Designing and Scoping Your Game

This lesson will help you put together a design document for your game and help you understand the scope for each team member.

Putting Together a Design Document

Before your team begins working on your game, it is helpful to spend some time writing down your ideas about your game. This will ensure everyone is on the same page about what type of game you are making together before you start working.

You can use this document as a template to put together your ideas about your game.

Game Design Document Template

Determining Game Scope

Because you have a limited amount of time to work on your game, you will need to decide based on your design document what parts of the game you want to create in your first game version, and what parts of the game you want to save for later. This will ensure that you complete your game in the limited amount of time you have.

Go back through your design document, and mark which features you think are critical for your game, and which will be optional if you have time to make them. Try to keep the mandatory features to a minimum.

The game development process can be described in the below four stages. It is a good idea to check in with your team members regularly to ensure you are moving along at the same pace.

Before you begin work on your game, you will need to talk with your team, put together a design document, and set up the game project, enable version control, and make sure every team member has the tools they need to complete their role's responsibilities.

Basic Work:
Each team member will have some basic work they need to finish so that your team will have a working game. Make sure to focus on this first before any team member moves on to advanced functionality.

Advanced Work:
After the basic work is done, you can add advanced elements to the game. Make sure to leave enough time at the end of the development process for wrapping up the project.

Wrapping Up:
At around 2 hours before the project should be complete, your team should move into a wrap-up mindset. Rather than developing new functionality, each team member should focus on improving what has already been made through testing your game.

Each of the next sections talks about the scope for each type of team member. Look at the guides for the role you have on the team to ensure that you will be able to properly scope your game with the time that you have. Below is a table which briefly outlines the process for your team.

Development Step Programmer Artist Designer Other Roles
Pre-Production (1-2 hours) Project setup Concept Art Level concepts Design document/sound concepts
Basic Work (5-10 hours) Movement/Winning/Losing Main Character/Environment/Enemies Level design/Integration Asset Creation
Advanced Work (3-4 hours) Unique game features Detailed art/Animations Additional level/Team support/Testing Asset Creation
Wrapping Up (1-2 hours) Testing/Bug fixing Adding details Testing/Building the game Testing

Game Scope - Programmers

As the programmer on your team, you will be responsible for setting up the basic systems of the game the other members of the team will use. Therefore, it is very important that you focus on getting the basic parts of your game done first so that your artists, designers, and sound designers can get their content in the game to see how it feels for the player.

It is usually the responsibility of the programmer to set up the initial project in the game engine and enable version control for the project. You may want to create an initial project based on one of the templates in this course to save time, as it will likely give you many of the elements of basic functionality and enable you to starting building advanced features sooner.

Pre-Production (1 hour):
  • Project and Version Control Setup (1 hour)

Some of the basic functionality of your game may already be present in the game templates you have completed in this course. Don't forget to add a title screen, a win screen, a lose screen, and a tutorial screen to your game. Make sure you tell the player what keys to press to move the character around and any other keys for functionality like jumping or shooting. Don't leave creating your tutorial screen to the last minute: if the player doesn't know how to play the game, they won't have a lot of fun playing it!

Basic Functionality (5-10 hours):
  • Enable the player to move around (1-3 hours)
  • Enable the player to win and go to a win screen (1 hours)
  • Program enemies or hazards which prevent the player from winning (1-4 hours)
  • Enable the player to lose and go to a lose screen (1 hour)
  • Set up transitions from title screen, tutorial screen, win screen, and lose screen (1 hour)

After you have set up your basic functionality, you will have a template that your designers, artists, and sound designers can put content into. After you finish setting up the functionality for the different win, lose, title, and tutorial screens, tell your designer. They will need to make those screens look nice and tell the player about the lore of the game. Your designer can also work with the artist and sound designer to put their art and sound in the game while you work on advanced functionality. Don't try to do it all yourself!

As a programmer, the possibilities are limitless for your advanced functionality. We recommend picking a few advanced features to add to your game based on your game type. Here are some examples of advanced functionality to give you ideas about what to add to your game.

Advanced Functionality (2+ hours):
  • Add a score system (1 hour)
  • Add a health system (1 hour)
  • Add a powerup system (1 hour)

Don't plan to spend all the rest of your development time on your advanced functionality. As your designer builds out levels and tests the game, they may find bugs in the game that you will need to fix. Try to finish up your advanced functionality work with 2 hours to spare before delivering your game. You may not finish everything you want to get done, but it is more important for you to support your designer as they take the game across the finish line to release it.

Wrapping up Production (2+ hours):
  • Testing and Bug Fixing (2+ hours)

Game Scope - Artists

As an artist on a game design team, you will need to create art that will show the player the theme of the game. Read the game design document carefully and try to create characters and environments that match the setting of the game.

Before you create art that will be used in the game, start with some basic drawings and share them with your team. They don't have to be perfect, but it is a good idea to give your team some ideas about what you intend to make so they can provide feedback.

