TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Book Review: Chris Crawford On Game Design

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Review

Book Review: Chris Crawford On Game Design

by Ron Davis

I first picked up Chris Crawford On Game Design at the local bookstore because I am a wannabe game programmer and often look at game design books. I kept picking it up because there are a lot of Mac screen shots and descriptions of Mac games in it. This is very unusual for a game book, but Chris Crawford is a game programmer from way back.

One thing to know about this book is it is very much about Chris Crawford. Very oriented toward his opinion and his philosophy, with nary a line of code in the whole book. The book is broken up into two sections; the first part is an overview of game design and the second is a history of all of the games Chris has written. Because of this his personality comes through very strongly. Maybe it is just hard to write about the cool things in the code you've written and not come off seeming an egomaniac, but after reading the second half of the book I didn't really like Chris. Now that I've read the first half, I'd say he knows his stuff, but I probably wouldn't want to hang with him, as he might feel the need to point out my flaws.

Before you get a bad opinion of me, let me quote the beginning of the chapter entitled Random Sour Observations:

    "You would never guess it from my comments in this book, but I have a reputation for, shall we say, outspokenness. That reputation is mostly on the mark, although it is often colored by the anger of those whom I have skewered. My particular talent is not for detecting problems - anybody can bitch - but rather for phrasing my criticisms in a style that hits hard. I hold euphemism and tactful ellipticity in contempt; integrity demands the expression of truth in the clearest and most compelling terms."

The tone of the book is biting. He freely lambasts everyone in computer games with a broad brush. So if you have a thin skin and don't want to hear someone say all programmers are autistic, lack all social skills, and will therefore never be able to create a game that reaches anyone but horny, violent young men, don't buy the book.

Now on to the good stuff. The first half of the book Chris talks about the history of games, both computer and otherwise, the core concepts of Play, the requirements of Challenge, Conflict and Interactivity in computer games. Then he goes on to discuss the missing element of creativity in modern computer games, and common mistakes game programmers, companies, and designers keep making. There is a chapter dedicated to what he thinks a game designer needs to know entitled The Education of a Game Designer and one that lists a bunch of games he'd like to write. Then he talks about Storytelling and how it is lacking in modern games and people don't even seem to know it. The last chapter in this section of the book is the previously mentioned chapter of sour observations on the gaming industry as a whole.

There is some great stuff in these chapters, and rather than go through them one at a time, I'm just going to talk a little about some of the stuff I thought was cool.

In the chapter on challenge there is a long and interesting discussion of how the brain does things and how it learns. This he closely ties to game play and how the complexity of a game can increase without losing the player. Whenever our brains learn how to do a complex task we first have to think of each little step, and this thinking is slow. As we repeat the steps we shove the doing of the steps down in to our cerebellum and no longer have to think about things to do them. When playing a game we do this as we learn the game. So stuff that was slow and complex at the beginning isn't even thought about at the end. On the other hand, in games that are sequels, you either have to make the experienced player redo the now easy stuff or lose the new player with the overwhelming complexity of the game.

The chapter on Interactivity is the core of his philosophy of computer games. It is interactivity that makes computer games different from other games. Its really broader than that. Interactivity makes computers in general different. You can type things on a typewriter, but it is the interactivity, the ability to react to mistakes and change them, that make a word processor more useful. Chris points out good computer games are interactive. Unfortunately many modern games have ceased to be interactive today.

When Chris says creativity is missing from computer games today he's talking about a couple of things. First nothing new is really happening. People are looking at the kind of game they want to write first and them making up some half assed story to do the same thing previous versions of this type of game did. And he is right. Is there really a difference between what the player did in Doom and what they do in Unreal? You run around and shoot things. They may look prettier. You may have new weapons, but really you are still running around shooting things.

