Dr. Pulsipher

Games I'm playing:  Gratuitous Space Battles.  A little Angry Birds and Angry Birds Space.  Owing to wrist and finger problems, I don't intensively play video games any more.  When I did, games such as Civ II and III, Total Annihilation, Master of Orion II, Heroes of Might and Magic II and III, and Empire Deluxe occupied my time, along with Age of Wonder and others.

I bought Rome:Total War, but it doesn't work on Windows 7.   I've played Civ IV, Age of Wonder II, and Warcraft III in the past few years.  I have Civ V, Skyrim, Fallen Enchantress but haven't played yet!

And of course I play all of my prototypes.  Playing games that I am not presently trying to design/make better is not productive.

Ernest Adams' "No Twinkie" Database of bad design  


Maxims of Game Design (revised):


In most situations, focus on gameplay, not story.

There is no Easy Button.

As with most other endeavors, in game design you won't be good to start with.

Keep it simple. Avoid the "curse of more".

Don't forget replayability, which usually comes from uncertainty.

Ideas are a dime a dozen.

It's not the idea, it's the execution.

You need to WORK to get ideas.

Ideas alone are virtually worthless.

If you want your game made, you need to WORK at it.

Game design is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Write it down!

Don't hide behind the computer!

Games are not movies. They're interactive.

If the player isn't doing something, it's not really a game.

If no one can play your game design, you don't have a game yet.


Playtesting is the heart of game creation.

Your prototype will change a lot, don't spend time making it "pretty" or fancy.

Learn to play your game solo, even if it's for five players.


Listen most to playtesters who lost the game.

Get input from people who don't feel a need to keep you happy.

Playtesting is giving people the opportunity to say your game sucks.

Games can always be improved, but there comes a point when it isn't worth the time it takes (Diminishing Marginal Returns).

When in doubt, leave it out.

Games take time to mature, regardless of your rush. (Concrete "drying". Nine pregnant women)

You need the patience of Job.

Game designers don't get to play (finished) games much.

All games are art--and the players don't care.  But none are Art.

"Making an 80% game is very easy. A lot of games that are out there are just 80% finished. With more testing the game could be more elegant and the last 20% takes a lot of time. That's the difficult part." Reiner Knizia (makes over a $1M annually as freelance designer of board, card, and DS games)


Here's what Iím told are the three things the game industry wanted students to learn from school (in no particular order):


       critical thinking

       the pipeline process (how a video game proceeds from conception to completion)

The critical thinking is absolutely vital to game designers, not so much to other game creators.

Game Developer Magazine

Complete archives: http://gdcvault.com/gdmag?goback=.gde_59205_member_275507544#!

Dr. P's recent articles online (GameCareerGuide, Gamasutra, Gamedev.net) (I am not including most of the "expert blog"):

Most of my contributions to Gamasutra these days are via my "expert blog" (30+ "featured posts" so far). 

[Needs to be updated]


"So you're making a game for the very first time".  The comments on this Gamasutra "expert blog" post are fascinating.  16 May 11

"Playtesting is Sovereign, Part 2"  2 Sep 10

"The Elephant in the Room" (varieties of game-related education, lead article in Aug 10 IGDA Perspectives Newsletter special extended issue on game education)

"Playtesting is Sovereign, Part 1"  10 Aug 10

Opinion: The "Virgin Mary" of Video Games?  Depictions of Violent Death 31 May 10

"Identifying a good game school" (co-author Ian Schreiber) 30 Mar 10

"What are game designers trying to do?" 19 Feb 10

"Maxims of Game Design" 4 Feb 10

"Some Game Playing Styles, and How Games Match One Style or Another" [longer version] 25 Jan 10

"Playing Styles, and How Games Match One Style or Another" 26 Nov 09

"Opinion: Are Games Too Much Like Work?" 4 Sep 09

"All I needed to know about games I learned from Dungeons and Dragons" 18 Aug 09

"Game Curricula: Differences in Focus"  4 Aug 09

"Industry Hopefuls: Prepare Intelligently" 7 July 09

"Student Illusions About Being a Game Designer"  7 May 09

"Expert Blogs":  Triangle Game Conference, Law of Gaming, Effect of Reviews on Video Game Development, What Games Amount To.

