Let’s talk about the MDA framework, and why it should be part of your game design world.

MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research is an academic paper written by Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek in 2001. It puts forth an analytical model that breaks a game’s design into discrete layers. These layers are often helpful in separating a game’s complexity into pieces that can be understood in a critical or developmental context.

If you’re involved in game design, academia, or criticism, or if you just love playing, do yourself a favor and check it out. I’ve worked…


I don’t know who needs to hear this, but there’s a reason you make games.

Sharing Joy

You like making people happy, and games are built to entertain. Great chefs are driven to share flavors, and architects inspire others with space. You appreciate the power of interactivity, and love when others can experience what you call fun. You know you can make the world just a little better.

Building Worlds

You love playing God. Game development gives you unlimited freedom to bring fantastic places to life. As technology continually improves, and as design becomes more sophisticated, these realms become even more immersive and affecting…


What makes a game “classic?” I think about this a lot as I’m playing games, hitting them with my own litmus tests to determine their worth in the grand scheme. As game makers we do this because we want to build something great. We know classic is good, but what exactly is it?

There are hundreds of definitions out there for the label of classic, but they invariably point to the concept of timelessness. A classic idea, product or work of art can hold its own in any era. There are other terms for worthy creations: quality, importance, age. These…


Many, many video games can be seen as the interplay between order and chaos. Some games are all about creating order from a chaotic play field, while others center on wreaking destructive chaos on an ordered world. Players understand this inherently, and I think we even expect it. Many sophisticated games balance the two extremes to create a satisfying experience, and I believe it helps us to consider games from this perspective.

When analyzing gameplay along an order/chaos spectrum, we find that lots of engagement happens when players move the state of the game from one end to the other…


We love making and playing “retro” games — those titles that harken back to an earlier, simpler time full of chunky pixels and chiptune audio. While video games have evolved at a lightning pace since their inception in the late 50’s, the past decade has revealed a desire to linger in another era. I think we can all agree that it’s worth exploring why developers continue to build these games, and why players still love them.

You know these games. Many of us have lived the pure flow state of Geometry Wars, the brutal simplicity of Nidhogg, and the infinite…


A colleague of mine recently posted a job opening for a Lead Game Designer. He’s a founder of a small indie game studio, and is understandably keen to hire the right person to guide the team’s design process. As he put together a design test for prospective candidates, he asked for my input on what makes a good test. Fully planning to receive hundreds of applications (both qualified and um… not), he wanted a design challenge that could quickly highlight skilled designers and screen out the rest. Surely there must be best practices for creating these things?

A thousand opinions…

John Nelson Rose

GAME + DESIGNER + ENGINEER

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