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A Theory of Fun for Game Design 187

Despite a growing interest in the field, books on game design can be jargon-filled textbooks too intimidating for the average game player. Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design takes an entertaining look at a subject that has, in some ways, been taken too seriously by other authors. The book is thoughtful as well, providing a groundwork for a discussion of games as learning tools, art, and societal shapers. Read on for my thoughts, and some commentary from the author, on this distillation of a designer's viewpoint.
A Theory of Fun for Game Design
author Raph Koster
pages 244
publisher Paraglyph Press
rating 9
reviewer Zonk
ISBN 1932111972
summary Game design as examined by a skilled craftsman, with a unique look at the larger context of games.
Raph Koster speaks often on the subjects of game design and interactive narratives. A Theory of Fun for Game Design is an approachable version of the larger body of writing and speaking Koster has produced in his years of design work. Its unusual accessibility is clear as soon as you open the book: while the left-hand page page contains text and observations, the right hand page makes (sometimes snide) commentary on design via comics drawn by the author.

Mr. Koster kindly agreed to answer questions when I was preparing this review. When asked about the audience of the book, he said "The book was intended in large part as something I could give to my parents, or to other relatives, or to non-industry friends, as a way to explain what it is that my profession is all about." As such, the comics and plain-spoken writing bring design concepts into focus for readers who may not want to spend the rest of their lives on these topics.

The chapters of Theory of Fun are not organized formally, but the book seems to fall into three sections. The first section sets the stage by discussing what exactly a game is. "Games are puzzles to solve, just like everything else we encounter in life." Koster's thesis is, essentially, that games are learning puzzles. In his experience, simple games are created by children to teach themselves useful skills. More formal games have similar goals, but modern games exist almost entirely to provide the elusive substance of fun to the player. This assertion resulted in a brisk discussion on the site Terra Nova. Exactly what people want when they pick up a joystick is very much in debate even by industry professionals.

The central portion of Koster's theory ruminates on the roles games play, why games are designed the way they are, and what matters in a game. The meat of the book is here, in discussions about why gamers cast aside the ethical quandaries brought up by games like Grand Theft Auto (they're playing the game mechanics, not the fiction surrounding the mechanics) and in the observation that the destiny of all games is to become boring. An amusingly astute statement about cheaters caps off a discussion of the tendencies players have to finding the optimal solution to a game: "When a player cheats in a game, they are choosing a battlefield that is broader in context than the game itself.&quot

At the end of the midsection, the eternal discussion of games as art makes an appearance. Instead of equivocating, Mr. Koster makes his opinion very clear. "Art, to me, is just taking craft seriously. It's about communication (as I have said many times, in the book and elsewhere). Taking what we do seriously, *even if for frivolous ends,* just leads to better work. Considering what you are doing to be art tends to emphasize high standards, experimentation, expression, thoughtfulness, and discipline -- even if your goal is to make a gag-a-day newspaper strip or macrame hangings for your window."

To close his discussion on games and to provide a larger context against which to examine them, Mr. Koster steps outside the bounds of game design and makes some fairly dramatic statements about what games should be. While other media portrays the human condition almost as a matter of course, he argues, games rarely connect with the most basic aspects of our lives. To his mind, in order to truly achieve respect alongside the novel or the musical composition, games should "illuminate aspects of ourselves that we did not fully understand."

In his epilogue, Koster goes even further, arguing that -- as authors of art -- game designers should take responsibility for their creations. "I have little patience for those who hide behind the statement that 'it's just entertainment.' To deny our influence while simultaneously crowing about our financial success is at best naïve, and at worst irresponsible."

The book itself is well laid out, with the thoughtfully edited and often humorous text set amid plenty of whitespace on the right and the usually well-drawn comics on the left. The comics set the tone for the whole book, which in format resembles more of a collection of Far Side strips than it does a technical guide. The back of the book contains an extensive commentary section where offhand references and asides are explained in depth.

If you're planning on entering the field of game design, A Theory of Fun won't help you to storyboard a plot, model a texture, or develop a code base: if you're looking for the technical aspects of game design or deep academic consideration of the field, other titles will hold more for you. The intended audience of this book is quite wide, and Koster does an excellent job of making everyone feel included in the conversation that occurs between the pages. While game players and professionals new to the field alike can get a lot from what he discusses, the reader who may benefit the most from Theory of Fun is the seasoned game industry worker.

With the endless rehashing of game and design concepts currently in circulation and parent groups growing ever more shrill at the release of morally ambiguous titles, Raph Koster's book is a refreshing read. The book is an unpretentious examination of what it is that makes a game a game. He steps beyond the dehumanizing aspects of game mechanics to look at games and their designers in a broader societal context. If for no other reason that that, Theory of Fun is worth a look to read the opinion of someone who gives a damn.

