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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Is the game development industry succumbing to the sameness that afflicts entertainments when the financial stakes get too high? Is it simply getting too hard to break through in an industry that’s rapidly consolidating into giant players and familiar genres? Is it time for something profoundly different?
Maybe it’s time to return to first principles. Just maybe, game designers can find more fruitful “paths not taken.” If so, Chris Crawford on Game Design is the place to begin.
Chris Crawford is the seminal thinker in the field. Back in 1979, he hired on as Atari’s manager of games research, reporting to the legendary Alan Kay. His 1982 classic The Art of Game Design shaped an entire generation of game designers. He’s been a key influence on titles ranging from SimEarth to LucasArts’ 2001 Star Wars: Rogue Leader -- Rogue Squadron II.
More than anyone else, he’s wrestled with the deepest questions about what makes games great. This book brings together his best ideas, and every game designer should hear them.
To begin with, do you really understand play? “Play is a complex and tricky human behavior. We dismiss it too readily as child’s activity, and therefore something devoid of depth and richness, but in fact play extends far beyond the realm of the child and touches a wide range of human life.”
Play can be many things, all having deep importance to game designers. For instance, it can be metaphor: a representation of something else. Sure, combat flight simulators represent the combat pilot’s experience (with the endless stretches of boredom edited out). But what did Pac-Man simulate? Nothing.
It does, however, offer a frighteningly perfect metaphor for life: “We rush about, collecting some meaningless dots… while bad guys chase us, just waiting to trip us up on some minor mistake. It's frantic, it's mechanical, it's relentless -- it's just like our daily lives.” And that’s why it had far more resonance (and success) than 99 percent of today’s photo-realistic RPGs.
Play needn’t be exotic, but it must be -- and feel -- safe. When unpleasant surprises set a player back substantially, they harm game play: “If the player fears mines lurking underneath every step, he won't take many steps” -- and won’t have much fun, either.
Every game needs a strong challenge. How do you design one that’s worthy -- and unambiguous? What types of mental challenges you can place before your players? What’s the nature of sensorimotor challenge, and the meaning of the “videogamer’s high”? What can you do with spatial reasoning, sequential reasoning, pattern recognition -- or the underappreciated social reasoning?
How do you use conflict to make a game truly personal? Why is “high” interactivity better than low? How do you build games that listen well to players, think well about their inputs, and produce clear, expressive outputs?
All this just scratches the surface. Crawford discusses why creativity is all too often missing from today’s games (and what to do about it); how to avoid common errors in game design; and much more. There’s even a full chapter of “Games I’d Like to Build,” in which Crawford invites you to beat him to the punch.
Same-old, same-old won’t do it anymore. Transcend it, with Chris Crawford on Game Design. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.