Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers
eBook - ePub

Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers

Ethan Ham

  1. 338 páginas
  2. English
  3. ePUB (apto para móviles)
  4. Disponible en iOS y Android
eBook - ePub

Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers

Ethan Ham

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Información del libro

Learn the mechanics that take your game from an idea to a playable product.

Do you aspire to be a game designer but aren't sure where to begin? Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers guides you through your initial attempts to design game mechanics. It goes beyond simple description and definition to explore in detail the issues that designers grapple with for every game they create.

Learning to design tabletop games builds a solid foundation for game designers and provides methods that can be applied towards creating paper prototypes of computer-targeted games. Presented in a step-by-step format, Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers helps the reader understand how the game design skills that are acquired through creating tabletop games can be used when designing video games. Fully playable games accompany every topic so you can truly understand and experience each component that goes into game creation.

Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers includes:

  • Simple, highly focused games that can be played, analyzed, improved, and/or modified in conjunction with a particular topic in the book.

  • Integrated game design exercises, chapter learning objectives, and in-text sidebars to provide further examples to apply directly to your game creation process.

  • A companion website ( which includes: "print & play" tabletop games, links to online games, game design resources, and articles about designing and developing games.

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Chapter One
Getting Started

This is book about game design. It is intended for people who want to make games and are looking for a book that can provide not only conceptual tools for defining and analyzing games, but also practical guidance in the craft of making them. It does so by having the reader focus on tabletop games. As this chapter explains, working with tabletop games is an ideal way to develop game design skills that are as applicable in the digital realm as they are on the tabletop.
The learning objectives for this chapter are:
  • 1 Gain an understanding of the book’s goals and scope.
  • 2 Learn how playing and creating tabletop games is useful to video game developers.
  • 3 Develop the ability to eff ectively read and comprehend the rules to a tabletop game.

Welcome to the Fun Mines

Game design is a young academic discipline. Game design teachers (the author included) are still learning how to pass on its best practices—and, indeed, what exactly are the best practices. Because of this, it is all too common for game design instruction to root itself in the analysis of games and their structures. That is useful information, to be sure, yet on its own it can maroon students and leave them unsure of how to bridge the gap between understanding games and actually making them. The goal of this book is to guide you to actually making games. It does this through short, highly focused design exercises that will take you step-by-step towards being a skilled practitioner of game design.
If you are reading these words, you are probably someone who loves to play games. Part of this book’s ambition is to help you discover that you also love creating games. Towards that end, it is important to understand that being a consumer of games is different from being a creator of games. A love of playing games does not necessarily translate into a love of making games any more than a love of eating equates to a love of cooking. It is true that most game professionals enter the industry because they find games irresistible, but only a fraction of game players will find that they enjoy creating games. Playing a game is a diversion. We play games to socialize, to procrastinate, and to submerge ourselves into a fantasy existence. Game development is not a diversion. Making a game takes great perseverance, organization, and intellectual sweat. The characteristics of people drawn to the profession can be the very traits that prevent them from succeeding at it.
The hope is that you will find this book’s lessons in game design compelling and will be drawn into the discipline. To build upon what you learn within these pages, you will need to continue making and playtesting your own games, find ways to meet and share ideas with other game designers, and work your way into the industry. Even if game design proves to be less appealing than you had hoped, the book’s lessons can still serve to make you a better player of games and might even introduce you to types of games that you find exciting and fun.

Why Tabletop Games?

How can tabletop games make you a better video game designer? Tabletop and video games share numerous traits, and many of the design lessons that are learned by making and playing tabletop games can be applied to video games.
What is Game Design?
“Game design” is an ambiguous term. Within the professional game industry it is understood to refer to the creation of a game’s rules. The wider world, however, often associates “design” with making visuals and non-game professionals tend to mistake a game designer for a game artist. Even some schools offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in game development mislabel their game art degrees as “game design.” For example, the Academy of Art University describes its Game Design BFA as providing “a well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production” (Academy of Art University 2012).
Bernard Suits, who wrote The Grasshopper (an early and groundbreaking game studies book), uses the term “gamewright” in place of game designer. The suggestion that a game designer’s role is akin to that of a playwright is apt. Both professions are responsible for creating content whose finished form is typically realized by others—actors in the case of plays, and players in the case of games.
However, gamewright as a word has never gained much usage, so game designer is the designation we use, despite the confusion it engenders.
The video game of Tetris has at least as much in common with the tabletop game of Cathedral (figure 1.1) as it does with a console game like Mass Effect. Likewise, it is entirely reasonable to view tabletop miniatures games as being more closely related to real time strategy video games than to Chess.
Certainly there are ways in which tabletop games and video games differ, yet this can be just as illuminating. Learning how to translate a video game’s real-time action onto the tabletop imparts a deeper understanding of the structure of video games (and gives you a valuable technique for video game prototyping).
Figure 1.1 Tetris screenshot (left) and Cathedral (right).
Figure 1.1 Tetris screenshot (left) and Cathedral (right).
Video games have the ability to hide their game mechanics. In fact, deducing a game’s underlying algorithms is often the central player experience. For example, the iPhone version of Jetpack Joyride provides no directions regarding how the game works—players learn how to control the jetpack (and what they should collide with and what they should avoid) through trial and error. In contrast, playing a tabletop game typically involves the players understanding every game mechanic in detail. This is because tabletop games require the players to manually determine the effect of their actions. In essence, players take on the role of a “game engine” (see sidebar on page 6).
The rules for Marrakech (page 10) detail the precise way in which players are allowed to move their pieces because the players are responsible for making sure that it is done in accordance with the game’s rules. As game designer Mike Pondsmith puts it:
Trying to understand the nature of a gameplay experience directly from a video game is akin to trying to understand an internal combustion engine while it’s running at 60mph! A tabletop game allows you to break down all the components of the game and see how all sections (mechanics, rules, characterization, player risk/reward structures, psychological paradigms) interrelate.
(in Novak 2012, 186)
Just as a video game artist is well-advised to learn to draw well using pencil and paper, a video game designer should learn to create tabletop games. In both situations, a lot of the lessons learned in the physical medium can be applied in the digital realm—and being able to work in an analog medium (i.e., outside of a computer) can be useful for brainstorming and developing ideas.
Creating tabletop games is simpler than creating video games. Video games require programming, and programming is a detail-oriented pursuit that can all too easily absorb the focus of an entire development team (especially when there is a looming deadline) at the cost of neglecting the game’s design. Because of this, professional game development projects sometimes begin by modeling parts of the game in tabletop form. This kind of paper prototype allows quick experimentation and easy, but dramatic, changes to the design prior to translating the gameplay into its final computer-based form.
There is a level of investment (time, money, effort) that programming requires. Once a game mechanic is implemented on a computer, the development team will have a natural hesitation to...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  5. Contents
  6. Dedication
  7. Thank You
  8. 1 Getting Started
  9. 2 Foundations
  10. 3 Creating Tabletop Games
  11. 4 Playtesting Tabletop Games
  12. 5 Rules
  13. 6 Stories
  14. 7 Game Over
  15. 8 Movement
  16. 9 Choices
  17. 10 Chance
  18. 11 Economies
  19. 12 Balance
  20. 13 Turns, Ticks, & Time
  21. 14 Designing Autonomy
  22. 15 Prototyping Video Games
  23. Further Reading
  24. Ludography
  25. Bibliography
  26. Index