May 192006
 

Now that it’s on Amazon, I suppose that I need to actually write it.

This is the follow-on to A Theory of Fun for Game Design, of course, and it’s called A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work. It’s intended as a companion, of course, but also as an amalgam of all the thoughts on game atoms, game design notation, mechannics vs dressing, and so on. It’s also intended to spend a fair amount of time on only the dressing — not so much as to replace indispensable books like Lee Sheldon’s, but just to provide a bit of an overview of how non-mechanical elements influence a player’s perception of a game.

The overview sell sheet that I provided to the publisher:

A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work

In A Theory of Fun for Game Design, a case was made for the enormous cognitive value that games have, and how they fit into the broader picture of human culture, acting as teachers of important concepts throughout life. Using the vocabulary provided by science and the arts, we explored the strengths and weaknesses of games as a medium, and explored the vast possibilities games offer.

Now in A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work we turn to the question of how they accomplish these things. Using the latest thinking from game studies as well as years of experience, games are broken down and revealed as models of reality. We learn how they tick, how they teach, and what sorts of things they can communicate.

The book is broken into a few broad sections:

  • A brief recap of A Theory of Fun, to provide context for the rest of the book.
  • An overall structure for looking at games: separating game mechanics from content, the game metaphor from the mechanics, and the narrative from the metaphor.
  • A breakdown of the “grammar” of games: how the mechanics fit together naturally to form a sort of “atomic theory of game design.”
  • The borrowed media: games today are a multimedia experience. The mechanics alone are not the only part of the experience. Using research and knowledge from a variety of fields, we explore the best practices and the cognitive impacts of things like camera choice, art style, and music.

This is all presented in the same style as A Theory of Fun – cartoons on every facing page, and a light and easy tone that conveys complex concepts with maximum scholarship and minimal confusion. Anyone from game designers to game players will want to read this book for a greater understanding of how games work, while those interested in the scholarly material will once again find extensive end notes designed to help people do deeper research.

Since a large part of the book will be defining and exploring terms from the fledgling field of ludology, there will also be a special appendix to the book providing definitions of game design terms in light of the game grammar defined in the book.

Rough outline

  • Recap of ATOF: why games matter
    • Where games exist: the spaces they are placed within

    • Social contexts and solo contexts
    • Breaking up games: mechanics, content, metaphor, and narrative
  • Games as models
    • The topology of game spaces

    • All games are turn-based: iteration and preparation
    • Verbs: the core of games
    • Choices in solutions
    • Skill required
    • Variable feedback
    • Dealing with the Mastery Problem and other feedback loops
    • Cost of failure
    • What is content?
  • Metaphor: shaping the message
    • Game design patterns

    • Types of game
    • Common metaphors
    • The meaning of metaphors
    • Human universals versus cultural associations: what trappings always work?
    • Art styles, color, psychological impact
    • Sound and music
    • The interactive movie: narrative in games
    • Cameras and viewpoints
  • The shape of things to come
    • The embedding trend

    • Games that are not games
    • The power of models
    • Singularity

What exists right now? A bunch of notes, which is about where I was at this stage on ATOF too. Except that on ATOF I had the skeleton, via the original presentation, and I don’t have that in this case. I may actually have to putline the book in Powerpoint to capture the same feel as the first book!

Supposedly, I’ll have it done by the fall. Wish me luck — I’ll keep you posted, and probably also pester you for research help!

  24 Responses to “The new book: A Grammar of Gameplay”

  1. (“shaming” is a legitimate tactic in software development). Anyways, before I manage my personal Summer task list it looks like Raph already has his Summer sewn up with writing the companion book to A Theory of Fun for Game Design which he’s titled,”A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work”. Outside of school and thesis work I’ve never managed any long-term writing projects, but I have friends who are professional writers, and I sense knowing their publishing pressures Raph has his work cut out for him.

