The 400 Project

What is The 400 Project?

It’s an attempt to write up 400 rules of game design that can be used by designers to make better games. Rules are being submitted by designers from all over, but most of the existing rules were written by Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein.

Why 400?

That’s just a rough number, proposed by Hal Barwood in his original lecture that inspired the project. Since the rules themselves are loosely defined, there are certainly an infinite number that can be derived, but beyond some point the distinctions (and the rules themselves) would become trivial. 400 is a good stake in the ground.

How many are there now?

As of this writing (early 2003) only a couple of dozen rules have been written up, but the number is steadily growing, and many of these first rules are important ones.

How can I submit rules?

See The 400 Format for a description of the format and submission instructions.

How did this project originate?

Quite briefly, it grew out of an initial lecture that Hal Barwood gave at the Game Developer’s Conference in 2001. Then Noah Falstein proposed the concept of a formal project to collect the rules and write them up, and began writing a column in Game Developer magazine in the March 2002 issue. A more detailed history will be forthcoming – but don’t hold your breath!

Who are Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein?

Hal Barwood is a Project Leader at LucasArts Entertainment. Noah Falstein is President of The Inspiracy, where he works as a freelance game designer and producer. His resume is available there.

Where do the rules come from?

Initially, the thought was that they’d come from experienced game designers around the world. In practice, people have been quite slow to submit rules, and many of those submitted have either been ambiguously formed or incomplete, so I (Falstein) have taken on the brunt of the task of writing them.

Why rules? Isn’t game design a free-form activity?

In some senses it is quite free-form, but that doesn’t negate the usefulness of rules. These rules are intended to be guidelines for creating good games, not a straight-jacket. A good example from the more mature field of writing might include well-known rules taught in basic English classes, like “Show, don’t tell” or “Write what you know.” Even though there is a lot of variety in the approaches people take to game design, everyone who does it professionally quickly comes to learn certain truisms about the process, and The 400 Project takes those truisms and turns them into rules that can be followed.

Is this the same as Christopher Alexander’s concept of a pattern language?

No, although there are similarities. Alexander’s work grew out of architecture, and is, in Hal’s words “A welcomed allied analysis”. But it lacks the imperative – the 400 rules are stated in terms of instructions to follow, rather than observations of existing patterns. It also lacks the trumping information that is important to understanding how these rules interact.

Where can I find a list of the rules?

For now, a temporary list is available in The 400 So Far, but this website will eventually have a more complete and cross-referenced list.

Where can I find new rules?

New ones will be published in the monthly “Better By Design” column in Game Developer magazine, and this website will record them too.

Why is the list of rules growing so slowly?

It’s a hard job to articulate rules clearly and consistently. Currently, this project is primarily an unpaid venture by Noah Falstein, so it’s going to be a slow process for now.

How does one use The 400 to make better games?

There are many ways. Remember they are merely a tool, not a game design generating machine, and tools are limited only by the ingenuity of the tool users. One method is to apply the rules when you get stuck in a game design, looking for insights on how to resolve your problem. Another is to go through the rules and consider your design in the light of each rule in turn, looking for ways to use them to modify your design. Or you might take an existing game and consider how it might be changed in light of the rules, morphing it into a new game in the process.