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

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Brawl Stars veteran-backed Octopo Studio...
The 2024 PlayX4 B2B is kicking off tomorrow in Ilsan, lasting until the 26th in KINTEX Hall 1, and Octopo Studio has announced that they will be making an appearance. Shooting RPG Bounty Pang will be on show as the developers seek publishing... | Read more »
The Astral Express sets off to bring Hon...
After vanquishing yet another threat and adding a fine hat to their wardrobe, you’d think the crew of the Astral Express would be able to kick back after their adventures in Penacony. Clearly not though, as HoYo has announced the next leg of the... | Read more »
Dragons rein supreme in Pokemon Unite as...
If you were looking for the strongest type in Pokemon and asked the fanbase, I would wager most people's thoughts would turn to Dragon. They hit hard, are often powerful, and get used by some of the toughest trainers. Pokemon Unite is honouring... | Read more »
Players can take a peek into the design...
It doesn’t matter how much effort developers put into their classes, or how many special little mechanics there are; if there is one that wields two blades, I’m ignoring everything else. Diablo Immortal recently announced such a class in the shape... | Read more »
Android users have a new option in the c...
When you are in the thick of a firefight or trying to pull off a mid-combat parkour flip through a squad of foes, sometimes touchscreen control just won’t do it for you. For those intense sessions, you could benefit from a good mobile controller,... | Read more »
Jagex releases the first of three origin...
At this point, I am sure everyone has heard of Runescape, and or Runescape Classic. It has been going strong for 23 years, with constant content and story coming out. Luckily for fans of the game, or fantasy in general, Jagex has announced an... | Read more »
Watcher of Realms unveils new story and...
Watcher of Realms players are in for quite the feast this month, as Moonton release two powerful new heroes, including one that will burst down even the most mighty of foes. Recruit your new friends, and then burn through the Main Quest expansion... | Read more »
Reverse: 1999 continues its trip down un...
The field trip to Australia continues in Reverse: 1999 as Phase 2 of Revival! The Uluru Games kicks off. You will be able to collect new characters, engage with new events, get hordes of free gifts, and follow the story of a mushroom-based... | Read more »
Ride into the zombie apocalypse in style...
Back in the good old days of Flash games, there were a few staples; Happy Wheels, Stick RPG, and of course the apocalyptic driver Earn to Die. Fans of the running over zombies simulator can rejoice, as the sequel to the legendary game, Earn to Die... | Read more »
Top Mobile Game Discounts
Every day, we pick out a curated list of the best mobile discounts on the App Store and post them here. This list won't be comprehensive, but it every game on it is recommended. Feel free to check out the coverage we did on them in the links below... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Amazon is blowing out clearance 13-inch M1 Ma...
Amazon has clearance Apple 13″ M1 MacBook Airs on Memorial Day sale for $300 off original MSRP, only $699. Their prices are the lowest available for new MacBooks this Holiday shopping season. Stock... Read more
MacBook Sale! 13-inch M2 MacBook Airs are onl...
Best Buy has Apple 13″ MacBook Airs with M2 CPUs in stock and back on sale this week on their online store for $150 off MSRP in Space Gray, Silver, Starlight, and Midnight colors. Prices start at... Read more
Apple increases iPhone trade-in values ahead...
Get up to $650 on the purchase of new or refurbished iPhone at Apple using their official Trade In program, now with increased values ahead of WWDC 2024. Trade in your old iPhone, and Apple will... Read more
Amazon has Apple’s iPad discounted to a new l...
Amazon has Apple’s 10th-generation WiFi iPads on sale discounted up to $40 off MSRP, starting at only $334. With the discounts, Amazon’s prices are the lowest we’ve seen for these iPads: – 10″ 10th-... Read more
13-inch M3 MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off...
Best Buy has Apple 13″ MacBook Airs with M3 CPUs in stock and on sale this week for $100 off MSRP. Prices start at $999. Their prices, along with Amazon’s, are the lowest currently available for new... Read more
Weekend Deal! Best Buy has Apple Watch Series...
Best Buy has Apple Watch Series 9 models on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store this weekend. Sale prices available for online orders only, in-store prices may vary. Order online, and choose... Read more
Apple Watch SE on sale starting at $199 this...
Best Buy has all Apple Watch SE models on sale this weekend for $50 off MSRP on their online store. Sale prices available for online orders only, in-store prices may vary. Order online, and choose... Read more
Mac Pro with M2 Ultra CPU on sale for $6699,...
In the market for one of Apple’s Mac Pro towers? B&H Photo has the base Mac Pro with an Apple M2 Ultra CPU, 64GB RAM, and 1TB SSD on sale for $6699 including free 1-2 day shipping to most... Read more
New May Verizon promotion: Switch and get a f...
Red Hot Deal Days at Verizon: Switch to Verizon this month, and get the 256GB iPhone 15 Pro for free, with trade-in, when you add a new line of service. Verizon is also offering a free cellular iPad... Read more
Updated Apple MacBook Price Trackers
Our Apple award-winning MacBook Price Trackers are continually updated with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability for 16″ and 14″ MacBook Pros along with 13″ and 15″ MacBook... Read more

Jobs Board

Salon Manager BTC - *Apple* Blossom Mall -...
Salon Manager BTC - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/144535/winchester-va-united-states) - Job Read more
Omnichannel Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mal...
Omnichannel Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
Beauty Consultant - *Apple* Blossom Mall -...
Beauty Consultant - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
Hair Stylist - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPen...
Hair Stylist - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Blossom Read more
Operations Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mall...
Operations Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.