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The Art of Game Design


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Table of Contents

Table of Lenses


Hello In the Beginning, There Is the Designer Magic Words What Skills Does a Game Designer Need? The Most Important Skill The Five Kinds of Listening The Secret of the Gifted Other Reading to Consider The Designer Creates an Experience The Game Is Not the Experience Is This Unique to Games? Three Practical Approaches to Chasing Rainbows Psychology Anthropology Design Introspection: Powers, Perils, and Practice Peril #1: Introspection Can Lead to False Conclusions about Reality Peril #2: What Is True of My Experiences May Not Be True for Others Dissect Your Feelings Defeating Heisenberg Analyze Memories Two Passes Sneak Glances Observe Silently Essential Experience All That's Real Is What You Feel The Experience Takes Place in a Venue The Shifting Sands of Platform Private Venues The Hearth The Workbench The Reading Nook Public Venues The Theater The Arena The Museum Half Private/Half Public Venues The Gaming Table The Playground Anywhere Venues Mixed and Matched Other Reading to Consider The Experience Rises Out of a Game A Rant about Definitions So What Is a Game? No, Seriously, What Is a Game? Problem Solving 101 The Fruits of Our Labor Other Reading to Consider The Game Consists of Elements What Are Little Games Made Of? The Four Basic Elements Skin and Skeleton The Elements Support a Theme Mere Games Unifying Themes Resonance Back to Reality Other Reading to Consider The Game Begins with an Idea Inspiration State the Problem How to Sleep Your Silent Partner Subconscious Tip #1: Pay Attention Subconscious Tip #2: Record Your Ideas Subconscious Tip #3: Manage Its Appetites (Judiciously) Subconscious Tip #4: Sleep Subconscious Tip #5: Don't Push Too Hard A Personal Relationship Sixteen Nitty-Gritty Brainstorming Tips Brainstorm Tip #1: The Write Answer Brainstorm Tip #2: Write or Type? Brainstorm Tip #3: Sketch Brainstorm Tip #4: Toys Brainstorm Tip #5: Change Your Perspective Brainstorm Tip #6: Immerse Yourself Brainstorm Tip #7: Crack Jokes Brainstorm Tip #8: Spare No Expense Brainstorm Tip #9: The Writing on the Wall Brainstorm Tip #10: The Space Remembers Brainstorm Tip #11: Write Everything Brainstorm Tip #12: Number Your Lists Brainstorm Tip #13: Destroy Your Assumptions Brainstorm Tip #14: Mix and Match Categories Brainstorm Tip #15: Talk to Yourself Brainstorm Tip #16: Find a Partner Look At All These Ideas! Now What? Other Reading to Consider The Game Improves through Iteration Choosing an Idea The Eight Filters The Rule of the Loop A Short History of Software Engineering Danger-Waterfall-Keep Back Barry Boehm Loves You The Agile Manifesto Risk Assessment and Prototyping Example: Prisoners of Bubbleville Prisoners of Bubbleville: Design Brief Ten Tips for Productive Prototyping Prototyping Tip #1: Answer a Question Prototyping Tip #2: Forget Quality Prototyping Tip #3: Don't Get Attached Prototyping Tip #4: Prioritize Your Prototypes Prototyping Tip #5: Parallelize Prototypes Productively Prototyping Tip #6: It Doesn't Have to Be Digital Tetris: A Paper Prototype Halo: A Paper Prototype Prototyping Tip #7: It Doesn't Have to Be Interactive Prototyping Tip #8: Pick a "Fast Loop" Game Engine Prototyping Tip #9: Build the Toy First Prototyping Tip #10: Seize Opportunities for More Loops Closing the Loop Loop 1: "New Racing" Game Loop 2: "Racing Subs" Game Loop 3: "Flying Dinos" Game How Much Is Enough? Your Secret Fuel Other Reading to Consider The Game Is Made for a Player Einstein's Violin Project Yourself Demographics The Medium Is the Misogynist? Five Things Males Like to See in Games Five Things Females Like to See in Games Psychographics LeBlanc's Taxonomy of Game Pleasures Bartle's Taxonomy of Player Types More Pleasure: MORE! Other Reading to Consider The Experience Is in the Player's Mind Modeling Focus Empathy Imagination Other Reading to Consider The Player's Mind Is Driven by the Player's Motivation Needs... And More Needs Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation Wanna vs. Hafta Novelty Judgment Other Reading to Consider Some Elements Are Game Mechanics Mechanic 1: Space