Chris Crawford on Game Design

Chris Crawford is one of the earliest pioneers of games and game design. During the 1980s he wrote a number of important computer games for the Atari and Macintosh computers, including Eastern Front and Balance of Power.

In 1987 he founded The Journal of Computer Game Design and, the next year, founded the Computer Game Developers Conference (now the Game Developers Conference). He was known as a passionate advocate of game design as an art form among developers. But in 1992 he withdrew from commercial game development and started working on ideas for interactive storytelling systems. He’s also written a an earlier book, The Art Of Computer Game Design that covers some of the same material in this book.

First published in June 2003, Chris Crawford on Game Design is a book on the foundational skills behind the design and architecture of a game.

On Game Design gathers all of Crawford’s experiences through the late 1970s, 80s and 90s into a single volume. The book starts with chapters on concepts like “Play” and “Conflict”.

The first few chapters focus on what are the ingredients of a game. Crawford does a fine job of setting the tone for what lies ahead. He jumps right-in with why games are important to humans, about conflict, and the importance of interaction in video and computer games. This section is not steeped in the details of implementation or particular features; instead, it is designed to make the reader really think about games and what a designer is trying to accomplish when creating a game. The key takeaway is Crawford’s thoughts on “interaction”. Without interaction, in Crawford’s quality of interaction is directly proportional to the quality of your game.

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The book is broken down into 100 lessons, including a section with war stories and anecdotes that makes for light reading while still remaining educational.

Chapters 13-26 each focus on one of his games from Tanktics (that ran on a Commodore PET!) though better-known ones like Eastern Front (1941) and Balance of Power, to later ones like Guns and Butter.

Finally, it is rounded out with two chapters, “Old Fart Stories” and “Games I’d Like To Build”, that are worth reading even if they are now nearly 20 years old.

Game Design is perfectly aimed at game designers and those interested in game design but still remains readable to non-designers, providing many insights into the games industry.

On Game Design belongs on the shelf of anyone who has even the remotest interest in what makes a good or bad game.