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GCG: Zimmerman and the Systems Approach

Eric Zimmerman, co-founder and chief design officer of Gamelab (Diner Dash), believes in taking a systems approach to game design. Sister site GameCareerGuide.com has just <a href="http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/594/the_systems_approach_an

Jill Duffy, Blogger

August 22, 2008

2 Min Read

Eric Zimmerman, co-founder and chief design officer of Gamelab (Diner Dash), believes in taking a systems approach to game design. GameCareerGuide.com, Gamasutra’s sister site for game development education, has just posted an interview with him on what that really means. Zimmerman professes to using a systems approach to nearly everything, from resume writing, to game design, to answering questions posed by an interviewer. For newcomers to the industry and students still developing their meta-knowledge of what video games are, Zimmerman describes exactly what he means when he says, “games are a system,” as this excerpt shows: “A game is really a system in a very particular way. It’s at its base mathematical. We can always reduce games to systems of mathematical and logical rules. With a game, … you really have something that is more like a little machine, or little parts that are moving in relationship to each other. If you and I play a game of chess, we might end up playing a game of chess that none of us has ever played before in its exact combination and never will play again. That’s possible because of the way games are made up of parts that interrelate to each other in dynamic ways to form a whole, whether those parts are the players on a soccer team with a ball on a field, whether they’re the pieces on the chess board, whether they are virtual AI characters moving around in a 3D space on your screen that you’re interacting with through a controller. And each of those parts has other parts. Each AI-controlled character may have a shape and a size and a sound and a health stat … There are systems within systems in games. Now I think that’s important for a few reasons. But as a teacher who has taught game design in the past, the one most fundamental way of thinking that is necessary to game design is thinking in terms of systems -- rather than, say, ‘I want to make this game about this character. I want to tell a story through my game. I want this character to look a certain way and have a certain feeling.’ That kind of thing is important, but that’s more of a narrative approach. There are many many approaches to making games. With a systems approach, we’re really looking under the hood of the game.” This exclusive and extended interview with Zimmerman, which also contains his advice to people who want to get their first job in the game industry, is available on GameCareerGuide.com. [For more information about breaking into the video game industry, visit GameCareerGuide’s Getting Started section.]

About the Author(s)

Jill Duffy


Jill Duffy is the departments editor at Game Developer magazine. Contact her at [email protected].

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