"Twenty Essential Design Questions" 14 April 09

"The Nine Structural Sub-Systems of Any Game" 17 Mar 09

The Nature of Games in the 21st Century 5 Mar '09

"Opinion: What Does 'Game Developer' Mean?" 2 March '09

Why Design Games 13 January '09

Characteristics of Successful Game Designers 23 Dec '08

Opinion: Why Immersion Shouldn't Be The 'Holy Grail' 19 Dec '08

Origins of Games.  9 Dec '08

Why We Play

The Idea is not the Game.  Link is to Gamasutra intro with comments.

Why we use non-electronic games to teach video game design (on GameCareerGuide, written by myself).   Gamasutra intro (with a couple comments) here.

Choosing a (game-related) school (by a recent graduate, very personal point of view)

Chances when rolling two or three dice (spreadsheet).

Sites of interest to gamers and game creators (links).

Quotations about game creation.

We don't need to be serious ALL the time

The World New Chess Championship

Links of interest to would-be game creators (chronological order):

Candid advice about Kickstarter funding

Beyond Pacing: Games Aren't Hollywood.  Describes very well why games cannot work the way films do.

Examining the ethics of free-to-play games.  "Enabling self-destructive behavior is wrong."  And a parody (kind of) of the ethics of selling video games (pay to play).

The Five Basics of Being a Game Design Problem-Solver

Differentiating games, learning games, and gamification

Richard Bartle on gamification

The real price of free-to-play games.

Don't always do what the playtesters say you should

Discussion of how courts have treated obvious cloning of games

Game flavor text must be brief, or players won't read it

On Being Wrong.   ("Fail fast" is a well-known adage, so that you can correct the failures.)

Difference between the professional designer and the enthusiast

Monte Cook (one of the designers of recent editions of D&D) about RPG design

Learning from the Masters: Level Design in The Legend of Zelda

Designing F2P titles for hardcore gamers (especially read the comments)

Monetization of free-to-play games

Finishing a game

What do investors look for in a game developer?

Insights (from appannie) into revenues for iOS and Android games

Postmortem: Humble Hearts' Dust: An Elysian Tail   A mostly one-man game, by an artist who learned programming.

7 Ways to Fail at Free-to-Play

Paper prototypes for electronic gaming

Video about getting funding for games (November 2012).  From the UK, but most applies to US as well.

PRACTICE: Irrational's Gaynor On Better Storytelling, Player Freedom Through Gating

I've invented a boardgame, now what?

Convention etiquette.  Written for writers and artists, but applies exactly to game people as well.

25 things writers should know about conventions.  Written for SF/F authors, but fits for game designers as well.

Randomness, blight or bane by Greg Costikyan.  This is a brilliantly clear exposition.

How to get published in 17 tweets (and then longer explanations...).  Written for tabletop games, but much applies to freelance video games as well.

(Video) World-building Tips, starting out

What AI (the computer opponent) should be doing - it's about goals, not about programming. This is outstanding advice, because it focuses on what's important for the game (as a game designer would) rather than on what's possible with sufficient programming trickery (which is what a programmer might focus on).   "AI" is a convenient term, but one of the main points of the article is that you're not writing artificial intelligence, you're writing a relatively simple computer opponent that will meet the needs of the player.

Most expensive video game budgets ever.

Tactical Level Design.

Do co-op games make us less aggressive?

Four pillars of making a truly great game, according to Insomniac

Explanation of why publishers are resorting to ultraviolence in games (and why the march to F2P is inexorable)

Brilliant (though depressing) summary of the characteristics of American online gamers.

An interesting attempt to categorize all tabletop games.

Lack of respect for game design (and why)

What makes a game?  (An attempt at definition)

Game marketing is about the player, not the designer; we're past the age of invention/innovation.

