Rollings & Adams
On Game Design


Phone: +44-7780-660753

Facebook: Ernest W. Adams

Twitter: @ErnestWAdams

G+: Ernest Adams



This book has been superseded by later works. Read about the newest edition here.


A very useful book for anyone working in (or hoping to work in) interactive media. Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams approach the topic with very practical advice for both new and experienced designers.

    Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Sim City

More Quotes

Cover Copy

Table of Contents

Sample Chapter
(3.6MB PDF)

Complete Cover
(200K JPG)

Buy a copy from

This book is no longer for sale here.

I had always planned to write a book on game design someday, a magnum opus that would contain everything I've learned about design during my years in the industry. Now I've finally done it, working with Andrew Rollings, after a two-year odyssey that included a title change (it used to be called Patterns in Game Design), some very late nights, and our original publisher going bankrupt. It's a monster: 650 pages of advice and analysis, filled with examples.

Game Design is divided into two parts. The first section of the book deals with fundamental principles: concept creation, game worlds, storytelling, character development, gameplay, and core mechanics. In the second half, we examine how the key elements of game design are implemented in each of the major genres: action, strategy, role-playing, sports, vehicle simulations, construction & management simulations, and adventure games. There is also a chapter on several minor genres, and a separate chapter on online games. The last chapter is blue-sky speculation about the future of gaming.

Appendix A includes a detailed discussion of the three types of design documents a professional game designer is most likely to need to make: high concepts, game treatments, and full design scripts.

Attention academics: Rollings & Adams can also be used as a textbook. Each chapter ends with a worksheet of questions to help focus the reader's attention on specific issues in his or her own design.

More quotes from some of our reviewers:

Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams On Game Design shows how to design great computer games in all the major genres, and it's useful to both students and experienced professionals. If you're serious about game design, this book belongs on your shelf.

    Chris Taylor, creator of Total Annihilation and Dungeon Siege

From basic technical considerations to questions of ethical and emotional content, Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams On Game Design covers every phase of designing a product, while also maintaining a top-down perspective on the most important aspect of any game - keeping it fun!

    Bill Roper, Vice President of Blizzard Entertainment

Filled with insightful anecdotes and useful checklists, Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design gives you a rigorous conceptual foundation that will help you design better games. If you want to become a game designer, start here.

    Scott Kim, Full-time independent designer of visual puzzles

I highly recommend both [Rollings & Adams and Game Architecture and Design] and I suggest reading this latest book, co-authored by Ernest Adams, first, and then follow-up with the larger, more advanced book co-authored by Dave Morris. Together, they provide a comprehensive guide to making fun, successful games.

    — Scott Miller, CEO of 3D Realms
    creators of Duke Nuke'em

This book sets the record straight as to what "game design" is and why it's important.

    Tom Sloper, President, Sloperama Productions

A wise future designer would do well to read this before launching his or her career in the field.

    John Feil, Level Designer, LucasArts Entertainment

Text from the back cover:

    How do you take a great idea  and turn it into a game design? What makes one design better than another? Why does a good design document matter, and how do you write one? This book will answer these questions and stimulate your creativity!

    Game design consists of four essential tasks: imagining a game, defining the way that it works, describing the elements that make it up, and communicating this information to others.  Game Design examines each of those tasks, and shows you not only what issues you will need to address in your design, but how to think about games and gameplay.

    This book discusses both the theory and the practice of game design; both the why and the how. You'll get practical advice about how to design a game, what kinds of decisions you'll need to make as you go along, and how to write it all down. By the end of the book you will have the tools you need to design many kinds of games, and to create a professional-quality game design document.

    Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design will show you:

    • The key design elements of every computer and video game, and how to think about them .
    • How to write a high concept document, a treatment, and a full design script.
    • How to craft an imaginary world and populate it with interesting characters.
    • The essentials of user interface design—perspective, interaction model, and the player's role—and how to use them to define your game's look and feel.
    • How to construct and balance your game's internal mechanics to make sure the game is both fun and fair.
    • The relationship between interactivity and narrative, and how to write compelling stories.
    • The unique design problems in each of the major game genres.
    • How to design multi-player games to maximize player interaction and minimize cheating.

