Notes from talks at the 2000 Game Developers Conference

At the 2000 GDC I gave an all-day tutorial on the Art of Puzzle Design with Alexey Pajitnov (Microsoft), featuring guest speakers Bob Bates (Legend Entertainment), Gary Rosenzweig (Clevermedia), and Michael Wyman (Lucas Learning). I also led two roundtable discussions. Here are some followup notes.


The Art of Puzzle Game Design
(PowerPoint slides).
From an all-day tutorial I taught with Alexey Pajitnov, creator of Tetris, now at Microsoft.


Puzzle Designers mailing list. This list, hosted by Yahoo! Groups, is mainly for people who attended the Art of Puzzle Design sessions at GDC 2000, as a place to discuss puzzle design issues. To join, sign up below:


Bibliography with links. Game design, puzzle books, catalogs of physical puzzles and games, online resources.

Bob Bates: Designing the Puzzle. Article on how to design puzzles for adventure games, originally given at the 1997 Game Developers Conference. Bob's talk at the tutorial was taken directly from this paper.

Tutorial Slides, Wed, Mar 8. Compressed as a zip file. You'll need Microsoft PowerPoint to view it.

Tutorial Handout, Wed, Mar 8.If you arrived late and didn't get a copy, click here. Compressed as a zip file. You'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to read it.

Roundtable, Fri, Mar 10. Notes from the discussion group (under construction)

Roundtable, Sat, Mar 11. Notes from the discussion group (under construction)


Michael Wyman: Pit Droids. The web site of the PC Game. Includes the Pit Droids puzzle exchange, where you can upload puzzles you have created, download puzzles from others, or vote on your favorites.

Gary Rosenzweig: Clevermedia. Gary's Shockwave game site. Includes pointers to his other three game sites, how to buy his book Advanced Lingo for Games, and slides of the talk he gave at GDC.

Alexey Pajitnov: Pandora's Box. Alexey's most recent PC game is a lavish collection of visual puzzles. Read more about it and download a demo.

Scott Kim: JuniorNet. An online service for kids ages 5-12. With content from Highlights, Weekly Reader, and others. Featuring Scott Kim's Puzzle Box, which lets kids play and create their own puzzles.

Scott Kim: The Next Tetris. For Sony Playstation. This sequel to the classic action puzzle game features mutli-colored blocks that fall apart.

(Books available for purchase through Amazon)


Bates, Bob. Designing the Puzzle. Proceedings of the 1997 Game Developers Conference. Concise tips for anyone designing puzzles for an adventure game.

Collier, David. Symbolic Theory of Games. Deep thoughts about why we play games, by an experienced game designer.

Berlekamp, Conway, Guy. Winning Ways for Your Mathemtical Plays (2 volumes). Out of print. Academic Press, 1982. An outrageously encyclopedic mathematical analysis of hundreds of classic games and puzzles, like Rubik's Cube, Hex, and Dots and Boxes. Sophisticated math for those who want it; lots of pictures and examples for those who don’t.

Crawford, Chris. The Art of Computer Game Design. Out of print. Originally published by McGraw Hill, 1984. Full text is available online at Lays a conceptual foundation for thinking about computer game design issues. Examples are old, but the concepts are still valuable. From the game designer who started the Game Developers Conference.

Kim, Scott. The Art of Puzzle Design. What is a Puzzle? From Physical to Computer. Articles available online at and

Rosenzweig, Gary. Advanced Lingo for Games. Hayden/Que, to be published spring 2000. If you want to program games for the web, start here. Thoroughly annotated code examples, covering a wide range of classic arcade and single-player games.

Rosen, Mel, and Kurzban, Stan. Random House Puzzlemaker's Handbook. Out of print. Times Books 1995. ISBN 0812925440. The only book I've ever seen on how to design puzzles. Only covers crossword puzzles. Advice on solving, composing and marketing puzzles.

Satzman, Marc. Game Design. Secrets of the Sages. Brady Games, 1999. ISBN 1566869048 Practical advice from dozens of experts on everything from level design and programming to art, sound and marketing. The only book of its kind.


