Skip to Content

Outline (for suggestions) for a "Library" book about game design

7 replies [Last post]
lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

This is my proposed outline for a “library book” style game design book. I have written another book in a style to suit what I see as the primary audience, but there’s a place for a library/reference book as well. I’m interested in comments about what should (or should not) be included. After the outline there’s a detailed explanation of what’s going on here.

Title: “Guide to Video and Tabletop Game Design” or “Learning to Design video (and Tabletop) Games” or “How to Design Games”

Book Sections/Outline

The book will include many reference lists and explicated lists.

1. How to learn to design games
a. Objective: complete, Complete, COMPLETE the game
b. Start with the tabletop
c. Analysis of traditional games–often not what we want to emulate!
d. Learn a simple video game engine
e. Try to make simple video games
f. The impossibility of an individual making a AAA video game
g. Video games vs. tabletop games--differences and similarities

2. What is a game and what makes it good?
a. What is a “game”?
b. Characteristics of good games (Can it be well-designed and not attract its audience? No)
c. What makes a game epic?
d. What makes a game great?
e. What do games amount to?
f. Interaction in games
g. Types of challenges

3. The audience/target market
a. Styles of play
b. Convergence of tabletop and video games
c. Genres and game types
d. 21st century game characteristics
e. Hard core vs. casual gamers–characteristics
f. Replayability vs. repetition

4. The Process of Game Design
a. Ideas and origins of games
b. The key to successful games: iterative and incremental improvement
c. The design process diagrams (multiple explicated diagrams, in depth, both tabletop and video game)
d. The Nine Sub-Structures of games, with listings of most possible choices in each sub-structure (e.g., all categories of Victory conditions/Objectives, all categories of Economies, etc.)
e. Additional questions to ask yourself

5. Making a prototype
a. Comprehensive advice about making prototypes
b. Video game design documents
c. Lots of examples from my work

6. Playtesting and Modifying the Prototype
a. What to look for in the playtesters
b. What to look for in the play
c. Playtesting lists, questionnaires, Six Hats
d. When is it “done”?

7. Level Design (video and tabletop games)
a. Many lists from my level design classes
b. A level design editor’s advice
c. Examples of level design documents

8. Specific types of games
a. RPG (role-playing games)
b. CCG (collectible card games)
c. Board and card wargames
d. Miniatures games
e. MMOs (massively multiplayer online games)
f. Casual/”short experience” games
g. Social games (Facebook, etc.)
h. “Serious” games (education and training)
i. Others

9. Video game genres
a. List of genres including:
b. What is it
c. Who plays it
d. Salient features (types of challenges, settings)

10. Specific problems in game design
a. The three player problem
b. Fog of War
c. Cause vs. effect
d. Too much like work?
e. Flaws in multi-sided games (from TGC presentation)
f. Randomness, Chaos, and Manageable Variation
g. When do players score?

11. Marketing and the Law [or if space does not permit, leave this out as it is not strictly about design]
a. Making a video game pitch
b. Intellectual property

12. Resources
a. Books about game design (brief descriptions)
b. Software for VG production (brief descriptions)
c. Software for TT game production (brief descriptions)
d. Games you should know (brief descriptions)
e. Categorized list of tabletop and video game mechanics
f. Types of boards
g. Ways to use dice for combat
h. Online Resources (web sites, files, forums)
i. The International Game Developers Association (IDGA) Game Design curriculum suggestions

Example documents:
Video game concept documents
(There’s not room for a video game design document but I can certainly refer to ones I’ve found online)
Example of initial notes for a game (video and tabletop)
The game progress spreadsheet

Either I (at or the publisher will want to maintain a reference Web site for the book to update links and so forth.

Some explanation is called for. I have nearly completed a book about designing games (“Get it Done: Designing Games from Start to Finish”) that is quite different from the standard (video) game design books we see on the market. My original aim was a short book, the length of the average novel, rather than the typically-massive game design books. I begin with the premise that the best way to learn to design games, even if your long-term interest is only video games, is to design tabletop games. This is well-known to some teachers, especially to teachers who are game designers (video or tabletop). (Most game design books are not written by teachers.) The book is also very informal and inspirational in tone, as it is written with young (teen/20-something) wannabe designers in mind rather like the college and high school students I teach game design to. Considerable material from the book has been on GameCareerGuide and Gamasutra, the primary hangouts of video game professionals and wannabes, and seems to interest people quite a bit.

While lots of pictures and color are ideal for this audience, it can double the cost of the book. I’ve chosen to use only the mostly-noncolor illustrations and photos that make my point in order to keep the cost down. In the end a publisher may choose differently, of course.

If I cannot find a suitable traditional publisher for “Get it Done”, a low number of B&W illustrations will make the book much less expensive for POD (Publishing On Demand) distribution.

I have had interesting adventures looking for a publisher, as most video game design books evidently aren’t selling well in bookstores. This is hardly a surprise, as they’re too much long, too formal, and too much about analysis of games or about game production rather than about the activity of game design. This is just the kind of book that does NOT appeal to the audience I have aimed at. Some of them are written as textbooks, and the first thing to know about textbooks is that they’re often written to be forced on students by teachers who often don’t know a great deal about what they’re teaching, so the teacher wants the book to teach the course. I’ve tried to write a book someone would actually buy in a bookstore or online.

