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

 
AAPL
$111.83
Apple Inc.
+2.42
MSFT
$47.25
Microsoft Corpora
+1.51
GOOG
$506.89
Google Inc.
+2.00

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.2.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Adobe After Effects CC 2014 13.2 - Creat...
After Effects CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous After Effects customer). After Effects CS6 is still available... Read more
Command-C 1.1.7 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Tidy Up 4.0.2 - Find duplicate files and...
Tidy Up is a complete duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. With Tidy Up you can search for duplicate files and packages by the owner application, content, type, creator, extension, time... Read more
Typinator 6.3 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
GraphicConverter 9.5 - Graphics editor w...
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more
Toast Titanium 12.0.1 - The ultimate med...
Toast Titanium goes way beyond the very basic burning in the Mac OS and iLife software, and sets the standard for burning CDs, DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs on the Mac. Create superior sounding audio... Read more
QuickBooks 2015 16.0.2.1422 R3 - Financi...
Save 20% on QuickBooks Pro for Mac today through this special discount link QuickBooks Pro 2013 helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track... Read more
Remotix 3.0.6 - Access all your computer...
Remotix is a fast and powerful application to easily access multiple Macs (and PCs) from your own Mac. Features: Complete Apple Screen Sharing support - including Mac OS X login, clipboard... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Mahjong Journey Review
Mahjong Journey Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STEADY MATCHINGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Aimed at the more laid back gamer, Mahjong Journey isn’t for everyone, but those looking for some... | Read more »
Emoji Type - custom keyboard with predic...
Emoji Type - custom keyboard with predictive emojis 0.4.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Utilities Price: $.99, Version: 0.4.0 (iTunes) Description: Emoji Type is custom keyboard for iOS 8 that auto suggests emojis as you type. ABOUT... | Read more »
Game of the Year 2014 – 148Apps Staff Pi...
The end of 2014 is almost here, which can only mean one thing. Okay it can mean a lot of things, but in this specific context it means Game of the Year lists! Which is why the 148Apps staff have all picked their favorites from the past year. And why... | Read more »
UponPixels Review
UponPixels Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CREATIVE TYPOGRAPHYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Add cool typography and objects to your photos with the easy to use UponPixels.   | Read more »
The Vikings are Coming! CastleStorm’s Ne...
The Vikings are Coming! CastleStorm’s New Update Adds a Survival Mode Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Duet Display (Productivity)
Duet Display 0.3.3 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $9.99, Version: 0.3.3 (iTunes) Description: Duet Display allows you to use your iPad or iPhone as an extra display. Developed by a team of ex-Apple engineers,... | Read more »
Dragon Quest III Review
Dragon Quest III Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DATED BUT NOT WITHOUT MERITUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A walk down memory lane isn’t foolproof for Dragon Quest III, but it has its... | Read more »
8 KEMCO JRPGs Are Just $0.99 in Celebrat...
8 KEMCO JRPGs Are Just $0.99 in Celebration of the Holidays Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] KEMCO has announc | Read more »
Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War Review
Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FUN BUT PUSHYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War could be great fun, but its plethora of... | Read more »
The Snow is Falling on the French Countr...
The Snow is Falling on the French Countryside of Carcassonne’s Newest Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] < | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save up to $300 on Macs, $30 on iPads with Ap...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
iOS and Android OS Targeted by Man-in-the-Mid...
Cloud services security provider Akamai Technologies, Inc. has released, through the company’s Prolexic Security Engineering & Research Team (PLXsert), a new cybersecurity threat advisory. The... Read more
KMI MIDI K-Board Great Gift for Amateur &...
The K-Board is a MIDI Nano keyboard for music creation for iPad, Android, And computers; the easiest way to make music with iPads & Android tablets, and Mac, Windows, or Linux computers. Ultra-... Read more
Amazon offers 15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook P...
 Amazon.com has the 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1699 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off MSRP. Stock is limited, so act now if you’re interested. Read more
Holiday sales continue: MacBook Pros for up t...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Google Search App For iOS Gets A Major Makeov...
Google has given iOS users an early Christmas present with a substantial update of it’s not-very-often-upgraded Google Search app. Google Search has been my go-to tool for Web searches since it was... Read more
ShopKeep Apple Pay And Chip Card Reader Avail...
ShopKeep, a cloud-based technology provider to more than 10,000 small business owners to manage retail shops and restaurants with iPads, has released its new Apple Pay and chip card reader. This... Read more
Holiday sale! 27-inch 5K iMac for $2299, save...
 B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
Holiday Sale! 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro availa...
 B&H Photo has the 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro on sale for $2599 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $400 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model from any... Read more
iPhone 6 Number 3 Canadian Google Search Of 2...
CTVNews.ca reports that Apple’s iPhone 6 was the third highest-trending Google Canada search topic of 2014, exceeded only by Robin Williams largely after his death by suicide in August, and the FIFA... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.