My earliest recollection of playing a computer game was when I stumbled upon a half-height Space Invaders at a tiny Mexican restaurant in my hometown. I was perhaps six, and Space Invaders was certainly the most marvelous thing I had ever seen, at least next to LegoLand. I had heard of arcade games , but this was the first one I could actually play. Space Invaders , I knew, was better than television, because I could control the little ship at the bottom of the screen using the joystick and shoot the aliens myself instead of watching someone else do it. I was in love. The irony of this story is that, at the time, I failed to comprehend that I had to stick quarters into the game to make it work. The game was running in attract mode as arcade games do, and my young mind thought I was controlling the game with the joystick when I was actually not controlling anything. But the idea was still mind-blowing.
This book is about developing original computer games that will hopefully have the same mind-blowing effect on players that Space Invaders had on my young brain. This book deals with that development process from the point of view of the game designer. Many books have been written about the programming of computer games, but I can remember my frustration in being unable to find a book such as this one when I was an aspiring game designer. In some ways, I have written this book for myself, for the person I was a decade ago. I hope that other people interested in designing games will find this book informative. In my humble opinion, it is the game designer who has the most interesting role in the creation of a computer game. It is the game s design that dictates the form and shape of the game s gameplay, and this is the factor that differentiates our artistic medium from all others.
I hear you asking, But what is gameplay? Many people think they know what gameplay is, and indeed there are many different reasonable definitions for it. But I have one definition that covers every use of the term you will find in this book. The gameplay is the component of computer games that is found in no other art form: interactivity. A game s gameplay is the degree and nature of the interactivity that the game includes, i.e., how players are able to interact with the game-world and how that game-world reacts to the choices players make. In an action game such as Centipede , the gameplay is moving the shooter ship around the lower quadrant of the screen and shooting the enemies that attack relentlessly. In SimCity, the gameplay is laying out a city and observing the citizens that start to inhabit it. In Doom, the gameplay is running around a 3D world at high speed and shooting its extremely hostile inhabitants, gathering some keys along the way. In San Francisco Rush, the gameplay is steering a car down implausible tracks while jockeying for position with other racers. In StarCraft, the gameplay is maneuvering units around a map, finding resources and exploiting them, building up forces, and finally going head to head in combat with a similarly equipped foe. And in Civilization, the gameplay is exploring the world, building a society from the ground up, discovering new technologies, and interacting with the other inhabitants of the world.
Though some might disagree with me, the gameplay does not include how the game-world is represented graphically or what game engine is used to render that world. Nor does it include the setting or story line of that game-world. These aesthetic and content considerations are elements computer games may share with other media; they are certainly not what differentiates games from those other media. Gameplay, remember, is what makes our art form unique.