Will Wright interview, lots of observations on where the industry is going and where it's been (March 2012)

How game stories are made

Think-aloud studies to identify problems in user interface.  (This is about Web sites, but applies as well to video games.  Jakob Nielsen is the guru of Web usability.)

Game makers (the first one appears to be Wil Wright) trying to sum up game design and development in one word (video)

Sample game design document (2007)

Definition and discussion of abstract games.

Company makes over $3 million from sale of one virtual item.

Balancing Multiplayer Games series by David Sirlin

Brief but fascinating blog relating game design to the theory of games of strategy.

Social game metrics.

A "social game" that allows players to create characters with some measure of artificial intelligence.

How video games and generational changes have affected even Monopoly.

Close your eyes to win at rock, paper, scissors!

Game analytics in social networking games.  Slideshow about monetizing SNG.

Video game patents.  Written in a "lawyerly" style by lawyers.  But important to independent developers.  Read this article for the commonsense point of view about patents.

"Gamification" is an undesirable term adopted by the same kinds of people who like the blatant exploitation of social netowrking games.  Ian Bogost wants to call it "exploitationware".

Yes, men and women are different, a very important consideration for designers.  Here's a fascinating (and non-traditional) discussion.

Teaching players to play your video game (tutorials, etc.).

Interactive storytelling (primarily a video with comments from many video game designers).

Social game design is a game in itself.  ďThe majority of time in traditional game development is spent building a game behind closed doors which is more like training for the Olympics. Whereas social game development puts you smack in the middle of a full season where youíre constantly adjusting your game by listening to your coach (product manager), watching the other team and playing to the fans. Itís about being in the moment, not preparing for the moment.Ē

While this article is about web pages, it's advice about user mental models of interfaces applies very well to games and especially video games

Advice about pitching a video game (to a publisher or funder)

What went wrong with Realtime Worlds (note especially their failure to playtest APB with outside people)

Game prototyping (from IGDA Newsletter)

"The Elephant in the Room" (varieties of game-related education, lead article in Aug 10 IGDA Perspectives Newsletter special extended issue on game education)

Game Design Essentials: 20 Real-World Games

Ian Bogost's satirical social game, and his critique of social games

Developer economics of a popular Flash game.  Flash game licenses site "FGLopedia".

Is the game industry a happy place?

An excellent article that explains the specific attraction of board games, something video games have rarely achieved

A new school based on using games to learn.

Boardgames should go digital.  The author misses much of the point of boardgames, the social interaction.  Longer discussion on Boadgamegeek that explains this.

ARG (Alternate Reality Game) survey of workers

Tips about pitching a game.  Some people believe there are few opportunities for a studio to pitch to a publisher nowadays.

Top 25 board and card games on Facebook

GDC 2010 vault  (many slide presentations)

Salary survey 2009 summary.

Another reported (fatal) example of "Internet addiction"

Blog comments on GDC 2010 (social games especially) by designer of Civ IV.  This link is to the blog, comments were Mar 19th.  Jesse Schell's talk "Beyond Farmville" at DICE.

The 7 Commandments of All Video Games (from a player's point of view)  Good points, but some I disagree with--it is very much a self-indulgent point of view.

Pandering to human weaknesses (Skinner style)

A company legally offering Risk online (use different name, different graphics (though same pattern of nations), rewritten rules).

The most interesting discussion of randomness in games that I've ever read

A brief guide to orchestration

Bad Designer, No Twinkie, 10th installment

The following is about making Web page interfaces, but applies equally to games of all kinds: Short-term memory and usability.  See also 10 usability heuristics (rules of thumb).

Virtual company methods to produce a AAA game (20 Nov 09)  Other articles about telecommuting and virtual companies. 

Facebook and MySpace game scams

Link to some slideshows from GDC 2009. 

Game designers: everything you know is wrong (about free-to-play online games)

Is modding useful in getting a job in the game industry?

Death of the author?  (Games and storytelling)

Free-to-play online games gaining traction (interview with Nexon honcho)

People still strike it rich in game-making.  A text game, in this case...

