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July 12, 2020
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Practical tips on technical Game Design Documentation (Part 2)

by Simone Cicchetti on 05/28/20 10:15:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Introduction 

This article is the continuation of a previous article I wrote about writing documents for Game Designers. To quickly summarize it, I explained these 4 golden rules I always follow whenever creating a document:

  1. Show, don’t write
  2. Brief and short
  3. Documentation is useless
  4. No one is ever going to read 100% of your document.

On top of these Rules, I also explained the “correct way” and the “correct time” of writing a document.
To understand this article it’s going to be vital reading the previous one since I will be greatly quoting these Rules in explaining Google Docs tools and in giving some tips, so if you haven’t already, feel free to come back here later.

Google Docs creates text documents. It’s the tool you’ll likely use to create design documents, high vision documents and similar documents. The reasons why I suggest using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office Word are explained in the previous article.
There are 3 Core Elements that you need to consider when creating a text Document: 

  • Formatting, which is divided in:
    • The Page and Styles
    • Formats (bold, italic, underline and highlight)
    • Images
  • Bullet Points, which are your best friends 
  • Tables, which are your “bestest” friends

Let's go in order.

Formatting

Page Setup

When you make a document it’s important to optimize your space. Although letting the reader breathe with empty spaces can be good, a tight document is less intimidating than a gargantuan one; just think this: when your readers open your document, do you want them to look at the page count and read a 4 or a 17? Less pages mean that your readers will be more likely to skip less information (remember Rule 4). 

So, how can you make your document tighter? Editing the page settings is the quickest and easiest way to drastically reduce that nasty page count: 

  • Go File > Page Setup and play around with margins - I find a 0.5 inches top and bottom and 0.56 inches left and right work best, but you can experiment.
  • In the same window is the page orientation: sometimes, especially in Table-heavy documents, having a landscape oriented document is better than a portrait one. 

Other, more advanced (and dangerous) things you can do are: 

  • Edit the line spacing (Format > Line Spacing), 
  • Change the indentation options (Format > Align & Indent > Indentation Options
  • Change the font type or font size. 

About font specifically: Google Docs is standardized on Arial 11; I would advise to stay on 11 for the size, while for the font type you might want to give Roboto a try: it’s an always expanding font, highly loved, and has a compact Italic style that reduces text length - rather useful! 

Styles

Styles are the Titles and Headings, accessed by the Text Style drop down menu. Simply put your cursor on the line you want to change, and select the Style you want. 

Styles are especially useful to divide your content and create a Hierarchy - my Heading 2s are categories inside my Heading 1s which are categories inside my whole Document. Remember the Right Way of writing a document?

Tip: you can save the format changes made to your styles: in the Text Style drop down menu put the cursors on the small arrow pointing right on the style and select ‘update to match’, then at the bottom of the menu select options>save as my default styles”

Google Docs also creates an index on the side of the document called "outline" (to hide it / show it use the Ctrl+Alt+A or Ctrl+Alt+H shortcut or go View > Show Document Outline).

Now, you might be asking yourself “but aren’t Titles and Headings going to increase my page count?” and the answer to that is Yes
The main reason we use them is that they help with Rule 2: they avoid Walls of Text, but they also have the special perk of dividing your document thematically: by having clear areas, each reader will know where to focus and the loss of data (Rule 4) will be localized on less important parts for each reader (your TA).

Formats

The four, most used formats are Bold, Italic, Underline and Highlight. Each one has pros and cons:

  • Bold (Ctrl + B) is your most powerful tool, and also the most dangerous
    • You should use it to highlight special words or short sentences in your text 
      • Have them stand out
      • Put in bold to the words that even if read just by themselves would still make sense and convey the sentence meaning
    • It increases the size of your text and makes it less readable
      • Use it wisely
      • Ideally, no more than 1 word every 3 or 4 should be bolded, and no more than 1/3 of the line
  • Italic (Ctrl + I) is less powerful than bold, but less dangerous. 
    • Still used to have portions of text stand out.
    • Use it on big chunks of text, since a single word wouldn't be highlighted enough. 
    • You can also use it to separate specific chunks of text, such as explanations, quotes and so on; do it consistently and the reader will know what to expect
  • Underline (Ctrl + U) is the ugly cousin of Bold and Italic. 
    • Although powerful, it drastically reduces the readability of your document. 
      • Should be used on extremely specific words - avoid it on words with capital Ls
    • Underline is a standardized format for Hyperlinks - adapt to that dominant design.
      • Don’t use it on blue text
  • Highlight, but also text color, are an elegant way to visually create correlations in your document.
    • Use it to create a color code or highlight a word that is often repeated in your text
    • Use low-saturated colors for highlights
    • Use darker colors for text and put it in bold.
    • Always avoid shades of yellow for text colors. 