Costello, Matthew. The Greatest Games of All Time. John Wiley & Sons, 1991. ISBN 0471529753. Excellent historical survey of board games, from Senat (a hit in ancient Egypt from about 2700 BC to 1300 BC), to Monopoly to computer games.

Costello, Matthew. The Greatest Puzzles of All Time. Dover 1988. ISBN 0-486-29225-8. The best historical overview. Not just puzzles, but the people behind the puzzles and their stories, like how Arthur Wynne created the first crossword puzzle in 1913.

Elfers, Joost, and Schuyt, Michael. Tangram: 1,600 Ancient Chinese Puzzles. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997. ISBN 1-55670-581-6. This modern packaging of a classic puzzle includes a set of seven tangram pieces. Has sold nearly 2 million copies worldwide.

Fisher, Adrian and Loxton, Howard. Secrets of the Maze. Thames and Hudson 1997. ISBN 0-500-01811-1. Adrian Fisher has single-handedly revived the art of acre-scale walk-through mazes, designing hundreds around the world. This lavish coffeetable includes many original new types of mazes.

Games Magazine. Word games, visual games, reviews. Lots of fresh ideas. The readers are fanatics.

Gardner, Martin. Knotted Doughnuts and other Mathematical Entertainments. W. H. Freeman and Company, 1986. ISBN 0-7167-1799-9. One of many anthologies of his Mathematical Games column ftom Scientific American magazine. The most exciting, fresh and influential thinking in mathematics.

Solomon Golomb. Polyominoes: Puzzles, Patterns, Problems, and Packings. Princeton University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-691-08573-0. Detailed analysis of the inexhaustibly rich puzzle that inspired Tetris.

Pentagram. Puzzlegrams. Fireside / Simon & Schuster, 1989. ISBN 0-671-68740-9. Puzzles or modern art? Graphically inviting presentation of classic puzzles from a noted British graphic design firm.

Rubin, Don. Brainstorms. Out of print. Harper & Row, 1988. ISBN 0-06-096338-7. Don writes the Real Puzzle every week for the Boston Phoenix. Highly original graphic puzzles drawn from popular culture.

Schmittberger, R. Wayne. New Rules for Classic Games. John Wiley & Sons, 1992. ISBN 0-471-53621-0. New ways to play Monopoly, Scrabble, etc. From the current editor of Games magazine.

Slocum, Jerry and Botermans, Jack. Puzzles Old and New: How to Make and Solve Them. Out of print. University of Washington Press, 1986. ISBN 0-295-96350-6. Beautifully photographed book based on Jerry's world-class collection of mechanical puzzles.

Stickels, Terry. Mind-Bending Puzzles 4. Pomegranate, 1999. ISBN 0-7649-1026-4. A good compendium of bite-sized Mensa-style brainteasers.

Sackson, Sid. A Gamut of Games. Dover, 1982. ISBN 0-486-27347-4. Landmark book by the leading American board game designer. Includes brief reviews of over 300 commercially available games.


Bits and Pieces ( The best general catalog for puzzle lovers, featuring both mainstream puzzles and unique specialty items.

Binary Arts (www.puzzles.comTttractive, original puzzles. Aimed at kids, available at toy stores. I designed Railroad Rush Hour for them.

Kadon ( My favorite boutique puzzle company. Puzzles as art. Two and three-dimensional puzzles and games laser-cut out of acrylic or wood. I designed Quintapaths for them.

University Games ( Leading maker of board games.

Rex Games ( They only make a few games, but they're good. Check out Tangoes and the L-game.

Key Curriculum Press ( High school geometry book publisher. Check out their books about puzzles and problem solving.

The Exploratorium ( The leading hands-on science museum features online exhbitis and an extensive bookstore.

Dale Seymour Publications ( Catalog for teachers. Includes hundreds of books and physical games like geoboards and pattern blocks. Great stuff you won't find at your local book or game store.


Mathpuzzle. ( The best site for math based puzzles. Includes Java applets.

Clevermedia ( Shockwave arcade by Gary Rosenzweig and colleagues.

Pit Droids ( The web site of the PC game. Includes an online puzzle exchange.

National Puzzler's League ( World's oldest puzzle club. Mostly word games. ( Macromedia's showcase for Director & Flash content.

Copyright 2000 Scott Kim.
All rights reserved.