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Praise for A Game Design Vocabulary“A Game Design Vocabulary succeeds where many have failed—to provide a broad-strokesoverview of videogame design. Utilizing analytic smarts, an encyclopedic knowledge of games,and subcultural attitude, Naomi Clark and Anna Anthropy get to the heart of how games work.“Why is this book important? Videogames are the defining mass medium of our time, yet eventhose who make games lack a clear language for understanding their fundamental mechanics.A Game Design Vocabulary is essential reading for game creators, students, critics, scholars, andfans who crave insight into how game play becomes meaningful.”—Eric Zimmerman, Independent Game Designer and Arts Professor, NYU Game Center“A Game Design Vocabulary marks an important step forward for our discipline. AnnaAnthropy and Naomi Clark’s extraordinarily lucid explanations give us new ways to unpick thecomplexities of digital game design. Grounded in practical examples and bursting with originalthinking, you need this book in your game design library.”—Richard Lemarchand, Associate Professor, USC, Lead Designer, Uncharted“Anthropy and Clark have done it! Created an intuitive vocabulary and introduction to gamedesign in a concise, clear, and fun-to-read package. The exercises alone are a great set oflimbering-up tools for those new to making games and seasoned designers, both.”—Colleen Macklin, Game Designer and Professor, Parsons The New School for Design“Two of my favorite game design minds sharing a powerful set of tools for designingmeaningful games? I’m so excited for this book. A Game Design Vocabulary may very well be thebest thing to happen to game design education in more than a decade. I can’t wait to put thisbook in the hands of my students and dev friends alike.”—John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning, Parsons The New School for Design“Some of the greatest challenges to the intelligent advancement of game-making can be foundin the ways we conceptualize and discuss them. This simple yet profound new vocabulary islong-overdue and accessible enough to help new creators work within a meaningful frameworkfor games.”—Leigh Alexander, Game Journalist and Critic

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A Game DesignVocabulary

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A Game DesignVocabularyExploring the Foundational Principles BehindGood Game DesignAnna AnthropyNaomi ClarkUpper Saddle River, NJ Boston Indianapolis San FranciscoNew York Toronto Montreal London Munich Paris MadridCapetown Sydney Tokyo Singapore Mexico City

All terms mentioned in this book that are known to be trademarks or service marks have been appropriatelycapitalized. The publisher cannot attest to the accuracy of this information. Use of a term in this book should notbe regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.Every effort has been made to make this book as complete and as accurate as possible, but no warranty or fitnessis implied. The information provided is on an “as is” basis. The authors and the publisher shall have neither liabilitynor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damages arising from the informationcontained in this book.For information about buying this title in bulk quantities, or for special sales opportunities (which may includeelectronic versions; custom cover designs; and content particular to your business, training goals, marketingfocus, or branding interests), please contact our corporate sales department at corpsales@pearsoned.com or(800) 382-3419.For government sales inquiries, please contact governmentsales@pearsoned.com.For questions about sales outside the U.S., please contact international@pearsoned.com.Library of Congress Control Number: 2013956696Copyright 2014 Pearson Education, Inc.All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. This publication is protected by copyright, andpermission must be obtained from the publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrievalsystem, or transmission in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orlikewise. To obtain permission to use material from this work, please submit a written request to PearsonEducation, Inc., Permissions Department, One Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458, or you may faxyour request to (201) 236-3290.ISBN-13: 978-0-321-88692-7ISBN-10: 0-321-88692-5Text printed in the United States on recycled paper at RR Donnelley in Crawfordsville, Indiana.First printing, March 2014Animal Crossing, New Super Mario Bros., Nintendo, Wii, and Super Mario Bros. are either trademarks or registeredtrademarks of either Nintendo of America Inc. or Nintendo in the United States and/or other countries.Axis & Allies, Monopoly, and Risk are registered trademarks of Hasbro, Inc.Bioshock and X-Com are registered trademarks of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.Breakout and Pong are registered trademarks of Atari Interactive, Inc.Castlevania, Dance Dance Revolution, and Track & Field are registered trademarks of Konami DigitalEntertainment Co., Ltd.Chip’s Challenge is a registered trademark of Glynlyon, Inc.Choose Your Own Adventure is a registered trademark of Chooseco LLC.Cityville and Farmville are registered trademarks of Zynga, Inc.Consumer Reports is a registered trademark of Consumers Union of United States, Inc., a non-profit organization.Dig Dug, Pac-Man, and Tekken are registered trademarks of Namco Bandai Games, Inc.Diner Dash, Egg vs. Chicken, and Plantasia are registered trademarks of PlayFirst, Inc.Disney is a registered trademark of Disney Enterprises, Inc.Dungeons & Dragons is a registered trademark of Wizards of the Coast LLC.Dwarf Fortress is a registered trademark of Tarn Adams.Fallout: New Vegas is a registered trademark of Bethesda Softworks LLC.Final Fantasy is a registered trademark of either Kabushiki Kaisha Square Enix Holdings or Square Enix HoldingsCo., Ltd in the United States and/or other countries.

