Fundamentals of Game Design, Third Edition


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Facebook: Ernest W. Adams

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"Yours is the only textbook that I don't have to make my students read."

Fundamentals 3e cover, medium

What's New in the Third Edition

  • Every chapter revised to take account of recent developments, with updated figures and examples.
  • Three new chapters on players, machines, and business models.
  • New material on VandenBerghe's player motivation research, designing for the Kinect,  as a tuning tool, level progression and pacing, and many other topics.
  • Part 2 of the previous edition, the chapters on individual genres, moved to low-cost E-books to make room for the newer content.
  • The same exercises and design worksheets that were so popular before.

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About the Book

Fundamentals of Game Design has been adopted at:

  • MIT
  • Georgia Tech
  • Cornell University
  • University of Illinois at
  • Michigan State University
  • University of Uppsala, Sweden
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • University of New Mexico,
    Los Alamos
  • Northwestern University
    [recommended, not required]
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • George Brown College, Toronto
  • University of Ulster Magee,
    Northern Ireland
  • University of New South Wales, Australia
  • Monash University, Australia
  • DeVry University
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of
  • College of DuPage
  • Lawrence Technological University
  • Santa Monica College
  • Central Piedmont Community College
  • Wake Technical Community College

... and probably more that I don't know about!

A Few Testimonials

"It's amazing how everything you are writing just clicks, like a key in a lock! It was swell to read 200 pages in one day!"

    — Johannes Bengtsson, student

"In this updated edition of Fundamentals of Game Design, Adams adds much to what was already a thorough look at game design in all its varieties. The result is a veritable feast of design lessons sure not only to satisfy the budding designer's appetite, but also to refine her palate."

    —Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology

"Fundamentals of Game Design was already an essential book for designers. Adams provided a solid foundation for new designers to build on, by offering clear, pragmatic advice, exercises and wisdom to a subject often shrouded in mystery. This updated version is a must read for game designers of all levels of experience."

    — Adam Mayes, Subject Responsible for Game Design, University of Uppsala, Sweden

"Ernest writes in a way that is very down to earth and approachable to students. It is obvious that he has 'been there and done that' and his real-world, unpretentious approach to the material is what makes this text so accessible."

    —Andrew Phelps, Rochester Institute of Technology

Fundamentals of Game Design, Third Edition is an introductory textbook aimed at undergraduates and junior professionals (and even seasoned pros may learn a few things). My goal is to teach practical design for commercial video games, using an approach called player-centric game design. I have tried to write in a way that is precise yet pragmatic and above all, readable. This is not a dry academic tome (though I do include references), nor is it a how-to book for mod-builders. It's about game design from concept formation to final tuning, for people who are serious about their profession.

The book discusses all the major aspects of game design such as gameplay, mechanics, worlds, characters, user interfaces, level design and storytelling. It also teaches readers how to understand what motivates different kinds of players, the various kinds of machines, and the markets for games, including the new casual business models. It is also one of the few books to address world markets, and to consider the needs of players with disabilities. The book ends with a chapter on the special challenges of designing for online play. You can read the first-level table of contents here.


The New Material

I revised all the chapters from the second edition, but also wrote big chunks of new material for many of them. These are the major additions:

    Understanding Your Player. This introduces Jason VandenBerghe's theory of player motivation, as well as a way of thinking about how dedicated ("hardcore") players are.

    Understanding Your Machine. The arrival of mobile devices has considerably widened, but also complicated, the kinds of games we can design. This chapter introduces the major game platforms.

    Making Money From Your Game. This chapter looks at the strengths and weaknesses of various business models for games, including both the traditional direct payment models such as retail and digital distribution, and indirect ones such as freemium models and advertising supported games.

    Mechanics. Building on the work Joris Dormans and I did in our book Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, I've added new sections on progression, tactical maneuvering, and social interaction. I also included a brief introduction to the Machinations design framework.

    User Interfaces. I added more information on touch screens to this chapter, and also a section on the Microsoft Kinect.


First-Level Table of Contents


  • Whom Is This Book For?
  • How Is This Book Organized?
  • A Note on the Downloadable Files

1  Games and Video Games

  • What Is a Game?
  • Conventional Games Versus Video Games
  • Games for Entertainment
  • Serious Games

2  Designing and Developing Games

  • An Approach to the Task
  • Key Components of Video Games
  • The Structure of a Video Game
  • Stages of the Design Process
  • Game Design Team Roles
  • Game Design Documents
  • The Anatomy of a Game Designer

3  The Major Genres

  • What Is a Genre?
  • The Classic Game Genres

4  Understanding Your Player

  • VandenBerghe's Five Domains of Play
  • Demographic Categories
  • Gamer Dedication
  • The Dangers of Binary Thinking

5  Understanding Your Machine

  • Home Game Consoles
  • Personal Computers
  • Portable Devices
  • Other Devices

6  Making Money from Your Game

  • Direct Payment Models
  • Indirect Payment Models
  • World Markets

7  Game Concepts

  • Getting an Idea
  • From Idea to Game Concept

8  Game Worlds

  • What Is a Game World?
  • The Purposes of a Game World
  • The Dimensions of a Game World
  • Realism

9  Creative and Expressive Play

  • Self-Defining Play
  • Creative Play
  • Other Forms of Expression
  • Game Modifications

10  Character Development

  • The Goals of Character Design
  • The Relationship Between Player and Avatar
  • Visual Appearances
  • Character Depth
  • Audio Design

11  Storytelling

  • Why Put Stories in Games?
  • Key Concepts
  • The Storytelling Engine
  • Linear Stories
  • Nonlinear Stories
  • Granularity                                                   
  • Mechanisms for Advancing the Plot
  • Emotional Limits of Interactive Stories
  • Scripted Conversations and Dialogue Trees
  • When to Write the Story
  • Other Considerations

12  Creating the User Experience

  • What Is the User Interface?
  • Player-Centric Interface Design
  • The Design Process
  • Managing Complexity
  • Interaction Models
  • Camera Models
  • Visual Elements
  • Audio Elements
  • Input Devices
  • Navigation Mechanisms
  • Accessibility Issues
  • Allowing for Customization

13  Gameplay

  • Making Games Fun
  • The Hierarchy of Challenges
  • Skill, Stress, and Absolute Difficulty
  • Commonly Used Challenges
  • Actions
  • Saving the Game

14  Core Mechanics

  • What Are the Core Mechanics?
  • Key Concepts
  • The Internal Economy
  • Progression Mechanics
  • Tactical Maneuvering Mechanics
  • Social Interaction Mechanics
  • Core Mechanics and Gameplay
  • Core Mechanics Design
  • Random Numbers and the Bell-Shaped Curve

15  Game Balancing

  • What Is a Balanced Game?
  • Avoiding Dominant Strategies
  • Incorporating the Element of Chance
  • Making PvP Games Fair
  • Making PvE Games Fair
  • Managing Difficulty
  • Understanding Positive Feedback
  • Other Balance Considerations
  • Design to Make Tuning Easy

16  General Principles of Level Design

  • What Is Level Design?
  • Key Design Principles
  • Layouts
  • Expanding on the Principles of Level Design
  • The Level Design Process
  • Pitfalls of Level Design

17  Design Issues for Online Gaming

  • What Are Online Games?
  • Advantages of Online Games                                  
  • Disadvantages of Online Games
  • Design Issues
  • Technical Security
  • Persistent Worlds
  • Social Problems