Day in the Life of three developers

"Endless Iteration" the key to Blizzard games

Writing for MMOs

Game AI and the perception of cheating (posted 16 Sep 09)

Why your game idea sucks (they all do) [Escapist magazine]  Trenchant, and aimed directly at video games.

Will your brilliant game idea make you rich and famous?  (Alan Emrich)

Selling your game idea--nope.  (Dan Marchant) (2 Sep)

A simple version of a story archetype.

Recommended downloadable "Art" games (Flow, Braid, etc.)

Asynchronous games design aspects (players are not all playing at the same time)

Working Nowhere and Everywhere (running a virtual company; their process is very programmer-driven, not surprisingly). Boomzap Entertainment (the virtual company in question; they make 2D "casual" games)

Decisions, decisions Written in relation to Magic: the Gathering, but applies to all games

"Art-house" video games

Games, Storytelling, and Breaking the String.  And here is the same author's take from seven years before.  He tells me he much prefers the more recent one.

Fortune Magazine: Board games are back

Sorting Out the Genre Muddle

Outstanding brief description of design documents (emphasizes the psychology involved)

Why Design Documents Matter

Professor hated for playing City of Heroes by the rules.  See also here.

Can games become "virtual murder"?

Book extract: game design documents

How a game gets made: the journey from concept to store shelves

Guantanamo: the Xbox 360 game

Postmorten: Getting the Game Degree

10 Game Design Process Pitfalls

Narration and Narrative Agents in Video Games

The game design game

Hardcore Gaming is Dying

How to tell a story (one of the free downloads on this site, about the center of the page)

Free-to-play massively multiplayer online games blur line between game design and business design

Game designer loses lawsuit against book publisher

Tips for game artists (which also apply to others entering the industry--just look at the five tips on the first page)

Inside Pac-Man (very detailed, based on disassembly of the code)

iPhone games making lots of money.  Another article in Raleigh paper.

Open Source Game Design  Are video game companies changing to selling services rather than products?

Where's the Cash for Flash games?

Video game playtesting (with examples from Speed Racer)

Pat Lawlor on the modern pinball market, small team creativity

Seven sins of startup companies

Challenges, not blood, attracts gamers

Becoming a video game designer

Best-selling games of 2008 (excluding PC)

Cowboy Coders  How NOT to approach programming in the 21st century games industry

"Collect Life Lessons as you Pass Go"  About the simple family-related virtues of playing boardgames (BBC).

Game industry interviewing 101  Be sure to read the comments.

Miyamoto interview (creative games, unusual games)

10 trends in games (written by a recent game school graduate)

New Yorker article about CliffyB and Epic Games.

Your career is your responsibility.

Who owns student work? (IGDA lawyer column)

How game designers communicate.

Debatable article about how little influence video game designers may have on the finished product.  I think it goes a little too far, but makes many good points.  Read the comments (including mine) for illumination.

For all you shooter fans, read the interview with "CliffyB" (Gears of War), especially the first page.

Gamasutra series on what gamers want/need: Family Gamers    Silver Gamers   Missing Gamers

The "No Twinkie" list (Bad Game Designer column--things you shouldn't do)

Postmortem: Bioshock

Writing for games

 Artist panel advice to students working toward artist jobs in games

Battling the Curse of "More" --setting goals, concentrating on the essence of a game (and, to some extent, keeping it simple)

Warren Spector and Mark Meyers talk about how the industry is changing, what's needed from new graduates.  Some really interesting and pointed comments about teams and teamwork, about costs, about the increasing importance of story (which was, a few years ago, quite unimportant) etc.

Does my school suck (and what really matters)

How to make a pitch (pitching a game idea).  What's an "elevator pitch"?  Read about it here.

"Agile" Development (Why Use Scrum).  Discusses costs of game development.

Is Gameplay as Narrative the Answer?  How important is story, and how must it be integrated with gameplay?

Game design article that shows step by step how David Sirlin designed a simple online CCG game to tie with "achievements" (an important idea in games these days).  The step-by-step process/logic is what I find interesting to read.

