The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses – Part 1

One of my self-improvement goals this year is to read a book on game design or making video games every two months and I could not have picked a better or worse first book to start with.

I figured I would do a long review at the end of the 2 months and that would be all. But this first book is actually over 500 pages long and I am only about 75 pages into it at the moment and already have enough notes for a full post.

The goal is still to average 1 book per 2 months but this book might stretch to 3. So I am going to break up the notes I am taking into separate posts that will probably take the place of post I was planning on doing about various articles I had read on game design because I am reading this book instead.

These are rough notes from the Intro up to the end of Chapter 4.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

Game Design is simply decision making, of how the game will ‘be’.

Good game design comes from viewing the design from multiple perspectives (lenses).

Game design is not super precise, more art than science.

Study fundamentals, study classic games that have withstood test of time to find what makes games fun.

It is a game designers job to create new games.

Design principles will come from everywhere because design is everywhere.

You will not become a game designer by reading a book. It is an activity you must do, and you must build the game and play it and have others play it.

Ch 1 Design games, start now!

Say out loud: “I am a game designer”, now go make games.

Must lack fear of ridicule.

Game design is decision making and decisions must be made with confidence.

Failure is the only path to success, the more the better.

Almost anything can be a useful skill for game design.

The most important skill: Listening.

Ch2 The Designer creates the experience

Game designers goal is to create an experience, all he really cares about.

Game is not the experience, it enables the experience.

Split between artifact and experience is more noticeable in game design mostly due to the level of interaction.

Some experiences or feelings only game based experiences seem to offer (choice, freedom, accomplishment).

Need to use Psychology, Anthropology and Design to uncover mysteries of the human mind.

Cannot afford to be snobbish about where we get our knowledge. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Use introspection to make judgements about what is and is not working in your game. But your experience may not be true for others so listen to your audience and internalize to better predict what experiences they will enjoy.

Need to clearly be able to state what you like, what you don’t like and why.

Analyze how a game makes you feel, what it makes you think of, and what it makes you do.

Do this kind of analysis when designing and playing your own games and games others have created.

How do we analyze our experiences without tainting them?
1. Remember them – best with powerful or fresh memories.
2. Go through experience twice – analyzing the second time.
3. “Sneak Glances” – ask yourself simple questions while in the experience that don’t require deep analysis and don’t break immersion.

Getting in the habit of observing yourself without interrupting your own experience can be worthwhile.

Goal is to figure out the essential elements that really define the experience you want to create and find ways to make them part of your game design.

What experience do I want the player to have and what is essential to that experience?

Ch 3 The Experience Rises Out of a Game

We cannot manipulate experiences directly.

Fun is pleasure with surprises.

What will surprise players when they play my game? Can players surprise each other? Can they surprise themselves?

What parts of my game are fun? Why? What parts need to be more fun?

Play is manipulation that indulges curiosity.

What questions does my game put in the players mind? What am I doing to make them care? How can I make them invent even more questions?

What is valuable to the player in my game? How can I make it more valuable to them? How is the value in the game related to the players motivations?

– 10 things that make up a game –
1. are entered willfully
2. are interactive
3. have goals
4. have challenges
5. have conflict
6. can create their own internal value
7. have rules
8. engage players
9. can be won and lost
10. are closed, formal systems

A Game is a problem solving activity approached with a playful attitude.

What problems does my game ask the player to solve? Are their hidden problems that arise as part of gameplay? How can my game generate new problems so the player keeps coming back?

Ch4 The Game Consists of Elements

4 Basic Elements
1. Mechanics – procedures and rules of game
2. Story – sequence of events
3. Aesthetics – how your game looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels
4. Technology – any materials and interactions that make your game possible

All of these are of equal importance.

Is my game design using elements of all four types? Could my design be improved by enhancing elements in one or more categories? Are the 4 elements in harmony and reinforcing each other?

Space invaders looked at as an example.

What elements of the game make the experience enjoyable? What elements take away from the experience? How can I change the elements of the game to improve the experience?

End of Part 1

Just the first 4 chapters have been immensely valuable in how I approach designing a game. I have started asking myself these questions about the first game I am making this year and already able to make a few improvements.

Looking forward to the rest of the book, would already recommend it as a must read for aspiring game designers.

Say this out loud, “I am a game designer” … now go make games

I Want to Be a Better Developer