Nested Spaces Zero Dimensions Mechanic 2: Time Discrete and Continuous Time Clocks and Races Controlling Time Mechanic 3: Objects, Attributes, and States Secrets Mechanic 4: Actions Emergent Gameplay Mechanic 5: Rules Parlett's Rule Analysis Modes Enforcer Cheatability The Most Important Rule Wrapping Up Rules Mechanic 6: Skill Real vs. Virtual Skills Enumerating Skills Mechanic 7: Chance Invention of Probability Ten Rules of Probability Every Game Designer Should Know Rule #1: Fractions Are Decimals Are Percents Rule #2: Zero to One-and That's It! Rule #3: "Looked For" Divided By "Possible Outcomes" Equals Probability Rule #4: Enumerate! Rule #5: In Certain Cases, OR Means Add Rule #6: In Certain Cases, AND Means Multiply Rule #7: One Minus "Does" = "Doesn't" Rule #8: The Sum of Multiple Linear Random Selections is NOT a Linear Random Selection! Rule #9: Roll the Dice Rule #10: Geeks Love Showing Off (Gombaud's Law) Expected Value Consider Values Carefully Human Element Skill and Chance Get Tangled Other Reading to Consider Game Mechanics Must Be in Balance The Twelve Most Common Types of Game Balance Balance Type #1: Fairness Symmetrical Games Asymmetrical Games Biplane Battle Rock, Paper, Scissors Balance Type #2: Challenge vs. Success Balance Type #3: Meaningful Choices Triangularity Balancing Type #4: Skill vs. Chance Balancing Type #5: Head vs. Hands Balance Type #6: Competition vs. Cooperation Balance Type #7: Short vs. Long Balance Type #8: Rewards Balance Type #9: Punishment Balance Type #10: Freedom vs. Controlled Experience Balance Type #11: Simple vs. Complex Natural vs. Artificial Balancing Elegance Character Balance Type #12: Detail vs. Imagination Game Balancing Methodologies Balancing Game Economies Dynamic Game Balancing The Big Picture Other Reading to Consider Game Mechanics Support Puzzles The Puzzle of Puzzles Aren't Puzzles Dead? Good Puzzles Puzzle Principle #1: Make the Goal Easily Understood Puzzle Principle #2: Make It Easy to Get Started Puzzle Principle #3: Give a Sense of Progress Puzzle Principle #4: Give a Sense of Solvability Puzzle Principle #5: Increase Difficulty Gradually Puzzle Principle #6: Parallelism Lets the Player Rest Puzzle Principle #7: Pyramid Structure Extends Interest Puzzle Principle #8: Hints Extend Interest Puzzle Principle #9: Give the Answer! Puzzle Principle #10: Perceptual Shifts Are a Double-Edged Sword A Final Piece Other Reading to Consider Players Play Games through an Interface Between Yin and Yang Breaking It Down The Loop of Interaction Juiciness Primality Channels of Information Step 1: List and Prioritize Information Step 2: List Channels Step 3: Map Information to Channels Step 4: Review Use of Dimensions Modes Mode Tip #1: Use as Few Modes as Possible Mode Tip #2: Avoid Overlapping Modes Mode Tip #3: Make Different Modes Look as Different as Possible Other Interface Tips Interface Tip #1: Steal Interface Tip #2: Customize Interface Tip #3: Design around Your Physical Interface Interface Tip #4: Theme Your Interface Interface Tip #5: Sound Maps to Touch Interface Tip #6: Balance Options and Simplicity with Layers Interface Tip #7: Use Metaphors Interface Tip #8: If It Looks Different, It Should Act Different Interface Tip #9: Test, Test, Test! Interface Tip #10: Break the Rules to Help Your Player Other Reading to Consider Experiences Can Be Judged by Their Interest Curves My First Lens Interest Curves Patterns inside Patterns What Comprises Interest? Factor 1: Inherent Interest Factor 2: Poetry of Presentation Factor 3: Projection Interest Factor Examples Putting It All Together Other Reading to Consider One Kind of Experience Is the Story Story/Game Duality Myth of Passive Entertainment The Dream The Reality Real-World Method 1: The String of Pearls Real-World Method 2: The Story Machine The Problems Problem #1: Good Stories Have Unity Problem #2: The Combinatorial Explosion Problem #3: Multiple Endings Disappoint Problem #4: Not Enough Verbs Problem #5: Time Travel Makes Tragedy Obsolete The Dream Reborn Story Tips for Game Designers Story Tip #1: Goals, Obstacles, and Conflicts Story Tip #2: Make It Real Story Tip #3: Provide Simplicity and Transcendence Story Tip #4: Consider the Hero's Journey Vogler's