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Back to Basics

I’ve been reading theories about games and game design for a long time, and I’m always happy to come across writers and thinkers whose ideas interest me. Recently I discovered two writers who are approaching games from a very systematic, design-oriented perspective.

The first is Richard Terrell, who has been posting his thoughts on his blog, Critical-Gaming. From what I gather he’s a tournament level Smash Bros. player, as well as a few other things, and is working on a critical framework for games based on music theory. Some of his stuff I agree with, and some I don’t think I understand yet, but I know that my favorite neologism from him is ‘minimum difference’, which is basically the smallest unit in a mechanic that you can change to effect its function.

Another writer whose doing a good job at breaking games down is Steve Swink, a game designer at Flashbang Studios. Basing his approach on the Principles of Animation, he’s trying to explain the dos and don’ts of virtual sensation. This is more strictly applicable to video games than Terrell’s work, but it’s still interesting and valuable stuff. He’ll also be publishing his theories in book form soon.

Let’s hope that as the first generation that’s grown up with games being primarily ‘designed products’ gets out into the world and starts designing games of their own we’ll get more of these sorts of insightful examinations.

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