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The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses [Paperback]

Jesse Schell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Aug. 4 2008 --  
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Book Description

Aug. 4 2008 0123694965 978-0123694966 1
Anyone can master the fundamentals of game design - no technological expertise is necessary. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses shows that the same basic principles of psychology that work for board games, card games and athletic games also are the keys to making top-quality videogames. Good game design happens when you view your game from many different perspectives, or lenses. While touring through the unusual territory that is game design, this book gives the reader one hundred of these lenses - one hundred sets of insightful questions to ask yourself that will help make your game better. These lenses are gathered from fields as diverse as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, writing, puzzle design, and anthropology. Anyone who reads this book will be inspired to become a better game designer - and will understand how to do it.

* Jesse Schell is a highly recognizable name within the game industry - he is the former chair of the International Game Developer's Association, and has designed many successful games, including Disney's award-winning Toontown Online.

* The book's design methodology was developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, co-founded by Dr. Randy Pausch of "Last Lecture" fame.

* 100 'lenses' are scattered throughout the book. These are boxed sets of questions, each a different way of seeing a game that will inspire the creative process.

* 500 pages of detailed, practical instruction on creating world-class games that will be played again and again.

* Winner of Game Developer's 2008 Front Line Award in the book category

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"I've never seen a better book about games for people who have zero interest in games. For intelligent people who can't understand why these weird amusements compel the allegiance of millions, this is an excellent primer. It won't make you play any games, but you'll fully understand why and how they work, and also where they're going." -  If you're nineteen and have no idea why you adore videogames - you're just enchanted by them, you can't help yourself - dude, is this ever the book for you. You are the core demographic for this particular textual experience. Put down the hand-controller, read the book right now. I can promise you that you will grow in moral and intellectual stature.. Instead of remaining a twitchy, closeted, joystick geek, like you are now, you will emerge from this patient master-class as a surprisingly broadminded adult who quotes Herman Hesse and appreciates improvisational theater and Impressionist painting. You will no longer kill off parties with your Warcraft fixation. Instead, other people your age will find themselves mysteriously drawn to you - to your air of quiet sympathy, your contemplative depth. Wise beyond your years, you will look beyond the surface details of shrieking monsters and into the deeper roots of human experience.. Schell's creative approach is full of autarchic frontier self-reliance. Out there on Tomorrowland's Gameification Frontier, a theorist intellectual has to slaughter his own hogs and parse Aristotle's Poetics on the back of a shovel. But boy, it sure is roomy over there. It's a large, free, democratic book. It's Emersonian in its cheery disorganization. The book's like a barbaric yawp from the top of a Nintendo console.. I'd read it now, before things get out of hand." - Bruce Sterling on's "Beyond the Beyond" blog

About the Author

Jesse Schell is professor 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. Formerly he was creative director of the Walt Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio. Schell worked as a designer, programmer, and manager on several projects for Disney theme parks and DisneyQuest. Schell received his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master's degree in information networking from Carnegie Mellon. He is also CEO of Schell Games, LLC, an independent game studio in Pittsburgh, and chairman of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). In 2004 he was named as one of the World's 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT's Technology Review.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read Nov. 10 2011
By Zahari
When I first got this book I groaned at how much of a text book it was. All text, no illustrations for reference, and long. But as I steered reading it I noticed it was pretty interesting. The author is a game designer and understands story telling. So it's ends up being more written like a magazine and less like a dull textbook. A lot of insightful stuff and well presented. Highly recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read Dec 19 2013
One of a few books I purchased related to game design and this is my go-to book now. Feels a lot like a text book, but the book is easy to read, understand, and retain. Great topics that answer a lot of questions I had.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  98 reviews
105 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of the Year Jan. 3 2009
By Ethan Kennerly - Published on
Jesse Schell, game design professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote an introductory book that was published in August, titled "The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses." The back overleaf quotes Will Wright saying, "Easily the most comprehensive, practical book I've ever seen on game design." I will try to briefly state why I agree and offer details to help you decide if this book is for you.

Each chapter of the book adds a node to a network of relationships between the designer, the game, and the player. Throughout, Schell boxes 100 tips, with questions that induce a novel perspective on the design. He calls these lenses. I applaud the volume of diverse traditions, such as: psychology, storytelling, engineering, business, and management. They are so diverse as to change not only perspective, but also target. "The Lens of the Puzzle" looks at the mechanisms of the game; whereas, "The Lens of the Team" looks at the developers of the game. This is an eclectic approach that distills many abstract tips on what to consider when designing. Some experience and diligence with most of the 100 lenses would almost guarantee the reader is a competent designer.

Most lenses seemed crystal clear and provoked thoughts. Oftentimes, Schell deploys the wheels that others have invented. Many lenses refer to prior literature, such as Barry Boehm's spiral model of development (82), Scott Kim's thoughts on puzzles (209).

Furthermore, Schell gives us some original gems on the psychology of games that expanded my mind. He touches on the tactile aesthetics of the Rubik's cube (213), the learning curve of a jigsaw puzzle (215). He has some tips on personal communication that, upon reflection, exposed mistakes I have made, and would be more likely to continue to make had I not read Schell's advice. For example, in "Coping with Bad Suggestions," rather than agree or disagree, he advises to "understand why the client is making the suggestion" (417). He gives similarly important advice for playtesting (389).

