The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by acclaimed game designer Jesse Schell is required reading for anyone pursuing a career in game development. I was first referred this book by a friend who works within the game industry. My original intent when I picked up this book was to learn more about what went into creating a game, but as I read through it I realized that many of the principles and ideas discussed in the book could be applied to more than just game design. The Art of Game Design is applicable to ALL forms of design, whether it be games, apps, websites, books… you name it!
Schell guides the reader along a journey to discover all the elements that are inherent in a good game by using a series of “lenses” to bring each element into focus. It is a surprisingly riveting read for what is essentially a standard text book. Schell has formatted this book to seem like a gameplay experience in of itself wherein each lens can be used as a tool to discover problems within your game or project. Each section also provides some solutions on how to fix the problems brought into focus by each lens, but ultimately that is left up to the designer on how to proceed – just like a game!
Each chapter builds upon the previous one in a seamless manner to give the reader a comprehensive look into the process of designing an experience that users will find fulfilling and, most of all, fun. Just take a look at the chapter titles to see what I mean:
- In the Beginning, There is a Designer
- The Designer Creates an Experience
- The Experience Rises Out of a Game
- The Game Consists of Elements
- The Elements Support a Theme
- The Game Begins with an Idea
- The Game Improves Through Iteration
- The Game is Made for a Player
- The Experience is in the Player’s Mind
- Some Elements are Game Mechanics
- Game Mechanics Must be in Balance
- Game Mechanics Support Puzzles
- Players Play Games Through an Interface
- Experiences Can be Judged by Their Interest Curves
- One Kind of Experience is the Story
- Story and Game Structures can be Artfully Merged with Indirect Control
- Stories and Games Take Place in Worlds
- Worlds Contain Characters
- Worlds Contain Spaces
- The Look and Feel of a World is Defined by its Aesthetics
- Some Games are Played with Other Players
- Other Players Sometimes Form Communities
- The Designer Usually Works with a Team
- The Team Sometimes Communicates Through Documents
- Good Games are Created Through Playtesting
- The Team Builds a Game with Technology
- Your Game Will Probably Have a Client
- The Designer Gives the Client a Pitch
- The Designer and Client Want the Game to Make a Profit
- Games Transform Their Players
- Designers Have Certain Responsibilities
- Each Designer has a Motivation
Along the way, Schell introduces many helpful tools which he calls “lenses” to apply to each step of the design process. For example:
Lens #33: The Lens of Triangularity
Giving a player the choice to play it safe for a low reward, or to take a risk for a big reward is a great way to make your game interesting and exciting. To use the Lens of Triangularity, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have triangularity now? If not, how can I get it?
- Is my attempt at triangularity balanced? That is, are the rewards commensurate with the risks?
Once you start looking for triangularity in games, you will see it everywhere. A dull, monotonous game can quickly become exciting and rewarding when you add a dash of triangularity.
As you can see in the above example, each lens can be applied to not only game design, but to app design as well. Since an app is essentially an “experience” designed for users, these lenses remain useful for app development as well.
A deck of cards with each lens is available for purchase so that designers can draw a card to fine tune their design during the process. In addition to the physical deck of cards, Schell has also released an app for iOS that contains each lens. These lenses are invaluable for helping a designer become “unstuck” during the design process. They will force you to take a step back and tackle a problem with a fresh perspective. From this vantage point, the solutions begin to come into focus.
Using the methods described in this book, I will begin a series of blogposts to analyze popular mobile games and apps to decipher what makes them so fulfilling and successful. In the meantime, I suggest that you add The Art of Game Design and the deck of lenses to your tool set as you embark on your app development journey.
You can order the book and deck in the links below:
You can follow Jesse Schell at @JesseSchell