Books of the Week: Game Design, Uncertainty, and More
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Books of the Week: Game Design, Uncertainty, and More
31 August, 2018

This week we’ll study book on game design, the power of uncertainty, the phenomenon of roguelikes, building better game experiences, some of the most influential game consoles, and more. 

On Game Design by Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford on Game Design focuses the foundational skills behind the design and architecture of a game. Chris Crawford in this book tried to explain the foundational and fundamental concepts needed to get the most out of game development today. The book studies some key lessons like what you can learn from the history of gameplay and historical games, necessity of challenge in gameplay, applying dimensions of conflict, understanding low and high interactivity designs, watching for the inclusion of creativity, and more.

“When I wrote The Art of Computer Game Design way back in 1981, I really didn’t know what I was doing; I wrote the book as a way to sort out my thoughts on game design. That effort helped me solidify my philosophy of game design — and incidentally became a classic in the field. That book was a bunch of lucky guesses and inspired hunches. This book, by contrast, looks back on a career in game design spanning 25 years, and attempts to digest the lessons of that career. Back then, with so little experience to draw on, I was absolutely certain of my conclusions. This time around, I’m not so sure — but I’ve got some humdinger stories to tell. Will this book be a classic 25 years from now? Maybe so, maybe not, but one thing I’m sure of: 25 years from now, people will still be laughing over some of the crazy design misadventures I lived to tell about.”

Uncertainty in Games (Playful Thinking)

Greg Costikyan, an award-winning game designer, explains that games require uncertainty to hold players’ interest and that the ability to master uncertainty is one of the most important keys when designing games. The author states that game designers should “harness the idea of uncertainty to guide their work.”

The book examines the power of uncertainty using examples like Super Mario Bros., Rock/Paper/Scissors, Monopoly, CityVille, FPS Deathmatch play, and Chess. He discussed several types of uncertainty, including performative uncertainty, analytic complexity, and narrative anticipation. 

Little Twisty Passages

Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in Adventure, the first interactive fiction) is a must-read book-length consideration of interactive fiction, discussing it from gaming and literary perspectives. Nick Montfort, an interactive fiction author, shows both aficionados and first-time users ways to approach interactive fiction that will lead to a more pleasurable and meaningful experience.

“Twisty Little Passages looks at interactive fiction beginning with its most important literary ancestor, the riddle. Montfort then discusses Adventure and its precursors (including the I Ching and Dungeons and Dragons), and follows this with an examination of mainframe text games developed in response, focusing on the most influential work of that era, Zork. He then considers the introduction of commercial interactive fiction for home computers, particularly that produced by Infocom. Commercial works inspired an independent reaction, and Montfort describes the emergence of independent creators and the development of an online interactive fiction community in the 1990s. Finally, he considers the influence of interactive fiction on other literary and gaming forms. With Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort places interactive fiction in its computational and literary contexts, opening up this still-developing form to new consideration.”

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

The Atari Video Computer System managed to dominate the home video game market so that “Atari” somehow became the generic term for a video game console. First of all, the Atari VCS was affordable and offered the flexibility of changeable cartridges. The thing is that this generation established new techniques, mechanics, and even entire genres. The book offers a thorough examination of this powerful video game console from both computational and cultural perspectives.

You should definitely give this book a try as it studies the relationship between platforms and creative expression. Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost discuss the Atari VCS and discussed six important game cartridges: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall!, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The book offers an analysis of the technical constraints and affordances of the system and tracks developments in programming, gameplay, interface, and aesthetics. 

Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide

What does it take to successfully design, develop and manage an online game? Top two online game developers discuss case studies from 10+ industry leaders, including Raph Koster, J. Baron, R. Bartle, D. Schubert, A. Macris, and more! The book studies game types like Retail Hybrids, Persistent Worlds, and console games.

The book features online game programming guru Jessica Mulligan and seasoned exec Bridgette Patrovsky providing insights into the industry that will help other developers avoid some crucial mistakes. The book also includes interviews, insight, and anecdotes from over twenty of the most well-known and experienced online game insiders. The book also includes case studies of the successes and failures of today’s most well-known online games. 

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters


This next book is a critical essay, manifesto, and DIY guide that explains why the multi-billion dollar videogame industry needs to change and shows the means to change it. Indie game designer extraordinaire Anna Anthropy shows a way to build a culture that represents a wider variety of human experiences.

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is a must-read for anyone dreaming of making own games, showing how you can turn unique backgrounds and experiences into unique game experiences. The book also studies Anna’s newest game, Dys4ia, an autobiographical game about her experiences with hormone replacement therapy.

Vintage Game Consoles

Vintage Game Consoles is the story of the most influential videogame platforms like the Apple II, Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Sony PlayStation, and other beloved platforms. Don’t miss the read if you want to get details behind the consoles, computers, handhelds, and arcade machines that made video games possible. Vintage Game Consoles shows each system’s development, history, fan community, its most important games, and information for collectors and emulation enthusiasts. The book also features exclusive full-color screenshots and images that help bring each system’s unique story to life.

What you get is 400 captioned images and 348 overall pages packed with content. The book covers Apple II, Atari 2600 VCS, Atari 8-bit, Mattel Intellivision, PC DOS computers, Commodore 64, ColecoVision, NES, Commodore Amiga, Sega Genesis, GameBoy, Super NES, PC Windows computers, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. 

Bill Loguidice is a critically acclaimed technology author who has worked on over a dozen books, including CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy’s Underdog Computer, written with Boisy G. Pitre. He’s also the co-founder and Managing Director for the popular Website, Armchair Arcade. A noted videogame and computer historian and subject matter expert, Bill personally owns and maintains well over 400 different systems from the 1970s to the present day, including a large volume of associated materials.

Matt Barton is a professor of English at Saint Cloud State University in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife Elizabeth. He’s the producer of the “Matt Chat,” a weekly YouTube series featuring in-depth interviews with notable game developers. In addition to the original Vintage Games, which he co-authored with Bill, he’s the author of Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games and Honoring the Code: Conversations with Great Game Designers.

Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games

Computer role-playing games are a special beloved genre of computer games that bring the tabletop role-playing experience of games such as Dungeons & Dragons to the computer screen. Do you love games like Ultima and The Bard’s Tale or World of Warcraft and Guild Wars? Then grab this book! The read is perfect for both the computer game enthusiast and the more casual computer game player, studying the history of the genre by telling the stories of the developers, games, and gamers who created it.

Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games

This next book is all about roguelike games. The author of the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Dungeon Hacks presents the visionaries behind some of the most popular roguelikes of all time and explained how their creations paved the way for the blockbuster video games.

“In 1980, computers were instruments of science and mathematics, military secrets and academia. Stern administrators lorded over sterile university laboratories and stressed one point to the wide-eyed students privileged enough to set foot within them: Computers were not toys. Defying authority, hackers seized control of monolithic mainframes to create a new breed of computer game: the roguelike, cryptic and tough-as-nails adventures drawn from text-based symbols instead of state-of-the-art 3D graphics. Despite their visual simplicity, roguelike games captivate thousands of players around the world.” From the author of the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Dungeon Hacks introduces you to the visionaries behind some of the most popular roguelikes of all time, and shows how their creations paved the way for the blockbuster video games of today—and beyond.

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