Seattle 2054, Part 1: Pitch and High-Level GDD

Since I was laid off from CCP, I’ve been understandably focused on my job search. One barrier I’ve run into is work samples: while I have some writing examples for potential employers, I don’t have full game design scripts to share.1 I kicked around the idea of creating a scenario using a middleware game engine as a work sample, and more and more it grew on me. I settled on a Shadowrun Returns scenario for a number of reasons (which I’ll get into below).

My scenario may or may not contain basilisks or Indiana Jones references.
My scenario may or may not contain basilisks or Indiana Jones references.

A couple of people have asked if I would be willing to share my experience in making such a scenario.  I decided to try and document the steps of making a scenario from start to finish, approaching it as I would approach making a professional game. It would give me a chance to illustrate how such games come together, and I would have some design documents I could use to illustrate my own skills.

A few caveats to this series to start:

  • It will be irregular, and may never finish. If paying work comes up, I have to focus on that.
  • This isn’t going to be a guide on how to use the SR editor. There’s already a fantastic wiki for that, which I’m in the process of reading through to educate myself on the tools. Using industry terminology, this is a series of scripts and game design documents (GDDs), not technical design documents (TDDs).
  • By the very nature of this project, it will contain spoilers to my scenario and potentially those of other published scenarios. If you’re still playing through Shadowrun Returns, be wary as you read these.

Pitch and High-Level GDD

The first thing I need to work on is the audience for this game. While I’m not pitching this to a publisher or studio, the pitch/high-level design format is a good way to show where the boundaries of my project lie, and what decisions I need to make in creating it. I have a pretty firm idea of what I want to make in my head, but writing it down helps — not only to showcase the process, but also to give me a guideline down the road when I have to make scope decisions.

GDDs should be living documents that are constantly iterated on. As such, I’ll be keeping my GDD on Google Docs, and it’s available for anyone to read. However, for historical purposes, my first pass at the pitch and high-level design is at the end of this post (after the cut).

Next Steps

Next, I would normally start designing how the gameplay would work and focusing the core experience. Since that work is already done for me by my decision to use Shadowrun Returns, I can jump to constructing the narrative. The initial brainstorming and design of my story will be the focus of my next post.

SRR Scenario GDD (Pitch and High-Level Design)

Elevator Pitch

Create a short, playable game emphasizing writing (interactive plot structure, compelling characters, and enjoyable dialogue) using freely-available tools as a sample of my skills. Game will focus on my strengths as a writer: noir sensibility, gritty language, and RPG-style game design.

Why Shadowrun Returns (SRR)?

This downloadable game sample (hereafter “scenario”) will be created in the Shadowrun Returns game editor. There are a number of compelling reasons why this is the best choice:

  • It is software already packaged with a game I own, therefore not requiring any additional budgetary outlay.
  • SRR is based on Shadowrun, and the game design is very similar to existing RPG mechanics. This is a design area I’m strong in.
  • It is a universe that encourages action/adventure, allowing for opportunities to showcase level design, combat encounter balancing, and interactive storytelling.
  • The Shadowrun IP ties well to many of my writing strengths as a gritty, noir world.
  • SRR uses text instead of voice acting to communicate its story, eliminating a need for voice actors and putting emphasis on my skills as a writer of prose and dialogue.
  • The SRR community is very active, giving me immediate access to a large playtest pool for iteration.

 Design Goals

Here are a list of design goals for this scenario.

  • A playable scenario requiring no additional assets (art, audio, animation, etc.) outside of those provided by SRR and the mod community.
  • A compelling and complete story, with the goal of presenting a script for external consumption.
  • Playable in a single game session (15-30 minute target length).

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Ratings War

  1. And to head this question off at the pass: no, I’m not allowed to upload my World of Darkness writing samples for public consumption.