  • Create concept art for the main character, backgrounds, and environment (1 hour)

After the team has seen your concept art and given you feedback, you are ready to create the basic assets of the game. These don't have to be perfect, but you should create assets that your designer can place inside of the game space.

Once your art is in the game (work closely with your designer), and there are no issues with adding it into the levels of the game, you can go back and add more detail to them. Initial art will be helpful for the designer to plan out their level design.

Basic Art (6 hours):
  • Create a sprite for a main character (1 hour)
  • Create a sprite for an enemy/hazards (1 hour)
  • Create environment sprites (platforms, obstacles, floor tiles, etc.) (2 hours)
  • Create a background (2 hours)

Once you have passed your basic art over to your designer, you are ready to begin working on the advanced art for your game. This can involve adding more details to your sprites, or adding animations to your characters.

Before you start work on art assets beyond what you have already given to your designer, make sure to check in with them. They might not be able to use your new art assets in their design, and your time might be better spent improving your existing assets.

Advanced Art (2+ hours):
  • Add detail to your main character (2+ hours)
  • Add detail to your hazards/enemies (2+ hours)
  • Add detail to your environment assets (3+ hours)
  • Add detail to your backgrounds (2+ hours)
  • Create an animation for your main character (3+ hours)
  • Add art for different types of enemies (3+ hours)

As an artist, so long as you have delivered a basic version of your assets early on in the project, you can keep improving them right up until the deadline of the project. After about 2 hours from the deadline, it is a good idea not to make any new art assets and just improve the ones that you have already made.

Game Scope - Designers

As a designer, you will have the responsibility of putting the code, art, and sound of the game together into a cohesive experience and testing the game to make sure that players can win and lose as well as have fun playing.

You may also need to fill in for other roles on the team. You may need to help the artist create art assets, find sounds for the game, add writing and background lore to the game, or even assist the programmer with game features. Make sure that you are flexible to help out other members of the team when they need it and leave enough time towards the end of the project to test the game and make sure all the functionality works.

You should begin by drawing out a level design for your team to review. This can help them get an idea of the space of the game and what the player will be expected to do. This is important for the programmer to understand the functionality they need to develop and for the artist to know what art they need to create.

Pre-Production (1 hour):
  • Draw a level and share it with your team (1 hour)

After your team has given feedback on the level, the programmer will likely begin finishing some of the basic features of the game. At this point, you will be responsible for trying to use their developed code and putting it into action by designing a level. Don't forget to update the title, win, lose, and tutorial screens with text and images to show the player the setting of the game and tell them what they need to do to win.

Basic Design (5 hours):
  • Add text to the title, win, lose, and tutorial screens (1 hour)
  • Add basic art to the game (1 hour)
  • Add basic sounds to the game (1 hour)
  • Put together a basic first level for the game (2 hours)

After you have put together the basics of the game, you are free to continue to develop more levels of the game and work with the other members of the team to incorporate the functionality they are developing.

Advanced Design (4 hours):
  • Add an additional level to the game (2 hours)
  • Help with sound, art, and programming as needed (2 hours)

You should leave around 4 hours towards the end of the project to test your game and make sure everything works. If possible, you should give your game to someone who hasn't played the game before and see how they play the game. They will likely show you errors you weren't able to find.

When you are testing the game, you should be on the lookout for two types of errors.

Hard Lock Errors are errors that your programmer will need to fix. A hard lock means that the game has crashed, such as if the player runs into an enemy and the entire game freezes up. You will need the programmer to look at their code and figure out where the bug in the code is that causes the game to crash.

Soft Lock Errors are errors that the designer will need to fix. For example, if you make a platformer game where the player can fall in a pit, but the pit is too low for them to jump out of, the player will need to exit out of the game and start from the beginning of the game to continue. Technically, the game didn't freeze, but if the player cannot continue they will feel frustrated that they entered this unwinnable game state.

Finally, you will need to export the game so that people can play it outside of Unity. If you have time earlier in the development process, try to build and export your game so you understand the process before the deadline approaches.

Wrapping Up Production (4+ hours):
  • Testing and bug fixing (2+ hours)
  • User Testing and bug fixing (1+ hours)
  • Building and Exporting your Game (1+ hour)

Game Scope - Other Team Members

Sound Designers

For sound designers, you can choose to either find sounds that already exist, or try to make your own. We recommend you try to use sounds that already exist and use those in your game.

  • Finding sound effects: win sound, lose sound, jump sound, damage sound, etc. (1-3 hours)
  • Finding music: title screen music, win music, lose music, game background music (1-2 hours)

  • Writers

    Writers on a game design team usually write the background lore, character dialogue, and other flavor text of the game. You may not have time to have character dialogue in the game, but you can write on the intro and ending scenes of the game to tell the player the context of the game and the result of their actions.

    • Writing an introduction to the game (1 hour)
    • Writing a conclusion to the game (1 hour)