Gamepro is a registered trademark of International Data Group, Inc.Editor-in-ChiefGone Home is a registered trademark of the Fullbright Company LLC.Mark TaubGuildhall is a registered trademark of Southern Methodist University.Executive EditorLaura LewinHalf-Life and Portal are registered trademarks of Valve Corporation.Harry Potter is a registered trademark of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.Hero’s Journey is a registered trademark of Joseph Campbell Foundation.iPad is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.Joust and Wizard of Wor are registered trademarks of Warner Bros.Entertainment, Inc.King’s Quest, Spyro, and Zork are trademarks of Activision Publishing, Inc.Lode Runner is a registered trademark of Tozai, Inc.Mass Effect is a registered trademark of EA International (Studio andPublishing) Ltd.Minecraft is a registered trademark of Notch Development AB.Mr. Do! is a registered trademark of Universal Entertainment Corporation.Ms. Pac-Man is a registered trademark of Namco Limited Corporation Assigneeof Japan.Penny Arcade Expo is a registered trademark of Penny Arcade, Inc.Plants vs. Zombies and The Sims are registered trademarks of Electronic Arts, Inc.Development EditorMichael ThurstonManaging EditorKristy HartProject EditorElaine WileyCopy EditorGill Editorial ServicesIndexerErika MillenProofreaderAnne GoebelTechnical ReviewersColleen MacklinSarah SchoemannJohn SharpPlaystation and Uncharted are registered trademarks of either Sony ComputerEntertainment, Inc., or Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment in theUnited States and/or other countries.Publishing CoordinatorOlivia BasegioResident Evil is a registered trademark of Capcom Co., Ltd.Cover DesignerChuti PrasersithShadow of the Colossus is a registered trademark of Sony Computer EntertainmentAmerica LLC.Shadowrun is a registered trademark of The Topps Company, Inc.Space Giraffe is a trademark of Llamasoft.Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble are registered trademarks of KabushikiKaisha Taito.Spelunky is a registered trademark of Derek Yu.Tetris is a registered trademark of Tetris Holding, LLC.The Secret of Monkey Island is a registered trademark of LucasArts EntertainmentCompany.The Walking Dead is a registered trademark of AMC Film Holdings LLC.Triple Town is a registered trademark of Spry Fox.Warcraft and World of Warcraft are registered trademarks of BlizzardEntertainment, Inc.Xbox Live is either a trademark or a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporationin the United States and/or other countries.Book DesignerBumpy DesignCompositorNonie Ratcliff

To Brenda Romero, whose first game project was the first digital gameNaomi ever played, and who has always stood up for better designand community in games;and to Greg Costikyan, whose bold words on independentdevelopment and finding vocabulary to design withhave been an inspiration to a generation.

Contents at a GlancePart IElements of VocabularyBy Anna Anthropy1Language2Verbs and Objects3Scenes4ContextPart II3133977Conversations 107By Naomi Clark5Creating Dialogue 1096Resistance7StorytellingAppendix A117155Further PlayingIndex2031911

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ContentsPart I Elements of Vocabulary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1By Anna Anthropy1Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3Signs Versus Design. .Failures of Language .A Voice Needs Words .A Beginning. . . . . . .4.7.9102 Verbs and Objects . . . . . . . . . .Rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Creating Choices. . . . . . . . . . . . .Explaining with Context . . . . . . . .Objects. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The Physical Layer . . . . . . . . . . . .Character Development . . . . . . . .Elegance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Real Talk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Discussion Activities . . . . . . . . . .Group Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 Scenes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Rules in Scenes . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Shaping and Pacing. . . . . . . . . . .Layering Objects. . . . . . . . . . . . .Moments of Inversion . . . . . . . . .Chance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Real Talk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Discussion Activities . . . . . . . . . .Group Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 394 Context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .First Impressions. . . . . . . . . . . . .Recurring Motifs . . . . . . . . . . . . .Character Design . . . . . . . . . . . .Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

xiiCONTENTSScene Composition .Camera. . . . . . . . .Sound . . . . . . . . .Real Talk . . . . . . . .Review . . . . . . . . .Discussion ActivitiesGroup Activity . . . . 89. 94. 96. 99.103.104.104Part II Conversations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107By Naomi Clark5Creating Dialogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109Players . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Creating Conversation . . . .Iterating to Fun and BeyondYour Conversation. . . . . . .6. 110. 111. 113. 115Resistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117Push and Pull . . . . . . .Flow. . . . . . . . . . . . .Alternatives to Flow. . .Opening Up Space . . .Opening Up Purpose . .The Pull of Rewards . . .Time and Punishment .Scoring and Reflection .Review . . . . . . . . . . .Discussion Activities . .Group Activity . . . . . .7 Storytelling. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pattern Recognition . . . . . . . . . .Authored Stories. . . . . . . . . . . . .Interpreted Stories . . . . . . . . . . .Open Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Discussion Activities . . . . . . . . . .Group Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118. 119.129.132.134.137.141.147.150.152.153. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .155.156.159.172.181.187.188.189