Synopsis of the Hero's Journey Story Tip #5: Put Your Story to Work! Story Tip #6: Keep Your Story World Consistent Story Tip #7: Make Your Story World Accessible Story Tip #8: Use Cliches Judiciously Story Tip #9: Sometimes a Map Brings a Story to Life Other Reading to Consider Story and Game Structures Can Be Artfully Merged with Indirect Control The Feeling of Freedom Indirect Control Method #1: Constraints Indirect Control Method #2: Goals Indirect Control Method #3: Interface Indirect Control Method #4: Visual Design Indirect Control Method #5: Characters Indirect Control Method #6: Music Collusion Other Reading to Consider Stories and Games Take Place in Worlds Transmedia Worlds The Power of Pokemon Properties of Transmedia Worlds Transmedia Worlds Are Powerful Transmedia Worlds Are Long Lived Transmedia Worlds Evolve over Time What Successful Transmedia Worlds Have in Common Worlds Contain Characters The Nature of Game Characters Novel Characters Movie Characters Game Characters Avatars The Ideal Form The Blank Slate Creating Compelling Game Characters Character Tip #1: List Character Functions Character Tip #2: Define and Use Character Traits Character Tip #3: Use the Interpersonal Circumplex Character Tip #4: Make a Character Web Archie Veronica Betty Reggie Jughead Character Tip #5: Use Status Character Tip #6: Use the Power of the Voice Character Tip #7: Use the Power of the Face Character Tip #8: Powerful Stories Transform Characters Character Tip #9: Let Your Characters Surprise Us Character Tip #10: Avoid the Uncanny Valley Other Reading to Consider Worlds Contain Spaces The Purpose of Architecture Organizing Your Game Space A Word about Landmarks Christopher Alexander Is a Genius Alexander's Fifteen Properties of Living Structures Real vs. Virtual Architecture Know How Big Third-Person Distortion Level Design Other Reading to Consider The Look and Feel of a World Is Defined by Its Aesthetics Monet Refuses the Operation The Value of Aesthetics Learning to See How to Let Aesthetics Guide Your Design How Much Is Enough? Use Audio Balancing Art and Technology Other Reading to Consider Some Games Are Played with Other Players We Are Not Alone Why We Play with Others Other Reading to Consider Other Players Sometimes Form Communities More than Just Other Players Ten Tips for Strong Communities Community Tip #1: Foster Friendships Community Tip #2: Put Conflict at the Heart Community Tip #3: Use Architecture to Shape your Community Community Tip #4: Create Community Property Community Tip #5: Let Players Express Themselves Community Tip #6: Support Three Levels Community Tip #7: Force Players to Depend on Each Other Community Tip #8: Manage Your Community Community Tip #9: Obligation to Others Is Powerful Community Tip #10: Create Community Events The Challenge of Griefing The Future of Game Communities Other Reading to Consider The Designer Usually Works with a Team The Secret of Successful Teamwork If You Can't Love the Game, Love the Audience Designing Together Team Communication Other Reading to Consider The Team Sometimes Communicates through Documents The Myth of the Game Design Document The Purpose of Documents Memory Communication Types of Game Documents Design Engineering Art Production Writing Players So, Where Do I Start? Other Reading to Consider Good Games Are Created through Playtesting Playtesting My Terrible Secret Playtest Question the First: Why? Playtest Question the Second: Who? Playtest Question the Third: Where? Playtest Question the Fourth: What? The First What: Things You Know You Are Looking For The Second What: Things You Don't Know You Are Looking For Playtest Question the Fifth: How? Should You Even Be There? What Do You Tell Them Up Front? Where Do You Look? What Other Data Should You Collect During Play? Will I Disturb the Players Midgame? What Data Will I Collect after the Play Session? Surveys Interviews Other Reading to Consider The Team Builds a Game with Technology Technology, At Last Foundational vs. Decorational Mickey's First Cartoon Abalone Sonic the Hedgehog Myst Journey Ragdoll Physics The Touch Revolution The Hype Cycle The Innovator's Dilemma The Law of Divergence The Singularity Look into Your Crystal Ball Other Reading to