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A Theory of Fun for Game Design

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  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:17PM (#11577246)
    If Raph Koster is an expert on anything, as many Star Wars Galaxies players can attest to, it's making a game NOT fun.
    • I thought SWG was a lot of fun untill it gave way to marketing demand and became Jedi Wars Galaxies.
      • by servognome ( 738846 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:56PM (#11577738)
        No it wasn't fun from the beginning. Aside from the game's bugginess, there were several core design problems. I would call SWG more of an experiment than a game.
        - HAM system - an experimental alternative to the typical HP/Mana systems of most RPGs. Both the penalties of specials (using specials injured you) and the arbitrary nature of damage (rifle damage injured "Mind" not health) just made it overly complicated and unintuitive.
        - Player run economy - interesting system, which I think worked well in some respects (gave the "feel" of a real economy). Unfortunately the breakdown occurred because risk/reward system was not in place for adventuring types. If the best stuff was made by players what was the use of taking risks adventuring.
        - Housing/building system was nice, though not completely new, it was I think one of the best implementations, though the downside was extreme lag in certain locations
        - Skill Structure - bland, and not particularly valuable. Getting higher skills in some respects would give you access to technology that you wouldn't use because there were better lower level alternatives
        - Mentorship - interesting, but not particularly valuable, and later became more of an annoyance.
        - Entertainers - once again interesting, but not engaging in terms of gameplay.
        I think I could have lived with the bugs, in the end I did not like the game due to intentional failures of design decisions. Overall it is something that could be learned from for future game designs. (ie. Discovering that many people wanted to be entertainers, so now how can you make an entertainer class engaging)
    • by grumpygrodyguy ( 603716 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:47PM (#11577635)
      If Raph Koster is an expert on anything, as many Star Wars Galaxies players can attest to, it's making a game NOT fun.


      "Games are puzzles to solve, just like everything else we encounter in life.'"

      In fact most MMORPGs reflect the compulsive narcessistic attitude of most young americans today accumulating hand-over-fist anything they can get their mitts onto. At least this is why I play MMORPGs. The atmosphere, music, humor and scenery help to disuade me from needing to possess all the power in the realm, and thus provide a kind of light fantasy backdrop to my compulsive and irrepressible greed.

      It's always nice to have light humor mixed in with obsessive grinding/hoarding. These two things, and the play between them make for a successful and playable MMORPG.
    • He fixed a lot of the problems UO had in the early days, and until the UO team for some reason decided to dumb itself down for newbies it was a lot of fun. I would bet the reason SWG sucked was more because of EA aiming it towards newbs who have never played a MUD or MMORPG before and less because of Koster.

      The real problem with MMORPG's though is you can only play one. After having played UO I can never imagine investing that much time in any other game again, since they are all pretty much the same. Well

    • yeah ive quit every game he got his hands on. UO was great until they hired that fool. then the whole company went under. then for some unknown reason they hired him to make star wars as big a flop as possible. hopefully blizzard stays away from him.

      long live richard garriot!
      • I was on UO from the beginning, so if you liked UO early on, that was me. I left before UO: Renaissance though.
        • I bought UO a few weeks after it came out. First online game I played really, and the first few weeks just amazed me. The first few years, I remember them doing a lot of quests involving seers. They were people who worked for them, and role-played a person who would have a big quest ready for players to embark on, for those who haven't played it before.

          I remember a big quest that was over the course of a few months, and at the end, I was picked to stand atop this tower at the maze, and hold one of the s
      • While I'll agree that avoiding Koster-tainted games is wise, I must point out that Garriot is a bit of a nut. And, unless you want someone writing a text parser for your game, he won't contribute much to its development, either. You CAN sell him property on the moon, however. Maybe he'll buy the Mars rovers next?
    • Wow. He's got all this time to write books. Probably because he's relying on all this "player driven content" to do all his work for him.

      This guy fast climbing up the chart of people in the game industry I loathe most. Already made my top 5.
  • by WordODD ( 706788 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:17PM (#11577257)
    But now let us rejoin the gaming world reality with your host EA!!!
  • An introduction! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by reformist ( 773086 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:18PM (#11577264)
    All staff working on a game product should have training like this book gives; a designer's perspective should pervade the entire project, and the concept and goal of "fun" needs to be in every part of the product. Often, the goal of 1/2 the team is making the interface or some part of the game compatible with how the game engine does rendering to ensure we get an extra 5 fps here and there.
    • They should, but not this book. Koster is a game design disaster.

      And for the most part, game designers do plenty of reading and thinking about what is fun, at least at some of the better game design houses. Theory of game design discussions and reading are very popular.

