Category Archives: Quests Book

Quests 2nd Edition

I will soon be publishing a second edition of Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. The second edition will feature:

  • Expanded and updated discussion of each design principle
  • Updated tutorials, with focus on Unity and Fungus

I will be resurrecting this blog as my primary professional website and portfolio, since arcanaforge is now defunct. Arcana continues, but I needed to dissolve the associated LLC when I moved to the UK.

Keep an eye on this space for more updates.

Quests listed as a “must read book for aspiring game designers”

Quests was recently included on Sean M. Baity’s list, “Must Read Books for Aspiring Game Designers.”

I’m very appreciative of this listing, and it’s cool to see Mr. Baity’s credentials in terms of the many games which he has worked on as senior designer at electronic arts.,8377/

Quests on WorldCat and a kind review

I was happy to discover that WorldCat, a database of online library card catalogs, lists 64 libraries that currently list Quests as part of their collections. The list primarily includes university libraries, with a few community and public libraries for good measure.

I’m excited to see that the book is available to an audience of students in many emerging game design programs.

I was even more excited to find this review, from a user named Veronika on She writes,
“A must-have for every game designer or anyone who wants to understand questing in a more sophisticated way. This book has it all – mythology, Joseph Campbell, Carl Gustav Jung, some tutorials and a lot of wisdom :) Another shining piece in my bookshelf.”

That is a really kind review. Reaching an individual reader like that might be the best part of writing a book.

Quests at ITU Copenhagen, a podcast, and other news

I was excited to see that Quests is listed as part of the required reading in a class called “Storytelling and Games: Challenges, Theories, Techniques,” which will be supervised by Espen Aarseth at ITU Copenhagen in this coming spring semester.  In fact, Quests is the first book on the required readings, followed by the Cambridge Companion to Narrative.  (The class was originally listed as being taught by the new head of the game department, Gordon Cabellas, and supervised by Aarseth.  At this point, Aarseth himself is listed as teaching.)

This news might be interesting to readers of Quests, since Copenhagen has a Center for Computer Games Research whose past and present faculty (including Aarseth himself, Susana Tosca, Jesper Juul, and Gonzalo Frasca) produce some of the finest academic game scholarship.  Aarseth specifically is famous for popularizing the term ludology to refer to the academic study of games, resulting in Aarseth being identified with an anti-narratological stance that seemed at odds with storytelling in games.  Aarseth’s decision to supervise this class tends to reinforce the notion that the diminishing intensity of the narratology/ludology debate signals a rapprochement between the representatives of both sides.

While visiting Dakota State University, I was pleased to encounter two bright students and game enthusiasts named Daniel Wise and Jim Howard who were kind enough to interview me on their Cherry Chocolate Podcast, which can be downloaded from Itunes here.

Steve Vink at The Game Creators wrote a thoughtful and positive review of Quests in the November edition of The Game Creators Newsletter.  Steve also embedded the quest spaces video in the December edition of the newsletter here.  Steve’s company produces some very exciting game development software, such as FPS Creator, aimed at young game developers.  Microsoft has bundled some of these applications with Visual Studio, suggesting that The Game Creators software could be a low-cost and accesible alternative to XNA for educators and students.

Arcana Manor development continues.  While waiting for Torque X 3.0, which will contain the crucial development software Torque X Builder 3d, I’ve been learning the 3d modeling program XSI.  Specifically, I’ve been working through a tutorial that teaches users how to model Joan of Arc.  Modeling the human form is extremely difficult and time-consuming but also rewarding, and I hope to be acquiring some of the skills that would allow me to make some of Ron and Trent’s sketches into 3d characters.  Screenshots and videos of this work will follow soon, supplementing the chapter in Quests about character design by showing some of the skills associated with creating one’s own NPC’s outside of an RPG toolset.

Quest syllabus

Please click here to download a syllabus for a college-level class based on my book Quests.

I wrote Quests with many audiences in mind, and two key audiences are students and teachers within a college-level class about new media and literature, with an emphasis on game design and interactive writing. In fact, I wrote Quests to be sufficiently accessible and wide-ranging in its approach that teachers of many different classes could potentially use it as a textbook by adapting it to the needs of their students. Teachers of classes with titles like “Writing for Games,” “Writing for Interactive Media,” and “Introduction to New Media” could all use the book in different ways by putting varying degrees of emphasis on its theoretical and practical components, including its tutorials and exercises.

With these classes in mind, I have put together a syllabus for a class that would incorporate Quests as a textbook. The class has the same title as the book, but any of the course titles listed above would work equally well. In a syllabus divided into a the fourteen weeks of a standard college semester, I’ve assembled a set of discussion topics for each week, as well as accompanying assignments in reading, playing, and designing.