Consider Your Game Will Probably Have a Client Who Cares What the Client Thinks? Coping with Bad Suggestions Not That Rock The Three Layers of Desire Firenze, 1498 Other Reading to Consider The Designer Gives the Client a Pitch Why Me? A Negotiation of Power The Hierarchy of Ideas Twelve Tips for a Successful Pitch Pitch Tip #1: Get in the Door Pitch Tip #2: Show You Are Serious Pitch Tip #3: Be Organized Pitch Tip #4: Be Passionate!!!!! Pitch Tip #5: Assume Their Point of View Pitch Tip #6: Design the Pitch Pitch Tip #7: Know All the Details Pitch Tip #8: Exude Confidence Pitch Tip #9: Be Flexible Pitch Tip #10: Rehearse Pitch Tip #11: Get Them to Own It Pitch Tip #12: Follow Up Hey, What about Kickstarter? Other Reading to Consider The Designer and Client Want the Game to Make a Profit Love and Money Know Your Business Model Retail Direct Download Free to Play Know Your Competition Know Your Audience Learn the Language General Game Business Terms Free to Play Business Terms Know the Top Sellers The Importance of Barriers Other Reading to Consider Games Transform Their Players How Do Games Change Us? Can Games Be Good For You? Emotional Maintenance Connecting Exercise Education Giving the Brain What It Wants Facts Problem Solving Systems of Relationships New Insights Curiosity Creating Teachable Moments Transformational Games Transformational Tip #1: Define Your Transformation Transformational Tip #2: Find Great Subject Matter Experts Transformational Tip #3: What Does the Instructor Need? Transformational Tip #4: Don't Do Too Much Transformational Tip #5: Assess Transformation Appropriately Transformational Tip #6: Choose the Right Venue Transformational Tip #7: Accept the Realities of the Market Can Games Be Bad For You? Violence Addiction Experiences Other Reading to Consider Designers Have Certain Responsibilities The Danger of Obscurity Being Accountable Your Hidden Agenda The Secret Hidden in Plain Sight The Ring Other Reading to Consider Each Designer Has a Purpose The Deepest Theming Goodbye Endnotes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Jesse Schell is distinguished professor of the practice of entertainment technology for Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint master's program between Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science, where he teaches game design and leads several research projects. He is also CEO of Schell Games, LLC, an independent game studio in Pittsburgh. Formerly he was creative director of the Walt Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio and chairman of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Schell worked as a designer, programmer, and manager on several projects for Disney theme parks and DisneyQuest. He received his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and master's degree in information networking from Carnegie Mellon. In 2004, he was named as one of the World's 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT's Technology Review.


"... a solid pick and a `must' for any collection looking for an in-depth, fundamental textbook on how to design and work with games."
-Midwest Book Review, March 2015

Game Nite's Editors' Choice
"... this book is considered by many to be the `bible' of game design. ... Much of the material has been updated ... the introduction to probability ... is a must read for aspiring game designers ... engaging and thought provoking ... a substantial book for someone looking to get serious about game design. ... the cards are brilliant and a joy to keep on your desk and pull one or more out and see how they relate to your current design. ... Highly recommended."
-Game Nite, Issue 2, 2015

"I could not think of a better name for this work because game design isn't a skillset, it's a Tao: a way of looking at the world. This was perhaps the most important thing that Jesse ever taught me. It is the principle lesson of this book. ... The things you will learn here are universally applicable. ... Each section individually is a lens and tool in your designer's tool belt but, taken as a whole, they form a system of thinking that will allow you to tackle problems well beyond their scope. ... this book trains you to think as a designer ..."