  2. This, however, only brings on the next challenge. What would be the ideal game-oriented virtual world programming DSL look like? Perhaps it would involve something like Raph Koster’s ambition of a Grammar of Gameplay (see [1.] , [2.] ). To return to our Martians. Let us suppose our Martians don’t care about players or player culture. They simply want to know how the game is played so they can decide whether WoW could be as big a hit on Mars as the

  3. […] In A Theory of Fun for Game Design, a case was made for the enormous cognitive value that games have, and how they fit into the broader picture of human culture, acting as teachers of important concepts throughout life. Using the vocabulary provided by science and the arts, we explored the strengths and weaknesses of games as a medium, and explored the vast possibilities games offer. Now in A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work we turn to the question of how they accomplish these things. Using the latest thinking from game studies as well as years of experience, games are broken down and revealed as models of reality. We learn how they tick, how they teach, and what sorts of things they can communicate. Nicht wirklich berraschend, hatte ich doch schon vorher prophezeit, dass Raph jetzt sicher zunchst eine Pause einlegen und vielleicht ein neues Buch schreiben wird The new book: A Grammar of Gameplay 150)?150:this.scrollHeight)”> __________________ The tools suck! — Raph Koster […]

  4. Good luck! I like the synopsis and it will be nice to read it in context against Theory of Fun.

  5. I was a big fan of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, so I’m definitely looking forward to the new book. Please feel free to ping me if there is anything you think I could help with. Good luck with it in any case!

  6. It says 256 pages… That detail is fascinating, considering you haven’t started to write it…? =P

    Looking forward to reading it.

  7. That’s “a stock size” so to speak.

  8. […] May 19, 2006 Koster To Debut A Grammar of Gameplay Book Veteran game designer and former Sony Online Entertainment chief creative officer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) has announced, via his weblog, that he is working on a follow-up to the popular ‘A Theory Of Fun For Game Design’ book, which was excerpted by Gamasutra in late 2004. This new title, according to Koster, is called ‘A Grammar Of Gameplay: How Things Work’, and is described as follows: “Using the latest thinking from game studies as well as years of experience, games are broken down and revealed as models of reality. We learn how they tick, how they teach, and what sorts of things they can communicate.” According to Koster, the book is broken into a few broad sections: “A brief recap of A Theory of Fun, to provide context for the rest of the book… An overall structure for looking at games: separating game mechanics from content, the game metaphor from the mechanics, and the narrative from the metaphor… A breakdown of the grammar of games: how the mechanics fit together naturally to form a sort of atomic theory of game design.” These sections are followed by: “The borrowed media: games today are a multimedia experience. The mechanics alone are not the only part of the experience. Using research and knowledge from a variety of fields, we explore the best practices and the cognitive impacts of things like camera choice, art style, and music.” Koster, who has not yet revealed his post-SOE plans regarding game creation, notes on his weblog that this new book is supposed to be “done by the fall”, but is still relatively early in production. POSTED: 1.58pm PST, 05/19/06 – Simon Carless – LINK […]

  9. Does this have anything to do with the neat flow diagrams you showed at GDC05?

  10. Yeah, that’s where the “games as models” section originates.

  11. Gamasutra picked this story up.

    This new title, according to Koster, is called ‘A Grammar Of Gameplay: How Things Work’

    Things. Games. What’s the difference? :)

  12. How Things Work would be rather difficult to cover in either (1) less than 1000 pages or (2) more than 2 pages.

  13. Search Amazon for "how things work". You’ll find lots of results. :)

  14. Cant wait to read it!

  15. […] Raph Koster,the veteran game designer and former SOE chief creative officer,has announced(according to gamasutra.com) via his weblog that he is working on a follow-up "A Grammar of Gameplay: How Things Work" book(originally as A Theory of Fun for Game Design).This book was created by "Using the latest thinking from game stuies as well as years of experience". The book is broken into a few broad sections,including A brief recap of A Theory of Fun, to provide context for the rest of the book. An overall structure for looking at games: separating game mechanics from content, the game metaphor from the mechanics, and the narrative from the metaphor. A breakdown of the grammar of games: how the mechanics fit together naturally to form a sort of atomic theory of game design. The borrowed media: games today are a multimedia experience. The mechanics alone are not the only part of the experience. Using research and knowledge from a variety of fields, we explore the best practices and the cognitive impacts of things like camera choice, art style, and music.Plus,it is also revealed that this new book was supposed to be done by the fall,but not production date was confirmed.For more details on this book,you can head here. […]

  16. I’m very down with “Singularity” being the last section of the book.

    I like to think the universe is an MMOG under development and capitalism is just the crunch mode.

