CS/INFO 4152: Advanced Topics in Computer Game Development

Assignment 9
Design Specification

Due: Saturday, March 12th at 11:59 pm

A good game should have a well-defined visual style. The visual style should not conflict with the gameplay; this is a form of ludonarrative dissonance. In addition, if your team has more than one designer, they should not be creating designs that conflict with one another.

This is the motivation for the design specification. This is a specification that gathers together all of the influences to your game, so that we have a good idea about how your game is going to look. In addition, it is where you specify some important rules with regards to presentation and file formats. That way, the programmers will know what they will be working with long before they receive the assets.

While we have been wanting to introduce this document for a while, this is a brand new document this year. That means that we have absolutely no examples to show you. However, it also means that we will be fairly lenient in grading it. You must still follow the writing guidelines (particularly regarding bullets). But we will not be so harsh on the content. If you are confused about what we are looking for, please talk to Marisa.

The Design Specification

The design specification is a document that describes a vision of the details of your final product, much like the gameplay specification. Indeed, these documents are very similar because they have the same audience; they are both internal documents written to allow team members to break-up and work in isolation. The primary difference is focus. The gameplay specification focused on game elements like mechanics and challenges. The visual specification focuses on art style, sound, and other non-gameplay elements.

This document should have a lot of visual imagery in it. Some of the imagery should be your own, but a lot of it will be from other sources. We want to know what influences you, so be honest.

Because this document is visual, we want you to use slides for easier formatting. However, you should us good writing practices all the way through. This is very similar to what we asked for in the concept document. As with that document, it will be created like a presentation, but you will not be presenting it. Now that we have returned the concept document, we want you to be a little better with how you present this (particularly regarding bullet points), but we will guide you through the process below.

This document should be significantly longer than the concept document. In particular, you should cover all of the topics that we mention below.

For lack of a better word, you should organize these topics into chapters. A chapter is a collection of one or more slide pages that all address the same topic. For example, in the concept document, many of you used more than one slide to talk about your game mechanics. This was a chapter. You do not need to explicitly call them chapters; it is just a way to think about your organization.

Title Slide/Page

The first slide should list the team name, the game's name, and a list of all team members. It should clearly indicate that this is the design specification, and not the concept document.

Example: The linked slide is an excellent example of a title slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. Notice that it is clean and simple, but has an image that invokes the style of the document.

High Thematic Statement

We want a cohesive statement describing how the team wants the game to look and feel. Do not write an essay; rather, write enough so that anyone who reads the statement will have a good understanding of what you aim to achieve as designers. Include in your statement the general vibe of the world (e.g. "the game Dash is portrayed in a mystical, Oriental-themed universe") and the feelings you want to evoke (nostalgia, adventure, comedy, etc.). Of course, this may have changed somewhat since earlier documents; this is expected and welcomed because it demonstrates a maturity of the team's vision of the game.

This statement should be a single slide with a single paragraph of text. Do not use bullets for this slide.

Inspiration and References

Art styles hardly ever evolve form from nothing. They are influenced by other art or games. We want you to identify to those influences. These slides are meant to be largely visual collages, though we would like you identify the source of each image. You should have slides that address the following topics. Any screenshots or pictures taken from sources should be cited. Hyperlink citations are acceptable.


You should create several slide pages that will include collages of pieces from different art styles you think will best portray the game. These slides will be inspiration slides, setting the mood and tone for the team to work from. We recommend you put multiple images on one slide so you can compare styles and see how they can fit together. We do not want to see just pictures, so explain your points. For example, you may like the lineart from one artist yet the coloring of another, so you could put both of them on the same slide to do a side-by-side comparison.

Group these slides by themes that you find appropriate; for example, you may have a couple of slides that show what "dreary" means (because "dreary" in Call of Duty is different than "dreary" in Cursed Ghost).

Example 1: The linked slide is an excellent example of a mood slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. There are only two images, but they clearly represent the idea. In addition, there is a lot of text explaining how to interpret the images.

Example 2: The linked slide is an another example of a mood slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. Note the descriptive text to one side and the images cleanly arranged to the right.


Another major portion that influences the feel of a game is sound. In this part of the slide deck, link clips of soundtracks that best support the game. Try to find royalty free music or have someone create a soundtrack; this is important, because when it is time to put sound in your game, any copyrighted material used in Showcase is a breach of academic integrity. For now, however, feel free to collect and link any music and sound effects that serve as inspiration. Copyrighted material can be placed here for reference but make sure to not use it in-game.

When posting links, please use descriptive hyperlinks instead of raw links. This allows us to click on a link if we want to listen. It also allows us to judge right away whether or not it is important to click on the links. With each linked example, explain which parts are the pieces you may use as inspiration, and how they apply to your game.

Example: The linked slide is an excellent example of a sound slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. Note that there is a lot of text explaining how to interpret the sounds. In addition, each image is a hyperlink that we can follow.


In the last set of inspiration slides, include include slides that reference photos for your art assets. These include photos of animals, environments, poses, and objects. It is highly suggested that these be real images rather than drawings because with drawings, as sketches from other artists (not you) insert a design or interpretation layer between the real thing and your game. For assets, it will be best that you interpret subjects yourselves, within the team, rather than creating an interpretation of an interpretation. We also suggest you group images together by subject such as feet references, cloud references, etc.

The format of the photos pages should be similar to the mood pages, mixing text with images. Please provide citations and/or references for each image that you have taken from an outside source to avoid copyright issues.

Art Style

This next section is all about outlining the development of the art style for this game. These slides should describe the specific tools needed for developing the game's style. These slides could be bulleted text, but we often prefer proper paragraphs, as those are easier to read. Art is nice, but you will have a chance to show off some of this style in the next section.