Also missing from creativity is an understanding of "art" in general in game design. In his chapter on the education of a game designer, he talks about the lack of liberal arts education in game designers. For the most part game designers are programmers, and programmers are a lot more interested in the challenges of creating the game technically, the algorithms, the graphic engine, etc. than in the challenges the player faces. He gives a long list of books you should read if you want to be a game designer. The list is sure to leave you feeling like you are completely unread. There are only 4 computer books in the bunch, Code Complete, The Mythical Man-Month, Algorithms and The Art of Computer Programming, all of which are the basic texts every programmer should read. The other lists include everything from The Way Things Work, to The Story of Law, to Walden by Henry Thoreau, to Shakespeare, the Federalist Papers, and the New Testament.

I did like his suggestion in this chapter to "take up a mildly dangerous hobby" like motorcycling or sky diving. Now I can tell my wife it is job related.

The last half of the book is about individual games he wrote. It is an interesting history, written a lot like those conversations you always end up in when hanging with other programmers who have been doing this a while. Talking about the challenges of a particular project, how they overcame them. You learn what he learned from each game and what he thinks did and didn't work. You also get a fascinating insight into the history of computer games. His first game was written on a computer that had no display. All input and output was done through a typewriter. Yet he wrote a tank battle game for it.

Chris worked for Atari and wrote a number of games for them. Then when he left Atari and had time on his hands, he bought a Lisa and started programming for the Mac. He wrote a number of Mac games and talks about them in the book. You can even go to his website (http://www.erasmatazz.com/) and download a number of them.

Summary

Overall there is a lot to learn from this book. Not in the "How do I make 3D objects?" way, but in the how should this specific kind of computer program, a game, work for the user. It is about being a game designer, not a programmer. About creating all the stuff you do before you write a line of code. That's what makes it worthy of your bookshelf. If you want a programming book wait for my next column; it'll be on a more technical book.


