Book 1 of 2016 Review – The Art of Game Design

I wrote an initial review over the first few chapters of the book earlier this year, then quickly realized with the types of notes I was taking it would take forever to finish the book. Well it took 5 months anyway with everything I had going on. I suspect if I had focused on it bit more I could have finished it in 1 month no problem. This is a very brief set of notes with a thought about every chapter.

Rating 10/10

This book is fantastic. It is essentially 500 pages of great ideas and questions to ask yourself when making a game. This may sound overwhelming and it is a little, but just get 1 or 2 of the ideas at a time. In fact, there is a separate little deck of cards that can be bought (or you can make your own) from the “lenses” in the book. Highly recommend anyone who is interested in games creation, game design, or the game industry read through this book.

Notes and Thoughts

The only way to be a game designer is to design games (and make them). So if you want to be a game designer say “I am a game designer” and go make games.

There are several important skills every game designer can have but the most important is the ability to listen. Not just listening to what people say, but also to their body language and other non verbal communication.

As a designer, you are really designing an experience that the player(s) of the game will have. Then you design a game that will deliver that experience.

Games are made for players. Who is your player? Ofter written as, who is your target demographic?

Even though people usually interact with the game through some sort of interface, the experience you design actually takes place in the player’s mind.

Games are made up of different elements. Only one of those elements is the game’s mechanics. This includes rules of the game and the playing pieces and interactions.

Balancing the game’s mechanics is very important to the experience.

The mechanics of the game support puzzles in a game. By this we mean that there is some sort of problem solving in the game caused by the mechanics.

All games have an interface so you can play them. It is a loop. Player puts inputs into interface, game interprets and gives an output, player interprets the output and gives a new input. The ideal design is to have the interface add to the experience that is being designed.

Interest curves are very important for judging experiences. One of the most effective interest curves is well known and is basically a short period of rising action at the beginning, a small drop in action, then a longer period of rising action to the climax of the story. However the best interest curves are fractals of this curve so that a small arc of the story along this larger interest curve will also follow the same pattern.

Stories are one type of experience. The dream is to have a completely interactive story with open endings. This is both difficult and impractical for now (see this post I wrote about branching explosion of story writing). There is good ways to design story into the game and the book has several good tips.

The game and the story can be merged together with “indirect control.”

Stories and games take place in worlds. Some of the best worlds are those that people actually want to visit and even pretend to visit and translate into other forms of media well.

There are characters in our worlds. We want to create compelling characters.

Worlds contain spaces, we usually call them levels. You can use the design of the spaces to create a better experience through giving visual clues the players may not even notices but react to and follow.

The aesthetics of the world define its look and feel. Sound, art and the technology used to create the world all work together to help get the experience where you want it.

Some games are played with other people. This can sometimes get a little tricky.

Sometimes communities form around games. It is important if you are designing a game where you hope a community will form to build in support for a strong community. The author gives several good suggestions and examples of ways to build a strong community.

Game designers usually work with a team (even if it is only a team of 1 other person). Getting buy in from everyone on the team is super important. Keep communication levels good.

Sometimes the team communicates with documents. Make sure to not let them get stale.

Playtesting is the key to a good game. You can never playtest enough. You need to ask the playtesters: Why, Who, Where, What and How?

The team builds the game with Technology. Technology can be tricky, especially on games that are being developed over a multi year cycle. Choose carefully.

Games usually have a client. By this we mean someone who is financially backing the game.

The designer usually gives a “pitch” to the client to get them to buy-in to the idea of the game. There is a list of tips for how to give a successful pitch.

Most of the time, the client (and you as the designer) want to make a profit from the game. You should spend some time learning the lingo of game sales and figuring out the business model of the game.

Games actually change the people who play them, the book uses the word “transform.” Games can be both good and bad for you.

Because of the affects games can have, game designers have certain responsibilities.

Every game designer has motivation, what’s yours?

The End

Seriously, go get this book and read it. Even if you don’t want to design games, it still has valuable ideas for anyone wanting to get into design or creation of software.

I Want to Be a Better Developer