Technical Writing in the Game World
by Derek Classert, senior student at University of Houston–Downtown
Technical writing is an essential skill for the game designer of the future. A game designer must understand the inner workings of technical writing as applied to game documentation.
Every game goes through several phases of design and documentation that bring it from the designer's imagination to the consumer's game system. These documents are vital to the success of a game project.
A game designer must understand three documents:
The high concept is the first formal document that the game design team produces. This concise document (no more than four pages) covers the fundamental aspects of the game idea. This document allows the team to pitch the new game idea, showing its potential to a producer or publishing company. The high concept will also give the team a response on whether to proceed with the development process.
In a way, the high concept acts like a resume of the game idea. It should include the following aspects:
premise of the game
type of game
layout of the story
The game treatment goes along with the visual presentation of the game to a potential publishing company. This document covers all points of the high concept in more detail plus some technical and business information to show the selling points of the game.
The main goal of this document is to get funding for the project. The game treatment is an outline for the game that mainly generates hype for the producers and publishers. This document, however, does not fill in all questions that are posed by the game development team.
The game script is the most important component of the game designer's arsenal. This document must define every aspect of the game idea. Everything a designer, artist, or sound editor needs should be contained in this document.
A game script includes only data relating to creative (non-programming) elements of the game. However, this does not mean that you are developing a creative piece. The game script follows all the rules of technical documentation. This document should allow the development team to play the game in their minds or on paper. The game script will help the team visualize the scope of the game and its environment.
If questions arise that the game script cannot answer, the document requires revision. It is rare that a designer follows the exact idea that was originally imagined. The game idea evolves as the project moves forward. Old questions are answered and new ideas are developed.
These three documents give the game design team everything they need to build a game. Although games are created in an imaginative world, they still rely heavily on technical documentation. This documentation allows the entire development team to see the game designer's vision unambiguously. Technical writing makes this overall design process fast, fluid, and fun.