Fundamentals of Game Design
Second Edition


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

Fundamentals 2e cover

Back with New Riders
and the old cover design!

What's New in the Second Edition

  • Every chapter revised to take account of recent developments, with updated figures and examples.
  • Added text on new input devices: accelerometers, global positioning systems, multi-touch screens, and more. Special new section on the Nintendo Wii.
  • New material on the Scrum process, Monte Carlo simulation as a tuning tool, level progression and pacing, and many other topics.
  • The old PDF chapters on online gaming and special markets updated and incorporated in the print edition.
  • The same exercises and design worksheets that were so popular before. New Companion Website coming soon with design document templates, further reading, and instructor resources.

Level 1 Table of Contents

See it in Peachpit's catalog

Read some testimonials

See who adopted the previous edition

If you are a bona fide instructor in higher education,
please follow this link to order a free evaluation copy
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About the Book

The first edition of Fundamentals 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!

Testimonials about the new edition:

    "Yesterday I got a chance to read the first 5-6 chapters. I loved it! Great job! I will definitely use it in my class next year.

    Congratulations on creating a readable and insightful book on game design."

      — John Laird
      Professor, Michigan State University

    "In Fundamentals of Game Design, Second Edition, Adams provides encyclopedic coverage of process and design issues for every aspect of game design, expressed as practical lessons that can be immediately applied to a  design-in-progress. He offers the best framework I've seen for thinking about the relationships between core mechanics, gameplay, and player, a framework I've found useful for both teaching and research."

      — Michael Mateas
      Professor, University of California at Santa Cruz

    "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
      Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology

    "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
      Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology

Fundamentals of Game Design, Second Edition is an introductory textbook aimed at undergraduates and junior professionals -- although 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 is divided into two parts. Part One discusses all the major aspects of game design such as challenges, actions, mechanics, worlds, characters, user interfaces, and so on. Part Two addresses the different commercial game genres. Each chapter teaches how to apply the principles from the first part to creating a game in a specific genre. The book ends with a chapter on the special challenges of online games and an appendix on designing to appeal to particular groups such as female or handicapped players. You can read the first-level table of contents here.

Changes From the Previous Edition

The first edition of Fundamentals of Game Design was published in 2006, and did very well. But since then a lot has happened in the game industry -- especially the colossal impact of the Nintendo Wii. Apple raised the bar for mobile gaming with the iPhone, and the casual market is bigger than ever. I wrote Fundamentals of Game Design, Second Edition to take these changes into account. The writing is tighter, and I removed outdated material to make room for a lot of new content.

Andrew Rollings is no longer involved, but I was very fortunate to have the assistance of Chris Weaver as my technical editor. Chris is the founder of Bethesda Softworks as well as being a professor at MIT, so he understands both commercial game development and game design education perfectly. Chris made many helpful suggestions about the new edition.

The New Material

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

    Design Components and Processes. The Scrum agile management process has become very popular in the industry, so I wrote an introduction to it, with pointers to further reading.

    Character Design. I've added a discussion of musical themes as part of character design, which was missing before.

    Storytelling and Narrative. Scripted conversations and dialog trees were not well covered before, so I expanded that section substantially. I also added a big new sidebar about character-agnostic plotting and the possibilities offered by leadership simulators such as King of Dragon Pass.

    User Interfaces. This chapter got big changes to deal with 3D input devices such as the accelerometers in the Wii Controller. I've replaced the term perspective with camera model throughout the book to reflect today's intelligent virtual cameras. I also added a section on vibration (rumble) which was missing before.

    Core Mechanics. At Chris Weaver's suggestion, I added a whole section on Monte Carlo simulation as a means of tuning the mechanics. It's especially helpful for testing complex algorithms such as those that automatically simulate matches in sports games.

    Game Balancing. I updated the section on dynamic difficulty adjustment to reflect recent practice.

    General Principles of Level Design. Thanks to game designer Mike Lopez' Gamasutra articles, I added a whole new section on designing the level progression -- with all due credit, of course.

Most of the genre chapters in Part Two only got small updates to reflect recent trends and the introduction of the Wii controller. These are some of the larger changes:

    Action Games. Again thanks to Mike Lopez, a big new section on planning action game pacing. I also added a new section on the various shooter subgenres, and removed some outdated content.

    Artificial Life and Puzzle Games. I introduced Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and included some suggestions about computing affinity between characters in The Sims-like games. I also put in a sidebar about Spore.

    Online Games. This chapter didn't make it into the previous print edition and was only available online, but I managed to fit it in this time. As online gaming is a technology rather than a genre, it concentrates mostly on the technical and social ramifications of multiplayer networked play. I also added a sidebar about Second Life, since it's well-known but not a normal game.

    Appendix: Designing to Appeal to Particular Groups. This special section on under-served markets (young children, girls, women, and players with disabilities) didn't make it into the printed book last time, but it's now in with added material on games for girls thanks to Kaye Elling, former Creative Manager on the Bratz series at Blitz Games.

First-Level Table of Contents

This table of contents shows the chapter titles and level 1 headings. Most sections have several subheadings as well.

Part One: The Elements of Game Design

1  Games and Video Games

    What Is a Game?
    Conventional Games Versus Video Games
    How Video Games Entertain

2  Design Components and Processes

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

3  Game Concepts

    Getting an Idea
    From Idea to Game Concept
    The Player's Role
    Choosing a Genre
    Defining Your Target Audience
    Progression Considerations
    Types of Game Machines

4  Game Worlds

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

5  Creative and Expressive Play

    Self-Defining Play
    Creative Play
    Storytelling Play
    Game Modifications

6  Character Development

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

7  Storytelling and Narrative

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

8  User Interfaces

    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
    Allowing for Customization

9  Gameplay

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

10  Core Mechanics

    What Are the Core Mechanics?
    Key Concepts
    The Internal Economy
    Core Mechanics and Gameplay
    Core Mechanics Design
    Random Numbers and the Gaussian Curve

11  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

12  General Principles of Level Design

    What Is Level Design?
    Key Design Principles
    Progression and Pacing
    The Level Design Process
    Pitfalls of Level Design

Part Two: The Genres of Games

13  Action Games

    What Are Action Games?
    Action Game Subgenres
    Game Features

14  Strategy Games

    What Are Strategy Games?
    Game Features
    Core Mechanics
    The Game World
    The Presentation Layer
    Artificial Opponents

15  Role-Playing Games

    What Are Role-Playing Games?
    Game Features
    Core Mechanics
    The Game World and Story
    The Presentation Layer

16  Sports Games

    What Are Sports Games?
    Game Features
    Core Mechanics
    The Game World
    The Presentation Layer

17  Vehicle Simulations

    What Are Vehicle Simulations?
    Game Features
    Core Mechanics
    Other Vehicles
    Intellectual Property Rights
    The Presentation Layer

18  Construction and Management Simulations

    What Are Construction and Management Simulations?
    Game Features
    Core Mechanics
    The Game World
    The Presentation Layer

19  Adventure Games

    What Are Adventure Games?
    Game Features
    The Presentation Layer

20  Artificial Life and Puzzle Games

    Artificial Life Games
    Puzzle Games

21  Online Gaming

    What Are Online Games?
    Advantages of Online Games
    Disadvantages of Online Games
    Design Issues for Online Gaming
    Persistent World

Appendix: Designing to Appeal to Particular Groups

    Reaching Adult Women
    Designing for Children
    Games for Girls
    Accessibility Issues