Clockwork Game Design

by Keith Burgun, 2015, #book


Given the early history of game design, most of what has been said or written about it is useless.

Works that come close to being useful are extremely low-level analysis that shouldn't be considered "game design" theory. Good example is Dan Cook's "Chemistry of Game Design" article on Gamasutra. This work is useful in that it allows designers to speak to each other more clearly on some topics, but it cannot be used to help person design better things.

Work of Chris Crawford breaks the interactive landscape into into several categories:

  • entertainment: is it interactive? If no: it's a movie/book, otherwise it's a "plaything";
  • playthings: is there a goal? If no: it's a "toy", otherwise it's a "challenge";
  • challenges: is there an agent to compete with? If no: it's a "puzzle", otherwise it's a "conflict";
  • conflicts: can you impede opponents? if no: it's a "competition", otherwise it's a "game".

This categorization is similar to the one described in this book, but it's not oriented around understanding the fundamental value and functionality of forms. The taxonomy described in this book was written to describe actual interactive forms, at their lowest level.

#What's an interactive system

Rules that humans engage with in order to experience a specific kind of learning. Learning makes us feel good.

Smallest unit we work with is the "rule". Rules combine into clusters that achieve a certain task. Clusters are called "mechanisms" and they are bits of information in a game that we use to manipulate game state. Mechanisms may be loosely grouped into "subsystems".


componential and emergent.. quickest way to put it: you want to get the most emergent complexity (unique game states) with the fewest bits of componential complexity (rules). The wider the gap between these two types of complexity, the more elegent the design is.


Ability to consider a wide range of possible answers to a problem. This presents a huge reason why getting good at making decisions is so dificult.