    • I'm not convinced. Part of the engineering team's goal is to be the best darned engineered software it can be. Part of the Art team's goal is that it can be the most beautiful, fluidly moving software ever. I fail to see the advantage of a programmer pondering "is this fun?" while changing a lookup table to a hash table in an attempt gain an extra 3fps on the 60fps goal. An artist trying to get the IK correct for a character opening a door may at some point ask "is this fun?" but that doesn't really hel
  • As a novice game creator I must say that I have yet to read a book and feel I am doing fine thus far. I created [] AWARE and even had an article published in the NY Times (nothing on /. I am afraid) as a review in theory. The game I created was successful enough to even warrant a sequel.

    I specialize in Alternate Reality Gaming and the games are much more cerebral than most, so when Dave Szulborski wrote "This Is Not A Game" (seen at []) not many had anythin
    • I have my own game project Hero of Allacrost [] and I also feel I'm also in no need of a text. Although I would lie if I said I haven't read one. When I was much younger (late teens) I bought a game programming book but it was just a bunch of quotes from game dev gurus, and made for very little of a learning experience. I also bought Programming Linux Games thinking there might be some cool tricks in there, but it covered little else of what I already knew and the SDL code given in there is hardly better than
    • You really need to provide a link past the flash intro for those of us who don't use flash. I got past with google, and I couldn't find anything on the system requirements or screenshots or anything that indicated that I might want to, or even could play this game. Not to flame, just trying to offer constructive criticism.
    • Well, you really need to fix that scripting bug in your startup page. I just spent two minutes doing nothing but saying to the debugger than I didn't want to debug line 35 where menuitem1.thediv isn't an object in the what.php page. Also that "object required" in line 20 thing is kind of annoying. I think the ability to fully debug a website before targeting thousands of potential visitors to it might delineate the difference between a novice and a pro. But that's just me--your mileage may vary.
    • Game theory has a very, very specific meaning which only rarely has anything to do with game design. Please use "game design" to refer to what you do, so Borel, von Neumann, Morgenstern, and the other game theory types can stop rolling over in their graves and/or beds.
    • For being much more cerebral than most games, you sure have a fantastic control of the English language. On the front page alone I count twenty seven grammar errors, three conjugational errors, two spelling errors, and seven misused words. Don't trumpet yourself until you've learned the song, please; you're no more cerebral than the other ten dozen slashdotters which think themselves the gaming world's next Thomas Pynchon.

      Oh, and a hint: PUTTING some various WORDS in all CAPITALS for no APPARENT reason i
  • game design books (Score:4, Insightful)

    by duckpoopy ( 585203 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:21PM (#11577313) Journal
    aren't written for gamers. They are for gamne designers. Just because you like driving, that doesn't mean you can design a car, does it?
    • Every gamer has played a game and said, "it would be so cool if..." and their buds go "Affirmative, roger." Just as every car owner has said, "it would be so cool if..." It is the job of the designer to come up with these ideas, and users of the product are among the best voices for new design ideas. Your average joe can't use technical knowledge to put their ideas into technical form, though. That is the job of engineers or developers.
  • SWG? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:22PM (#11577327)
    > Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Desi

    --Bwaaaahaha*cough, splutter*, oh, God. No more. *wheeze* Make it stop. You're killin' me. Can't read another line.

    Raph Koster, the man most directly associated with shitting out Star Wars Galaxies from between his Goatse-like buttcheeks, is lecturing us on what makes a fun game.

    And for our next articles, an interview with the guy who invented the Edsel on his new book about his theory of automotive design, to be followed up by the guy who invented the :Cue:Cat about his theory of digital convergence, Jack Valenti's Theory of Digital Rights, George W. Bush's theory of fiscal conservatism, and a book on portfolio management theory co-authored by FDR and Charles Ponzi.


    • Mod this guy up. He's not trolling. Most of the people who left Star Wars Galaxies before the last expansion did so because of Koster's decisions to try to preserve 'fun'.

      This guy is associated with fun like Dick Cheyney is associated with gay and lesbian tolerance... only by indirect association and then as a bad example.
      • > [Raph Koster] is associated with fun like Dick Cheyney is associated with gay and lesbian tolerance... only by indirect association and then as a bad example.

        More to the point -- Raph Koster has a pretty good theory of fun. But SWG (from beta to present day) bears no resemblance to that theory in any way, shape, or form. It's sorta the MMORPG proof by example that the difference between theory and practice is always bigger in practice than in theory.

    • You forgot something really important that everyone knows.
      Bill Gates and free software revolution.
      Richard Stallman and The benefits of creating propetiary software.

      Okay not everyone, but most certainly all slashdotters. GWB was onlyone on your list that I've recognized.
    • After that string of jabs, I almost expected to see the new Quaker rebranded Princess Amidala microwavable breakfast line, available in sizes ranging from single serving to 38" waist.

