Summary of the amazing book from Cris Crawford.
… art is something designed to evoque emotion through fantasy
The computer game is an art form because it presents its audience with fantasy
experiences that stimulate emotion.
With a game, the artist creates not the experience itself but the conditions and rules under which the audience will create its own individualized experience.
What is a Game?
We need not concern ourselves with its exact nature; for the moment it is entirely adequate to realize that the player does perceive the game to represent something from his private fantasy world.
Games vs. Simulation
A game is an artistically simplified representation of a phenomenon. The simulations designer simplifies reluctantly and only as a concession to material and intellectual limitations. The game designer simplifies deliberately in order to focus the player’s attention on those factors the designer judges to be important.
Games vs. Puzzles
The key difference that makes one activity a game and the other activity not a game is the interactive element.
Games vs. Stories
… the facts presented in the fiction are themselves unimportant. The cause and effect relationships suggested by the sequence of facts are the important part of the story.
… a story presents the facts in an immutable sequence, while a game presents a branching tree of sequences and allows the player to create his own story by making choices at each branch point.
A story is meant to be experienced once; its representational value decreases with subsequent retellings because it presents no new information. A game’s representational value increases with each playing until the player has explored a representative subset of all of the branches in the game net.
Games vs. Toys
The storyteller has direct creative control over his audience’s experience; the game designer has indirect control; the toymaker has almost none.
Significance of Interaction
The key distinction between a game and a puzzle is the difference between creating your own solution and discovering the designer’s solution.
If they (obstacles) are active or dynamic, if they purposefully respond to the player, the challenge is a game.
… expunging conflict from a game inevitably destroys the game.
… it is possible to include cooperative elements by shifting the conflict.
Violence is not essential or fundamental to games. It is common in games because it is the most obvious and natural expression for conflict.
… a game is a safe way to experience reality.
The penalties for losing a game can sometimes be a significant deterrent to game play.
… there is less shame in losing to a computer.
In almost all games the reward penalty structure is positive. That is, the loser is not punished for losing, the winner is rewarded for winning.
Why do people play games?
Games are thus the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. […] We don’t see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don’t see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. […] It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning.
… there are many other motivations to play games that have little to do with learning, and in some cases these secondary motivations may assume greater local importance than the ancestral motivation to learn.
Fantasy/Exploration: … create a fantasy world in which he can forget his problems. […] Games are potentially superior […] because they are participatory.
Nose-Thumbing: Many games place the player in a role that would not be socially acceptable in real life, such as a pirate or a thief. This represents an extreme case of anti-social behavior made acceptable by the safety of the game.
Proving Oneself: Despite this concentration of such players in deductive logic games, almost all games have sharks preying on the playful players. When a shark plays for serious rewards (e.g., social dominance) and -takes serious risks of failure, the crucial element of safety is eliminated from the game, and the game ceases to be a game; it becomes a conflict.
Social Lubrication: The game itself is of minor importance to the players; its real significance is its function as a focus around which an evening of socializing will be built.
Excercise: mental or physical or some combination of both. … players need to exercise their skills at an appropriate level.
Need for acknowledgement: People value acknowledgment enough to expend the effort to obtain it.
Motivation versus selection
Motivating factors get people to approach games in general; enjoyment factors help them make their choice of particular games.
Game Play: Is derived from the combination of pace and cognitive effort required
by the game.
Sensory gratification: is a crucial support function, not a central feature.
The power of music arises from our ability to associate musical expressions with emotions.
Just as rock ‘n roll was the entry point into the world of music for an entire generation,
so will skill-and-action games be the entry point into the world of games for the whole
A taxonomy of Computer Games
Skill-and-action games: Hand-eye coordination and fast reaction time.
Strategy games: emphasize cogitation rather than manipulation.
Adventures: are closer to puzzles than to games.
Interpersonal games: focus on the relationships between individuals or groups. […] It addresses fantasies that are very important to people. Many other art forms devote a great deal of attention to interpersonal relationships. It is only a matter of time before computer games follow a similar course.
The computer as game technology
The most striking feature of the computer in a game context is its responsiveness.
Try as we may, we can’t have 53-card stud; the card decks aren’t made that way. The computer is far less restrictive. All of the game parameters are readily changed, even during the course of the game.
… real-time play.
… provide an intelligent opponent.
… ability to limit the information given to the players in a purposeful way. Limite information encourages the use of imagination.
… utilize data transfer over telephone lines to play. … with large numbers of players the coming and going of individuals will not be detrimental to the game.
… most painful weakness is the limited I/O capability.
… second weaknes … is it’s single-user orientation.
