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On Chris Crawford on Chris Crawford

Since gnome asked, I figured I'd talk a little about Chris Crawford on Game Design.

Chris Crawford was writing computer games before many of you out there in cyberspace were ever born. During his 25-plus-year career in the industry, he created one of the first commercially successful computer wargames, pioneered the use of "fog of war", implemented the first scrolling map, and founded the original Game Developer's Conference (GDC). Clearly, Chris Crawford knows a thing or two about video games, and in his book, he's ready to tell you all about it.

Chris Crawford on Game Design feels like a follow-up to his earlier work, specifically The Art Of Computer Game Design: Reflections Of A Master Game Designer, because he doesn't seem concerned about discussing game design in itself in systematic way – he refers the reader to this earlier work for that. Instead, he lets himself range over a broad variety of topics, writing with obvious passion on what games are, what makes a good game, what the videogame industry is like, and the quirky and unusual stories behind his imaginative range of titles from back in the day. The book is therefore a semi-biographical collection of war stories from the game industry, and Crawford's entertaining if heavy-handed prose is a captivating window into that world.

Crawford predictably bemoans the state of games today and compares the elegance of the old school against the excesses of the new, but does so from a position of experience and authority few other pundits can claim. He talks about how games can be more than a distraction; how they can be expressive art and even help us create a better world. For example, his game Scram was intended to educate the player on nuclear safety issues by modeling the Three Mile Island power plant. His Balance of Power is a classic cold war simulation that allows the user to explore the delicate interaction between the superpowers trying to advance their own causes while averting nuclear war. He also tells the very personal story of his his cat, Bootsie, and how his cat's death lead to the creation of his game Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot. I was touched by this baring of his private thoughts and feelings.

I think this is the sort of book that has a conversation with you, and you have to decide for yourself whether or not that person is worth talking to. I, for one, was fascinated by the stories, and struck by the fact that his approach to game design is something like mine: his game ideas occur organically, and he tries to stay true to the fun bit (core mechanic) that originally inspired him without limiting his design's ability to evolve. His interests are wide-ranging, and he constantly encourages the aspiring designer to read books on a wide range of topics, to explore language, religion, architecture, and science in order to broaden one's understanding of systems of every kind. But his didactic approach can be a little off-putting at times. I think he was trying to come off as avuncular to a presumed reader who is a good number of years younger than I am and he has a habit of stating his opinions as if they're facts. But despite this, Chris Crawford on Game Design is an intriguing glimpse into the mind of one of the foremost game designers from the golden age of video games.

I have to concur with what an Amazon review of the book says: "This should not be your only book on game design in your library, but it should definitely be there. Chris's thoughts on creativity, his list of 'games I would like to write' and analysis of his games are worth the entry price alone." I'll give the book a 7 out of 10.

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Comments on On Chris Crawford on Chris Crawford
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Friday, September 28, 2007 9:14:00 AM
Hey, thanks for the post! Definitely a bok for me it seems... Love opinionated intellectuals that feel disgusted... ;)

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.