      Hey, shut up, I've never made a NPHG joke. I get to. It's been long enough.
  • Who is this guy? (Score:2, Informative)

    by hexi ( 716384 )
    Well the answer is here: rId=19434/
  • No one, regardless of their enthusiam for games, can just sit down and start writing games after reading a single book. While this one may enlighten readers about general game design, it certainly will not provide them with all the knowledge they'll need to create the kind of games that Average Joe will want. To be a successful game programmer, to have to feel passionate about what you are doing. If you can read some books on C/C++, and then work your way up to becoming familiar with the Windows API set
    • A game designer may not even know how to program at all. Those are completely different jobs.

      Miyammoto doesn't code. Will Wright knew how to do some coding, but he doesn't really do it now and hasn't for a long time. If you want to learn how to design games, study games themselves. Maybe learn enough about software engineering to learn a few of the processes that actually translate over - many do not, because game dev is not like other software dev. Warren Specter doesn't code at all.

      The best game designe
    • Oh, don't be ridiculous. That's like saying that nobody can sit down and start plotting a rocket path after reading a book on physics, because first they have to find out what air is, and then how to use a pencil, and then what direction up goes. The book isn't "every step you've ever fucking needed to write a game starting from learning to breathe." A calculus book doesn't cover arithmetic, an engineering book doesn't cover mechanics, a pointillism book doesn't cover paint blending, and there's no reaso
  • by psoriac ( 81188 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:35PM (#11577491)
    This is the man who many would argue ruined Ultima Online and then went on to helm the disaster that is Star Wars Galaxies. The same man who, on his personal website, proclaimed that when it comes to design, the player (customer) is wrong and should be ignored. Now he's releasing a book? I'll pass.
    • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <> on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:15PM (#11577964) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, I'll agree with your former points, that this man blows in practice as a designer. But as for the second point it may have some modicum (or more, I dare say) of validity.

      For the most part the public doesn't actually know what is good for them. Most people want what their familiar with, and cannot think of that which is novel. If I create a novel interface, I should disreguard it because it's not what people want, without exposure? How many of the unwashed do you know of who have any knowledge of game or interface design, ergonomics? Not many. Good, then leave it up to the experts.

      Ahem. Plato was right.
      • I don't know if I would consider interface elements the right way of making your point, as if it is unfamiliar to the player it will be difficult to use. However, if you look at the fan boards for any major game, you will see thousands of good examples. People wanting to add RPG elements to Quake, or who want Worms in real-time, or who want grossly unbalancing weapons, powers, etc. The best example of a fan-designed game would have to be Masters of Orion 3, a game that certain people assure me is fun to
      • For the most part the public doesn't actually know what is good for them.

        This is the arrogance which has led to the stagnation in current gaming, coupled with the lack of compelling new game mechanics. Watch a five year old kid for an hour and you've got two new games.

        For the most part the public may not know what's good for them, but neither do you. You may make your borderline ecumenical diatribes about the ignorance of the public on your way out the door, please; for all the complaining you're doing
        • First, I never really attacked the author, actually as outlined in the review I agree with some of his points. I don't think that he applied them well, though, and this might not be completely his fault, all I know is that if Sw:G is his attempt to impliment his strategy, then it is for the most part a borderline failure, as can be seen by the general concensus.

          I'm sorry, if it is arrogance, it is grounded arrogance. The public hasn't been schooled on what makes a good interface, and most of them have ne
  • If a game's pop culture importance is graphed on the horizontal axis and the artfulness of its execution is plotted on the vertical axis, then the total area shows how fun the game is.

    For instance, a Star Wars MMORPG may score average on the horizontal but poorly on the vertical due to lack of combat. A Family Guy game on the other hand, may score very high on the horizontal as well as high on the vertical due to a collector's edition version that comes with some of the same stuff the show's writers are o
    • If a game's pop culture importance is graphed on the horizontal axis and the artfulness of its execution is plotted on the vertical axis, then the total area shows how fun the game is.

      Gosh that sounds really cool. It even makes sense, in a way. There's only one problem - how to determine "pop culture importance" and "artfulness of execution" in an objective manner?

      Not everyone likes the same thing. So fun for you is not the same as fun for me - it's subjective. Therefore you will never be able to "measur
    • *spits soda*

    • A Family Guy game on the other hand, may score very high on the horizontal as well as high on the vertical due to a collector's edition version that comes with some of the same stuff the show's writers are on while writing, thereby revealing the game to be truly fun.

