CS/INFO 3152: Introduction to Computer Game Development

Assignment 2
Concept Document

Due: Saturday, February 13th at 11:59 pm

For this assignment you should submit a concept document for your game. This document should cover a lot of the high points outlined in the lecture on design elements. We go into more detail about the structure of the document below. You should also refer to our writing guidelines for proper formatting. Finally, we have provided several examples from previous years for you to look at.

As we said in class, the key to writing any document is to understand your audience. The audience for a concept document is a publisher. This is someone who sees a lot of concept documents and wants to get through them as fast as possible. That means this should be a short (2-3) document that is easy to read, punchy, clear, and direct. The most important information should be at the front of the document; that way if the publisher decides to quit reading, he or she will still get most of the major ideas (and might come back to the document if the other ideas out there are worse). Remember, this is not a treatise; this document is an ad or resume in order to secure funding for your game.


Document Contents

The exact formatting of this document is up to you, though you must follow our writing guidelines. We do require that the document consist of at least six primary sections. Each section should be clearly labeled with a heading. If the section contains more than a few paragraphs, you should break it up into subsections that label the contents of each subsection. You should also make use of topic paragraphs when appropriate. We provide you with several examples below to illustrate what we mean.


High Concept Statement

The first primary section of the document is a short statement of the core vision of your game. It is a distillation of the thematic focus that you defined in the first communication lab. It is one or two sentences and should be player focused. That means it should describe what the player can do, not what happens to the player.

As a great example of a high concept statement, consider this example from Forgotten Sky (Spring 2008):

Eons after a forgotten catastrophe drove mankind to take refuge deep within the earth, a young man has the audacity to dream of the sky. With nothing but a thin, swaying rope preventing an untimely end, guide Caelum through the ruins of past shelters as he ascends to the surface.

Features

This section is a bulleted list of the key features of the game. These features should include the actions (e.g. verbs), interactions, and challenges that you identified in the the communication lab. This list should be short and focused; write it as a bulleted list with no more than six bullets.

Make sure that you follow the guidelines for bulleted lists. The bullets should never be more than two lines, and a single line is best. Your feature descriptions needs to be tight and efficient. When we review your document, we will be checking to make sure that your feature descriptions are "punchy". The descriptions should use active (not passive) voice and should sound exciting.


Design Goals

In this section, you should tell us what you are trying to achieve in this game. Who is your audience, and how do you plan to reach them? It is not enough to tell us what your audience is; you have to justify why your game will reach them. Otherwise you are just going to tell me that you "plan to appeal to core and casual gamers alike," which absolutely everyone tells us in their presentations.

Design goals are also where you tell us what types of feelings or emotions you expect your player to experience. If you subscribe to the Earnest Adam's "wish fulfillment" school of game design, now is the time to say what wish you are fulfilling. You should also describe the primary player objectives, and say why these objectives support your design goals.

This is a bit more more abstract that describing your features or the high concept statement. To give you a good idea what we want, you should look at the concept document for the CS 4152 game Project Aurora (later titled Alone in the Night). You should not emulate this document. CS 4152 uses a slide-presentation for its concept documents, while CS 3152 is a normal document (see the examples below).

With that said, Project Aurora is useful because it has one of the most extensive design elements sections that we have ever seen. We are not looking for something that extensive. You should limit yourself to a few paragraphs covering the main design goals.


Market Segment

The "market segment" section includes details on how your game compares to other games out there. We expect you to make a good faith effort to understand your competition. While your game should have new elements, it is very rare that students in this class have a completely original game that is unlike anything else out there.

In defining your market segment, you should identify the following:

Genre
Does this game fit in an existing genre? If so, which one and why?
Platform
What must the customer have in order to play this game? Not everyone has a game controller.
Competition
What games are most similar to this one and why? You should 2-3 examples.
Unique Selling Points
What makes this game different from your competition?

Each of these should be a separate subsection with its own heading. Do not present these using bullet points; use complete paragraphs. That means either subsections or topic paragraphs.


