The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses Paperback – Aug 4 2008
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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, Gamasutra.com from Game Developer Magazine
"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, "Beyond the Beyond" blog, Wired.com
"… 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, Gamasutra.com, 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
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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I read some other books about boardgame design and so far, this one is the best. A+
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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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether you're a lone-wolf designer or part of a team this book can definitely benefit anyone who reads it. Thank you Mr. Schell for a wonderful book!
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