08 February 2010

[Literature] Fundamentals of Game Design, ch 1: Games and Video Games

These are my notes for the first chapter of Fundamentals of Game Design, a book by Ernest Adams and Andrew Rollings (pages 3 to 35). I do not know if I will do all of their chapters, but you can expect other posts dealing with this interesting book. [My comments will be inside square brackets.]

What is a game?

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and ... Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do
-- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

A game contains rules, goals, play and pretending. [play and pretending bring games close to theater]. Toys have no rules. Puzzles have only one goal but no rules. In some languages like Swedish, playing with a goal and playing without one are two different words.

Interactivity: Games require acive players whose participation changes the course of events. Play is a participatory interactive entertainment. Unlike books or movies which are presentational, ie their content does not change. [What about Gamebooks?]

Suspension of disbelief: The Magic Circle is the playground for pretended reality. However, the distinction between real world and pretended reality is sometimes blurred if events in the game [losing for instance] are meaningful outside of it [death! cf Mesoamerican ballcourt game sacrifices].

Challenge: A game must include challenge [cf Flow Csikszentmihalyi]. Challenge difficulty is perceived differently by players. Gameplay consists of challenge and actions.

Rules: Victory and defeat conditions are not must-have rules. They only make the game more exciting. Metarules are immutable rules that define how which mutables rules can be changed. [cf Morpheus in Matrix: some rules can be bent, others can be broken] [smart metarules make mods possible; this kind of meta-concepts echoes software engineering principles]

Players who are trying to achieve different unrelated goals that are not mutually exclusive are neither competing nor cooperating - they are not really playing the same game [what about AH/bankers/tradeskill players in MMOG? It seems there are different goals players can look for. Are there different games within MMOG (ie different rewards for different actions) or different ways to play the same game (ie same reward for different actions)?]

Symetry and roles: In a symetric game, all players follow the same rules. Fox games are non-symetric games: one player has the fox, the other has the sheep/geese/hounds.

Types of interactionIn simple wordsExamples
Single-player"me versus the situation"Solitaire
Two-player competitive"you versus me"Chess
Multiplayer competitiveeveryone for himself" (but agreements between players might be possible)Monopoly, Diplomacy, Agricola
Multiplayer cooperative"all of us together"Shadows over Camelot (without Traitor)
Team-based"us versus them"Bridge

Conventional games versus video games

Advantage of video games: With video games, players do not have to control the rules themselves. [In MMOG, Game Masters are often needed, not only for police purpose but also for in-game events] This means more immersion for the players.

Avoid trial and error [that is also a general HCI recommendation: users do not read handbooks. I wonder if "trial and success" could be a relevant game design that teaches the rules to the player. For example, whatever possible action done by the player in the first levels of Plant versus Zombies leads to victory. Even though it is not really a tutorial, the point is only to teach the player what key elements do and the principal game mechanics and actions.]

AI: Players often believe the game contains smart AI. In fact, most of the time, the game only fakes smart in-game characters to entertain the player enough. But sometimes, the magic circle is broken because of AI dysfunction or an unexpected choice from a player. [see for instance a NPC in eXistenZ that stucks the player in a while loop]

Segment: Your game can not please everyone because everyone does not enjoy the same thing. [interestingly, this applies perfectly well to marketing segments]

Gameplay is the primary source of entertainment in all video games. But aesthetics and harmony/coherence matter.

Types of challengeVideo game examples
Physical coordinationDDR, Tetris, Street Fighter
Pattern recognitionSonic the Hedgehog (behavior patterns of ennemies), Mahjong
Time pressureTrackmania, Zuma
Memory and knowledgeYou Dont Know Jack, Memory Match
ExplorationDoom, Portal
ConflictAge of Empires, Pac-Man, Half-Life, ICO
EconomicCivilization, The Settlers
Conceptual ReasoningThe Incredible Machine, Façade, Syberia

Risk implies reward, otherwise there is no incentive to take the risk.

Types of immersionExamples
TacticalTetris trance, the action is so fast the brain has no time to focus on something else
StrategicChess master, observing, calculating and planning [you need a player of the same or higher level so that you are not bored]
Narrativebeing inside a story, like in good books or movies

Test your skills

Each chapter has a collection of multiple choice questions to let you check if you have learned the biggest points the authors wanted to make. Following the questions, a few exercises and discussion questions bring interesting and inspirational matter about the current chapter. I only give my pick of the best exercises I found in this chapter.

  • Create a competitive game for two players and a ball that does not involve throwing it or kicking it.
  • Define a competitive game with a single winner, for an unlimited number of players, in which only creative actions are available.
  • As a potential designer, do you see yourself as an artist, an engineer, a craftsman, or something else?

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