Gameplay Sketch

This section should include a sketch of the primary player mode. You should also include a single, short paragraph explaining this sketch. Remember to follow our guidelines for figures.


Additional Details

The last section can include information not relevant to core gameplay such as story, characters or music. It can also include additional gameplay details like a description of sample challenges. You can add anything you deem interesting; however, keep it short, as this is not the gameplay specification.

If you cover more than one topic in this section, remember to break it up into subsections. We do not want a single mass of text covering unrelated topics.


Examples

We have provided several examples of solid concept documents from semesters past. These documents are not perfect; they all have flaws of some sort. Several of them violate the writing guidelines. That is because the writing guidelines are a reaction to the issues in these documents, and we do not want you making the same mistake.

We have also made substantial changes to this document over the years. For example, Market Segment used to be a generic section called Overview. It included both the design goals and the player objectives. We found that combining these two made it a bit difficult for students to get this part of the document correct, so we reorganized this document. You should follow the new format.

As a result, you should not copy the structure of the documents below, but only use them for them inspiration. Look at the types of information that they contain, and the way in which they present this information. But organize your document in line according to the six sections outlined above.

Arc en Ciel

One of the most games on this list, Arc en Ciel was created in Spring 2015, and went to the Boston Festival of Indie Games this past fall. This is an excellent document. With the exception of the new rules on figure captions (because this document has no captions), this is exactly the type of document you should emulate.

Dispossessed

Another recent games on this list, Dispossessed was created in Spring 2015. This is an very solid concept document and a good one to emulate. Our only complaint is the Sidestory section at the very end. It has a lone topic paragraphs. If you have only one topic paragraph, why does cannot it be a simple paragraph?

Beep

An audience favorite from Spring 2013, Beep is a less recent example, and comes from a time when the concept document was a bit different However, its document format is still close to what is expected of you. This is a solid concept document with just the right amount of information. Note the use of subsections and topic paragraphs.

Resonance

This is another concept document from Spring 2013. The document shows off the types of things that we are looking for in Additional Details. It does not quite follow the writing guidelines, since the subsection headers are all different parts of speech. But otherwise, the formatting and content is exactly what we are looking for.

Squidget Snatcher

Squidget Snatcher was a popular game from the Spring 2011 semester. While it follows an older format, it is complete with a gameplay sketch (unlike many of the examples below). This is also one of the best concept documents that we have ever received in this class. It is short and to the point, and the descriptions have a lot of punch. While the format of this document is different from yours, it is an excellent model to follow.

Reflexio

Reflexio was the winner of the 2011 GDIAC Showcase, and was a game with some of the best level design that we have ever seen in this course. Like Squidget Snatcher, the concept document is complete with a gameplay sketch. The features section is much weaker than Squidget Snatcher; it is short, but the features are not as evocative as they could be. However, the rest of the document is very well written.

Lifted

Lifted was one of the top games in the Spring 2010 semester (before we were aware of its similarities to a certain animated short). This document has one of the best understandings of unique selling points. They are still a little too long, however, and the entire document could be punchier.

Project Aurora

This concept document was submitted to the advanced class (CS/INFO 4152). You will note that the format for that class is completely different than what we have asked you to do for this class. However, the content of this document is excellent, and we hope it will inspire you in writing the concept document.


Submission

Due: Saturday, February 13th at 11:59 pm

You should submit a PDF file called conceptdocument.pdf containing all of the information above. We ask that the file be a PDF so that we can annotate it in order to return it to you with feedback for possible revision. It is fine if you create the document in a program like Microsoft Word, but you should convert it to PDF before submission.

As the prospect of revision implies, this is not the final draft of your concept document. You will have later opportunities to revise your concept. However, you should take this assignment very seriously, as this staff will use this assignment to evaluate the suitability of your game (e.g. is it feasible, is it suitably difficult, etc.). If your proposed game idea is rejected for whatever reason, then you must address all the staff's concerns in a revised concept document within one week. If the game proposal in your revised concept document is not acceptable, your group can no longer receive an A for your project grade.

With that said, this almost never happens in this class. We always try to provide extensive comments on this assignment so that your group can be back on track by the revision.