      I get the impression you've never played a video game derived from a TV show before. When you're willing to use more meaningful descriptions than a cheesy attempt to graph importance based on two relatively minor characteristics of a game, le
    • Why is everybody dissing Tancred's post? You all claim to be geeks and can't see a wonderful allusion when you're smacked in the face with it. I for one give you mad props, Tancred. The rest of you losers go watch Dead Poet's Society.
  • Back when Raph Koster was the lead of the UO live team he published an infamous list of rules for all MMORPG's. Koster is probably the smartest guy in the MMORPG world, so it's great that he finally wrote a book. My only gripe is that I feel like everyone has a book these days, and that you have to read their book first before you talk to them. Does anyone else feel this way?
    • Re:Raph Koster (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:44PM (#11577595)
      Koster was also the first to realize the value of "elder games", i.e. the things that keep players into a game after they have already hit the max levels. These include things like collecting rare items (stamp collecting), player housing, guild warfare, becoming a counselor or seer (in UO a counselor is like a minor GM and a seer facilitated role playing, basically player GMs with some limited powers). Anyway I have heard claims from others that he ruined UO in the later years, but in the first couple years at least he was doing a great job. He also communicated very well with players and started the trend of fortnightly player chats with game devs in IRC which no other game to my knowledge has done before
      • There were lots of game devs with all of these ideas long before koster. Koster's implementations of them weren't even very good.
        Koster does not know good game design.
        • Well others had the ideas before koster, but koster was the first that I know of to collect them all into a single list. Also, I disagree with you on kosters implementations. UO was the best MMORPG when it came out and nothing to my knowledge has surpassed it since for hardcore gamers. There were no non-PK zones, player housing, boats, and you could pick up and move every item without any slotted inventory type system. Now all of the MMORPGs that come out like WoW are dumbed down for the masses, and it is u
          • You made a list of many of koster's worst design decisions and lauded them. That's very interesting. It's probably also why his designs appeal to so few people: his ideas just aren't what most people would call fun.
    • Yes.

      And this is also the guy who argued that levelling treadmills are beneficial to MMORPGs because any other method of distributing player power would lead to 10% of the players having 90% of the power.

      Thing is, a look at World of Warcraft proves that wrong. You don't have to get rid of the leveling. You just have to get rid of the treadmill.
      • Re:Raph Koster (Score:2, Informative)

        by RaphKoster ( 603840 )
        Er, no, that's not what I said. I'm always amazed at how reductionist paraphrasing can make me look bad. ;) I said (in simplest form) that in a zero sum game dependent on skill, the better players end up with most of the wins (duh). I said that in a a non-zero-sum game, if extremely high skill is required to advance, then only the best will reach the top (duh). And I said that treadmills (defined as "game systems that reward perseverance rather than skill") allow players who aren't experts at something to
    • That's quite a claim to make, given that he's held the two largest franchises in the MMO world and that one has failed and the other is in the process of failing, despite legions of fans so rabid that they'll watch Episode One half a dozen times, and despite literally tens of millions of dollars in investment capital being pumped down his personal drain day in, day out.

      You want a smart guy in the MMO world? Look at the people who designed WoW, the original Evercrack, NWN, or things that are more than five
  • I have come up with plenty of fun game ideas based on existing engines. What do I do with these ideas? Will they be impossible to sell?

    • Re:As a gamer (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FriedTurkey ( 761642 )
      I have come up with plenty of fun game ideas based on existing engines. What do I do with these ideas? Will they be impossible to sell?

      Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive.

      I can assure you 1000 people already has the same ideas you do. 999 of them won't do a single thing with the idea but think their ideas is unique and would really make a cool game. Sorry to poop on your parade.
  • by adam31 ( 817930 ) <adam31@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:39PM (#11577540)

    "When a player cheats in a game, they are choosing a battlefield that is broader in context than the game itself."

    This is totally false. The context of the game is the restrictions that make the game challenging. How hard you have to work to acquire a certain weapon, how careful you have to be to conserve ammo... how many enemies you have to kill to get to level 20.

    Those challenges are really the only things separating 'playing a video game' from 'pressing buttons on a controller'. That's probably why whenever I've cheated in a game in the past, it's gotten really boring really fast. The value of the goal becomes diminished along with the challenge.

    I don't think is necessarily limited to gaming, either. I think it's built into human nature.

    • One of the best things about medium to difficult games is the satisfaction of defeating them in the end.

      In most "Eventuwin" games that are out now days, the average (read, Unskilled) gamer will beat them with sufficient devoted time.

      Granted, there are different TYPES of player skills. Logical reasoning, navigation, resource management, memory, hand eye coordination, reflex speed, attention to detail, the ability to multitask, and any combination of the above all are different skills that might be importa
    • I guess it depends upon the fundamental outlook of the player.

      The best example I can think of right off the top of my head is Trickjumping in any FPS that uses the quake3 engine. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is my preferred Q3-using game, so I'll use it for my example. Here's a little background so I don't lose anyone: W:ET is an axis-versus-allies team-based online multiplayer first-person shooter. It is largely objective-based and there are 5 character classes available: soldier (heavy weapons), field op
    • "When a player cheats in a game, they are choosing a battlefield that is broader in context than the game itself."

