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Clockwork Game Design Paperback – May 19, 2015
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About the Author
Keith Burgun is the author of Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games. He is a contributing editor to Gamasutra and his own design blog at keithburgun.net. He has taught game design at a number of schools, including SUNY Purchase College, The New York Film Academy, and the Katonah Arts Center. He has also guest lectured at NYU and Franklin & Marshall College.
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Top Customer Reviews
I find this book (and his writing in general) pleasing in its precision, its smooth readability, and its practical approach. Most books on games design I read (and I have read many) lay down some vague definitions, fail to take an definitive stand on any issue. When they do take a stand on some issue, their claims are filled with qualifiers and vagaries that cannot be nailed down enough to intelligently agree or disagree. I am left uninspired and mildly irritated. Keith’s writing is quite the opposite.
Keith has a style of writing and thinking that I find almost entirely lacking in discussions of games – clearly terminology, a focused topic area, careful supporting arguments, and unapologetically following a line of reasoning to its conclusion. His approach is also practical; it can be applied immediately to the act of designing games, not just in the act of talking about games. Lastly, the book is short and concise. It doesn’t try to cover every aspect of game design, or rehash old ideas. It focuses on a clear thesis viewed from multiple angles and supported with concrete examples.
Clockwork Game Design focuses on how various elements of a game such as goals, supporting mechanics, and content creation relate to the game’s core mechanism – concepts that get tossed around a lot but rarely spelled out carefully. Keith defines the concepts, articulates his view on how those concepts should inter-operate, and follows them to a logical conclusion. Sometimes he follows a line of reasoning a bit too far, but in the process it is always insightful.
For example, I like the approach he describes of relating all mechanics and decisions in the game to the core mechanism, as that provides cohesion to the player’s experience and eases the designer’s job of creating emergent complexity. And I agree that having multiple core mechanisms that are only loosely connected is a detriment seen all too often. However, I think there is a place for games that have multiple core mechanisms, provided they are tightly intertwined with strong and direct links. His approach helps me to crystallize and articulate my own views, even when I disagree on some points. Also, I agree with most of it.
In a few cases I think some of his analogies are a bit off, but the underlying points are solid. For example, he makes a comparison between stories and rulebooks, saying that stories are easier because they are linear while a rulebook is harder since it is describing a non-linear system. His point about rulebooks is well taken, but I suspect a great many authors would point out that many stories are non-linear and putting them into linear form is quite hard. So, while I may quibble with his comparison, I do not disagree with his underlying point. Writing, in any form, is hard when it requires linearizing a non-linear topic. Thinking of rulebooks in that light helps clarify why they are hard, and suggests techniques for doing a better job. So, once again, I find his ideas extremely helpful even when I disagree on some points.
Lastly, I will note that much of his writing (including this book) gets simultaneously criticized as being wrong and as being obvious. Those polarized criticisms signal that he has uncovered a dissonance in the community that should be confronted and analyzed. If some people think that a game obviously requires a single strong core mechanic, and others vehemently argue that a core mechanic is unnecessary, then there is something deep to be learned here about games. This book helps to crystalize the issue and move us towards a better understanding of the art of game design.
Whether or not you ultimately agree with Keith’s conclusions, your time reading his book will be well spent.
This summary in the book description says it all: "A game can achieve clarity of purpose by starting with a strong core, then removing elements that conflict with that core while adding elements that support it." The rest of the book mostly rephrases that without really giving more precision.
It is not "hand-on" nor "practical" (as claimed by the book description) and the exercises are anecdotal. It is a very general compilation of design advice, that can be found from other well known, more thorough game design books, and all in all mostly common sense. It is at best an introduction to the matter, but not a very good one at that.
All the relevant information from this book can be found from much better reads such as The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses (Jesse Schell) or Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design (Scott Rogers).
Another way to put the difference is that other game design books tend to simply describe what has been done in games that already exist and sometimes attempt to provide some kind of justification for those things. Burgun instead starts with a clean slate, describes his approach to game design from the ground up, and attempts to explain his reasoning for why that approach will be successful. In other words, other design books tend to be descriptive about games that already exist, whereas Burgun's book is prescriptive about how future games might be effectively designed. If what you want in games is innovation, the usual approach leaves a lot to be desired, and much of what's desired is to be found in Clockwork Game Design.
The book is also very efficient in its organization. Everything is very clearly laid out and divided up into the appropriate chapters, and it doesn't take an inordinately long time to get through it. Burgun clearly thought through what he wanted to say and focused on saying it efficiently without letting the book grow too large or too convoluted.
Highly recommended! A valuable addition to any game designer's library!