Design precepts for computer games
Go with the grain:
Our goal is to extract maximum performance from the computer to make it work best. We can only do this by making it perform functions which performs well.
Why bother implementing on the computer a game that works perfectly well on another technology?
Design around the I/O
Keep it clean
The narrower the range of application of a rule, the dirtier it is. … In the perfect game design, each rule is applied universally.
Store less and process more
Thus, a game that sports huge quantities of static data is not making best use of the strengths of the machine. A game that emphasizes information processing and treats information dynamically is more in tune with the machine.
A story is thus all information and no processing. A game derives its quality from the richness of the network of options it presents.
Maintain unity of design effort
You must start with a good game designer, an individual with artistic flair and a feel for people. That person must then learn to program. The opposite direction of development (from programmer to designer) will not work, for programmers are made but artists are born.
In all cases, the creative process must be unified in a single mind. Committees are good for generating red tape, deferring decisions, and shirking responsibility, but they are useless when it comes to creative efforts.
The Game Design Sequence
Choose a goal and a topic
A game must have a clearly defined goal.
… the goal must establish the fantasies that the game will support and the types of emotions it will engender in its audience.
… the only criterion you will have for making this painful choice will be the goal you have established for the game.
It matters not what your goal is, so long as it is congruent with your own interests, beliefs, and passions.
The topic is the means of expressing the goal, the environment in which the game will be played. It is the concrete collection of conditions and events through which the abstract goal will be communicated.
Research and preparation
… immerse yourself in the topic.
Make sure that you understand the mechanics of the environment your game will attempt to represent.
Your primary goal in the design phase is to create the outlines of three interdependent structures: the I/O structure, the game structure, and the program structure.
The input structure lies at the heart of a fundamental dilemma all game designers must face.
… an excellent game seems to require a hulking input structure. The dilemma is resolved through the designer’s creativity in designing a clean input structure that allows many options.
… how to distill the fantasy of the goal and topic into a workable system.
The game designer must identify some key element from the topic environment and build the game around that key element. …
For example, in EASTERN FRONT 1941, I started with the enormous complexity of modern warfare and extracted a key element: movement. Movement dictates the dispositions of the military units. Moving into an enemy’s position initiates combat with him. Moving behind him disrupts his supplies and blocks his retreat routs. Moving into a city captures it. Movement is not equitable with all aspects of war; it is, instead, the key element through which many other aspects of war are expressible. It is easily manipulable and immediately understandable.
A more difficult design challenge came from the game GOSSIP. This game addresses social relationships. … key element: the “statement of affinity”.
The key element must be manipulable, but in a very specific set of ways. It must be expressively manipulable; that is, it must allow the player to express himself, to do the things that he wants or needs to do to experience the fantasy of the game.
Examine the stability of your design. A game is a dynamic process and can get out of control.
The last and most crucial decision at this stage is either to abort the game or proceed.
The tone of this documentation should emphasize the player’s experience rather than the technical considerations.
In practice, playtesting often reveals fundamental design and programming problems that require major efforts to correct.
Your own playtesting should reveal and eliminate all program bugs (arising from flaws in the program structure) and many of the game bugs (arising from flaws in the game structure). The game you give to the playtesters should be free of program bugs; they should discover only bugs in the game structure.
The final stage of the design cycle is devoted to polishing the game. This stage is critical; the designer has been working on the game for a long time by
now and the luster of the new design has worn off. It is now only a big job that should have been finished months ago. The urge to dump the damn thing is overpowering. Resist this urge; press on relentlessly and polish, polish, polish. Keep testing the game, fine-tuning it, and adding tiny embellishments to it. Once it’s out the door, it’s gone forever.
Design techniques and ideals
Balancing solitaire games
human player against the computer.
Vast resources: The computer is provided with immense resources that it uses stupidly.
… produce reasonable behavior.
… unpredictability. Reaction to an opponent is in some ways a reflection of that opponent. Interactiveness is a mutual reaction. Interactiveness is itself a measure of “gaminess”.
… establish point system for quantifying the merit of each possible move. Problems: dynamic range and balancing factors against each other.
… use of field analysis. Applicable to games involving spatial relationships.
… frustrating experience with algorithm transitions. … re-designed the algorithms mergint them into a single one.
… model complex behaviour.
To keep the system balanced, each differential equation should have a damping factor that must be empirically adjusted. Take care of negative feedback.
Limited information provides a bonus: it can tickle the imagination of the player by suggesting without actually confirming.
I do not encourage the use of pace as an equalizing agent in computer games. Pace only succeeds by depriving the human player of the time he needs to invest a larger portion of himself into the game. Pace does for computer games what the one-night stand does for romance.
Relationship between opponent
Automatically balanced, relative simplicity.
