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Letter to the Editor: Game Development Essentials Review

A game industry veteran and educator gives an opposing view of the recent book review on the "Game Development Essentials" series, in this follow-up Lett

August 25, 2006

4 Min Read

Author: by Beth A.

A game industry educator who has asked to remain anonymous has given an opposing view of the recent book review on the "Game Development Essentials" series in this follow-up Letter to the Editor. The full extract of the letter follows: On August 22, you had a glowing book review of Game Development Essentials by Jeannie Novak. I have been a game designer for the last 20 years and I have used Novak in several college classes giving me an in depth experience with the book. As such, I would like to express a very different opinion and try to support my assessment. In general, I find the Novak does not understand many important aspect of game design and development and is somewhat superficial in the material she presents. In addition, I find the presentation in the book, although attractive, is confusing for the reader. First, let me address Novak's lack of knowledge with several examples... On Page 183 Novak makes the statement: "Much of gameplay applies elements of classical game theory" and then spends 4 pages discussing Game Theory. This statement and the material used to support it shows both a misunderstanding of what Game Theory is and inexperience in suggesting it is important to game design. Game Theory is a theorem of mathematics and economics models decision making and has almost nothing to do with game play or computer games. "Game" doesn't even mean the same things in mathematics as it does in the game industry. And yes, if one examines these four pages, she is talking about Game Theory, not some theory of games. To contrast this, it one examines other books on game design, one will find either Game Theory is not mentioned at all, or gets at most a paragraph. In my 20 years in the industry, I have used game theory perhaps once in a specific application for AI and that's it. So to suggest that gameplay applies elements of Game Theory is completely erroneous and totally misleads the reader. Another example is exhibited on page 80. There Novak states: "Two-player (also known as head-to-head) games initially evolved from single player arcade games." A number of problems appear just in this one statement. First "head to head" is not the equivalent to two player games (the former is a subset of the latter). But more important, two player games did not evolve from single player arcade games. The oldest games known to man (Mancala, Chess, Go) are two player games. The original computer games, including Space War (1964) was a two player game. The oldest arcade and console games (Pong) were two player games. Two player games just did not evolve from single player games. Another example is on page 128. Here Novak equates non-linearity in computer games with non-linearity in movies. These are two completely different concepts. Non-linearity in movies refers to the story not being told in a linear time sequence. Non-linearity in games refers to the story being told changing due to the game players decisions. These are entirely two difference concepts. Graphic aids in the book have similar problems. For example, on page 76 we see a diagram of both a client server network and a peer to peer network. The peer to peer diagram seems to imply there is a central switching process. This is actually the opposite of the truth and what should be communicated. As far as confusing formatting is concerned, allow me to point to page 93. Two side bars are stuck in the middle of the text. Yet it is difficult to easily see what is side bar and what is text, and if the reader is color blind, it would be impossible to discern the difference. Many students have complained to me how hard it is to follow the primary text. If these were the only problems, I would support the book in general. However, these are just a few examples of innumerable similar problems. Every time the author has an insight that might be of value, she then turns around and makes some type of mistake or misstatement. As a teacher, I am constantly put in the awkward position of having to correct the book. This in turn reduces the students’ faith in the book even when it is correct. As such, I do not recommend this book either for the individual or for schools as a text book.

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