  17. Looks good Raph — I bet it’s a heavy Summer project.

    Re. metaphor. There’s a ton of research on metaphors as models outside of gaming. Are you keeping these areas separate? I can wait to find out:) It’s a great topic. Thanks.

  18. […] Editorials: Raph’s writing a new book, not The Practical Application of FunFeedback forum || Email Editor@Warcry.comFiled 05/22/2006 by JR “Razor” SutichWhich is a shame, because his former employer could have really benefitted from reading it. His new book will be titled “A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work”. Parts of it sound interesting, like “Games that are not games” under a “The shape of things to come” heading. I’m going to say that this is where Raph talks about more virtual worlds with gameplay (or lack of it) like Second Life, and Entropia Universe. Maybe even that Naughty America porn game. Raph, if you’re reading, books are cool and all, but some of us are lost in the MMO sauce. Could you make us a new game please? […]

  19. A book on game theory design written by you is like a book on directing and editing made by Uwe Boll so…spare me the uselessness thanks

  20. […] The new book: A Grammar of Gameplay, and I still haven’t started actually writing the damn thing… […]

  21. […] Koster’s current book project is A Grammar of Gameplay, an ambitious attempt to symbolically describe the component “atoms” of games. He presented an early example at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, CA, March 2005. The grammar would be a tool to reverse-engineer and notate individual game ingredients, such as topology (“the operational space for a given asset”), core mechanics (“ludemes”), depth of recursion, cost of failure and many other abstractions. Using the grammar, a designer could quantifiably assess a game’s difficulty, range of challenges and required feedback mechanisms. […]

  22. […] quote:Originally posted by AshtonWindsor There appears to be a bizarre belief that inventing a name for something – descriptive or not – confers something valuable. Furthermore, the less useful a name is the more favored it seems to be. Gee, I wonder why. Let me guess: every word you write, speak, and otherwise use was invented at one point or another to identify and/or describe a concept. Raph Koster is currently writing a new book, A Grammar of Gameplay: How Games Work. And Raph’s preceding GDC 2005 presentation. Also at Lost Garden, Creating a System of Gameplay Notation. quote:What benefit do we receive from this celebration of game design theory that makes up for its alienation of the “uneducated”?Pity. I almost shed a tear. Almost. […]

  23. […] This, however, only brings on the next challenge.   What would be the ideal game-oriented virtual world programming DSL look like?  Perhaps it will involve something likek Raph Koster’s ambition of a Grammar of Gameplay (see [1.] , [2.] ).  […]

  24. […] of trust, cooperation, and politics, which in turn spur meditation on those issues.(Reply to this) (Parent) (Thread) nadreck 2006-06-02 07:02 pm UTC (link) Raph is an interesting fellow. You may havealready found it, but he maintains a fairly popular and regularly updated blog at http://www.raphkoster.com/. He just announced the sequel to A Theory of Fun, which in theory should be done in the fall and is called A Grammar of Gameplay (Outline here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/05/19/the-new-book-a-grammar-of-gameplay/). Unless I’m off my game and misunderstanding, it sounds to me from the outline provided that it will be addressing a lot of the issues and thoughts the book sparked in you, so it might be worth checking out when it comes out.As far as overly mechanising a theme or moral question, I think you’re right, there is a definite and large risk that by doing so, you end up curtailing further thought or growth. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done to great effect in some cases, though, and ultimately it is the task of the designer to try and balance the editorial and exploratory/meditative elements.(Reply to this) (Parent) […]

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