Friday, March 26, 2010

Outline for a book

This is my proposed outline for a “library book” style game design book. I have written another book in a style to suit what I see as the primary audience, but there’s a place for a library/reference book as well. I’m interested in comments about what should (or should not) be included. After the outline there’s a detailed explanation of what’s going on here.

Title: “Guide to Video and Tabletop Game Design” or “Learning to Design video (and Tabletop) Games” or “How to Design Games”

Book Sections/Outline

The book will include many reference lists and explicated lists.

1. How to learn to design games
a. Objective: complete, Complete, COMPLETE the game
b. Start with the tabletop
c. Analysis of traditional games–often not what we want to emulate!
d. Learn a simple video game engine
e. Try to make simple video games
f. The impossibility of an individual making a AAA video game
g. Video games vs. tabletop games--differences and similarities

2. What is a game and what makes it good?
a. What is a “game”?
b. Characteristics of good games (Can it be well-designed and not attract its audience? No)
c. What makes a game epic?
d. What makes a game great?
e. What do games amount to?
f. Interaction in games
g. Types of challenges

3. The audience/target market
a. Styles of play
b. Convergence of tabletop and video games
c. Genres and game types
d. 21st century game characteristics
e. Hard core vs. casual gamers–characteristics
f. Replayability vs. repetition

4. The Process of Game Design
a. Ideas and origins of games
b. The key to successful games: iterative and incremental improvement
c. The design process diagrams (multiple explicated diagrams, in depth, both tabletop and video game)
d. The Nine Sub-Structures of games, with listings of most possible choices in each sub-structure (e.g., all categories of Victory conditions/Objectives, all categories of Economies, etc.)
e. Additional questions to ask yourself

5. Making a prototype
a. Comprehensive advice about making prototypes
b. Video game design documents
c. Lots of examples from my work

6. Playtesting and Modifying the Prototype
a. What to look for in the playtesters
b. What to look for in the play
c. Playtesting lists, questionnaires, Six Hats
d. When is it “done”?

7. Level Design (video and tabletop games)
a. Many lists from my level design classes
b. A level design editor’s advice
c. Examples of level design documents

8. Specific types of games
a. RPG (role-playing games)
b. CCG (collectible card games)
c. Board and card wargames
d. Miniatures games
e. MMOs (massively multiplayer online games)
f. Casual/”short experience” games
g. Social games (Facebook, etc.)
h. “Serious” games (education and training)
i. Others

9. Video game genres
a. List of genres including:
b. What is it
c. Who plays it
d. Salient features (types of challenges, settings)

10. Specific problems in game design
a. The three player problem
b. Fog of War
c. Cause vs. effect
d. Too much like work?
e. Flaws in multi-sided games (from TGC presentation)
f. Randomness, Chaos, and Manageable Variation
g. When do players score?

11. Marketing and the Law [or if space does not permit, leave this out as it is not strictly about design]
a. Making a video game pitch
b. Intellectual property

12. Resources
a. Books about game design (brief descriptions)
b. Software for VG production (brief descriptions)
c. Software for TT game production (brief descriptions)
d. Games you should know (brief descriptions)
e. Categorized list of tabletop and video game mechanics
f. Types of boards
g. Ways to use dice for combat
h. Online Resources (web sites, files, forums)
i. The International Game Developers Association (IDGA) Game Design curriculum suggestions

Example documents:
Video game concept documents
(There’s not room for a video game design document but I can certainly refer to ones I’ve found online)
Example of initial notes for a game (video and tabletop)
The game progress spreadsheet

Either I (at or the publisher will want to maintain a reference Web site for the book to update links and so forth.

Some explanation is called for. I have nearly completed a book about designing games (“Get it Done: Designing Games from Start to Finish”) that is quite different from the standard (video) game design books we see on the market. My original aim was a short book, the length of the average novel, rather than the typically-massive game design books. I begin with the premise that the best way to learn to design games, even if your long-term interest is only video games, is to design tabletop games. This is well-known to some teachers, especially to teachers who are game designers (video or tabletop). (Most game design books are not written by teachers.) The book is also very informal and inspirational in tone, as it is written with young (teen/20-something) wannabe designers in mind rather like the college and high school students I teach game design to. Considerable material from the book has been on GameCareerGuide and Gamasutra, the primary hangouts of video game professionals and wannabes, and seems to interest people quite a bit.

