tale book’s look and feel for the game. What I’m aiming here is not to create “better” graphics, but “original, cooler, innovative, yet recognizable” ones. Not sure how many “Yes’s” this brings me, but I’m sure as hell that (at least in my head) I now have a cool idea.
- The non-stop action: The question “Will the game engine have a way to avoid long boring periods, long load times, or other elements that try a gamer’s patience?” made me think about if this game should have any loading time at all. If the game will look as a book, there should be no loading time whatsoever. When you’re reading a book, you flip the page and start a new chapter. I will try to achieve that. Also, when you’re reading a book, you can pause anytime to continue later. I will also try to implement this: the possibility to exit the game anytime, and return to it anytime, in the exact same state (“anytime” means in the middle of any level, in the middle of any action).
- Very memorable moments: My initial idea had (among others) one problem: the entire game was kind of repetitive and the player simply had to go through the levels, without anything “new”. To solve this, and to answer positively to another question in the hook evaluator, I thought about a way to change the game pace, increase momentarily the player’s adrenaline and create memorable moments for the player: chases. Chases have a cool effect on player: if you put something chasing the player (and the player is aware of it), together with some “neurosis-causer” music, the adrenaline goes up. Even if “the thing” chasing the player is slow as a slug, and the player has an easy level in front, there’s always something getting to the player’s nerves. In this game, the player may be chased by lava, a fire, or any creature that usually lives in fairy tales. When chased, the player momentarily has to make its decisions faster, “waking up” from the slower parts in the gameplay. Besides, the chases can create opportunity to some funny moments, by having some disastrous thing happening to the creature chasing the princess, allowing her escape.
- Big Bang: A history teacher once told me that when you’re writing a document, no matter how long it is, you should always start with a “big” moment, and end with a “bang”. Meaning the first impression should get the reader’s attention and the end should make the reader forget something “less than good” he read somewhere in the middle. Two of the questions in the hook evaluator were accessing if the story will have an exciting start, and a surprising ending which will compel players to talk about it. In this game, there really may not exist a real complex history. However, there’s something that can be done to get player’s attention from the start: humor. Who remembers the original “Worms” game, saw how a really fun (although short) full motion to introduce the selected princess, and their path until the incarceration can hook the player. Angry birds did exactly this, and the guys who made Angry Birds are rich, so the game must be good, right? The surprising ending, would be great. In the end, the princess would find some nonsense way to deal with her parent’s expectations and lived happily ever after. But for now, I still haven’t thought extensively about the narrative, so let’s leave this point open (if this was to actually show to a producer, I would think about the narrative by now, even if it later could change).
- Old School: Back in Sonic’s or Mario’s first games’ days, there were no infinite tries, nor “do what you want, no matter how dumb, and risk almost nothing”. I decided to give the player 3 lives, like in old days. It will help giving that old school feel, and also increase the needed attention, with the player having to set a strategy which should be flawless, in order to complete the game.
This tutorial’s goal was to teach what a Game Treatment document is and how to write it. This document’s purpose is to present the game in a broad outline to give more information about it to someone already interested, working as a sales’ tool.
To write the document to Evacuate, Princess!, I expanded the ideas introduced in the previous tutorials, trying to improve the game’s concept. Some of the changes were motivated by the idea evaluation I did using David Perry’s Hook evaluator.
By the end of this tutorial, I have a clearer idea of how the game will be, still open to evolution, of course.
Again, like it happened with High Concept, if I wrote the Game Treatment to introduce my game to some producers, I would make a few iterations and get to different versions of the document, until I got to a more stable, more defined one (without so much aspects “open”).