Images

Why write it if you can show it? There is not much to say here, if you can put an Image, Gif or Link to a Video inside your Document, do it (Rule 1). Some special tricks that might help you:

  • Crop your Images: after you have put it in the document, double click to edit the image size to optimize space
    • You might use this to save space and to avoid breaking a topic between multiple pages (Right Way).
  • Format: click on the image and select the “Wrap Text” option in the format menu below 
    • It’s the best format since it gives you the most freedom.
    • Google Docs bug: big images tend to behave funny when moving them between pages - to walk around this, resize them to be as small as possible and move the small image around, then resize it. Another thing to consider is Cut and Paste it.

  • Copy Youtube video at time stamp: open a Youtube video, go to the timestamp that interests you, pause the video, right click on it and select “Copy URL at current timestamp”. 
    • Now you have a link that, when clicked, immediately brings the reader to that timestamp!

Remember that images, gifs and videos also save you a lot of time in explaining stuff to the reader (Rule 3)

Tip: you can add an image to your document by dragging it from the original site directly to the document or with Copy and Paste, without having to save it on your computer first”

Tip: Gifs.com is an AMAZING tool to create Gifs from any video on the internet with just its URL, it’s basically free and it allows for amazing edits! Use it!”

Bullet Point Lists

Bullet Point Lists are your best friends - but only if you use them wisely. They have some unwanted side-effects that you need to remember when using them: 

  • They force you to write less (Rule 2)
    • Side effect: you must write less; massive texts do not work well in Bullet Point Lists
  • They are extremely readable
    • Side effect: they take up a lot of space vertically, and waste most of the text row
    • (Spoiler alert: Tables solve this)
  • They create a visual Hierarchy (Right way)
    • Use indentation
      • Click on Tab to indent your bullet points lists and help the reader visualize the relationship between them,
    • Use Bold! It’s amazing with bullet point lists when used to highlight important words.
    • Side effect: they waste even more row space when indenting.

To quickly create a bullet point list select your text section and click on the bullet point button in the header or use Ctrl+Shift+8.

Tables

Tables are your bestest friends. Anything you can put in a Bullet Point list, you can put in a table and get a better result. Here are what makes tables amazing and the tricks in using them:

  • They force you to write less like bullet point lists (Rule 2)
    • But unlike them, you can write bigger sentences
    • They help cut all the conjunctions (“and”, “or”, “so”) because the connection is established by the table format
  • They are highly readable like bullet point lists
    • But are actually more readable
    • AND they use the whole row, optimizing space
  • They create a hierarchy like bullet point lists (Rule 1)
    • But they can also create visual connection between topics

The path of the Table Master is full of small adjustments that will make your documents perfect:

  • Cell Merging: merging two or more cells can create a correlation between multiple elements and help visualize the hierarchy,
    • Do it by selecting the cells you need to merge, right click and select “Merge Cells” 

  • Add rows / columns: right click on a cell and select these options to be more flexible
  • Border color and weight: by changing the borders color or weight you can increase the correlation between elements in the hierarchy
    • Tip that will save your life: select all the cells you want, then click on the small arrow pointing down on the top right corner of the selection. 
      • By doing so, you can select multiple borders at a time, without having to manually select each one of them

Tip: white borders are invisible, which means that you can put your datas in a table-like order but have it look like it’s not in a table - this makes it less heavy and more visually appealing, but reduces the correlation between elements in the same row”

  • Colored cells: it’s like highlighting, but better. Same rules for color choice apply here
    • You can even have a column dedicated solely to having a color
      • Add a legend at the start of the table though
    • The first row of your table should be highly contrasted since it often contains some sort of “title” for the rest of the columns

Google Docs bug: not really a bug, just a silly thing: when creating a table a small extra line is always added at the bottom of the table, which sometimes takes an extra page for free - set that line size to 2 to solve this issue!

Conclusions

Now you know some of the ways you can make a better, shorter, more readable document, avoiding a lot of bugs or basic troubleshooting to make it quicker, to boot! (I don’t have to quote the Golden Rules now, do I?)

Next step: take everything I told you, and move it on a Spreadsheet. 90% of what you can do on a text document, can be done on a spreadsheet, better. 
Google Sheets is going to be the last part of this articles series, it will take me a lot of time for certain but it will come through, so stay around! For any question, by all means, add me on LinkedIn and let’s chat! 
 
One final tip that can save you a LOT of time: create documents blueprints! Once you know the paragraphs, the formats of the tables you will use, just create a document that has the skeleton of your structure, and compile a copy of it every time you need it! 
This will bring your optimization to new levels!


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