Level Up Your Levels of Documentation

How to Create the Video Game You Want

This blog post originally appeared on Press Start Leadership [LINK: https://pressstartleadership.com/blog]

Having great documentation is crucial if you want to make a great video game. It’s also vital that your team is actually reading it – if they aren’t reading your documentation, they’re not making your game. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still making a game… it’s just not yours. To avoid the travesty of asking for Wolfenstein and ending up with Kirby, let me provide you with some tips on good, readable, and usable documentation.

1. Make it Useful to its Particular Audience. This is key. The CEO of the organization doesn’t need the same information as a developer. Know your audience and write your documentation accordingly.

2. Create Levels of Documentation. It’s likely that your documentation has multiple audiences. Divide your audience into levels and address each one.

3. Divide into High, Medium, and Low. The best practice in most cases is dividing your documentation into three levels: high, medium, and low. High level contains the least detail, and low level contains the most.

Here’s a breakdown of high, medium, and low documentation:

HIGH. This level is for CEOs, stakeholders, or anyone just curious about the project. It is a short overview that gives the general idea of the project. You want to provide the big picture perspective, so consider an elevator pitch or 30,000 foot view. Your high-level documentation should be easily digestible, include bullet points, and keep all the information above the fold if possible. You can link deeper into other pages for more detail.

MEDIUM. Medium-level documentation means less walls of text and more imagery, but still includes some description. Tailor the content specifically toward the user. If the user is a developer, it may be mostly flow charts. If the user is an artist, it may be mainly descriptive blurbs and montages. It’s best to ask your intended audience what their preference is – don’t assume. Over time, you’ll learn what people prefer, and won’t need to ask for as much guidance.

LOW. This level is generally for developers, and sometimes other game designers. This is where your nitty-gritty details go – things like Excel charts, system formulas, edge cases, etc. Details like how much damage you take when a wizard zaps you, what kind of weapon you need to defeat the wizard, and how many emeralds you get for successfully banishing the wizard – that all goes here. Make sure you’re linking out to separate pages for these specifics, though. That way, if something needs to be changed, you’re not doubling up on wizard work.

The cool thing is you can use the high, medium, low method of documentation for the overall project or for a feature. A Wiki is a great way to go about putting it all together. I like Confluence if you’re looking for some software to help you get started. Also, when you do start, don’t worry about getting it perfect. Most things are living, breathing documents these days.

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