    Each chapter contains a worksheet listing key design decisions to help you at every step of the way!

    [ Back ]

Table of Contents

      Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design


      Part I The Elements of Game Design

      Chapter 1 What Is Game Design?

        Art, Science, or Craft?

        The Anatomy of Game Design

          The Importance of Game Design
          Seeking the Key Elements of Games
          Laying Down the Ground Rules

        Documenting the Design

          Why Do We Need Documents?
          The Types of Design Documents

        Anatomy of a Game Designer

          Technical Awareness
          Analytical Competence
          Mathematical Competence
          Aesthetic Competence
          General Knowledge
          Writing Skills
          Drawing Skills
          The Ability to Compromise

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 2 Game Concepts

        Getting an Idea

          Dreaming the Dream
          Game Ideas from Other Media
          Game Ideas from Other Games
          From Dream to Game

        The Elements of a Game

          Games, Toys, and Puzzles
          Challenges, Gameplay, and the Victory Condition
          Setting, Interaction Model, and Perspective
          The Players Role
          Modes and Structure
          A Word About Story

        Understanding Your Audience

          Core Versus Casual

        The Genres of Interactive Entertainment

        The Types of Game Machines

          Home Game Consoles
          Personal Computers
          Handheld Game Machines
          Other Devices

        Motivations That Influence Design

          Market-Driven Games
          Designer-Driven Games
          License Exploitation
          Technology-Driven Games
          Art-Driven Games
          Entertainment and Integration

        Game Concept Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 3 Game Settings and Worlds

        The Purpose of a Game Setting

          The Graphics Versus Gameplay Debate
          Immersiveness and Suspension of Disbelief
          The Importance of Harmony

        The Dimensions of a Game World

          The Physical Dimension
          The Temporal Dimension
          The Environmental Dimension
          The Emotional Dimension
          The Ethical Dimension

        Realism and Abstraction

        The Save-Game Issue

          Reasons for Saving a Game
          Consequences for Immersion and Storytelling
          Ways of Saving a Game
          To Save or Not to Save

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 4 Storytelling and Narrative

        Stories in Games

          Simple Backstories
          Who Is the Storyteller?
          The Monomyth and the Heros Journey

        The Story Vehicle

          Plot Pacing
          Gameplay and Narrative
          Multi-Part Stories

        Storytelling and Narrative Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 5 Character Development

        Art-Driven Character Design

          Visual Design
          Physical Design and Super-Sensuality
          Cute Sidekicks

        Story-Driven Character Design

          Character Development
          The Character Archetypes

        Character Development Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 6 Creating the User Experience

        What Is the User Experience?

          The Interactive Element
          The Visual Element
          The Audio Element

        The Human-Computer Interface

          Evolution of the User Experience

        Components of the User Experience

          The Interactive Element
          The Visual Element
          The Audio Element

        User Interface Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 7 Gameplay

        Use of Language

        Defining Gameplay

          Pure Challenges
          Applied Challenges

        Gameplay Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 8 The Internal Economy of Games and Game Balancing

        What Is Game Balance?

        Static Balance

          Randomness and Average Values
          Dominant Strategies
          Feedback Loops
          Summary of Static Balance

        Dynamic Balance

          What Are We Balancing?
          Balanced Systems

        Tools for Balancing

          Design for Modification
          Design Prototyping
          Future Potential

        Internal Economy Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Part II The Genres of Games

      Chapter 9 Action Games

        Action Game Genres


        Design Elements

          The Rules
          Victory Conditions
          Interaction Model
          User Interface Design

        Special Design Considerations for Action Games

        Action Game Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 10 Strategy Games

        The Common Elements of Strategy Games

          Interaction Model
          User Interface
          Designing Opponents

        Strategy Game Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 11 Role-Playing Games

        The Common Elements of Role-Playing Games

          Interaction Model

        CRPG Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 12 Sports Games

        The Common Elements of Sports Games

          Competition Modes
          Victory and Loss Conditions
          Interaction Model
          User Interface Design
          Player Roles