      This is totally false.

      Uh, no - it's totally true.

      When someone creates a hack for Quake 3 that allows them to perfectly see where every other player is - they've just entered the predator / prey relationship of security in gaming.

      The problem is that you're forgetting that a "system" can be defined at multiple levels. Most chose to play the system of a game within the rules as the designers
      • The problem is that you're forgetting that a "system" can be defined at multiple levels. ... and that according to game theory, everything is a game provided it has some kind of rules and a desired outcome, whether they're game rules or social rules.

        I totally agree with you, though I do think that if you're playing a single player game and cheating, some cheats can take a lot of the challenge and fun out of things.
    • Idiot Testing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cirby ( 2599 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @08:07PM (#11578475)
      There's a bad habit among some game designers. They use friends and "nice" people to playtest their games.

      You have to include idiots and assholes in your test sequence. You need to have That Guy - the rules lawyer, the "I didn't mean to do that" fellow, the "I don't understand this" twit. And you need to build your system to shut them out when it's done. For MMORPGs, you need the sort who will get a medium-powered character and hunt down the newbies. You need a complete lunatic for driving games ("why can't I drive across the river here?"). You need a tactical asshole, who will camp on a resurrection point in a shootemup.

      (The idea of "idiot testing" was laid out quite nicely by Steve Jackson about 25 years ago, in "Game Design: Theory and Practice"). It was about board games, but the concept holds even more for online games.

    • This is totally false. The context of the game

      is the restrictions that make the game challenging.

      What you've said doesn't necessarily invalidate his statement. Chosing to cheat simply changes the restrictions you're playing against. Instead of "I can't attack more than ten times per minute or my character faints" to "I can't stay in local memory or Punkbuster kills my program." You're not really playing DeathSpank III anymore, you're playing a game you made up yourself.

      I haven't actually messed with

    • You are thinking of cheating as in cheat codes to get god mode or something of that nature.

      What he's talking about is cheating that requires skill to do and only provides a modest benefit, and the more skill you have, the better the benefit.

      So in a sense it's pitting your skill at cheating against theirs, and it's certainly an interesting way to play.
  • by Radres ( 776901 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:40PM (#11577550)
    I've done much thinking on the subject, and I contend that there are 4 main elements that lead to a game being fun:

    #1) Storyline. This is the most basic element; a computer game can be looked at as a form of interactive movie. However, storyline is not essential since games have elements that movies cannot provide. An example of a game the excels at storyline without the other elements is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It basically immerses the player in the Star Wars universe without requiring too much in the way of critical thought or reflexes.

    #2) Hand-eye coordination. At it's most basic level, a game requires the player to learn how to interact with the environment via some input device, whether it's a mouse, keyboard, joystick, or what have you. An example of a game that does this without the other elements is the original Space Invaders. Not much thought is needed to perform in that game, but learning how to press the fire button and move quickly is important.

    #3) Tactics. Forcing the player to make a decision that has both benefits and weaknesses. Forcing players to make real-time decisions in a fantasy world leads to a sense of immersion. It's hard to think of a game that is purely tactical-based, but for an example of what I'm talking about, let's look at Contra. The game takes the basic shooter hand-eye coordination premise that a game like Space Invaders has, and adds the requirement that the user be smart enough to figure out what weapon to use for a given scenario. There are of course better examples, but this particular example gives you the basics of how tactics can be used to enhance a game.

    #4) Strategy. Forcing the user to come up with an overall plan for how to do things. An example of a game that excels in this area is Civilization. Provoking critical thought from the user in order to solve a detailed problem (albeit a fictional one) involves the user on a higher level that can be appreciated. I find that the games with the most longevity tend to feature a lot of strategy.

    The most successful of games will combine all 4 of these elements. My favorite game is Starcraft, and it is clear to see how all of these elements are used. The storyline is okay, the hand-eye coordination required is immense, the tactics involved are complex, and the strategy level is great. Other games can be broken down similarly. For example, Counter-Strike has no storyline, but there's hand-eye coordination required for aiming the weapon, tactics for deciding what equipment to use, and strategy for deciding how to approach the level with your team.

    Think about it, and I bet you'll be hard-pressed to find another way to evaluate gameplay. I only wish there was a game review magazine that took these factors into account!
    • I think it's also very clear that these elements are neither necessary nor sufficient. There are plenty of fantastic games that don't include all of these, or even most of these, and plenty of horrible games that do.

      Yes, these are all important to think about. But so are many other aspects, such as immersion (which is quite different from storyline), difficulty, a sense of accomplishment, replayability, etc etc etc.