Perhaps the inevitable danger of writing a comprehensive book is that one's own rough facets become apparent when placed side-by-side with one's brilliance. In a few spots, I would like to see wheels being reused rather than reinvented, such as mathematical graphs (132), epistemics of players (139), military tactics (141), risk and return (181), interface affordances (212), models of human-computer interaction (225), and plotting interest (247). I don't disagree with what Schell wrote there, but would rather dive deeper by leveraging prior literature (as he did in other lenses).

The book is well-presented with modest illustrations and easy to read from beginning to end. On an editorial note, although I affirm Schell's eclectic approach to game design, after reading the book, I wish it were easier to find the information I wanted to refer to. The table of lenses at the front of the book was not enough for me. The lens titles are not always evocative and distinct.

To summarize:
* What you will find in this book: informal habits of a professional game designer.
* What you will not find in this book: details or examples of designs and their implementation.

Game Developer magazine nominated The Art of Game Design for the Book of the Year. It got my vote.
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book; Kindle edition has formatting problems Nov. 27 2011
By Aaron Lahman - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
NOTE: this is for the Kindle edition of the book.

Well written, informative and also a fun read. Other reviewers have other covered this, so I'll stop here: 5 stars for content.

Be warned if purchasing the Kindle edition that the formatting in the book has problems: margins are way too large in a number of places, the original index isn't hyperlinked properly (basically just a word list), and figure captions are often misplaced. It's legible, but not of professional quality, and certainly not worth the nearly paperback price they're asking for. 2 stars for typesetting.

If you can, buy a physical copy instead.
57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Paths Oct. 4 2008
By Stephane Bura - Published on
I've been designing games for more than 20 years and I've read a ton of books on the subject.
This one is unique.

Most game design books focus on teaching you how to make a good game, detailing what techniques and processes one must master to understand an audience, to design a product that will satisfy their needs and aspirations, and to work with a team to produce it. "The Art of Game Design" goes beyond that: It teaches you how to become a better designer.

Here's an excerpt from the Deck of Lenses' instructions (it's the deck of cards sold separately that illustrates the 100 design "lenses"):

How to Design a Game
Step 1: Think of an idea for a game (it's easy, it can be anything!)
Step 2: Try it out (no really - try it out - you have to play games to see if they work)
Step 3: Figure out what's wrong with it, and change it so it is better. Then go back to Step 2!

That's what game designers do, over and over again, until they're satisfied with the game or they run out of time or money. However, if there are lots of books out there that explain how to increase the quality of whichever aspect of the game you want to change, it's the first one that so directly and so thoroughly addresses the problem of "figuring out what's wrong" with a game at each iteration.
In the book, Jesse Schell presents one hundred ways of looking at your game in order to figure this out, one hundred lenses. Even if this number seems big, it really isn't, because the book covers every domain touched by design: from the nature of the playing experience itself, to understanding the player, the game mechanisms, interface, story, technology, theme, etc.
For instance, here's the sum-up of a lens taken at random:

Lens #82: The Lens of Inner Contradiction
A good game cannot contain properties that defeat the game's very purpose. To remove those contradictory qualities, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of my game?
- What is the purpose of each subsystem of my game?
- Is there anything at all in my game that contradicts these purposes?
- If so, how can I change that?

The book doesn't give answers but helps you ask the right questions. I think of this book as the Tao of Game Design, a path toward understanding, each step its own path that can be explored and perfected. The one hundred lenses are one hundred design domains in which a designer can become more proficient. Jesse Schell's knowledge, experience and talent are obvious when he clearly explains how to consider all these questions, why they are important and how they are linked together.
This book makes and helps me think. To me, that's the best things a book about design can do.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 2.3lbs of game design joy Aug. 11 2008
By ProducerDev - Published on
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses Is an awesome addition to the library of anyone, not just in the game industry, but in the themed entertainment industry as a whole. Chapters are clearly laid out, full of useful and most importantly practical information. Jesse's many years in the industry are evident as most sections of the book reference examples from his own experience. The tone of the book is easy going and open-minded, Jesse never "preaches" game design theory but rather explores it with you, the reader, and allows you to reach your own conclusions.

Perhaps the best part of this book is the lenses (which are detailed in the book and can be purchased separately in a handy "deck of cards" format). Particularly after you've read the book, these cards become a wonderful distilled version of the book's main design lenses. These lenses allow you to view your design in 100 different ways, many of which I promise you've never would have thought of. This is a very valuable tool kit for any designer.

Noobs and veterans' alike will find plenty to discover with in his book. When I have some free time I often find myself cracking the spine and simply picking a chapter at random, I always learn something new when I do.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential foundation book for designers Oct. 4 2009
By Sathya Srinivasan - Published on
I bought this book a few weeks ago with the intent of strengthening my skills in game design and programming, especially with an intent towards mobile games. In the first few pages, I was a bit disappointed, as I was hoping for something to get something more immediate in terms of how to program for games, and the book seemed to be a bit more philosophical.

As I started reading further, I realized the folly of my initial thinking and I am glad that I stuck to continue reading the book.

The book is for those who want to understand the philosophy of game design rather than quickly writing a game in some language. The lenses the author talks about are very thought-provoking and are useful even outside the realm of game design. The book essentially gives you the mindset needed for designing games, and in that aspect, is fundamental to any game designer.

If you want to have instant gratification in terms of writing a game right away, there are other books, but at some point in time, you'll find yourself wanting to come back and read this book.
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