Free flash games site (look at their FAQ, from your point of view as creator of a game).  Also look at MochiAds for including ads within your Flash game.

Quality of life in the game industry.   Read the comments, especially.

What game development school does and doesn't do for you.  This is a lament by someone who went to a "video game school" and didn't understand that school alone won't get you a job.  The comments are the main interest.

What is a game engine?

Independent video games

Fewer mechanics, better game?  Unfortunately, the author does a weak job of making his point, which is to eliminate mechanics that contribute little or nothing to good gameplay.  Criticism from RPGers.  But some Euro games certainly follow this rule: don't present the player with too many choices.

Video game design is highly collaborative

Older links will be here--when I choose to move some to another page.

Lew's very simple dice-rolling program (VBS)

Of interest to students:

Get hold of Gameinformer  #247 Nov 2013" p 26, and read "How NOT to become a game developer" by Brian Albert

James Mathe's list of Facebook groups useful to game designers and (tabletop) publishers

No, you can't get a job as a game designer (right out of school)

51 things game students should know (PDF).  Mostly spot on. 

Jon Shafer's take on How you become a game designer.  Spot on.

The magic of a completed game

How to make the move from game developer to game designer

Stop using these 16 words to describe yourself (resumes)

Why boardgames are making a comeback (from Manchester (UK) Guardian)

7 reasons why you don't want to work in the video game industry  Written to be funny, but it's not so far from the truth.

Interview with Reiner Knizia about game design (he makes over $1 million a year as freelance designer)

Need to bring women into game development to improve the overall product

The myth of the gorgeous prototype

Evolution of the board for the tabletop prototype Startup Fever.

BOGA list of links to interesting game design articles.  Most of these are about tabletop games, but much of it applies to all games.   I don't agree with everything, of course (particularly the 10 steps article).  You probably ought to read all of them.  (A couple of mine are included.)

Using game techniques in education (video)

Profiles of game industry jobs (from UK Skillset, a site supporting game development in Britain)

Life and death of an east European gold pharm

A six-week class where programmers were deliberately excluded, turned out some interesting video games despite lack of experience.

Video: So you want to work in the video games industry, or more specifically as a game designer.  (A little exaggerated at times, but generally Right On.)  The kid's "game idea" is SO typical of video game enthusiasts.

Seven minute time lapse of creation of Global Game Jam game.

Using a hacked Kinect to become Superman

How video game discs are manufactured (and microprocessors, and crayons!)

Top two reasons why student projects fail

Another take on intellectual property rights of students and their schools

The effects of the Internet on cognition

IGDA Perspectives Newsletter (special game education issue) http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1103622612730&s=5384&e=001bjJMtYVLD5na2XeKxwdQPLZsG1p3qT-fIzP3DoIplE2Zygi_znL3nkFPOqYEdpSMb5blGwnajGiXFqpdbP0EEWcDs2yVMU6s6uTkLpKTNnCqsdCcHD38eeYH8m7gbqkfy1XJmKxHjaCUiGmbRewRrpN311IvxI88ow8WhNhBnZ059Dwvy4vn7-Nv2Xt3tpolxbswb20WMMRJIjFhkHi7Cwfa3lDPlmC_ [the URL is too long to place as a link!]

Making games is not always fun (myths debunked)

We are not mainstream

This article, part 2 especially, translated from German but quite relevant to America as well, describes the younger generation quite well, I think.  Both interesting in its own right, and relevant to those who design games.

Developing Games part-time

Five common mistakes in choosing a masters degree program.

A game lawyer's take on Activision's Indie game contest.  Interesting for how he sorts out the rights questions--when you submit a game to a contest you often sacrifice all of your rights.

cfnc.org  Anyone planning to go to college should check this out.

Multi-tasking two things works well for the brain, but for more than two accuracy declines.

Here's a Gamasutra interview with the designer of a very popular game that was made with Gamemaker.  "RJ: I've been using Game Maker almost exclusively for several years now: it allows me to focus on the design of a game instead of its technical implementation, which is a bit of a godsend after hacking through years of Pascal, Java and C++. In my opinion, a lot of developers focus on art and programming without recognizing good design as a skill of its own."

