Chris Crawford on Game Design

Chris Crawford on Game Design

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by Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford on Game Design is all about the foundational skills behind the design and architecture of a game. Without these skills, designers and developers lack the understanding to work with the tools and techniques used in the industry today. Chris Crawford, the most highly sought after expert in this area, brings an intense opinion piece full of

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Chris Crawford on Game Design is all about the foundational skills behind the design and architecture of a game. Without these skills, designers and developers lack the understanding to work with the tools and techniques used in the industry today. Chris Crawford, the most highly sought after expert in this area, brings an intense opinion piece full of personality and flare like no other person in this industry can. He explains the foundational and fundamental concepts needed to get the most out of game development today. An exceptional precursor to the two books soon to be published by New Riders with author Andrew Rollings, this book teaches key lessons; including, what you can learn from the history of game play and historical games, necessity of challenge in game play, applying dimensions of conflict, understanding low and high interactivity designs, watching for the inclusion of creativity, and understanding the importance of storytelling. In addition, Chris brings you the wish list of games he'd like to build and tells you how to do it. Game developers and designers will kill for this information!

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Editorial Reviews
The 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.

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Product Details

New Riders
Publication date:
New Riders Games Series
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 8.78(h) x 0.79(d)

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Read an Excerpt


Twenty years have passed since I wrote my first book, The Art of Computer Game Design. Much has transpired during that time: Games have grown up. Twenty years ago, one programmer working for less than a year could produce a top-quality game. Nowadays, a team of a dozen specialists labors for several years to give birth to a commercial product. A dozen narrow specialties have sprung up: game designer, level designer, sound effects designer, 3D programmer, AI programmer, music designer, writer, and more. Budgets for games have risen from about $25K in 1980 to several million dollars today—a hundredfold increase! And the hardware on which we work has improved by at least a thousandfold.

Yet games haven't become a thousandfold or even a hundredfold better. Today's games are unquestionably more impressive than the games of 1982, but the advances we have seen aren't commensurate with the progress of the hardware or the budgets. Indeed, some people who nostalgically play the old-time games aver that modern games are no more fun. Games are bigger, splashier, more impressive, but not much more fun, they claim.

De gustibus non est disputandem—you can't argue about taste. We'll never agree on just how much more fun the new games are. But we can agree that the games have not improved commensurately with the technology. Clearly, technological progress does not automatically make games more fun. There's something else at work here, something that can't be nailed down in program code. It's often called the fun factor, but I don't like the term—it suggests that fun is a standard component that can be stuffed into a game somewhere between the mouse input code and the 3D graphics engine. I prefer to think of it as simply good game design: a soft, fuzzy concept involving a great deal of expertise, some rules of thumb, and strong intuition.


Game design is not at all the same as game programming.

Game design shares nothing with game programming; they are completely separate fields of endeavor. True, a game designer must understand programming just as a game programmer must know something of game design. Yet as these two fields have progressed, they have diverged; master game designers focus their energies on mental challenges utterly different from those that bedevil master game programmers. This book is about the problems of game design; it has no truck with technical problems, for which a plethora of books await the reader.

Since game design is so soft and fuzzy, this book cannot offer simple answers with the directness and clarity that a technical work could provide. Alas, we must struggle with vague theories instead of precise formulations; rough guidelines instead of polished specifications; abstract concepts instead of direct rules. In many cases we must accept mutually incompatible concepts, uncertain where the dividing line between them lies. It comes with the job.

Fortunately, we have a vast array of experience on which to draw. In the last twenty years, some twenty thousand games have been published. Most of these were pretty lousy; some were good; and a handful were excellent. We can learn from all of these games. Indeed, the turkeys are the most instructive, because often a turkey fails for a single, easily identified reason. A thousand factors make a great game; it's impossible to evaluate them separately when they all sing together in perfect harmony. But when just one factor sings off-key, it stands out with terrible


It's easier to learn from turkeys than from masterworks.clarity.

My first book, The Art of Computer Game Design, was still being read and recommended twenty years after its publication; I intend for this book to be similarly long-lived. Therefore, I shall not be citing the current popular games. I shall limit my commentary to the great classics, milestones that should be available to any prospective designer. Occasionally, I will pick out some special turkey that beautifully illustrates a design blunder, but when I do so, I shall attempt to describe the game adequately.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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Meet the Author

Chris Crawford is the "grand old man" of computing game design. He sold his first computer game in 1978, joined Atari in 1979, and led Games Research there. During his time at Atari, he wrote the first edition of The Art of Computer Game Design (Osborne, 1984), which has now become a classic in the field. After Atari collapsed in 1984, Chris became a freelance computer game designer. All in all, Chris has 14 published computer games to his credit—all of which he designed and programmed himself. He founded, edited, and wrote most of The Journal of Computer Game Design, the first periodical devoted to game design. He founded and led the Computer Game Developers' Conference (now the Game Developers' Conference) in its early years. Chris has lectured on game design at conferences and universities all over the world. For the last ten years, he has been developing technology for interactive storytelling.

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Chris Crawford on Game Design 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
NaturalOne More than 1 year ago
This book is a waste of time and money.  There are many books on game design, but this isn't one of them.  This is a book full of sexist, elitest, and just plain ignorant statements by someone who sold a game 30 years ago and hasn't really done much since. This is not a book on game design, it is really just an autobiography.  This book hasn't aged well at all. Written 10 years ago, it contains inaccurate predictions of technology and society.  
Guest More than 1 year ago
After I read Mr Crawford's book 'Understanding Interactivity' I decided that I would pick up anything he wrote. Understanding Interactivity has many ideas of value for game designers but that was not the main focus of the book. This book is aimed especially for those interested in creating origional games and there is suprisingly little overlap between the two books. Right now the game industry is producing endless clones of first person shooters, cockpit games, real time strategy games, and FRP games with the ocational sim and board game tossed into the mix. The biggest thing I got from this book is many ideas on whole new genre's of game types. Computer games could be about ANY thing, it is a shame the industry has locked itself into such narrow catagories. A must have book for any game designer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book on a whim, not expecting much from it. Games today seem to be made in cookie-cutter fashion, and I was expecting something along the lines of how to make your game stand out from the rest of the similar ones in the market. Instead I was presented with a mind-boggling analysis about what is wrong in the game industry nowadays, and what can be done about it. Designers need to be more social-minded, as well as programmers. It seems simple, but it¿s very far from it. Programmers tend to be a closed bunch, mostly anti-social outside of their own group, and tend to appeal to the baser emotions of our human nature, I.E. violence and sexual gratification. I don¿t know exactly how to target a game towards more social strata of our community, but it¿s easy to see that game design is vilified precisely because it seems so base. In essence, Mr. Crawford details a series of rules that designers should follow, and a list of books that they should read so as to better inform programmers as to what a greater section of the public would want. There¿s lots of retrospectives on other games that Mr. Crawford has designed. Balance of Power was one game I had seen before, and though I never got to play it, I did get to see some of the workings behind it. I didn¿t know that Mr. Crawford was the author of the game, and appreciate him letting us see what was going on behind curtain. This is a great book that no game designer should be without.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you're a game programmer in need of a break from your latest book on OpenGL and want a book that will inspire you to think more about what makes your game fun rather than how best to churn polygons, this is your book. It gets you in the mindset to help strip away all the cosmetics and technological wizardry that is the modern game and focus on what makes your design fun and challenging. There are some parts of the book that aren't all that well-written. In particular, the author sometimes repeats himself, and tends to use multiple examples to drive home a point that was more than clear after one. Still, none of that detracts from what (at least for me) was an illuminating book. It has changed the way I think about game design.