Game Design as Programming

What is it about game design that lures software developers? Both are geeks, to be sure, but there seems to be a special draw that somehow grabs hold of both.

Andrew and Kristin Looney are good case studies to start with. Before starting their own company inventing games, they worked as as computer scientists at NASA. The love of computer science is evident in their games, which are rife with simple mechanics that end in beautiful systems of input and output.

Richard Garfield, designer of Magic: The Gathering and other wildly popular thinking games, also began as a Bell Labs scientist. Magic’s inventive abstract system of interaction between cards was completely new at the time, but appeals to many – Garfield’s game is absurdly popular around the world.

Paul Sottosanti is a php developer-turned Magic-designer turned game-developer. His latest work, Tiny Adventures, builds cleverly on the new paradigm of social networking games.

There are a lot more examples of software devs-turned-board game developers, but take these clever people as examples to start with. Common geek-appeal aside, what is it that draws programmers? The game as a microcosm of reality with its own rules, structures, and beginning and end seem common to all four of our cases. Software is similar in its use of interconnected modular parts. The shared Ludism and limitless exploration potential of programming languages and games is equally likely.