At any rate, when I recently proposed this book to a traditional library/scholarly publisher in my own state, they wanted me to change it to make it a “library book”. They want something that is a reference, that assumes the reader does not need any encouragement to read the book but instead is looking for information. So that person has gone to the library to seek out game design books. Presumably this will tend to be people who are in their late 20s and older, or who are very strongly motivated–a smaller audience than my first book is aimed at.

I’m presently preparing a proposal for this publisher, and I’d like to see what people think of it.

When I was young (1960s) I read tons of library books. Now, the average video game fan does NOT go to the library at all (not for books, anyway), and many of them rarely read non-fiction books of any kind (especially textbooks). My first book is designed to be attractively readable for people who rarely read books, who may even be of the “tl;dr” crowd (though there’s not a lot of hope there). Yet a “library book” can be written with the idea that the reader already has sufficient motivation/maturity to read the book. Again, this will be a short book of this type, novel length, with few if any photos and few illustrations.

So this kind of book can have lists and details that I would not put in the first, or that there is not room for (I’m 22% beyond my original target length in “Get it Done”). It can be comprehensive in the details it addresses, whereas “Get it Done” is intended to describe everything, but not in great detail because detail is not what the audience for that book needs or is looking for.

Joined: 11/05/2009
Do people still go to

Do people still go to libraries?

It sounds more like a good textbook that should be prescribed by design teachers, (like yourself!)

(I am a fan of your blog!)

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

Libraries are doing a good job of attracting young people to "events", not so much to books. Our county runs an anime mini-con, of all things.

But the more important question, do libraries buy books? The answer is, they still do.

Pastor_Mora's picture
Joined: 01/05/2010
On Structure

I can't quite follow the logical structure of the index. When you teach a course, you start with the basic and keep building one layer over the other until you have a full pack, and possibly, at the end of the course, a practical aplication tu sum up the experience.

Maybe is because you don't want this to replicate the textbook structure, but it seems you are jumping back and forth. I may not be able to sum up what I'm trying to say just renumbering your chapters, but...

1) Intro
2) Game Components
3) Design Process (in general)
4) Game Mechanics
5) Game Types/Genres
6) Target Audience
7) Design Challenges (you use the word "problems" in your chapter 10)
8) Game Design (in particular)
9) Level Design (in particular)
10) Prototyping
11) Playtesting

Resources: Tools
Resources: Contacts
Resources: Documents

This is an example of the structure I'm talking about. You start with "naming" the parts (2-4), and then explaining how they "fit" together, or don't (5-7). At the end, you elaborate on the practical part (8-11). Also, you leave the Resources part outside the book, just for reference.

If you are thinking on a low-attention audience, you could add a 1 page table in the middle of each chapter and a 1 page summary at the end of it. They won't take notes, so you have to do that for them.

It seems you really have something to say here, so most probably you have though of this. Anyway, Keep Thinking!

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

Library books are seen (at least, by my potential publisher) as scholarly reference works rather than as "how-tos". "Get it Done" is more a how-to book (the original title was "How to Design Games"). The many lists are indeed for the benefit of those who don't take notes (virtually everyone under 30). Though the target market for this book is more like 30 yeas old than 20.

This "library" book is much less likely to be used as a textbook, I think, than Get it Done will be.

I will think about the chapter order in light of your suggestion, thanks.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
You don't design a book that

You don't design a book that will be bought by libraries, you design a book that will be sold. Libraries have criterias for selecting which book they will be buying. It depends on the kind of library (for ex: school or city library).

Second, are you designing a book toward board game design, video game design or both. You should clearly indicate it. I hate when people make "game design" books and they only talks about video game design like if board games did not exist.

Joined: 11/05/2009
Larienna, I am by no means a

Larienna, I am by no means a game (or any) design expert, but having read a lot about game design recently I have come to the conclusion that board and computer game design have the same basic principles.

Take this guy for instance. He balanced the game Street Fighter, a video game that appeared in the arcades in the eighties and had a few reincarnations since then. I never played the game, but watched it being played, and it seemed like a senseless bashing of control buttons and joysticks. Then I read his articles on balancing an asymmetrical video fighting game and realized that the principles were exactly the same for an asymmetrical board game. In fact, it had a big impact on my current project.

So I think Lew is exactly right in addressing the two media in the same breath. The principles are the same.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
larienna wrote:You don't

larienna wrote:
You don't design a book that will be bought by libraries, you design a book that will be sold. Libraries have criterias for selecting which book they will be buying. It depends on the kind of library (for ex: school or city library).

Second, are you designing a book toward board game design, video game design or both. You should clearly indicate it. I hate when people make "game design" books and they only talks about video game design like if board games did not exist.

Just as with games, you write a book for a target market. The target market for this book is libraries, which buy books. This would be more for public libraries and libraries that purchase reference works, not so much for school libraries. However, I suspect a publisher that specializes in library books will be marketing to all such libraries.

All game designers I know of who teach game design (very few, most "game design teachers" are just going by a book) recognize that you begin learning video game design with tabletop games. So the book will cover both. The problem can come with a publisher that knows nothing about tabletop games (which is typical), if there's too much emphasis on tabletop, they may lose interest. So the outline does not emphasize the tabletop angle.

Syndicate content

forum | by Dr. Radut