The Paper Design should happen in Pre-production. You need to do paper designs first so you don’t have 40 artists sitting around while you do it. On the other hand, if you leave it too early, you are going to waste lots of time later. So as producers, you need to find creative ways to give us room in this stage.
Every gameplay object should get a Paper Design. Don’t let Designers hand wave, because we are great at it! If we can’t write it down it means we haven’t figured it out. Lack of design discipline is a huge threat to your project. On the other hand, if you have a designer that has proven his discipline, then trust his paper design. Take off your design hat before you mess up the game!
Here’s the important things to note:
Some specifics are wrong. That’s because at some point the paper design is abandoned in favor of the existing object in the game.
Some mechanics are unclear. That’s because it is often difficult to capture an entire system inside a single paper design.
Many details are missing. A paper design should only include crucial or unique information, not every trivial detail.
It’s very flawed as a spec, but one thing comes through, the Role of the weapon.
So now let’s look at Halo 3’s paper design. It’s a lot more detailed. But it is still pretty abstract and the role is even more clear. (It ought to be, it was the third iteration!)
It might seem like a waste of time to do a revised paper design since it was essentially the same weapon as the first two games. But it is still important to capture and communicate the vision, because not everyone will have the same understanding of what was important in the previous versions.
“Role: Long-range instant-kill sniper rifle, but reloading makes it difficult to use”
The Role is even more clearly called out. Someone pointed out that Halo has two sniper rifles, which seems to violate the “one weapon per role” rule. Truthfully, they are right, but the missions required enemy snipers using an alien weapon. But, even in that case it is a good idea to give them unique gameplay; that’s why this paper design refers to the fact that the human sniper rifle reloads, instead of overheating.
I felt like this slide failed to capture what is really important about writing a paper design, so I wrote a much more detailed post on the topic.