      • Player rewards are very important in a game. I imagine a popular game would be one that, when you accomplish a task, rewards the player with direct stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain.

        When we reach that level, we won't need to have complex story-lines or any of that, just moving a little disk into a funnel would be sufficient.

        And I'd have taken over that starship if it weren't for those darn kids.
    • While you're on the boat, you missed a few decks, IMO.

      I'm a programmer, and game designer. These are the core elements I've identified in all games:
      • Creation / Nurture
      • Destruction (or Killing)
      • Cooperation
      • Competition
      • Communication
      • Exploration
      • Navigation
      • Pattern Recognition
      • Problem Solving ( i.e. Micro = Tactics, Macro = Strategy)
      • Organization
      • Acquisition (or Greed)
      • Trade
      • Simulation / Complexity
      • Personality, or Atmosphere, either via the Characters or World to allow Immersion

        I really should get my "Fun
    • While I agree with your pointss, I think that its important that a game should scale with the player as he/she becomes more skilled.
    • Those critera are extremely narrow, encompassing only video games, and even then only games of a certain sort. Tetris, for example, is extremely compelling, yet fails utterly at #1 and #4, and how do you even begin to evaluate Dance Dance Revolution on those terms?

      For a broader look at what makes games of all sorts fun, and an examination of the difference between 'play' and 'games,' and all sorts of other cool stuff, (by people who have actually made fun, imaginative games no less) I recommend


      • Well, with DDR it's hand-*foot* coordination, but it's the same principle. And there's more tactics to DDR than a lot of people realize; in the two player, maybe even some strategy in song selection.

        Chris Mattern
    • Fun is harder than a list of 4 things. In part, because fun is different for different people.

      Take, for example, The Sims. Wildly successful, my addicted friends insist it's fun. Debatably it has "#1) Storyline", but only player generated. The Sims is almost completly lacking in "#2) Hand-eye coordination." You'll get more HEC work browsing the web. "#3) Tactics"? Minimal.

      Another example, one of the best selling computer games ever, Myth. Lots of tasty Storyline, yes. Basically zilch HEC and Ta

    • Above all the important thing in a game is to make the player feel good about himself, give him or her rewards. It's easy to make a game challenging, but much harder to make it seem challenging but in fact be easy so the player gets that warm fuzzy feeling when he beats it.

      I'll tell you a little story to give an example: While I was working on a boat racing game, me and the other main programmer studied a lot of racing games. I had a major realization when first I played V-Rally where a lot of the time you
  • by astebbin ( 836820 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @06:46PM (#11577622)
    Disregard the subject header, I'm letting my inner news columnist get the better of me.

    Many people play violent video games so that they can have fun and do things outside their normal realm of controlled behavior. This is fun for us because it is new and diferent than what we are used to doing as we go about our daily lives as citizens. For example, many respectable, middle aged men play GTA3 and love it, yet those same nice guys would never run over innocent bystanders like that in real life. Granted, the men in question probably wouldn't ever get the chance to drive something like the Rhyno tank anyway, but still...

    Besides, people are always easily entertained by novel and exciting games/inventions/concepts/OS's/pieces of hardware that are easily mistaken for a stick of gum (USB memory sticks and the iPod shuffle). Obvious excpetions include the Dreamcast, N-Gage, NeoGeo, and Virtual Boy.
  • The meat of the book is here, in discussions about why gamers cast aside the ethical quandaries brought up by games like Grand Theft Auto (they're playing the game mechanics, not the fiction surrounding the mechanics)
    With parent groups growing ever more shrill at the release of morally ambiguous titles, Raph Koster's book is a refreshing read.

    Good. The more that respected people emphasise this, the better. There has been a frenzy going on in the last few years in the American media (and other coun
  • From the overly serious cruft the reviewer describes in the intro? The review makes this book sound just like every other piece of junk about game design I've ever seen.

    Nothing about game design, too many stories without morals, and far far too many gimmicks rather than providing actual information/instruction.
  • by glMatrixMode ( 631669 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:27PM (#11578091)
    A Theory of Fun

    you can't use these words together
  • As someone who spends a great deal of his time in the scholarly study of videogames, i take an admittedly high-falootin' stance on all this.