-James Portnow, Game Designer, CEO of Rainmaker Games, and Writer of Extra Credits Praise for the First Edition: Winner of a 2008 Game Developer Front Line Award "This book was clearly designed, not just written, and is an entire course in how to be a game designer. ... The book is also intensely practical, giving some of the best advice on how to harness your own subconscious I've ever read, as well as short and useful descriptions of probability theory for non-mathematicians, how to diagram interest curves, working with a team, and dozens of other topics. It is simply the best text I've seen that really addresses what a designer should know, and then actually gives practical advice about how to gain that knowledge through life experience. It's a marvelous tour de force and an essential part of anyone's game design library."
-Noah Falstein, from Game Developer Magazine
"... a good book that teaches the craft of game design in an accessible manner. ... The text goes just deep enough to give you practical insight into how the key concepts might be useful without becoming wordy. ... If you are looking for a competent introduction to game design, this book is a good place to start."
-Daniel Cook,, February 2009
"As indicated by its title, Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses uses many different perspectives (the titular lenses), which each prompt their own important questions, ranging from `What problems does my game ask the players to solve?' to `What does beauty mean within the context of my game?' These distinct points are interwoven throughout a step-by-step analysis of the design process that begins with the designer and his or her basic idea, and builds successfully from there. As with Rules of Play, the wealth of information presented by The Art of Game Design may seem daunting at first, but Schell's agreeable voice eases the reader into a series of invaluable angles we can (and should) use to evaluate what we play."
"Easily the most comprehensive, practical book I've ever seen on game design."
-Will Wright, Designer of The Sims, SimCity, and Spore
"Jesse has lovingly crafted a great resource for both aspiring developers as well as seasoned gaming industry veterans. I highly recommend this book."
-Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski, CEO Boss Key and Former Design Director for Epic Games
"Inspiring and practical for both veterans and beginners."
-Bob Bates, Game Designer and Co-Founder of Legend Entertainment
"Jesse Schell's new book, The Art of Game Design, is a marvelous introduction to game design by a true master of the form. Schell is the rarest of creatures: a gifted teacher who is also a talented and successful current game designer. This book reflects Jesse's skill at presenting information clearly and coherently, and the knowledge he has acquired as a master game designer. I have already referenced this book while preparing lectures and classes in the U.S., Germany, and New Zealand, and recommend it as an invaluable aid for anyone interested in game design. The Art of Game Design is a pitch-perfect blend of valuable knowledge and insights with an informal and compelling presentation. The sections on harnessing the creative power of the subconscious mind are particularly insightful and delightfully written. It is immediately clear that Jesse Schell not only knows the theory behind what he writes about; he has also put it to use many times and honed his techniques to perfection. A must-read for anyone interested in interactive design, and even the creative process in general."
-Noah Falstein, Chief Game Designer, Google
"The Art of Game Design describes precisely how to build a game the world will love and elegantly crank it through the realities of clients and publishers. It draws wisdom from Disneyland to Michelangelo, gradually assembling a supply of concrete game design rules and subtle psychological tricks that actually work in surprising ways. It is fertilizer for the subconscious: keep a stack of Post-it notes nearby to record all the game ideas that will sprout out of your own head while reading."
-Kyle Gabler, Game Designer and Founder of 2D Boy, Makers of World of Goo "He embodies a tradition of reconciling diverse disciplines, extending the possibilities of each and creating new theories and opportunities for both industry and academia. Jesse is like the Einstein of entertainment."
-Mk Haley, Walt Disney Research
"Packed with Jesse's real-world experience and humorous insight, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is a tool chest crossed with a kaleidoscope. Both fantastical and practical, methodical and wonder-full, this book and deck will have you looking at and dreaming up games with a fresh vision. Like a chemistry set for making mental explosions, it's an idea(l) book guiding the design process for both new and seasoned game designers. In short, using Jesse's book is FUN."
-Heather Kelley, Artist and Game Designer
"The Art of Game Design is one of a handful of books I continuously reference during production. Whether you're just starting out or looking for ways to approach your design from a fresh perspective, this book is a must for your library."
-Neil Druckmann, Creative Director on The Last of Us at Naughty Dog
"On games industry desks, books tend to come and go, but they all seem to go on top of Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design, because that's the one book that seems to stick around."
-Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director, Ubisoft
"Ken Rolston, internationally celebrated game designer, recommends Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design both for smart people and for people who are learning how to be smart."
-Ken Rolston, Director of Design, Turbine

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