Chris Crawford is a noted computer game designer and writer, responsible for a number of important games in the 1980s, for founding The Journal of Computer Game Design and for organizing the Computer Game Developers' Conference.
After receiving a B.S. in physics from UC Davis in 1972 and an M.S. in the same from University of Missouri - Columbia in 1975, Crawford taught at a community college and the University of California, then turned his game design hobby into a job 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, and released Energy Czar and Scram, simple 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 that competed 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 gather 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 the innovative Balance of Power in 1985, which was both highly-regarded and a best-seller, reaching 250,000 units sold. Additional creative strategy games followed, often taking commercial risks in order to explore new creative ideas (such as fog of war in Patton Versus Rommel).
The Game Developers Conference, which now draws over 10,000 attendees each year, began in 1987 as a series of salons 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.
Since 1992, Crawford has been working on Storytron (originally known as Erasmatron), an authoring tool for interactive electronic storyworlds (see interactive storytelling). An alpha version of the Storytronics development system, Swat, has been released, with the launch of the full system expected by the end of 2007.
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."
- De Re Atari (1982)
- The Art of Computer Game Design (1982)
- Balance of Power (1986)
- The Art of Interactive Design (No Starch Press, 2002) ISBN 1-886411-84-0
- Chris Crawford on Game Design (New Riders Press, 2003) ISBN 0-13-146099-4
- Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling (New Riders Press, 2004) ISBN 0-321-27890-9
- Wizard (finally released 25 years later, with the Atari Flashback 2)
- Energy Czar
- Eastern Front (1941) (1981)
- 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)
- Erasmatazz - Chris Crawford's personal website
- Storytron - Chris Crawford's commercial website
- Chris Crawford profile at MobyGames
- A Conversation with Chris Crawford in The Escapist webmagazine
- Video Games are Dead: A Chat With Storytronics Guru Chris Crawford at Gamasutra
- De Re Atari by Chris Crawford, et al.