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Art of Game Design

Art of Game Design

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The Art of Computer Game Design
by Chris CrawfordPreface to the Electronic Version:
This text was originally composed by computer game designer ChrisCrawford in 1982. When searching for literature on the nature of gaming and its relationship to narrativein 1997, Prof. Sue Peabody learned of 
The Art of Computer Game Design
, which was then long out of print. Prof. Peabody requested Mr. Crawford's permission to publish an electronic version of the text onthe World Wide Web so that it would be available to her students and to others interested in game design.Washington State University Vancouver generously made resources available to hire graphic artistDonna Loper to produce this electronic version. WSUV currently houses and maintains the site.Correspondance regarding this site should be addressed to Prof. Sue Peabody, Department of History,Washington State University Vancouver,peabody@vancouver.wsu.edu.If you are interested in more recent writings by Chris Crawford, see the "Reflections" interview at theend of 
The Art of Computer Game Design
. Also, visit Chris Crawford's webpage,Erasmatazz.An acrobat version of this text is mirrored at this site:Acrobat
Table of Contents
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What is a Game?
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Why Do People Play Games?
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A Taxonomy of Computer Games
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The Computer as a Game Technology
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The Game Design Sequence
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Design Techniques and Ideals
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The Future of Computer Games
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Development of Excalibur
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- Interview with Chris
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WSUV Home Page|Prof. Peabody's Home PageCopyright © 1997 Washington State University. All rights reserved. REV.7.17.97
Comments and questions: peabody@ vancouver.wsu.edu
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ACKNOWLEDGMENT
I am deeply indebted to Madeleine M. Gross for her painstaking and thorough criticisms of thisbook. In many cases she invested greater efforts into her criticisms than I had put into my originalthoughts. She strove to restrain my wild hyperbole and place my arguments on a firmer foundationof rigorous logic. The logical consistency and reliability in this book I owe to her; the speculativeflights of fancy must be laid at my doorstep.
PREFACE
The central premise of this book is that computer games constitute a new and as yet poorlydeveloped art form that holds great promise for both designers and players.This premise may seem laughable or flippant. How could anybody classify the likes of SPACEINVADERS and PAC MAN as art? How can TEMPEST or MISSILE COMMAND compare withBeethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Michelangelo’s Pieta, or Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms?Computer games are too trivial, too frivolous to be called art. They are idle recreation at best. Sosays the skeptic.But we cannot relegate computer games to the cesspit of pop culture solely on the evidence of thecurrent crop of games. The industry is too young and the situation is too dynamic for us to dismisscomputer games so easily. We must consider the potential, not the actuality. We must address thefundamental aspects of computer games to achieve a conclusion that will withstand the ravages of time and change.There are many definitions of art, few of which make much senseto the uninitiated. I will present my own pedestrian definition: artis something designed to evoke emotion through fantasy. Theartist presents his audience with a set of sensory experiences thatstimulates commonly shared fantasies, and so generates emotions.Art is made possible only by the richness of the fantasy world weshare. Art is nevertheless difficult, because there are so manypractical problems associated with stimulating fantasies deep inside another person’s mind. A
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major problem is getting the attention or participation of the audience. Most art allows very littleparticipation. You sit quietly and listen to music that other people created and perform, or youstroll through a museum and stare at pictures or statues other people made. You sit passively andread a novel, or a poem, or a short story. With all of these art forms, the role of the audience ispassive. The artist does all the active work, makes the biggest emotional investment. The audienceis expected to absorb quietly the fruits of the artist’s exertions. Active participation is severelycurtailed. Without participation, attention dwindles and impact crumbles away.This is in no wise a criticism of art or artists. The technologies of art preclude participation. If wehad every klutz jump into the orchestra pit, or prance on the opera stage, or slop paint withPicasso, we would have some great parties but no art. it seems the curse of art that artists can sayso much in their work and most people will hear so little because they cannot participate in the art.Enter the computer. Conceived long ago, born in war, reared as the servant of business, this nowadolescent technology has exploded out of the computer room and invaded shopping centers, pizzaparlors, and homes. Popular characterizations of the computer alternate between the old image of the computer as omniscient, cold blooded, giant calculator, and the new image of the computer aspurveyor of video thrills and 25 cent fixes. Originally developed as a number cruncher, thecomputer assumed a new personality when it was given graphics and sound capabilities. Thesecapabilities gave the computer a powerful asset: it could now communicate with the human, not just in the cold and distant language of digits, but in the emotionally immediate and compellinglanguage of images and sounds. With this capability came a new, previously undreamed of possibility: the possibility of using the computer as a medium for emotional communication art.The computer game has emerged as the prime vehicle for this medium. The computer game is anart form because it presents its audience with fantasy experiences that stimulate emotion.Unfortunately, the current generation of microcomputers cannot produce a sensory experience asrich as that produced by, say, a symphony orchestra or a movie. This weakness is more than offsetby a fundamental advantage lacking in most other art forms: a game is intrinsically participatory innature. The artist has here a tool that is more subtly indirect than traditional art. With other artforms, the artist directly creates the experience that the audience will encounter. Since thisexperience is carefully planned and executed, the audience must somehow be prevented fromdisturbing it; hence, non participation. With a game, the artist creates not the experience itself butthe conditions and rules under which the audience will create its own individualized experience.The demand on the artist is greater, for s/he must plan the experience indirectly, taking intoaccount the probable and possible actions and reactions of the audience. The return is far greater,for participation increases attention and heightens the intensity of the experience. When wepassively observe someone else’s artistic presentation, we derive some emotional benefit, butwhen we actively participate in a game, we invest a portion of our own ego into the fantasy worldof the game. This more sizable investment of participation yields a commensurately greater returnof emotional satisfaction. Indeed, the role of participation is so important that many people derivegreater satisfaction from participating in an amateur artistic effort than from observing aprofessional effort. Hence, games, being intrinsically participatory, present the artist with afantastic opportunity for reaching people.Until now, games in general and computer games in particular have not been very impressive asart forms. The computer games especially are downright puerile. This is because the technology of 
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