Appendix F of Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins. Copyright © 2008, A K Peters, Ltd. Order the book from A K Peters. See the authors' website for the book.

The Games Canon

Famous, infamous, radically innovative, critically acclaimed, or blockbuster successes, these are games everyone in the field should know about. They form the base of prior art. In any field, professionals work within a mainstream culture that references important previous work. These form the critical jargon (e.g., "this painting references Van Gogh's Starry Night") and the cultural context for new ideas.

Research is important in any field. It is how we build on the successes of the past and avoid their failures. You wouldn't try to write a book or create a car without first learning about the ones that preceded yours. When creating a game, you should research previous games. This list summarizes some of the most important games. It is intended as a jumping-off point for further research if a game sounds like one you'd like to make. Read through it to familiarize yourself with the previous work. No game designer would be taken seriously without at least passing familiarity with these titles, and most designers have studied several of them in depth.

For brevity, only the most critically acclaimed (or derided) and popular games are listed. In many cases, a previous game introduced a concept (e.g., Crystal Caverns predated Wolfenstein) but had a minor impact. These also include the games that designers often list as their major influences.

For additional cannon lists, see Lowder's book for an excellent recent review of major board games by famous game designers, for up-to-date Internet ratings, and Wikipedia's best-selling (if not best) video game list at


The minicanon contains the bare minimum set of games that you should be familiar with to appreciate the examples in this book and start making your own games. A games course should offer these or equivalents to students at a minimum, and anyone serious about games should own them. Most of these games are explained in more depth in the following sections and referenced throughout the text (see the index for references). Note that these aren't necessarily the absolute best games in their class, according to one specific design criterion, but they are likely the most widely acclaimed, easiest to acquire, and successful.







Point-and-click adventures are graphical quest adventures. LucasArts produced some of the most endearing and innovative hits in this genre on their SCUMM engine. These include (many by designer Tim Schafer): Loom, creating spells from music; Full Throttle, Mad-Max world with action sequences; Grim Fandango, creatively set in the Mexican Day of the Dead; Monkey Island; andThe Dig, written by sci-fi author Orson Scott Card.


Adventure-quest games are typically sandbox-like environments where the player has the option of pursuing a series of quests but can explore freely between them. Looked at another way, they are essentially RPGs with the advancement profile fixed. These have full graphical capabilities and generally feature real-time combat.


Despite studies and arguments for the educational potential of games, few games promoted as educational software have actually been very popular or interesting. Only two stand out as exceptionally successful.

Alternate Reality

Alternate reality games blur the line between game and reality by involving real-world locations and technology such as phones and websites. They are played collectively by thousands of people sharing information on the Internet through forums. The primary creator of alternate reality games is 42 Entertainment, which uses them as parts of marketing campaigns.

Traditional Abstract Strategy


These action video games favor deliberate, cautious movement to slip through overwhelming odds. Players must carefully manage both visibility and noise to avoid detection and strike quickly and lethally.

Physics Games

Although many computer games incorporate physical simulation and even basic physics puzzles, these are games where the primary game mechanic is physics itself.

German Board Games

Late twentieth and early twenty-first century strategy games, primarily produced in Germany and with Reiner Knizia and Klaus Teuber among the best-known designers.


This includes early twentieth-century American board games, primarily published by Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.


Artistic Rendering

Games by Scientists

These games were created primarily to explore interesting mathematical or psychological properties, many of which have since become popular in their own right. Note that famous German board-game designer Reiner Knizia holds a PhD in mathematics, although his games are intended for general audiences and are not listed here.

Game Books

These are single-player games that capture the essence of a pen-and-paper RPG in a book-form factor and novel-style story.


These games are so radically innovative that they have no companions in their categories and are therefore also important for game designers to follow because they represent new avenues for mechanism advancement. Part of this distinction is simply due to these being recent games. Older, innovative games spawned whole new genres or fit well within existing ones and are listed elsewhere in this chapter, but these games are so new or innovative that they have not had enough time for the industry to catch up.

Pen-and-Paper Role-Playing (RPG)

Pen-and-paper RPGs involve multiple players battling through a freeform adventure moderated by a game master or "dungeon master." These games generally use statistical combat, polyhedral dice, and complex rules. Although originally associated with cults in popular culture due to the novel and 1982 made-for-TV movie Mazes and Monsters, these enjoyed tremendous popularity among gamers and laid the foundation for the rule systems and simulations in many of today's video games.

Computer Role-Playing (cRPG)

Computer RPGs tend to focus more on statistical combat and character building than on actually playing a role.

Computer Strategy

Strategy games are character-building games where the "character" is an entire civilization.

Classic Arcade

Classic arcade games were 2D action games originally created for dedicated hardware (frequently by Atari and NAMCO) circa 1980. These established many of the major action mechanics that are in place in more-sophisticated games to this day. Most of the classic games were actually slight variations on previous ones dressed with new themes (see Koster's book for a concise graphical etymology of these). Most of these games also never end but instead constantly ramp up the difficulty level.

Rhythm Games

Massive Multiplayer

These video games have thousands, or millions, of simultaneous players in huge, persistent worlds. Subscription numbers for these games can be found at


Although sports can be considered games, they are generally well known and need less introduction (in part because there are many fewer sports than video and board games). This section lists games about sports.


First-Person Shooters

Appendix F of Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins. Copyright © 2008, A K Peters, Ltd. Order the book from A K Peters. See the authors' website for the book.