CONTENTSAFurther Playing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .191Achievement Unlocked (John Cooney, 2008) . . . . . . . . . . . .American Dream (Stephen Lavelle, Terry Cavanagh,Tom Morgan-Jones, and Jasper Byrne, 2011) . . . . . . . . . . . .Analogue: A Hate Story(Christine Love, 2012) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The Banner Saga (Stoic, 2014) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Candy Box (aniwey, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Consensual Torture Simulator(Merritt Kopas, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Corrypt (Michael Brough, 2012). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Crypt of the Necrodancer(Ryan Clark, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Dwarf Fortress (Tarn Adams, 2006) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .English Country Tune(Stephen Lavelle, 2011) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Even Cowgirls Bleed(Christine Love, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Gone Home (The FullbrightCompany, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Mighty Jill Off (Anna Anthropy, 2008) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .NetHack (NetHack Dev Team, 1987) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Persist (AdventureIslands, 2013) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .QWOP (Bennett Foddy, 2008) and GIRP (Bennett Foddy, 2011) .Spelunky (Derek Yu, 2008) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Triple Town (Spry Fox, 2011) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .192. . .192. . .193. . .193. . .194. . .194. . .195. . .196. . .196. . .197. . .197.198.198.199.199200.201.201.202Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203xiii

FOREWORDIn case you haven’t noticed, something is happening in the world of video games, somethingthat is changing the way we think about how they’re made, how they’re played, and whatthey mean. The authors of this book are part of a new generation of game creators for whomvideo games interface fully with all the complex machinery of contemporary culture. For Annaand Naomi, video games are not merely sleek consumer appliances dispensing entertainingpower fantasies, they are fragments of shattered machines out of which new identities can beconstructed; sites where disorderly crowds can assemble for subversive purposes; platformsfrom which to examine the status quo; windows into the turbulent flow of power and progress;unruly machines that call into question their own means of production; smart machines thatallow us to say new things; and, when correctly operated, beautiful machines that kill fascists.We are used to other kinds of culture interfacing with all of these dimensions—music, film,literature; these things have long been understood as a domain of identity construction andpolitical struggle. But it’s still something of a novelty to understand video games the same way,to pay close attention to not just their form and content, but to their context, to think about thepersonal voices of the individual creators, the communities that gather around them, and thedeeper currents they illuminate.Having earned a reputation for conservatism, for doggedly clinging to the safety blanket ofchildishness, for being unwilling or unable to confront the ambiguous complexities of all themeanings they generate, video games are suddenly shocked to find themselves holding a livewire. Coiling, sparking, hazardous, yes, but it’s also more than a little bit exciting to discoverthat what we thought was just a bit of old rope is in fact writhing with dangerous energy. Andit is people like the authors of this book, the most progressive members of this new generation,who are plugging it in.Which is exactly what makes it so important that this is a book about the fundamentals of gamedesign as a craft. This is not a wild-eyed manifesto about the political meaning of video games;it is a patient explanation of how they work—breaking them down to their essential elementsand carefully demonstrating how those elements fit together. This is a book about moving andjumping, about pressing and releasing buttons, about color and shape, enemies and hit points,challenges and goals.The book is organized in two parts. In Part One Anna lays out the basic building blocks ofvideo game design, and in Part Two Naomi shows the different ways these ingredients can be

FOREWORDcombined to express an infinite variety of game ideas. But throughout the book there is a careful attention to the most fundamental aspects of game design.This focus on the fundamentals makes A Game Design Vocabulary a very good book for newdesigners. Basic concepts are illustrated with concrete examples, demystifying what can bea very complex and intimidating process. And this demystification reveals the radical agendabeneath the sober surface of this book, because it’s about lowering the barrier of entry into thisworld, welcoming new hands, new eyes, new voices, and showing them that video games arenot mysterious cultural objects to be consumed, they are mysterious cultural objects you makeyourself. They belong to you, and the first step of owing them is to look at them carefully andunderstand how they function.At the same time, I believe this book will be equally valuable for experienced designers. Thereis no better way for a veteran developer to sharpen the blade of her creative practice than bymeditating on the design fundamentals outlined in this book.Ultimately, I think A Game Design Vocabulary’s commitment to the fundamentals of form is itselfthe book’s most radical idea. Some people see a conflict between the revolutionary power ofgames as a means of expression and a more traditional focus on their formal details, but Annaand Naomi refuse to recognize this division. For them it is obvious that the expressive power ofvideo games flows through their formal qualities, that attention to the nuts and bolts of videogame design is not a way to avoid confronting all the subtleties of their layered meanings, but away to trace them, highlight them, and illuminate them.This most radical idea could simply be put: the aesthetic is political. Video games matter andthey matter not just in what they are, but in what they say, and not just in what they say, buthow they say it.—Frank Lantz, Director, NYU Game Centerxv

ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThanks to Phoebe Elefante, Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, Lau

A Game Design Vocabulary is essential reading for game creators, students, critics, scholars, and fans who crave insight into how game play becomes meaningful.” —Eric Zimmerman, Independent Game Designer and Arts Professor, NYU Game Center “A Game Design Vocabulary