Monday, September 01, 2008

Textbook Review: Challenges for Game Designers

"Challenges for Game Designers" (Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber)

So, it's finally printed and in circulation, and you can buy it now. This is the best textbook ever, and all of you should adopt it for all your classes and buy extra copies from your friends.

Okay, so I'm one of the authors. What, you expect an unbiased review?

This book came about because some people on IGDA's Game_Edu list were complaining that they'd love to have students design games, but they either don't have access to computers or their students don't know programming. Brenda and I were both, like, WTF? You don't need any polygons to play Chess. You don't need any lines of code to play Go. You don't need a development team and millions of dollars to make Settlers of Catan, you just need one guy and five bucks' worth of dice and index cards. So, we decided to write a book about making games without computers.

The original idea was just to take a bunch of exercises that we'd both done in our classes, sets of constraints that serve as starting points. (For example, some of my former students still shudder in horror of the time when I had them create a game concept document based on the Care Bears IP after we studied the use of licenses in games.) Before too long, though, we realized it would be unfair to just give these exercises without any help -- it's fine and good for people who are designers already, but to tell a beginning student they should create a full proposal without telling them how is just unfair. So we added a bit of "how-to"... which incidentally made the book take about three times as long to write, but hopefully a lot easier to understand.

The book is 21 chapters, though one of those is just the introduction to the book. The other twenty all have five exercises each (with a full description of deliverables and suggested process), plus another ten "shorts" (quick ideas to get you started or inspired), for a total of 300 game design exercises... none of which requires any art or programming skill at all (although if you do have programming or art skills and want to take your non-digital design and make a digital game out of it, most of these exercises can be used as a starting point).

Students: If you'd like to design games but don't know where to begin, this should be a reasonable starting point.

Instructors: I expect this to be a good companion to a theory-based textbook like Game Design Workshop. Theory is necessary and all, but at some point anyone learning game design must sit down and design games (lots and lots of games), and Challenges for Game Designers is very practical in nature. You could either combine the two in a single course, or teach an introductory theory-based course to give the basic concepts and then offer a follow-up practical course. I happen to think students would understand more if the theory and practice were combined so that the theories make sense and are contextual, rather than just some abstract thoughts that are meaningless until six months later.

Professionals: When Brenda and I worked at Cyberlore, there was a time when we'd have weekly design department meetings (we worked with two other designers). Once a month, we would use the meeting time to do a design exercise; one of us would be responsible for developing the constraints, and the others would struggle with the problem. It was a way to keep our design skills sharp, and it was one of the few times in the business world where you'd hear people say that they were actually looking forward to attending a meeting. I also ran a couple of these exercises over lunch and invited programmers, artists, and anyone else who had an interest in game design; people had fun, and also gained an understanding of the kinds of things we designers did all day. If you work with other designers (or other people who are interested in game design), we designed this book to be useful in these kinds of skill-building meetings and workshops.

1 comment:

cathie leblanc said...

I pre-ordered a copy via Amazon and got mine yesterday. So far, I'm very excited about it! It looks like a perfect mix of how-to instruction with exercises to reinforce the concepts. Thanks!