I’d love to hear back if anyone finds this syllabus useful in putting together his or her own course, and I’m very willing to discuss ideas for adapting this framework to the needs of particular teachers at the college, high school, or middle school level.

Reviews and Mentions of Quests

Below is a list of reviews and mentions of Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. They were graciously collected and excerpted in this format by my publisher, AK Peters.


Slashdot (External Link)

September 2008

Jeff Howard’s Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narrative is an exploration of … quests in both literary and gaming contexts, comparing and contrasting their appearances in each medium and striving to bring the two worlds closer together by imbuing game quests with more meaning. … I look forward to the dialog his book will inspire. He would have us re-examine the game quest in terms of the narrative quest, and apply those lessons to gaming. The book is well worth a read, both as a lesson plan for making the activity of questing more meaningful, as well as a first step towards giving games that rely heavily on quests—especially MMOS—more meaningful goals.

A reader at

“A must-have for every game designer or anyone who wants to understand questing in a more sophisticated way. This book has it all – mythology, Joseph Campbell, Carl Gustav Jung, some tutorials and a lot of wisdom :) Another shining piece in my bookshelf.”

Included on the list “Must Read Books for Aspiring Game Designers” by Sean M. Baity, Senior Designer at Electronic Arts

Jill Walker Rettberg at jill/txt (External Link)

August 2008

If you’re doing work on role-playing games of any kind, or planning to teach a course [on RPGs] of your own, this is a great resource.

Clay Spinuzzi (External Link)

May 2008

“It’s an unusual book, but an illuminating one within these areas.”

Andrew Dobbs at Design(ish) (External Link)

May 2008

“According to Jeff Howard …, “a quest is a journey across a symbolic, fantastic landscape in which a protagonist or player collects objects and talks to characters in order to overcome challenges and achieve a meaningful goal.” The most important part of this definition comes at the end, as I believe the foundation of the quest journey is “to overcome challenges and achieve a meaningful goal.” Developing a successful quest means creating a meaningful interaction for the player.”

Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer (External Link)

April 2008

“Certain scholars like Jeff Howard … and Matt Barton … have written rich, analytical, and well-annotated books on the subject, and I will use both in my course.”

Games Across Media (External Link)

March 2008

“This unique take on quests, incorporating literary and digital theory, provides an excellent resource for game developers. Focused on both the theory and practice of the four main aspects of quests (spaces, objects, actors, and challenges) each theoretical section is followed by a practical section that contains exercises using the Neverwinter Nights Aurora Toolset.” (Barnes & Noble)

Gameology (External Link)

February 2008

“Quests is an excellent tool for teachers … for teaching games, media, writing, or other areas that include theory and application. Many other books exist that are excellent for game studies classes and for game creation classes …, but Quests fills the particular niche of classes that often have titles like ”introduction to media studies,“ ”writing for new media,“ ”first (or second, or later) semester writing across the curriculum.“ Quests would also be an excellent choice as a supplemental text for more advanced classes, helping graduate students or faculty connect their research areas to new ways to represent, research, and teach using games.”

grand TEXT auto (External Link)

February 2008

“Jeff Howard’s Quests is an incisive and highly accessible book that leads the reader on an exploration of literature, computer games, and a connection between them.”

Daniel Erickson, Principal Lead Writer, BioWare Austin

February 2008

“Howard impressively handles bridging the gap between interactive fiction and classical literature with a thoroughly researched and well-argued treatise that focuses itself squarely on the two mediums’ connections and similarities.”

Nick Montfort, Assistant Professor of Digital Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

February 2008

“Jeff Howard’s Quests is an incisive and highly accessible book that leads the reader on an exploration of literature, computer games, and a connection between them. Howard includes valuable tutorials and exercises which draw on literary works, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, while also dealing with the specifics of how to use tools to create computer RPG modules. The book offers useful discussion of the history of adventure games and detailed analysis of quest elements using concepts from narrative theory, poetics, game studies, and other fields. Quests equips students and scholars as they journey onward to read, play, and fashion games and narratives.”

Dr. Susana Tosca, Associate Professor, IT University of Copenhagen

February 2008

Howard is a true Renaissance man in these electronic times. He merges his knowledge and love of literature with his enthusiasm for computer games and the unexplored possibilities of the new medium. Human intellectual activity has a common base, be it expressed in the form of poems or computer games, and Howard shows us some of the most stunning connections between the old form of quest literature and the new challenges of games.“


Hi. I’m Jeff Howard, author of Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. I received my Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 2007. My dissertation was about Gnosticism, postmodern fiction, and computer-assisted teaching. Then, I wrote Quests, a book about strategies for designing meaningful quests in games.