Chris Crawford (game designer)

Chris Crawford (game designer)
Chris Crawford, 2011

Christopher Crawford (born in 1950) is a computer game designer and writer noted for creating a number of important games in the 1980s, founding The Journal of Computer Game Design, and organizing the Computer Game Developers' Conference.



After receiving a B.S. in physics from UC Davis in 1972 and an M.S. in physics from University of Missouri in 1975, Crawford taught at a community college and the University of California, then turned his game design hobby into a profession at Atari in 1979, eventually heading the Games Research Group.


At Atari he started game work with Wizard for the VCS, but this work was abandoned and would not appear until some time later. He then turned his attention to the new "Home Computer System", now referred to as the Atari 8-bit family. His first releases on this platform were Energy Czar and Scram, games written in Atari BASIC.

Finding development on the systems difficult due to a lack of clear information, he started experimenting with the system's hardware assisted smooth scrolling and used it to produce a scrolling map display. This work was used to create Eastern Front (1941), which is widely considered one of the first wargames on a microcomputer to compete with traditional paper-n-pencil games in terms of depth. He followed this with Legionnaire, based on the same display engine but adding real-time instead of turn-based game play. Using the knowledge gathered while writing these games, he helped write De Re Atari, a lengthy book covering most of the advanced features of the system, from the hardware assisted smooth scrolling to digitized sounds. Another book followed, The Art of Computer Game Design.

Laid off in the Atari collapse during the video game crash of 1983-1984, he went freelance and produced Balance of Power in 1985, which was a best-seller, reaching 250,000 units sold. Additional strategy games followed.

The Game Developers Conference, which now draws over 10,000 attendees each year, began in 1987 as a salon held in Crawford's living room with his game design friends and associates. While the GDC has become a prominent event in the gaming industry, Crawford was eventually ousted from the GDC board.

The Dragon Speech

At the 1992 CGDC, Chris Crawford gave "The Dragon Speech",[1] which he considers "the finest speech of [his] life".[2] Throughout the speech, he used a dragon as a metaphor for video games as a medium of artistic expression. He declared that he and the video game industry were working "at cross purposes", with the industry focusing heavily on "depth", when Crawford wanted more "breadth": to explore new horizons rather than merely furthering what has already been explored. He arrived at the conclusion that he must leave the gaming industry in order to pursue this dream. He declared that he knew that this idea was insane, but he compared this "insanity" to that of Don Quixote:

Insanity is an inability to come to terms with reality. Don Quixote was definitely insane, because he couldn't come to terms. But there was a reason: the reality in which Don Quixote lived was a sordid and ugly reality … Don Quixote didn't want that. He wanted to live in a world where there was truth, and human dignity, and, yes, love.… Instead of giving up on it, he imposed his reality onto the real world. Where other people saw a filthy country hostel, he saw a castle! Where other people saw a flock of sheep, he saw a mighty army! Where other people saw a windmill, he saw a dragon. Yes, Don Quixote was a crazy old fool. But, you know, he was more honest about his dream than most people, and for that, I honor him.

The speech is known[citation needed] for its dramatic ending in which Crawford confronts the dragon:

I have committed myself, I have dedicated myself, to the pursuit of the dragon. And having made that commitment … all of a sudden, I can see him! There he is, right in front of me, clear as day.… You're so much bigger than I ever imagined, and I'm, I'm not so sure I like this. I mean, yes, you're glorious and beautiful, but you're ugly, too. Your breath reeks of death!… Am I so pitiful that you can sneer in my face like that? Yes, yes, you frighten me! You hurt me! I've felt your claws ripping through my soul! But I'm going to die someday, and before I can do that, I've got to face you, eyeball to eyeball. I've got to look you right in the eye, and see what's inside, but I'm not good enough to do that yet. I'm not experienced enough, so I'm going to have to start learning. Today. Here. Now. Come, dragon, I will fight you. Sancho Panza, my sword! (He picks up a sword from the desk behind him, which he unsheaths from its scabbard.) For truth! For beauty! For art! Charge!

With these words, he charged down the lecture hall and out the door, symbolizing his exit from the gaming industry. Although he returned to the next year's CGDC,[3] he has not made a conventional computer game since (although he has designed and published Balance of Power 2K online, he considers it a "storyworld" rather than a "computer game").

People games

Since that time, Crawford has been working on Storytron (originally known as Erasmatron), an engine for running interactive electronic storyworlds (see interactive storytelling). As of December 2008, a beta version of the Storytronics authoring tool, Swat, has been released. The system was officially launched March 23, 2009, with Crawford's storyworld sequel to Balance of Power.[4]

People games, as termed by Crawford, are games where the goals are of a social nature and focus on interactions with well-defined characters. They are described in Chris Crawford on Game Design as follows:

I dreamed of the day when computer games would be a viable medium of artistic expression — an art form. I dreamed of computer games expressing the full breadth of human experience and emotion. I dreamed of computer games that were tragedies, games about duty and honor, self-sacrifice and patriotism. I dreamed of satirical games and political games; games about the passionate love between a boy and girl, and the serene and mature love of a husband and wife of decades; games about a boy becoming a man, and a man realizing that he is no longer young. I dreamed of games about a man facing truth on a dusty main street at high noon, and a boy and his dog, and a prostitute with a heart of gold.



  • Tanktics (1978)[5]
  • Legionnaire
  • Wizard (released 25 years later, with the Atari Flashback 2)
  • Energy Czar
  • Scram
  • Eastern Front (1941) (1981)
  • Gossip
  • Excalibur (1983)
  • Balance of Power (1985)
  • Patton Versus Rommel (1987)
  • Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot (1987)
  • Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition (1989)
  • The Global Dilemma: Guns & Butter (1990)
  • Balance of the Planet (1990)
  • Patton Strikes Back (1991)
  • Balance of Power: 21st Century (2009)[6]


  1. ^ The Dragon Speech on YouTube
  2. ^ Crawford, Chris. Chris Crawford on Game Design, p. 443
  3. ^ Rouse III, Richard. Game Design: Theory and Practice, p. 281
  4. ^ Sterling, Bruce. Web Semantics: Storytron | Beyond the Beyond,
  5. ^ Crawford's entry from the Small Version of Giant List from Halcyon Days
  6. ^ Direct Link to Balance of Power: 21st Century

External links

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