[Game design veteran Ryan -- most recently a designer on Fracture -- looks at the Wiki as a game design and development tool, asking -- is it the right tool to use to document game creation, and what are the pros and cons of using it to store design information about larger-scale games?]
As a self-described old-school developer, I have written or
directed the creation of game design documentation since the early '90s, but
recently I had the opportunity to work with teams using internal Wiki websites
to document their game design specifications. I wasn't sold at first, given the
discipline that goes into creating clear, precise documentation, but I saw a
lot of positive aspects to the approach.
I did some asking around, and I found that quite a few people
have worked at companies that used Wikis. The vast majority were making
self-published games where the demand for documentation milestone deliverables
to a publisher didn't force a printed format onto the team.
I realized that
Wiki is probably something that's here to stay and I'd better learn to adapt. So I did a
little bit of research and found the pros and cons of using Wiki for game
design documentation and some methods for overcoming the cons. This article
seeks to share what I learned.
What is Wiki?
Wiki was invented by Ward Cunningham in 1994 as a way for
programmers at his company to share ideas. It is a simplified markup language
loosely modeled after Apple's Hypercard -- which, interestingly enough, is
credited as the forefather of HTML, the standard Web Browser markup language.
The difference with Wiki is that it is much simpler and hasn't spun out
of control in complexity like HTML has over the years. Anyone can edit it,
which is the point. It's not an information presentation
language: it's an information sharing language. It promotes
communication and group contribution through ease of access.
Over the years, Wiki has spread to other companies and to
public websites. The most famous is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, written
entirely by individual contributors around the world. The prominence of
Wikipedia as a respected repository of information is the ultimate proof of the
success of Wiki's goals. Thank you, Ward.
Is Wiki Right for Game Development?
Wiki was originally designed for use in a software
development company before being adapted for community and commercial sites.
From what I could gather, a few game companies have used it for quite a long
time. The fact that more and more video game development companies are starting
to use it should be no surprise. It's caught on.
Our industry has grown. The size of the projects, the depth
in the games, and the sheer amount of information is staggering. There is just
too much for a single designer or producer to write up. There is also just too
much information for a single design document, even if it were divided up into
sections. Wiki solves this issue because it allows many individual contributors
and a browser interface to organize and find information.
Perhaps this is just a side-effect of being gamers or an
influence from the MySpace, Blogger, and Twitter culture, but game developers
seem to have a small attention span and appreciate the bite-size pieces of
design that Wiki encourages. They don't like wading through 100 page design
specifications. Each Wiki page is a topic, and it can easily be linked to other
topics, be grouped into sections and be labeled for searching. In short, Wiki
makes design more accessible.
Why not use Sharepoint?
The answers are simple:
Sharepoint isn't cheap. Many Wiki solutions are
free or fairly inexpensive.
Sharepoint is cumbersome and is more of document
hosting solution than a website. I've literally waited minutes for a document
to transfer off the site and be loaded by my MS Office application rather than
come up in my web browser as a web page like Wiki does.
A tool that's used is more useful than a tool
that's not. In my experience, Wiki is more readily used by the team members. It
gets more contributors and more readers alike.