Ron Davis

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

VirtualBox 5.1.10 - x86 virtualization s...
VirtualBox is a family of powerful x86 virtualization products for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers... Read more
Pixa 1.1.9 - Quickly and easily organize...
Pixa is an image-organizing application. The new app functions well, is easy to use, and helps people organize their images quickly and easily on their computers. For those who prefer not to use the... Read more
Civilization VI 1.0.1 - Next iteration o...
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the next entry in the popular Civilization franchise. Originally created by legendary game designer Sid Meier, Civilization is a strategy game in which you attempt to... Read more
Google Chrome 55.0.2883.75 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
Chromium 55.0.2883.75 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 55.0.2883.75: Security fixes: High CVE-2016... Read more
Luminar 1.0.2 - Powerful, adaptive, conf...
Luminar is the new full-featured image editor that adapts to the way you edit photos. Over 300 essential tools to fix, edit, and enhance your photos with comfort. The future of photo editing is here... Read more
Slack 2.3.3 - Collaborative communicatio...
Slack is a collaborative communication app that simplifies real-time messaging, archiving, and search for modern working teams. Version 2.3.3: Fixed window zoom jumping back-and-forth OS X 10.9... Read more
WhatRoute 2.0.10 - Geographically trace...
WhatRoute is designed to find the names of all the routers an IP packet passes through on its way from your Mac to a destination host. It also measures the round-trip time from your Mac to the router... Read more
Luminar 1.0.2 - Powerful, adaptive, conf...
Luminar is the new full-featured image editor that adapts to the way you edit photos. Over 300 essential tools to fix, edit, and enhance your photos with comfort. The future of photo editing is here... Read more
WhatRoute 2.0.10 - Geographically trace...
WhatRoute is designed to find the names of all the routers an IP packet passes through on its way from your Mac to a destination host. It also measures the round-trip time from your Mac to the router... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Amateur Surgeon 4 Guide: Become the worl...
It's time to wield your trusty pizza cutter again, as Amateur Surgeon has returned with a whole fresh set of challenges (and some old, familiar ones, too). Starting anew isn't easy, especially when all you have at your disposal is a lighter, the... | Read more »
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire (Ga...
Le Parker: Sous Chef Extraordinaire 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Telltale Games really is working on a Gu...
Telltale Games' next episodic adventure is indeed Guardians of the Galaxy. A document tied to the voice actors strike suggested that the project was in the work, but now we have direct confirmation following an announcement at the Game Awards that... | Read more »
Amateur Surgeon returns to iOS and Andro...
Amateur Surgeon and its two sequels disappeared from the App Store some time and it was sad days for all. But now, just in time for the holidays, the Adult Swim favorite makes its joyous return in the shape of Amateur Surgeon 4, a remake with... | Read more »
The best board games on mobile
Sometimes you need to ditch all of the high speed, high action games in favor of something a little more traditional. If you don't feel like parting ways from your mobile device, though, there are still plenty of ways to get that old-school fix.... | Read more »
The best Facebook Messenger Instant Game...
Facebook's new Instant Games is now here, meaning you can play games with your friends directly via Facebook. It's a fun new way to connect with friends, of course, but it's also proving to be a solid gaming experience in its own right, with a... | Read more »
You can now play game's on Facebook...
Facebook launched its new Instant Games platform in an exciting new attempt to engage its user base. As a result, you can now play a number of different games directly through Facebook Messenger. All of these games run with HTML5, meaning you play... | Read more »
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney (Games)
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney 1.00.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.00.00 (iTunes) Description: Court Is Back In Session Star as rookie defense attorney, Apollo Justice, as he visits crime scenes,... | Read more »
KORG iWAVESTATION (Music)
KORG iWAVESTATION 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $19.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A revolutionary new world of sound.The Wave Sequence Synthesizer for iPad - KORG iWAVESTATION | Read more »
Don't Grind Guide: Tips for becomin...
Don’t Grind is a surprising, derpy little one touch game with fun hand-drawn graphics. The goal is simple -- get the high score without being chopped to bits. That can be tough when you’re not used to the game, and that’s compounded by the fact... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac Offers 25 Singl...
Parallels has launched Parallels Toolbox 1.3 for Mac, an upgrade that adds five new utilities to the stand-alone application which was released in August and is available exclusively online at http... Read more
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini Ultra-Portabl...
OWC has introduced the new OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini, a powerful yet ultra-portable dual-drive RAID solution. The new Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini packs phenomenal performance into a small... Read more
Clearance 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros availab...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ Retina Apple MacBook Pros available for up to $200 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Roundup of 2016 13-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro sa...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today for $50-$100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MLL42LL/A): $1449 $... Read more
New 13-inch 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro in...
Adorama has the new 13″ 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro (non-Touch Bar, MLL42LL/A) in stock for $1499 including a free 3-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax... Read more
Finnair Adopts iOS Enterprise iPad Apps from...
Finnair and IBM have announced a first-of-its-kind agreement to utilize iOS enterprise apps from IBM to support the airline’s overall digital transformation. Finnair is focused on Asia-Europe traffic... Read more
Tech21 Launches Evo Go iPhone 7 Case Availabl...
Tech21 has announced the launch of the Evo Go case for Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, exclusively at T-Mobile. Available online and at participating T-Mobile stores nationwide, Evo Go cases start... Read more
Apple Turns (RED) with More Ways to Join the...
In recognition of World AIDS Day, Apple is offering more ways than ever for customers to join (RED) in its mission to create an AIDS-free generation. Apple is the worlds largest corporate contributor... Read more
Deals on new 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros,...
B&H Photo has new 2016 Apple 15″ Touch Bar MacBook Pro models in stock today with some available for $50 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for up to $10...
12-inch Retina MacBooks remain on sale at B&H Photo with models available for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. B&H will also include a free copy... Read more

Jobs Board

US- *Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple (Un...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- White P...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Automotive Detailer - *Apple* Used Autos -...
We are currently conductinginterviews and will be accepting applications for a part-time detailer. Apple Used Autos is a great place to work andstart a career. We Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
US- *Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple (Un...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.