    I have the same first impression of this book that i would of a book called "A Theory of Prettiness for Painting." Which is not to say that i think fun isn't important or desirable in games (i love Tetris, for instance), but i think the medium has potential for greater things, too. It doesn't help that i see this man's work as being very incremental. The same proble
  • For those interested, I also wrote a review for Amazon that was accepted recently. It's mostly positive, but includes criticisms as well. 1932111972?_encoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort_by =-SubmissionDate&n=283155 []

  • I would say WWIIOL has a completely different model-

    * Play up to get rank (and maintain account so you keep access to all your toys),

    * Work within a large uberteam (Axis or Allies), each of which may have it's own tribes or clans (squads in WWIIOLspeak),

    * Beat the snot out of the other uberteam,

    * Players provide content as the 'puzzles' constantly change due to new equipment or new towns being included into the map, and different attack approaches mean even the same old towns are attacked in new ways fr
  • by xenocide2 ( 231786 ) on Friday February 04, 2005 @09:27PM (#11579166) Homepage
    Yet another article about taking fun seriously, and trying to devise a grand unified theory of fun. I should start a pool on when someone conducts a game desgin study using a game with a single button that says "You Win" when clicked on as a control.

    Games are difficult to quantify, especially as they're being pulled in so many different directions. Some Professors of Fun want to laud the advent of interactive storytelling and such nonsense (glorified choose your own adventures at best). Just a few days ago we a different opinion on /. on how awesome sequals are, because they add bigger explosions and more outrageous design built upon the backs of predecessors and competitors. And there's plenty more out there telling us how awful commercial games from the standard venues lack innovation.

    If you can't figure it out, games are built on competition. All games have a kernel of this, whether overtly present or a computer simulation of such. Street Fighter was one of those early games that brought gaming to the masses. This was a game so popular it found its way into Burger King's in my neighborhood, a feat probably not achieved since Pong itself (another fine multiplayer game). The best games quickly recognize this, and abuse this property in Pavlovian fashion. Goldeneye probably pioneered the incredibly popular method of motivating players to complete and excel at single player campaigns with multiplayer unlockables. Before you consider how many great games have come and gone without a (good) multiplayer aspect, consider how much better they would have been if there HAD been one. Mario 64 is considered one of the best games ever on many metrics, yet even Nintendo was quick to add a multiplayer scenario that's main criticism is not being true to the rest of the game.

    Making games fun then boils down to making games fair. Balanced, if you will. It doesn't matter how well scripted the cutscenes are, or how deep the plot is. What matters is that the game is fair. This is difficult to discover without extensive testing. This is a great argument for open source games, which often are available to players long before the game reaches some sort of final version and undergo a significant number of tweaks and revisions to find a perfect balance.
  • by PromANJ ( 852419 ) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:09AM (#11581490) Homepage Journal
    Sadly, most games today have such weak and inconsistant rulesets that they have too resort to invulnerable characters, impregnable forcefields and linear scripted setups.
    Bending the rules is one of the things I enjoy the most in games, but nowdays everything is too controlled in favour of storylines.
    It also seems to me that back in the day people/geeks made games because they wanted to and they had an idea, and nowdays it has to be 'safe' and they want to make money, so they make another WW2 shooter with some sneaker elements cuz that seem to be popular too.

    Here's some games I'm still wating for:
    • Exile was a little confusing and hard but it's just blew my mind. It's strange how a game that runs on a BBC micro with 16/32kb of mem can beat the crap out of ...something new and recent. When will I again see a game where I can just blow the door with a big pile of 'nades up instead of finding the key?
    • Paradroid? Great concept, it had the sneaker and LoS paranoia element, lots of replay value with the free roaming and different droids you could take over.
    • Lemmings. Is anyone else wondering why they aren't making a lemmings-like game with like... structural integrity and awesome physics?
    • Wrecking crew would be pretty neat with physics too wouldn't it?
    • SuperCars II? I want to buy missiles and armor again. I'm tired of running over symbols or driving in normal traffic.
    • Utopia K240... it was like Sim City and a RTS in one. Beats HomeWorld by a parsec if you ask me.
    • SimLife... imagine this with some new life algoritms and 3D morphing.
    • Star Control II! Imagine that with a dynamic realtime political universe with vast fleets of Umgah and Spathi or whatever going at it.
    • Metroid and Zelda never really had any sequels if you just look at how unlinear they were. There's no more walking into Dungeon 8 right from the start anymore. Sigh.
    • Blaster Master + Excite bike = my wet dream. It's so awesome to jump out with Jason and just swim or crawl around. Nowdays they don't accept characters smaller than 48 pixels even on GBA...
    • Stunt Car Racer felt so real! You were actually in that rollcage when you played that game.
    • Dogs of War was really unlinear, but it was balanced so it was just better to pick the easier missions from the start. I really like that kind of responsibility.
    • Elite. No elite... no, I don't want to play as "Slater - the ungrommed mercenary looking for his auntie's killer"... I want to play Elite... no, I don't want to play 'missions' where I shoot generic plasma balls on hoardes of pointless enemies... Just give me another Elite Dagnabbit!
    • Scorched tanks/earth, again, imagine what could be done with modern processors.

    Oh well, maybe I'm just old and nostalgic, but so are many others my age, so it should be a market, no?

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.