I don't know how the public existence of such a document has eluded me for quite so long, but via a tiny reference in a recent RPS post I'm led to another RPS post in which the excellent Kieron Gillen says the same thing - only that was way back in 2007.
The thing we're talking about is the Planescape: Torment vision statement, hosted at RPGWatch.com - a 47 page PDF from 1997 (two years before the game was released) - outlining, well, everything. It's informative, hilarious and fascinating. The original RPS post was regarding a similar document Irrational Games has been publishing for Bioshock, which any other day would have raised an eyebrow, but to my mind is really rather overshadowed. Still, Irrational's new blog occasionally has some interesting insights so it's worth a trawl at some stage. While I'm on the topic, thank god the '2K Boston' label is under the ground - let's pray Illusion Softworks manages to ditch '2K Czech' in time for Mafia II.
Anyway, the doc itself includes stuff like this:
Designer: The brief story summary's below, followed by a list of all the cool shit we plan to include in the game.Planescape has long been held as the go to exemplar of good games writing, so much so I was forced to dig it out, patch it up (hi-res graphics hacks et al) and replay the opening chapters to see if it really stood the test. It really, definitely has. I haven't played it since I was about 13, and it's depressing that modern RPGs have, if anything, stepped back from the sophistication, subtext and all round brilliance we already had over ten years ago.
Mort: “Sheesh. Can this guy write any more text? I'm already bored, and I’m fucking dead.”
One of the interesting things in the design doc (which is, in all, fairly close to the final product) is the irreverence paid to the content, and the emphasis on combat. I remember Planescape as a funny game that took jabs at other RPGs, but I also remember it as a game with more focus on a mature and touching story than on hitting orcs with big sod off swords.
I'm often asked what the best way is to prepare for a career in games writing. My default answer is ability, practice and perseverance, but writing a best-selling novel doesn't hurt either. From now on I'm going to start recommending reading things like this, and the Van Buren (Interplay's cancelled Fallout 3) level designs.
You have seen the Van Buren design docs, haven't you?