        Special Design Issues for Sports Games

          Physics for Sports Games
          Rating the Athletes
          Athlete AI Design
          Arcade Mode Versus Simulation Mode
          Simulating Matches Automatically
          Licenses, Trademarks, and Publicity Rights
          Audio Commentary
          Other Peculiarities

        Sports Game Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 13 Vehicle Simulations

        The Common Elements of Vehicle Simulations

          The Rules
          Competition Modes
          Gameplay and Victory Conditions
          Interaction Model
          User Interface Design
          The Players Role

        Other Vehicles

          Boats and Ships
          Tanks and Mechs

        Special Design Considerations for Vehicle Simulations

          Creating the Sense of Speed
          Designing Opponents
          Intellectual Property Rights

        Vehicle Simulation Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 14 Construction and Management Simulations

        The Common Elements of CMSs

          The Players Role
          User Interface

        Special Design Considerations for CMSs

          Simulating Individuals
          Pure Business Simulations
          Hybrid Games

        Construction and Management Simulation Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 15 Adventure Games

        What Is an Adventure Game?

          The Original Adventure
          The Growth of Adventure Games
          Adventure Games Today

        The Common Elements of Adventure Games

          Interaction Model
          Player Roles

        User Interface Design

          Avatar Movement
          Manipulating Objects

        Special Design Considerations

          Conversations with NPCs
          Journal Keeping
          A Few Things to Avoid

        Adventure Game Worksheet

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 16 Artificial Life, Puzzle Games, and Other Genres

        Artificial Life Games

          Artificial Pets
          The Sims
          Genetic A-Life Games

        Puzzle Games

          Scott Kim's Eight Steps
          What Computers Bring to Puzzles
          Checking the Victory Condition

        Games for Girls

          Mattel's Approach
          A Few Misconceptions
          A Final Note

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 17 Online Games

        Advantages of Online Games

          Player Socializing
          Human Intelligence Instead of Artificial Intelligence
          Online Gameplay Versus Local Multi-Player Gameplay

        Disadvantages of Online Games

          Technical Issues
          It's Harder to Suspend Disbelief
          The Need to Produce Content
          Customer Service

        Design Issues for Online Gaming

          Arriving Players
          Disappearing Players
          Real-Time Versus Turn-Based Games
          Technical Security

        Persistent Worlds

          The Origins of Persistent-World Gaming
          How Persistent Worlds Differ from Games
          The Four Types of Players
          Creating an Avatar
          World Models
          Avatar Death
          The Player-Killer Problem
          The Nature of Time
          Persistent World Economies
          Final Thoughts on Persistent Worlds

        Putting It Together

      Chapter 18 The Future of Gaming

        Gaming Hardware

          Location-Based Entertainment
          Home Video Game Consoles
          Personal Computers
          Handheld Game Machines, PDAs, and Telephones
          Virtual Reality

        The Future of Game Programming

          Scene Representation
          Natural Language Processing

        Game Genres

          Action Games
          Strategy Games
          Role-Playing Games
          Sports Games
          Vehicle Simulations
          Construction and Management Simulations
          Adventure Games

        Broadband Networking

          Electronic Distribution
          High-Speed Online Gaming

        The Distant Future

          Automated Programming

        Interactive Entertainment as an Art Form

          Interactive Artwork
          Requirements for Recognition
          Breaking New Ground

        A Few Final Words

      Part III Appendixes

      Appendix A: Sample Design Documents

        Creating and Using Design Documents

          Using Pictures in a Document
          Protecting Your Rights
          About These Templates

        The High-Concept Document

          High-Concept Statement
          Further Details

        The Game Treatment

          Title Page
          Executive Summary
          Game Overview
          Production Details
          Game World

        The Design Script

          How Big Should It Be?
          The Design Web Site
          Chris Taylors Template

      Appendix B: Bibliography

        Game Design

        Game Theory

        History and Sociology of Video Games

        Architecture and Graphic Design

        Writing and Narrative


    [ Back ]