Relapse Game Design Document


Project Length: 5 Weeks (10/19/12 – 11/16/12)
Team: HotKeys (6 Members)
My Roles: Public Relations, Writing & Documentation, Character Development
End Product: Game Design Document

Read document as PDF.

In the fall of 2012, I worked on a team of six to develop a mock-up FPS for the Xbox 360 over the course of five weeks. My team, known as HotKeys, developed a game called Relapse, revolving around a zombie-like virus having broken out in a military facility. It is up to Sgt. Jax, a soldier and engineer, and Dr. Mirez, a doctor and medical researcher, to put a stop to the outbreak before the infected make it outside of the base.


Relapse is a game about teamwork, survival, and second chances. As described in the game design document…

“In Croatoa Army Base, Sgt. “Jax” Jackson is tending to his duties in the research and development building. As part of the team developing the L.A.P.S.E. portal, an experimental device designed to allow the user to view and interact with the past, Sgt. Jax must keep a careful eye on his project and keep it running smoothly. As with many evenings, Jax has stayed after hours to give everything one last once-over.

“Suddenly, the base is rocked by an explosion – but not because of an attack, or a weapons test, or a mechanical misfire. A menacing pillar of smoke towers over the other end of the base. Sgt. Jax leaps into action and takes off to help, but is quickly confronted by corpses meandering across the base, spreading their curse to anyone they come in contact with. Undeterred, Sgt. Jax takes action against the cadavers in an effort to keep their odd infection from spreading.

“As he makes his way closer and closer to the flaming building, which appears to be the medical wing, Sgt. Jax encounters Dr. Mirez, a civilian doctor contracted to work on a top secret medical project. Upon learning that the latest attempt at her task, to regenerate tissue, had gone horrifically awry, Sgt. Jax resolves to assist Dr. Mirez in combing the base for the supplies needed to find an antidote – before the infection infiltrates the unsuspecting city just beyond their gates.”

As the two fight their way through the chaos, they are continually cut off from their goals, be it because ingredients are destroyed before they can reach them or they aren’t able to recover the necessary quantity. Faced with no other option, Jax and Mirez conclude that their only hope is to use the L.A.P.S.E. portal to rewind time and try again — this time using their knowledge of the future to take new paths, access better weapons, and ultimately overcome the deadly outbreak.


My responsibilities on this project largely revolved around writing: plot development, character development, and ultimately composing the GDD itself. I collected the ideas that my team and I had established and penned them into the document in a way that was logical and clear, but that also wasn’t so technical that it couldn’t be easily followed. Anytime I hit a section that the team had not addressed, I came up with the content myself and filled in the blanks (with the rest of the team’s approval, of course).

Whenever a teammate had ideas for the GDD and I was not available to compose it, the procedure was for my teammate to deposit the bullet points of what they wanted in the appropriate section. When I came back to the document, I read over the list and built the final version of the text for the document to replace it. Of the content in the final product, there are maybe one or two paragraphs that I did not write, rewrite, or edit. The total document length is 36 pages.

An example page from the GDD. All text and ideas shown were created by myself.

An example page from the GDD. All text and ideas shown were created by myself.

Visual design of the document was headed up by one of my teammates, Zach Allen. He created the background image and most of the official character art; other art assets, such as monsters, set design, and mock-up screenshots were provided by Jarren Grabke and Josh Blevins. I contributed ideas and direction to the artistic side much in the same way my teammates contributed to the textual side, which provided a steady balance. The only area in which I took a more direct role in the art was to create the concept art for Dr. Mirez, which was later translated into official artwork by Zach.

To help sell the document effectively, my team and I agreed that we needed to present the document in a way that communicated the spirit of the game itself. Rather than opting for a standard document cover, Zach and I created mock “top secret” documents to house the GDD. This was accomplished very simply by using standard file folders, a 3-hole punch, and brass paper fasteners. Upon putting everything together, it was just a matter of applying the logos and inserting the team’s business card inside the front cover as a final touch. I also created T-shirts bearing the game’s logo to be handed out along with the GDD.

Everyone was extremely pleased with the final output — not only those of us on our team, but also the instructors and industry professionals that had attended our presentation. One attendee stated that she felt our game was so thoroughly fleshed out and detailed that it didn’t feel like a 5-week exercise, but rather like an actual game that was ready for production.

For more information about the game, click to read the design document as a PDF.


I was pleased with this project, and I’m glad I was able to participate in it with the team I had. I think I was very lucky to have the teammates that I did, as we all brought important skills and our chemistry worked well together. Our team never got into fights, and when disagreements did happen, they were resolved quickly and typically with everyone happy. The worst we had to deal with was a few communication errors, which mostly arose due to our tight deadlines, and none of which were so detrimental that we couldn’t recover.

My only regret on the project is the design of the front cover of the final GDD. As Zach had been the one to put the images on the folders while I punched the holes in the document, I didn’t see until he was already finished how he’d oriented the information. If it had been me, I would have positioned the Relapse logo in the center of the cover and at a larger scale, so that it would be front and center and make the biggest impact. With the game name immediately catching the eye, I would have then put the “top secret” notation toward the top (where the game logo currently is) and reduced the font size, which would more properly convey that it’s decorative and not actually part of the title. I also would have put the team name on the file tab at the upper-right, as it seems a logical location and happens to be out of the way.


Relapse game concept, characters, artwork, story, logos, and all other associated elements are the property of Team HotKeys. No part may be used or reproduced without expressed consent from myself, Kirk Jakubison, Zach Allen, Jarren Grabke, Josh Blevins, and Paco Avila.


About Leedzie

Leda "Leedzie" Clark is a writer and game designer with a sharp eye for detail and a kooky sense of humor. She's been a nerd as long as she can remember, and always seems to notice the wrong thing first in any given situation.

Posted on April 11, 2013, in Creative Writing, Documentation, Game Design, Game Idea, Original Characters, Plot, Portfolio, Video Games, World Building. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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