Color Palette

Since foreground elements have to stand apart from background elements, what colors palettes do you plan on using to differentiate the two? Will there be different color schemes for different worlds, if there are any? Use a well constructed set of sentences, along with images, to showcase your ideas.


Is there a type of brush that all characters will be created with? Or is the style you are going with going to be flat or 8-bit? Will you have hard borders with no alias, or soft borders? Making sure all artists have the same photoshop brush, for example, can help make the game's style feel more consistent.

Animation Style

Animation styles can vary widely, too, in the level. Some animations styles are very exaggerated and cartoon-like while others strive to be more realistic. For this section, please provide some gifs or frames that inspire you as you move forward with the animation process. Again, these can be taken from others and do not have to be your own, but you should always give credit in this case.

Example: The linked slide is an excellent example of an animation slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. Instead of using gifs, they composite several frames together to make the animation visible in a static image. This works a lot better in a PDF format.

Additional Elements

There are only so many things that games have in common with each other. Games need to differentiate themselves in some way more than just through the gameplay alone. Games rely on the combined ability of programmers and artists to add extra bells and whistles that will augment the vision of the game or give players a "wow factor" that they have not seen or heard before.

Due to the importance of these features, you should be thinking of all the additional things that will be added to the game. Some examples are as follows:

  • Parallax backgrounds
  • Lighting and shadows
  • Electricity arcing throughout the environment
  • Rain and wind effects
  • Music (if it is not a core feature)

In this chapter identify which additional features (if any) will be present in your game. For each feature, you should identify whether or not it is purely cosmetic or whether it will affect gameplay. You should also identify the division of labor between programmers and artists to complete this feature.

These slides should be largely text (not bullets) describing the additional features, though you are welcome to add illustrations (either yours or inspiration) if you like.

Example: The linked slide is an excellent example of an additional art style slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. In this slide, they talk about their style for layering and composing images.

Concept Art

In order to plan out designs, characters, and worlds, designers will create early throw-away concept art to convey ideas and designs quickly without putting in the same effort as a final design. Although this type art may include early sketches, it still should be polished; early concept art is often used to persuade others (or maybe the team itself) the world/character/direction is attractive and feasible. Concept art should be a detailed exploration of two or three possible directions your game can go in.

Please include any early concept art for character/background/elements that have been developed at this time. Concept art does not have to be, and really should not, be used in-game. This slide or slides should be a mixture of images and text. The text should note any special details of characters/backgrounds/elements, as this will help with consistency within the game.

Example: The linked slide is an good example of concept art taken from one of your classmates this semester. Notice how they have a variety of images, with text discussing how they related to each other.

User Interface Design

Concept art does not need to be limited to character or environmental assets. Understanding the user interface is equally important. A user interface is anything that is not within the "game world" that players must interact with. This is any HUD element, such as a health bar, map, or menu screen (such as level select or pause).

The user interface should have a similar art style to the game; however, it stands apart from any in-game element. It can be weird to have an 8-bit menu in a photorealistic game, so it should keep to the overall style and feel of the game. However, menu elements must be clearly defined from avatars and monsters. The user interface is important for the overall experience of the game, since players will almost always interact with interfaces before playing (e.g. the main menu).

As part of your concept art, please include mock-ups of what you expect the user interface to look like. Captions are an essential part of this section too.

Example: The linked slide is an good example of a user interface slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. This is a just a simple loading screen, but the text makes clear why this slide is so important.

File Formats

Creating art and sound is fine and dandy, but unless it can be used by the game, it is meaningless. Programmers must be able to put in your assets into the game, and they cannot do this without knowing some specific details.

For each type of art asset, give the technical specifications of that file or group of files. Types of art assets include but are not limited to animations, tessellating tiles, backgrounds, sounds, and UI elements. Please do not go more specific than this for now. Remember, more restrictions placed on art asset formats actually make it easier for programmers to be able to use them.

The technical specification slides should be entirely text, arranged as bulleted lists for each file type. In describing the file format, you should answer the following questions:

  • How should the programmers use this file in the game?
  • What is the file type and extension?
  • What are the sizes (pixel) for the most common art assets? Is there a standard size?
  • What are the layouts of spritesheets? Is each animation its own image or are they combined?
  • Do certain color channels mean anything specific in image files?
  • Are audio tracks meant to crossfade or loop? How do you differentiate?
  • How is the volume level of individual audio tracks normalized?

Example: The linked slide is an solid example of a file format slide taken from one of your classmates this semester. The bullet organization could be better. However, the information on this slide is very detailed and exactly what we want.

Putting it All Together

As we said before, we want this material presented as a slide deck. The chapters should be arranged in the following order. Understand that each "chapter" does not have to be called that, but it should be clearly labeled. Each chapter may also contain more than one slide/page.

  • Opening slide/page
  • High Thematic Statement
  • Chapter 1: Mood
  • Chapter 2: Sound
  • Chapter 3: Photos
  • Chapter 4: Art Style (Color Scheme)
  • Chapter 5: Art Style (Lines)
  • Chapter 6: Art Style (Animation Style)
  • Chapter 7: Additional Elements
  • Chapter 8: Concept Art (including User Interface)
  • Chapter 9: File Formats

This means that there should be a minimum of 11 slides. However, you are encouraged to submit more.


Due: Saturday, March 12th at 11:59 pm

This might be an ambitious document to do in a week. Remember that you do get multiple submissions of this document. However, we highly recommend that you submit as close to a finished document as you possible can. Not only will that guarantee the most amount of feedback, but it will also help your group understand your vision very early on.

You should submit a PDF file called design.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 PowerPoint, but you should convert it to PDF before submission. The most important thing is that hyperlinks should remain "hot" so that we can click on them when we review your document.