[What's the big deal with Jesse Schell's new 'Art Of Game Design' book? Writer and designer Daniel Cook takes a look at the Front Line Award-winning tome to find out.]
Over my holiday vacation I finished reading The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. Schell teaches game design over at Carnegie Mellon and works in the industry leading Pittsburgh-based Schell Games (Toy Story Midway Mania!), and he has produced a comprehensive and clearly written book mapping out the conceptual tools and techniques of game design.
The book is targeted at the new game designer, but seeks to provide enough depth to be broadly useful to working designers.
It perhaps goes without saying that this is a book on game design, not game development. It will not teach you about programming, art or much of any technical production skills. It is about game mechanics, the player experience, pitching, iterating, and brainstorming; all the messy core activities of game design.
The book has two organizing principles. The first is an organically laid out map of all the important elements of a game design. This allows you to deconstruct a game and gives names to what you are talking about.
The second is a series of "lenses", or questions, that you can ask about your game design as you iterate upon it. It is a good book that teaches the craft of game design in an accessible manner.
An excavated ant colony from the documentary Ants: Nature's Secret Power
Once I saw a video where they poured cement into an ant colony and then carefully excavated the resulting organic structure. Bit by bit an intricate city of interconnecting rooms and passages was revealed.
For some odd reason, this is the exact image that comes to mind as Schell methodically builds out an elegant yet comprehensive map of game design.
Schell's map of the game design process
The book builds up the basics of game design one simple piece at a time. It starts with the rules and tokens of the game, flits through game mechanics, economics and community and ends with discussion of teams, clients and pitches.
Over the past few decades, modern game design has accumulated numerous little rooms and offshoots. It is a rare treat to see it laid bare in all its organically evolved glory.