An article about legal issues for game developers.

Unpaid internships are probably illegal in some circumstances (though there are rules that can make them legal).

Pixar's guidelines for how to make a demo reel

Employers use Facebook and Twitter to judge candidates

NYC game-based schools

Academic Paths to Working in Games (examples from some successful persons)

Why are Cards so Special Victory Point Games

Description/discussion of one non-electronic game company's standard contract.

Non-electronic games that are patented (mostly by large corporations, in the end, and most include a physical component that is the main point of the patent).

While this series is about an industry wannabe going to the largest non-electronic game convention, it applies in most parts to how you'd behave going to a video game conference.  Simple, sensible advice.

How I started to publish boardgames (Tasty Minstrel Games)

How to be a game designer right now (using non-electronic games to learn)

Brief descriptions of the disciplines in video game production

Tom Sloper's rant about resumes and job applications.

NC State game development short video ("concentrations" in Bachelor of Fine Arts/Design and in Computer Science)

Concept artist practice (this is a PDF file)

Government (Labor Dept) description of artist occupation

Curriculum:  transfers; specialization

Plagiarism is a serious offense

The following article I wrote for an online journal explains some of the "contemporary" preferences in boardgames, and while you don't have to follow them (I often don't) some make good sense in many situations. The way Monopoly, Risk, and Game of Life do things is often not very good.


Notes about writing

My book at McFarland http://bit.ly/MSRs8e, at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Game-Design-Create-Tabletop-Finish/dp/0786469528

BooksAMillion says they have PDF of the book at $16.81 http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Game-Design/Lewis-Pulsipher/Q374756753?id=5435810241048

Dr. P's Website: http://www.pulsiphergames.com/gameindex.htm

Dr. P's (board)game design blog: http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

Dr. P is on Facebook.   Search for Lewis Pulsipher.  

Dr. P's blog about teaching game design: http://teachgamedesign.blogspot.com

Dr. P on myspace: I do have a site  there but haven't looked at it in years, literally. 

While I have an account on twitter (lewpuls), I don't post to it.

Links to podcasts and slides about teaching game subjects.

Links to reviews of books about games (some are about digital games).

About me:

Ph.D., Duke University (military and diplomatic history) 1981

I have about 17,000 classroom hours of computer teaching experience, from Continuing Ed (FTCC, 5 years full time) to Masters level (Webster University, 19+ years) to in-house staff training (Womack Army Medical Center).  I started at CCCC in January 2000, was temporarily at Wake Tech in Fall 2007, spent two years at FTCC.  Now I am completing a book about game design and planning others, as well as designing games.

I worked more than nine years in the Information Management Division, Womack Army Medical Center, as (at varying times) a programmer, the first Webmaster, the Y2K person, and the founder and chief of PC and Networking Support.

I have designed several published games--see most of the rest of this Website.

I started playing games more than 50 years ago. I started designing games more than 45 years ago. My first published (non-commercial) games appeared in the early 1970s, and my first commercial game over 30 years ago, in 1978 (Swords & Wizardry).

After publication of several commercial games, and after I earned my Ph.D., I took 20 years off from designing games, though I played lots of Dungeons and Dragons while learning computing, programming, networking, and making a living.

In 2004 I decided to get back into game design rather than write computer textbooks. I taught my first course in game design in fall 2004, though I did not teach games full time until fall 2007.

My "game resume".

"Making games is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." 

Hit Counter

"If I gave you 20 dollars and told you to go and spend it on something that would bring your family together; something that delivers an experience where people can laugh or learn, or both, there's nothing that comes close to a game.  When you're a kid games are about winning, but as you grow older you realize that having people want to play a game with you is a great compliment. And if it's a really good one, then you'll remember it for years. It'll become a memory, not just something you put back in the closet when you're done."  Mike Gray, Senior Product Acquisition (and former chief game designer) at Hasbro (who own Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Avalon Hill, Wizards of the Coast, and so on).