Book Review: Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Joris Dormans

What do you think of the book “Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design” by Joris Dormans?

I skimmed through it, and it seems pretty good. One criticism I’d have is the use of the Machinations flow diagram system for describing game logic, but it still has a lot of great textual examples backing it. I think that these flow diagrams never really work out too well (Raph Koster’s game grammar was kind of a disappointment, the one used in the book seems a bit more realistic though). They don’t have strong descriptive or predictive capabilities most of the time. I’d honestly prefer code or written word descriptions usually. But I mean, it’s not really taking away from the book at all.

Overall, the book features tons of good and useful information and examples of different game mechanics and means of implementation. I’d totally recommend it!

One critical thing it leaves out though is rock paper scissors. It loosely alludes to it when it goes over rushing versus turtling (RTS games have the early game counter loop of rush > greedy > turtle > rush). Greedy builds spend all their early resources on maximizing the rate of resource acquisition. Rush builds spend those resources on fucking people up as early as possible. Turtle builds spend those resources on defending against a rush. It’s pretty obvious to see rush beats greed and turtles beat rush. Greedy builds beat turtles because the turtles don’t have as strong an economy, and lose out in the long run. In Starcraft the meta has kind of settled on mixed turtle builds being the best early on (far as I know). The book sort of alludes to greedy builds on page 69, but it doesn’t say the word greedy anywhere and kind of forgets about this early example when it goes into turtling versus rush later on.

Without the dynamic of rock paper scissors, I think the book misses something really important to any type of multiplayer game, but it makes sense given the simulation game background the book appears to be coming from.

Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think the economic modeling system used by the book is entirely appropriate to describe platformers, or action games or FPS games either really. It’s kind of limited to games that are more strictly about economics. Hmm. It does mention Dan Cook’s Skill Atoms, but it talks about those more in a structure similar to locks and keys in order to teach the player a chain of skills, rather than looking at the game dynamics from the perspective of a player who is already experienced and merely engaging with emergent systems composed of familiar components and familiar skills in an unfamiliar arrangement.

So, still a good book, but I guess it’s not comprehensive. Good if you’re building an economics game, or game that features economics somewhere, useless for building a racing game, or most action games including fighting games and platformers.

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