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Challenges for Game Designers ***--

Challenges for Game Designers By Brenda Brathwaite, Ian Schreiber
Published August 2008
List Price: $24.99, Your Amazon.com Price: $23.74

Amazon.com Sales Rank: 48,639
Availability: Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available. We'll e-mail you with an estimated delivery date as soon as we have more information. Your credit card will not be charged until we ship the item.

Welcome to a book written to challenge you, improve your brainstorming abilities, and sharpen your game design skills! Challenges for Game Designers: Non-Digital Exercises for Video Game Designers is filled with enjoyable, interesting, and challenging exercises to help you become a better video game designer, whether you are a professional or aspire to be. Each chapter covers a different topic important to game designers, and was taken from actual industry experience. After a brief overview of the topic, there are five challenges that each take less than two hours and allow you to apply the material, explore the topic, and expand your knowledge in that area. Each chapter also includes 10 'non-digital shorts' to further hone your skills. None of the challenges in the book require any programming or a computer, but many of the topics feature challenges that can be made into fully functioning games. The book is useful for professional designers, aspiring designers, and instructors who teach game design courses, and the challenges are great for both practice and homework assignments. The book can be worked through chapter by chapter, or you can skip around and do only the challenges that interest you. As with anything else, making great games takes practice and Challenges for Game Designers provides you with a collection of fun, thoughtprovoking, and of course, challenging activities that will help you hone vital skills and become the best game designer you can be.

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Challenges for Game Designers is subtitled "non-digital exercises for video game designers", and I think that subtitle underlines the value of this book. This book contains exactly zero screenshots and rarely uses existing computer games in its examples. Instead, the book's discussion of game design is almost exclusively about board games.

Yes, board games. Those things printed on cardboard that are sold in Target stores.

Most books on game design take the lazy route and devolve into endless discussion of existing computer games, usually stuff that's playable on whatever game consoles the author has in his living room. If a game older than the Sony Playstation is mentioned, it's M.U.L.E. for the Commodore 64 and what a stunningly well-designed multiplayer games that was, usually accompanied with a couple of shots of the game box.

In short, lazy. Playing games on the latest game consoles followed by reporting on the game's design strengths and weaknesses gets you exactly nowhere when it comes to learning how to design a game yourself. And reporting on what could have been done to improve a recent console game is only slightly better. Books like this are largely the reason that kids who want to be "game designers" think that the sum-total of game design is saying "We should make a game like World of Warcraft, only in a postapocalyptic nightmare world full of mutated rats" followed by dozens of minion programmers bringing that vision to life for you, followed by you stamping your name on the box.

It's the William Shatner model of fiction-writing applied to games. Suggest a kewl idea and let some writers flesh it out :)

Challenges for Game Designers realizes that games actually existed before hardware-accelerated-3D GPUs. About 5,000 years before. The examples show examples of games that are balanced and simple to articulate without devolving into "rock paper scissors". Also it shows examples of commercial games in the process of design and how they were tuned and refined.

Mind you, boardgames aren't the sum-total of how games can be broken down. While the strategic aspects of most computer games can be broken down into something playable without a computer, the twitch-element isn't easy to represent in a board-setting (although it's certainly there in boardgames like Ricochet Robot or dice games like Bongo). Challenges for Game Developers does address this in describing how games are often a mix of strategic and twitch elements and how and when it's appropriate to graft twitch elements in games.

If there was one thing I'd like to have seen in Challenges for Game Designers, it'd be more case-studies. For example, Reiner Knizia is mentioned as an example of a designer of well-designed and balanced games, but it doesn't go much deeper than that. The book does occasionally devolve into rapid-fire mention of game-names that show off a particular design-facet, and the book really needs to feature more than just names. Yes, Professer Fizzwizzle does feature maddening puzzles, but what in particular makes them maddening? I really would rather have seen fewer names and more depth per-name.