Each player has a unique combination of advantages and disadvantages. Simple way: plastic asymmetry.
A triangular relationship allows each player indirect methods of approach. Such an indirect approach always allows a far richer and subtler interaction.
With triangularity, each opponent can get at the other through the third party.
Direct conflicts tend to be violent and destructive; for this reason, society discourages direct conflicts. Yet conflict remains in our lives, taking more subtle and indirect forms. We fight our real-world battles with smiles, distant allies, pressure, and co-operation. Games with direct player-to-player relationships cannot hope to address real human interaction. Only indirect games offer any possibility of designing games that successfully explore the human condition.
Smooth learning curves
If we were to make a graph of a typical player’s score as a function of time spent with the game, that graph should show a curve sloping smoothly and steadily upward. This is the most desirable case.
Games without smooth learning curves frustrate players by failing to provide them with reasonable opportunities for bettering their scores. Players feel that the game is either too hard, too easy, or simply arbitrary. Games with smooth learning curves challenge their players at all levels and encourage continued play by offering the prospect of new discoveries.
Ideally, the progression is automatic. More commonly, the player must declare the level at which he desires to play.
THE ILLUSION OF WINNABILITY
It must appear to be winnable to all players, the beginner and the expert. Yet, it must never be truly winnable or it will lose its appeal.
… a clean game encourages all players to experiment with the game as it appears
Another key factor in maintaining the illusion of winnability arises from a careful analysis of the source of player failure.
Future of computer games
Stages of technological revolutions: pioneer, conquest, transformation of society by the technology, and transformation of the technology by society.
First, the technology was initially desirable to only a small part of the public. With time, conditions improved and the technology conquered society. Then it began to change society. In the process, society began to change the technology. The direction of this change was away from the pragmatic and towards the recreational.
The first great technological revolution I will draw on is the revolution in trans-
portation that swept American society in the first half of the twentieth century. The automobile was invented in the late 1800’s; by the turn of the century it was available as a consumer product. However, many problems plagued the automobile. It was expensive and unreliable. It lacked the software (support services such as service stations and appropriate roads) to make it truly practical. It required considerable skill and dedication to operate. Furthermore, it was unnecessary; American culture had developed quite successfully without it, so there was little existing need for
it. Thus, the automobile was not a practical tool; it was a plaything of the wealthy.
With the passage of time, these problems with the automobile lessened in severity. Mass production lowered the cost and increased the reliability; more service stations and better roads became available. More and more automobiles were purchased; by the late twenties the automobile was a common fixture of American life.
The third stage became obvious in the 1950’s. The automobile changed the face of American society. Housing patterns began to change. Commuting became practical. Urban sprawl sprawl. Drive-in restaurants and theaters became common. The technology changed the society.
The fourth stage began asserting itself at about the same time. As the automobile changed American society, so too did society change the automobile. Originally designed as a device to transport people and property from point A to point B as quickly, safely, and reliably as possible, it was transformed into a form of self-expression, a recreational device, and ultimately an end in itself. Could Henry Ford have anticipated dune buggies, vans with waterbeds, low-riders, and naked-lady hood ornaments? I doubt it.
Let us now examine the second great revolution of this century, the entertainment revolution sparked by the television. When television first became available in the late 1940’s, it was expensive, unreliable, and lacking sufficient software (programs) to make it anything more than a toy for the wealthy. With time, these problems were overcome. Televisions became cheaper, more reliable, and offered more programming. They swept into society with great force. In the process, they dramatically changed the lifestyles of the American people. Nighttime entertainment was now readily available. Leisure time activities changed accordingly. But the public worked its will on television. It evolved from “visible radio”, or a means of presenting lectures, plays, and speeches, into a medium with its own personality.
The nature of change
Games are the vehicle with which society will change the computer.
The mass market: We will see an emphasis on delivering the same game over and over in new clothing.
The Flowering of Heterogeneity
The games market differs from the movie market and the television market in that it is less centralized and has fewer economies of scale. In this respect it is closer to the books market and the records market. For this reason, I expect the games market to exhibit a greater degree of heterogeneity and less slavish obeisance to mass tastes.
While they have satisfied until now the fantasies of twisted computer-nerd minds, they will soon blossom into a much richer array of fantasies.
The Development of Excalibur
War is the most extreme expression of human conflict, the greatest evil of human existence, and the highest tragedy of our species; it is therefore an obvious starting point for a serious artist.
I realized that I had been compromising the important artistic issues in my game in order to play with cute graphics.
I had reserved this task for last, for the AI routines must reflect every aspect of the design. The design must therefore be complete, and all variables completely defined, before AI algorithms can be designed.