- Paperback: 188 pages
- Publisher: A K Peters/CRC Press (August 13, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1466554207
- ISBN-13: 978-1466554207
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,323,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games
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"How do we make better entertaining interactive systems, "games," specifically? That's the question Burgun is trying to answer here, and I think his "philosophy for understanding games" does an excellent job of helping all of its readers answer that question."
- Ryan Rigney
While literature and music, for example, stand on a solid theoretical foundation, the theory of game design is much less developed. … It is possible that thought-provoking books such as this one may be just the spark required to kick start the industrial revolution of game design.
―From the Foreword by Reiner Knizia
About the Author
Keith Burgun is a game designer, writer, composer, and visual artist who has been developing games independently for nearly 20 years. He writes for Gamasutra, Destructoid, and several other popular websites, including his own blog at Dinofarm Games. He is a founding member of Dinofarm Games and produced its first commercial game 100 Rogues for the iOS platform. He also teaches game design and animation courses at local art schools.
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Top Customer Reviews
STYLE: PLEASANTLY PRECISE
Most books in this genre make a lot of statements that, while interesting, are too vague to be falsifiable. They are typically afraid to set any clear definition of `game' lest some fringe case be excluded, and their practical value suffers as a result. Keith Burgun's book sets clear definitions, supports those definitions with concrete examples, and sticks to those definitions throughout the books. That kind of formalism is just what the field of game design needs, as Reiner Knizia notes in the book's forward.
Sometimes I agreed with what he said and sometimes I disagreed, but I was always thankful that he actually articulated a position clearly enough that I could agree or disagree. Even when he covered ideas I thought were obvious, I could appreciate the fact that he did it rigorously and carefully. But it's not just a careful theoretical framework - the book provides concrete examples of real games, followed by a specific advice that can be followed by a designer. As such, while the book has value for anyone who plays game, it is of direct practical value to game designers.
Another complaint I have of most books in this genre is that they read like a textbook - they sound dumbed down and condescending, even when delivering real insight. Keith's book reads like he respects the reader, but wants to convince the reader of a point. He is concise and clear, and the book is just the right length. Even if you disagree with him, you will find insight in his carefully formulated arguments and unambiguous definitions!
CONTENT: CONCRETE AND CONTEXTUAL
His definition of game is a refinement of one that's been floating around for a while, and he expresses it as a series of subsets: Some interactive systems are puzzles (if there is a goal), some puzzles are contests (if there is competition), some contests are games (if there are heuristic choices). Personally, I would have used the term "strategic game" instead of "game", simply to avoid ambiguity. The term "game" gets uses many different ways by many different people. However, the important thing is that he does define what he means by "game" so you know exactly what class of activity he is making claims about. Many critics of the book are reacting to the choice of the term "game", rather than the actual claims he makes about strategic games.
Furthermore, his examples are not just drawn from the latest hot game, but he has a good knowledge and appreciation of the history of games.
The book also has a subtle sense of humor that I quite enjoyed.
COMPARISON: OTHER BOOKS ON GAMES
I rank this book up with other great books about the theory of games. Here are my favorites, ranked roughly from most concrete/rigorous to most abstract/ambiguous:
- Game Design Theory (this book!)
- Characteristics of Games
- Challenges for Game Designers
- The Art of Game Design / A Deck of Lenses
- The Game Inventor's Guidebook
- Rule of Play
- The Game Design Reader
- Game Design Workshop
- Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design
- Man, Play, and Games
- Flow: the psychology of optimal experience
- The Ambiguity of Play
- A Theory of Fun
Like all those books, Keith's has parts I skimmed and parts I found insightful. But unlike those other books, his was willing to commit to unambiguous definitions. So, when I found an insight in his book, I know how to apply it. When I found interesting ideas in those other books, it was hard to figure out exactly what the author meant.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in the theory of games.
I highly recommend this book for game designers.
Unfortunately, Game Design Theory reads like second-draft introductory material. It glosses over complex topics--like how most of the concepts it introduces can actually be used to understand how to design games that players will find more enriching and engaging--and includes a number of flawed or factually incorrect examples. For instance, he erroneously describes rules of both Chess and American Football when he uses them specifically as his only examples for a couple of concepts. The book's value as introductory material is somewhat limited due to its focus on Burgun's ideas to the exclusion of the many other theorists who have written similar material in a much more clear and useful fashion. Burgun provides very little context for his theorizing, aside from occasional dismissals of game industry veterans and vague references to the works of others such as Dave Sirlin. Burgun has no expertise to back up such flat dismissals, considering he has produced, at the time of writing, a single game (though it is well-received), and seems to tend towards irritating readers more than illuminating unique and clear thought. In short, the rigor of his thought and clarity of his writing leave me wanting.
To an average gamer, I'm certain there are many nuggets in this work that will prove interesting and worthwhile, but as an educated spectator and hobbyist in the game design space with a predilection to like the content, I find this book a frustrating read.
On page 22 Burgun shows his condescension towards his readers in exemplary fashion. He presents a pair of undirected graphs: a linear graph containing five nodes he labels "story", and a graph of tens of complexly connected nodes he labels "game". "I need to make clear that I'm by no means saying that stories are simpler than games," he goes on to write directly below it. I don't understand how this kind of clear contradiction can get through editing. Considering the lack of any but the most superficial organization in the book, I'm not surprised. You need look no further than the rambling and scattershot second chapter, which is a series of sections at best loosely tied together--the two sections on balancing games, for instance, are pages apart, even though their content is thematically linked and would present a stronger case woven together. In this chapter especially Burgun frequently defines words and writes several paragraphs on a concept, but then doesn't reuse the concept in a meaningful way any further in his discourse. I find myself forgetting his choice of words for a given concept and having to backtrack and refresh my memory. Considering how shallow and disorganized his treatments of various such concepts are, this isn't excusable.
In what appears to be the focal point of the book, Burgun presents a tiering of colloquial games. But instead of coming up with clear, unique terminology or using established language from other sources, Burgun opts to redefine the words "Game", "Puzzle", and "Contest." This kind of amateurish argumentation confuses his readers, as has been proven by numerous posts that plague every platform where he publishes his work.
On page 26, I began to seriously doubt the value of reading the book. On this page, Burgun says, "The bottom line about fun is that there is little agreement about what it means, so for now I'll be using it in a very broad sense that includes enjoyment, engagement, and fulfillment." He does not go on to define these concepts. He does not go on to elucidate how we can achieve these goals through the suggestions he presents in his book. He chooses to dither over the definition of "game", but doesn't choose to spend more than a couple of paragraphs briefly alighting on the whole point of games, which is whatever we happen to call "fun." The book is rendered irrelevant to itself in this way: it gives us no way to judge the quality of game mechanics aside from simple appeals to minimalism and a leaning tower of classifications. The entire point of the book, which is designing better games, is marginalized by the shooing-aside of what constitutes a player experience game designers should try to cultivate.
By page 50, I had hundreds of notes on confusing bits, implications not explored credibly, factual errors, logical errors, and frustratingly broad statements about specific topics that Burgun should know more about if he's the expert he claims to be.
I tried very hard to read this book with an attention to detail, rigor, and the quality of the arguments it presents. The only conclusion I can reach is that Game Design Theory does not bear a close reading. As such, I can't recommend it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is a horrible mess.
The author projects arbitrary and meaningless labels onto different things.Read more