While lots of pictures and color are ideal for this audience, it can double the cost of the book. I’ve chosen to use only the mostly-noncolor illustrations and photos that make my point in order to keep the cost down. In the end a publisher may choose differently, of course.

If I cannot find a suitable traditional publisher for “Get it Done”, a low number of B&W illustrations will make the book much less expensive for POD (Publishing On Demand) distribution.

I have had interesting adventures looking for a publisher, as most video game design books evidently aren’t selling well in bookstores. This is hardly a surprise, as they’re too much long, too formal, and too much about analysis of games or about game production rather than about the activity of game design. This is just the kind of book that does NOT appeal to the audience I have aimed at. Some of them are written as textbooks, and the first thing to know about textbooks is that they’re often written to be forced on students by teachers who often don’t know a great deal about what they’re teaching, so the teacher wants the book to teach the course. I’ve tried to write a book someone would actually buy in a bookstore or online.

At any rate, when I recently proposed this book to a traditional library/scholarly publisher in my own state, they wanted me to change it to make it a “library book”. They want something that is a reference, that assumes the reader does not need any encouragement to read the book but instead is looking for information. So that person has gone to the library to seek out game design books. Presumably this will tend to be people who are in their late 20s and older, or who are very strongly motivated–a smaller audience than my first book is aimed at.

I’m presently preparing a proposal for this publisher, and I’d like to see what people think of it.

When I was young (1960s) I read tons of library books. Now, the average video game fan does NOT go to the library at all (not for books, anyway), and many of them rarely read non-fiction books of any kind (especially textbooks). My first book is designed to be attractively readable for people who rarely read books, who may even be of the “tl;dr” crowd (though there’s not a lot of hope there). Yet a “library book” can be written with the idea that the reader already has sufficient motivation/maturity to read the book. Again, this will be a short book of this type, novel length, with few if any photos and few illustrations.

So this kind of book can have lists and details that I would not put in the first, or that there is not room for (I’m 22% beyond my original target length in “Get it Done”). It can be comprehensive in the details it addresses, whereas “Get it Done” is intended to describe everything, but not in great detail because detail is not what the audience for that book needs or is looking for.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Presentation at TGC

On Thursday, April 8 at the Triangle Game Conference in Raleigh I'll be presenting "What video game developers can learn from 50 years of tabletop game development." The time has not been set yet.

As of now I don't plan to attend Origins in Columbus, though I will be at WBC in Lancaster, PA. (This is at the same time as GenCon.)

I attend meetings of the NC State Tabletop Gamers regularly on Thursday evenings at Talley Student Center.

Sometimes I make it to Rick and Marnie's game night in Durham, third Friday of the month.

At FTCC we have game club meetings on Wednesday afternoons at 3 in ATC 229.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

"You can have two out of three . . ."

Many people worldwide have talked about a maxim related to any kind of manufactured goods, or to projects, that runs like this: For production in general, "fast, cheap, good--you can have two out of three." Discussing the three pillars of project management, controlling the cost (budget), being on schedule, and meeting performance goals, it is: "In projects: cost, schedule, and performance, you can have two out of three." In general, these forms hold true, though it IS possible to make all three in some cases.

This can also be applied to many areas of endeavor where “two out of three” really is the limit. For example, I used to tell my computer networking students, “fast, cheap, long-distance: in networks you can have two out of three.” The Internet is cheap and long-distance, but not fast. The typical local area network is fast and cheap, but not long distance. A fast, long-distance network is ridiculously expensive.

In boardgames, the maxim is something like "short, simple to play, richly detailed. In boardgames, you can have two out of three,” but almost never three out of three.

It took me a while to come up with this form, compared with the networking form. “Complex” could be confusing, and “detailed” alone didn’t seem quite enough. I think the current version pretty well expresses the situation.

Games using cards are more likely to be able to achieve all three, I think, with Magic: the Gathering being an example of the many collectible (and sometimes non-collectible) card games that achieve all three. This may be why cards are now so often a part of boardgames. Yet games that use a standard deck of playing cards will surely lack rich detail.

In video games, you have the advantage of using the computer to keep track of (and display) details. So you may be more likely to achieve all three in one game, because the computer can hide the administrative part of the rich detail that players often must track themselves in a board game.